I love comics, but I do not love superhero comics. I promise I’ve tried, but for some reason, I just can’t get excited about them. I’ve made my peace with appreciating superhero comics from afar: I get the appeal but I don’t partake.
But sometimes I wonder if it’s just that I haven’t found my superhero yet. I love queer lit, and while there are plenty of queer superheroes out there, maybe I’d be more into superheroes if queer ones were the norm. I love stories about characters struggling to balance different parts of themselves and their lives, and this, too, is something that superheroes often have to do. Maybe I’d be more into superhero stories if they focused more on the human aspects of the characters, and less on their extraordinary abilities.
For someone who doesn’t read a lot of superhero comics, I sure do spend a lot of time thinking about them. Here are ten fictional characters who I think would make fantastic superheroes. They may not be what you think of when you think “superhero.” Many of them come from contemporary and literary fiction, not fantasy or sci-fi. Almost none of them fit the traditional superhero mold — and that’s why I want to see them in superhero comics so baldy. I may not be a superhero fan, but I’d read a series about any one of these people any day.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Elatsoe is smart, resourceful, and determined Lipan Apache teenager with an adventurous, curios spirit. She already has a super cool power — she can call up the ghosts of dead animals — and a sidekick, her ghost dog pal, Kirby. In the novel, she solves her cousins’s murder, but I can imagine a whole series of superhero comics in which she uses her numerable skills to bring more justice to the world. She’s also ace — more ace superheroes, please! (And we’ve written before about how we need more Indigenous superheroes.)
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Dex is a tea monk who travels from village to village, creating space for people to grieve, talk, rest — whatever they need. They have a beautiful wagon filled with homegrown tea blends, ceramic mugs, and comfy pillows. If being a tea monk isn’t a superhero skill, I don’t know what is. I’m envisioning a quiet, cozy comic, in the vein of The Tea Dragon Society, in which Dex uses their superhero tea monk skills to solve mysteries, defeat evil monsters, and who knows what else. The possibilities are endless.
Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin
The best superhero stories are about superheroes who are also human. They struggle to balance their extraordinary powers with their humanity. Sometimes they’re just regular people with messy lives who happen to be able to manipulate ice or turn invisible. Gilda is a twentysomething lesbian with anxiety who’s extremely unhappy. She’s also very funny and observant about the world around her. I can see her being a superhero a lot of people would relate to: just muddling through, doing her best. In the novel, she spirals a lot, often imagining the worst-case scenario in any given situation. Maybe this could be her superpower: the ability to predict bad outcomes and prevent them.
Fresh by Margot Wood
I can think of so many great superhero names for Elliot already: the Bisexual Whirlwind and the Byclone are my top two choices. You get the picture, I hope: she’s a bisexual college freshmen who is an absolute mess. She’s loud, outgoing, easily excited, and has strong opinions. She puts her whole heart into things and sometimes messes them up. She has strong feelings about laundry detergent, and I’m fairly certain that this could factor into her superhero persona — maybe she has an extraordinary sense of smell. She’s also a great friend, and cares deeply about people, even though she sometimes has trouble expressing it. There are just so many directions her superhero skills could go in!
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
Benny is a teenager who can hear the voices of everyday objects. This started soon after his father died. Ordinary things, like scissors, chairs, paper, clothes, etc. started talking to him. So, he’s already got a superhero skill. He also loves books, and, in the novel, discovers his book — a book that talks directly to him, and narrates his life. I feel like there’s a whole comic series in this.
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
Competence is an appealing quality in a superhero, and Mina is supremely competent. She’s a trans Lebanese American doctor. In the novel, she spends a week volunteering at refugee camps on the island of Lesbos. But I don’t think her superhero story needs to take place there. She’s practical, thoughtful, compassionate, and wryly funny. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have on a world-saving mission. I suspect her level demeanor and ability to remain calm in a crisis would come in handy over and over again in the various dangerous situations superheroes so often find themselves in.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu
Okay, I guess this is cheating a little bit because Kumiko already lives in a graphic novel. But this book is not a superhero story, and, honestly, I need a superhero comic about Kumiko yesterday. She’s a badass bisexual elder who fights off Death with a vacuum cleaner, often cracks herself up, takes deep pleasure in simple things like swimming laps and drinking tea, and refuses to take any nonsense from her overprotective adult daughters. Need I say more?
Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Where are all the chronically ill superheroes? We need more, please! Chloe is chronically ill, a bit chaotic, and a computer geek. She has a habit of blurting out exactly what she’s thinking, she’s resourceful and smart, and she knows when she needs to take a break. I feel like this is maybe the ultimate superhero skill. I honestly don’t care what kind of superhero story Chloe gets — I just want to read about her saving the world in all sorts of inventive, exciting ways, while also, you know, not running herself into the ground. And her boyfriend Red can maybe show up on his motorcycle from time to time.
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks
This book opens when Margaret is in middle school, having just founded a detective club with her best friends. This is obviously fodder for a kick-ass superhero squad. The book is also extremely queer, so obviously this squad is full of queer and trans girls. Maybe they solve crimes, or maybe they just go around smashing the patriarchy, the gender binary, and white supremacy.
The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan
Naj is a queer musician who grew up in America, but moved back to her grandparents’ home city of Beirut to launch her career. Now she’s an internationally beloved singer-songwriter. She’s fiercely independent and has a very appealing who-cares-what-people-think attitude, but under her tough exterior, she’s got a soft heart. I’m envisioning a music-centric superhero series in which Naj’s songs have some sort of mysterious power. Maybe her lair is a gorgeous apartment filled with all sorts of unusual instruments. Maybe her brother Mimi, a much less successful musician in the novel, even makes an appearance — sibling duo?
Looking for some actual superheroes? You’ll find plenty in our superhero archives! You might also want to take this quiz to figure out what Marvel superhero you’d be. And if you, like me, are constantly thinking about what books would make good comics, well, we’re not alone.