With Captain America in theatres and pictures of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman suit leaking, not to mention another Superman reboot on the horizon, superheroes and their spandex outfits aren’t going anywhere. Over in print comics, universes are being rebuilt, costumes are getting more absurd, and superheroes are being—at least temporarily—recast. But there’s another world of superhero comics on the web devoted largely to mocking all the others. If superhero fatigue is setting in, some of these characters might help even as they gesture towards a future for an industry that has been simultaneously sustained and stifled by these formulaic creations.
Here are a few worth reading in between summer blockbusters:
1. The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Justin Pierce
One of the best superhero parodies on the web, The Non-Adventures of Wonderella is also a brilliant insight into all the problems with the genre itself. Every cliché is explored and twisted by the self-absorbed parody of Wonder Woman. From her difficult relationship with her mother to her exposition-prone villains, Wonderella is an entirely believable model of what a superpowered being might look like.
2. Dr. Blink, Superhero Shrink, John Kovalic and Christopher Jones
We already know superheroes have problems—but what about their long-suffering therapists? Dr. Blink deals with everyone from telepaths to the survivor complexes of aliens who struggle with being the last member of their doomed race. Unfortunately, only a few gems from the series are online, but the Twitter account is filled with one-liner gold like: “You know what’s really not surprising? That a guy who wears a mask might have bi-polar disorder.”
3. College Roomies from Hell, Maritza Campos
While not precisely a superhero comic, College Roomies from Hell (CRFH) is home to mutants and epic battles against evil. Often, origin stories for mutants are explained through accidents—nobody really “plans” to fall into a vat of nuclear waste. In CRFH, binge-drinking and drugs are to blame for the decision to swim in contaminated water and eat a mutant fish, leading to problems with tentacle arms, evil hands, and Cyclops-worthy blasting powers.
4. Evil, Inc., Brad Guigar
Super villains don’t get much love from Hollywood. Even when they have the better costumes (or actors!), the heroes usually get top-billing. Evil, Inc. follows a number of super villains who, like Angel’s foe Wolfram and Hart, are tired of getting beaten up by good. They realize they can instead abide by the law and accomplish their evil goals with tax-deductions. (Clearly, the concept isn’t particularly far-fetched.)
5. Ps238, Aaron Williams
The film Sky High did justice to the challenges inherent in running a school for young superheroes, but Aaron Williams imagines a world that is even more out of control than Professor X’s academy. Ps238 has embraced a separate but equal approach to educating children with special needs, but in this case the special needs include tendencies towards the supernatural.
6. Gutters, Ryan Sohmer
The aptly named Gutters, by the same team behind Least I Could Do and Looking For Group, brings in a rotating group of professional illustrators to poke loving (if often crass) fun at the current trends in superhero comics. With the recent storm of reboots and reinventions, they’ve had a lot of material to work from.
7. Love and Capes, Tom Zahler
Superhero love stories rarely end well—just ask Superman, whose film series keeps earning reboots thanks to unsustainable love stories and bad wardrobe calls. When romances involving superheroes do make it onto the page, they usually involve either imminent danger and continual rescue or, even worse, an attempt at “girl-friendly” manga-style comics using familiar superhero characters. Love and Capes thankfully avoids both of those traps while probing the logistics of caped romance.
8. Super Stupor, R.K. Milholland
While Miholland’s delightfully cynical comic Something Positive is more frequently updated, Super Stupor is perhaps more disturbing and often brilliant with its cast of Watchmen-reject superheroes. Many of the moments provide painfully awkward commentary, like a homeless boy is the superpower to survive without food or water, even as he is forever starving. Miholland’s work is a reminder that the best webcomics can step into territory often unexplored by the mainstream–if Miholland were working in syndication instead of on the web, the watered-down result would be nowhere near as compelling.
9. Birth of Venus, Andrew Makishima and Matthew Rice
While not a parody, Birth of Venus is definitely not your usual superhero comic. The origin story is a far cry from Peter Parker’s, and issues like rape and violence towards women are handled very differently from mainstream comics. Truly feminist portrayals remain a rarity in the mainstream world of superhero comics–just take a look at the near-pornographic attempted filming of the rape in the Watchmen movie adaptation or Harley Quinn’s stunningly inappropriate new costume.
10. The Adventures of Superhero Girl, Faith Erin Hicks
Rounding out the list is another female superhero who is both too young and too fully clothed to appear in any of the mainstream line-up. While the comic is very indie in style, the character is also a throwback to a more innocent era of heroes–she even has Superman’s powers from back in the day, when he couldn’t fly and instead was just limited to jumping over tall buildings.