As Laura can confirm, anyone who’s known me for five seconds knows that I’m a hardcore comic book geek. For me it’s modern-day mythology that provides epic tales of extraordinary men and women embarking on these incredible adventures.
While I’ve been a fan of comic book adaptations (cartoons, movies, etc.) my entire life, I technically didn’t “discover” actual comic books until I was 12. I was over at a buddy’s house for his birthday party and he had the biggest collection of comics that-to this day-I’ve ever seen in my entire life. He not only had comic books but comic book trading cards. Did you know there were comic book trading cards? I didn’t either but he had a massive collection and he actually gave me a few. Me discovering comics that fateful Saturday was like Harry Potter learning about magic and stepping into Hogwarts. Needless to say I’ve been in love with the world of comic books and superheroes ever since.
Unfortunately the comic book industry and its fandom hasn’t always been the most welcoming to women, people of color, LGBTQs and other marginalized fans. If you’re a minority comic book fan, you needn’t search far to find yourself on the receiving end of bigotry and denigration.
More than that, it’s often difficult to find titles that reflect minorities as the leads with actual respect. As a queer storyteller of color and a fan, I’m always on the look out for such titles, not only to enjoy but also to promote.
The following graphic novels are titles that not only feature beautiful art and are well written but feature women, LGBTQs and characters or color as the key protagonists. Click the titles to see GoodReads or Amazon synopses and details. Each of these titles I’ve recommended to friends over the years and whether you’re seasoned comic book vet like me or looking to get into comics but don’t know where to start, you should definitely consider these titles in my humblest opinion.
Three seemingly separate tales masterfully woven together. One of the most powerful books I've read in recent memory. Even though I'm not of Asian descent, as a person of color, I definitely related to the plight of the characters in this story. I wish I read a book like this when I was a kid. My compliments to Mr. Yang and I will definitely be tracking down his other works.
The popular series chronicles the adventures of a team of super heroines who prove they can hold their own with their male peers. Writer Gail Simone should be credited for most of the success that this series has garnered and I highly recommend you check out her run on the title.
She’s one of the few comic book storytellers in the industry who strives to be progressive and inclusive of women, people of color, LGBTQs and other minorities. This is a great series that doesn’t take itself too seriously and just a whole lot of fun as comics should be.
This was Marvel's first ongoing title featuring a Latina super heroine as the lead character. Very well written, the art is gorgeous, and it's a fun enjoyable series that has a strong Latino cast and easily proves that *gasps*, POCs can have stories all their own.
This story was done in the spirit of say Kill Bill. It's very tongue & cheek and you would definitely enjoy it. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing are two of the best kept secrets of non-comic book regulars. Best friends, practically sisters, and both heroines of color. Misty Knight is essentially a bionic Foxy Brown from Harlem and Wing, who is of Asian descent, holds it down as an honorable samurai. Both are martial arts masters but what really shines is their relationship. They're best friends who have known each other most of their lives and they are tighter than sisters and occasionally bicker like sisters too. We're talking two powerful butt-kicking females doing their thing and doing it well.
Okay, I know what you’re going to ask. Yes, there is a Batwoman. Yes, she does have red hair but no, she’s not Batgirl or Barbara Gordon. Without delving into a bunch of convoluted retcons, essentially she’s another crime-fighter named Katy Kane: a Jewish lesbian socialite. You also learn that there’s more to Alice than meets the eye. The characters are handled brilliantly, the art is dark and breathtaking and Batwoman is one of the best comics out there. It should also be noted that the comic featuring an LGBTQ crime fighter broke sales records as well during her run on Detective comics.
Very enjoyable story, great art, and Vixen is such a powerful force of nature. This is a character who should receive her own ongoing series.
OH EM EFFIN GEE! To say this is one of my all-time favorite comics would be the understatement of the century. Cassandra Cain is groundbreaking in that she's the first nonwhite character to have a prominent role in the Batman family but more than that she actually rivals Batman in skill and demeanor and doesn't play the token POC sidekick. In short, as a character, she was handled with the same care and respectability typically reserved for straight white male characters.
During her run, she easily outsold legacy characters Green Arrow, Catwoman and Aquaman.
What's really cool is that she's this weapon whose learning to discover her humanity. She certainly comes into her own and it's classic to see her check Bruce's ass on multiple occasions and call him on his crap. Yes this is how fierce Cassandra Cain is. 16 years old, and she puts the Batman in his place. Just saying. Think Kendra from Buffy or Zoe Washburne meets Snake-Eyes and you've got Cassandra. The stories are well written and the art is fluid. I believe there are five volumes to the entire Cassandra Cain run. GO ORDER THEM NOW!!!
I’m listing the entire late Dwayne McDuffie run on Justice League because it’s a must read.
For those of you who don’t know McDuffie was a major powerhouse in the comics and animation world. He was executive producer of All Star Superman which recently released, Ben 10 and was creator of Static Shock. He along with Bruce Timm were the driving force behind the critically acclaimed Justice League cartoon.
He was also the founder of Milestone Comics, a comic book line that featured black superheroes and other champions of color in its titles. Not only did he champion for racial equality in his stories, but he also stood tall for women and LGBTQs long before it became the fashionable thing to do in comics.
McDuffie was responsible for, in my opinion, one of the best runs of the Justice League comic. He made it fun. But more than that, he made a woman, Black Canary, a leader of the team and wasn't afraid to feature multiple (4 or 5) characters of color to a superhero team that's traditionally all white. What's more, he actually gave said characters of color compelling storylines. My favorite was when Vixen got the Amazo-like powers and became a one-woman powerhouse. Also keep a look out for the Milestone characters who make a cameo.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that somehow when no one was looking, Archie became the coolest kid in the room. Forget 90 percent of the titles being churned out by the big two. If you're looking for quality and progressive comics, Archie is where it's at. Yes Archie. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. No, I am not joking. Yes, we could be in Bizarro World. Let me get back to you on that one.
Since new editorial management has taken over, there has been an emphasis on diversity: characters of various ethnicities as well as queer characters. The powers that be at Archie have been working to make it clear that Riverdale is that ideal town that EVERYONE can be a part of.
In fact Keller’s debut in Veronica #202 came right off the heels of a critically acclaimed interracial romantic story arc between Archie and Val of Josie and the Pussycats.
While DC and Marvel often pay lip service to diversity, Archie is actually doing it, and doing it well.
The series also pulls no punches (no pun intended) in tackling bullying and homophobia. But what really floored me was that the two issues showed Keller fighting his own battles, standing up for himself and others and being strong. He wasn’t weak or helpless or the tragic gay that needed to be rescued by a straight savior. With this being Archie, needless to say much hilarity and hijinks ensued.
And who is Keller? He’s the proud son of a military colonel. He’s a journalist and a writer. He’s the one guy on the planet who can actually rival Jughead in an eating contest. He’s proven to be a positive and calming influence on the always fierce Veronica. He’s strong, wise and kind. He’s the kid that any parent would be honored to call their son. Keller is all of those things and much more.
Storm (along with Cyclops) is my all-time favorite superhero. She’s hands down one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. This backstory is a fun romp that I highly recommend. Before the Storm, is also a reminder that this extraordinary heroine is yet another character who needs her ongoing series like yesterday.
The comics pick up where the live-action series ended. With Joss Whedon God himself at the helm, THE COMICS ARE CANON. Not only does the series explore the triumphs and challenges of empowering young girls, but it also explores LGBTQ issues and Willow takes center stage more than once. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible, Dollhouse or the Avengers, you want to grab this title.
Penned by the excellent Reginald Hudlin, Bad Mutha can’t be recommended enough. The same goes for the entire Hudlin run on Black Panther. One of the funniest and most brilliant written comics ever, the story has T’Challa (BP) teaming up with Luke Cage for a globe trotting mismatched buddy superhero adventure.
In addition to the eponymous protagonist and Cage, the story also featured T’Challa’s personal bodyguards the Dora Mijae aka the Sisters of Destruction, Shuri, Monica Rambeaux, Falcon, Doctor Voodoo, Blade and Shang Chi. Hudlin had actually laid groundwork for a potential Black Avengers team in Bad Mutha. Here’s hoping we see that team some day.
This time little sister takes center stage as Shuri inherits the mantle as the Black Panther after T'Challa is injured. While hotheaded and green, and a foil to her calmer and analytical older brother, Shuri certainly comes into her own. An action packed volume that keeps you wanting more.
A diverse female dominated team of misfits with a woman of color as the leader, this series has as a special place in my heart because it’s one of the few titles that features a genderqueer/trans heroine in one Xavin. Joss Whedon’s (God himself) run on Runaways is actually my personal favorite. A mixture of suspense, action, surprise and wit, this was a fun story done in typical Whedon fashion.
Writer Ron Marz finds a nice balance with the action, drama and romance. In fact, perhaps what is most shocking for me is how respectful and well-handled Danielle's burgeoning same-sex relationship with Finch is. Anyone who recalls coming out for the first time will definitely empathize with Danielle's journey. The love scene between Danielle and Finch, for instance, is refreshingly intimate, sensual, artistic and tasteful. And when it comes to comic characters who happen to be LGBTQ, that virtually never happens. Stjepan Sejic's signature art style continues to to be breathtaking, surreal and complements Marz's work beautifully just as it did in Witchblade. And for those wondering, worry not, the action gets brought and Danielle proves her mettle as a heroine when she and the villainous Sabine go head to head. Keep an eye out for a cameoing Jackie Estacado aka the Darkness.
I give a more comprehensive review of the title here
Acclaimed O.C. writer and TV veteran Allan Heinberg melds his unique ear for realistic teen characters with the trademark action and adventure. These are real teens who tackle real life problems (bullying, homophobia, racism, abuse) which arguably makes them the mightiest heroes of a higher caliber.
For mature audiences. The popular Midnighter from the Wildstorm superhero team, the Authority, got his own solo series that is out in three trade paperbacks. This is a gay superhero we need more of. With a mind as sharp and as cunning as Bruce Wayne’s, a ferocity that rivals Sabretooth’s, and a snarky wit that’s faintly reminiscent of Deadpool, this hardcore one man weapon of mass destruction is one of the few characters in comics who can call Batman, Cable, Punisher, Wolverine and Daredevil a bunch of punks and can actually back it up.
A more comprehensive look at this awesome superhero is provided here
Luke Cage....Harlem....Noir....need I say more?
In the Ultimate Marvel universe, Peter Parker makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect the innocent. However a new Spider-Man dons the mask to continue Parker’s legacy. This story made headlines last year because for the first time a biracial black/Latino teen would carry the webslinger mantle. The series has been a hit as Brian Michael Bendis continues to tell engaging stories about a young hero is credible, likable and interesting.
Author Peter David has certainly breathed new life into a long running franchise and has given a popular title it’s own distinct identity. X-Factor Investigations is the world’s only mutant detective agency that’s run by Jamie Madrox, formerly known as the Multiple Man. His team of associates are more like a loving dysfunctional family. Just the same, they manage to get the job done. X-Factor makes the list because it features beautiful powerful ass-kicking ladies such as Terry Cassidy, Layla Miller, and Monet as well as Shatterstar (the adorkable warrior who steals every scene he’s in) and Rictor, a loving gay couple who are nuanced and portrayed with respect and complexity. Part noir, part comedy, part action adventure, when it comes to awesome comics, x marks the spot.These are certainly not the only titles worth checking out (Daken: Dark Wolverine, Ultimate X-Men, Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel to name a few) but this will certainly an excellent start.
And if you’re looking for more recs, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at dennisupkins @ gmail dot com.
I love comic books and I love having the opportunity to share something special that has brought me so much happiness and joy over the years, just as someone did for me when I was a kid.