You bingewatched Umbrella Academy’s 2nd season and now are most likely hysterically crying. Maybe you’re dead inside after that ending. Frantically scrambling for the original comic books to know what’s next, although I should tell you a lot got changed in the adaptation. At any rate, here’s a quick list of comics (and some books) that also emphasize characters over heroics, are just incredibly stylish, or have a darker-than-a-doctor’s sense of humor.
Just assume that this list is written with adults in mind, between the avant-garde nature of a number of mentioned series and the mature content in some of the entries. Comixology’s age ratings will be provided, just in case.
1) Bitter Root, by David F. Walker/Chuck Brown/Sanford Greene (17+)
Image via imagecomics.com
You’ve seen the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s in this season, along with Allison’s work as a community organizer. Now, go back to the Harlem Renaissance with the series that won the 2020 Eisner for “Best Continuing Series”. In it, the Sangerye family simultaneously deals with their own dysfunction and the devils racism and hatred create. Certainly, it’s a story of loss and trauma, but it’s also a hopeful story (for reasons I can’t disclose because it spoils a certain major reunion in Vol 1). Additionally, the art is utterly stunning, whether during the quieter conversation scenes or the action set-pieces. Please refer to the magenta-tinged introduction of Berg and Cullen for one such example. And read the essays at the end.
2) Wicked + Divine, by Kieron Gillen/Jamie Mckelvie/Clayton Cowles (LGBTQ+ friendly, 17+)
image via imagecomics.com
If you’re an adult who grew up with Riordan’s books and/or a music fan who’s looping Umbrella Academy’s OST, this stylish series with a morally ambiguous cast is for you. In short, gods return to Earth every ninety years as young people. This time around, they are musicians (feel free to play spot-the-references here, starting with Lucifer’s called-out David Bowie impression). They inspire some truly intense stans and haters, and die in two years. Nothing is ever simple when gods are involved, naturally, and a fangirl and a reporter set out to find out the truth behind the cycle. This is another highly stylish and intelligent series (that you should read twice, as it features some on-point foreshadowing).
3) Hawkeye, by David Fraction/David Aja/Javier Pulido (2012, 12+)
image via marvel.com
Why am I recommending you an old solo run of the most boring Avenger in the MCU? Well, for starters, it actually features some highly adventurous storytelling (between an issue from the dog’s point of view and an issue that utilised sign language). It’s also a series that tends to skew towards character studies, although there’s some mobster-punching as well. Not much world-saving happens, though. The most memorable non-spoiler moment I can tell you about is where Clint and Kate save the dog from some traffic and then bring him to the vet. Don’t worry, this partially-blind furball survives, as the writer doesn’t resort to the cheap tricks to wring tears from the audience.
4) Doom Patrol (Gerard Way/Nick Derington/Tamra Bonvillain run, but I’d honestly tell you to read the earlier runs too, 17+)
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Fun fact: Gerard Way also wrote for DC before and even curated an imprint (Young Animal). Just like Umbrella Academy, it’s pretty trippy, character-driven, and darkly funny at various points. An ambulance driver runs into the team, realizes that maybe her past makes her a fit for the crew, and it’s spoilers all the way down from here. But trust me, it’s all about a weird found family and how they deal with their various issues. Oh, and there’s also some satire of consumerism here and there. And the art is utterly stunning.
5) Ms. Marvel, by G. Willow Wilson/Adrian Alphona (start at 2014 run, 12+, the most family-friendly option here)
image via marvel.com
You’re most likely still emotionally torn apart by the ending, so here’s a more upbeat story that’s mostly just about a teenager coming to grips with her powers, protecting Jersey (while also periodically running into the likes of Wolverine), and figuring out who she is as a person. There’s also some fanfic involved. Don’t worry, it can get plenty trippy as well (shapeshifting and teenagers always tends to be a messy combo). The series also hits a nice midpoint between action and quiet introspection, as Kamala’s powers are heavily influenced by her self-image, among other things.
6) Midnighter, by Steve Orlando/ACO (2016, and its sequel, LGBT-friendly, 15+ BUT I would say that it’s more for adults)
image via comixology
Yes, I’m recommending a more obscure series that was nominated for GLAAD’s Media Award 2016. To quickly recap, there is an amnesiac dude with a supercomputer in his brain that turns him into a living weapon (which he isn’t particularly a fan of) and he’s trying to be a decent person, despite the trauma and his worst instincts. It’s summarized in the first fight, where he both delivers a violent beatdown to child traffickers and comforts the kids after. He also copes via a killer sense of humor. Additionally, he’s trying to figure out his love life, after breaking up with his long-time boyfriend. Just as with Umbrella Academy, it’s a series that mixes introspection and domesticity with action, along with some psychedelic visuals here and there.
Surprise guest #1: Gideon the ninth by Tamsyn Muir (shelved in adult section)
image via macmillan.com
Fellow Klaus fans, rejoice, there’s series for you! Yes, it also has a dark sense of humor and plenty of unexpected emotional devastation in store for you. In short, Gideon is the least qualified bodyguard you can imagine for Harrowhank, an heiress of a necromancer cult, but she was the only one they could secure on short notice. Thus, they participate in a power struggle against the other necromancer Houses (each with its own magic style and worldview), try to solve a murder mystery, and deal with their own trauma. This book also features an enemies-to-lovers romance, along with the ensuing messiness of that. You can also pick up the emotionally devastating sequel as of August 4th, 2020.
Surprise guest #2: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (shelved in adult section)
Image via barnesandnoble.com
Just like Umbrella Academy’s first few episodes, this is definitely a book that concerns itself with the “after” of superheroics. After all, what happens when you pit a group of teens against a magical threat and tell them they’re the only ones that can save the world? They grow into adults that still struggle with PTSD, even after the evil is vanquished. Some of them are visibly doing it, while others become masters of compartmentalization and putting up appearances. This is definitely not a light read, and it’s more of a slow-burn than a good chunk of the list.
Surprise guest #3: The Villains Series by V. E. Schwab (shelved in adult section)
image via macmillan.com
Just as the title indicates, this is from the point of view of characters who would be members of the rogues gallery in a more standard superhero story. Victor would be your usual supervillain, with his pain-manipulation powers and lack of reluctance when it comes to using them. His family, a super-hacker and a little girl with necromancy abilities, would also be heading there. He opposes Eli, who would fit the superheroic mold with his immortality and regeneration, but is a serial killer of superhumans. As such, this series is somewhere between a battle of wits, another found-family story, and a fascinating character study.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this should hopefully be enough until we know whether there will be a 3rd season. I’ve also read a number of other introspective superhero comics, but they either still placed an emphasis on heroics over character studies or are highly contentious (yes, this is related to Tom King’s run on Batman). Now, go on, read them with My Chemical Romance in the background. I know you want to.
feature image via Netflix