I’ll admit it, it can be pretty difficult to find a superhero comic these days that the Big 2 haven’t had their fingers in. There’s probably a few comics on this list you could have sworn you saw their little logo in the corner of the cover which made you think they were a DC/Marvel product. And to a certain degree, you’re not wrong. DC in particular is known to obtain licensing/publishing rights to a character created by a different company, or one of their imprints. Take Static, of Static Shock fame, a semi-popular Black teen superhero. He was created by Milestone Media’s founder, Dwanye McDuffie. Now, Milestone Media is technically an imprint of DC, so DC has the publishing and licensing rights, but Milestone media is still independently owned, and are involved in the decisions with their characters. I know, it can be a little confusing, and it can be a lot to parse out. But just know that not every superhero you see with the DC or Marvel logo in the corner means it’s a DC or Marvel superhero.
But I digress. Though they are hard to find, there are superhero and superhero-like comics that aren’t part of DC or Marvel, and they deserve the same movie adaptation that the Big 2 titles have been getting. Except, you know, with less green screen and less overuse of CGI. Just use unionized labor, like practical effects guys. Your movie will look better in the long run. It’s like Henson’s Law: CGI will look bad in 10 years, but awesome puppets will always look like awesome puppets. Practical effects will always look awesome. But let’s spread the movie adaptation love, yeah? Smaller comic companies need love too.
C.O.W.L by Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel
Two words: superhero union. C.O.W.L stands for Chicago Organized Worker’s League, the very first superhero union, with the comic set in the ’60s. Dealing with supervillains and organized crime are pretty simple; it’s the disillusioned public that’s giving them issues. Now, if it were up to me, I would make this one into a mockumentary TV show, à la some of Micheal Schur’s stuff, or maybe like What We Do In The Shadows, especially since comics transfer better to TV than movies (as do most books). Yeah, it has the potential to get bogged down a bit with the paperwork and dealing with bureaucracies, but so did Parks and Rec. It would still be fun to watch.
Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer
Okay, I know this one isn’t technically a superhero comic, but there’s some heroism involved. And c’mon, who doesn’t want to see a giant mech suit battle royale? AND it’s queer! In space! Just go ahead and insert that “gays in space” GIF with Maya Rudolph here, because it’s exactly that. All the main characters are women, bouncing from planet to planet doing what they can to push back against the neo-medieval patriarchal system they live in. You get Guillermo del Toro involved to do with this what he did with Pacific Rim? That’s an amazing movie.
Dynamo 5 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar
It turns out the word’s greatest hero, Captain Dynamo, was not the most faithful, with five illegitimate kids. Five kids who each inherited one of his powers. Now that dear old dad is dead, his kids have to meet each other for the first time and form a team to keep at bay the supervillains Captain Dynamo had fended off. This one is prime for the Marvel adaptation treatment. Team superhero movies are always popular, and with all of them being half-siblings, you won’t have to sit through any forced romances (cough Age of Ultron cough). Plus, since they’re all completely new to the superhero scene and strangers to each other, the character building and team building will be interesting and more natural. I’m surprised there hasn’t been an adaptation yet.
Barb Wire by Chris Warner and Tim Bradstreet
Yes, okay, Barb Wire did technically already get a movie in 1996. But how many times has Green Lantern been redone? Or Fantastic Four? Or Batman or Superman or or or… What I’m saying is that there’s a precedent for superhero movies to be redone regularly, why not a hard-ass female bounty hunter who goes after super-powered gangsters? You could go a couple of ways with this movie, too: you could follow the current trend of grimdark edgy superheroes, or you could make it fun like Thor: Ragnarok was. The original run of this comic was in the ’90s, so lean into the ridiculousness those comics often had… just without the outfits ’90s male artists usually put women in.
Infinitum: An Afrofuturist Tale by Tim Fielder
This is another one that isn’t quite superhero, but toes the line. It’s been repeatedly compared to Black Panther, but that’s mainly just because they’re both Afrofuturist stories. King Oba, ruler of old, was cursed with immortality after taking his concubine’s son to be his heir. He now must outlive his beloved wife and son, and cannot even be killed in assassination attempts. He begins to travel the world across the decades, seeing the way the world treats people who look like him, all the way into the future of intergalactic travel. This story is a verifiable epic, and one you could do so many cool things with when it comes to special effects. Again, this would be better as a TV series of hour-long episodes, but either way, I need the beautiful artwork filling this book put on screen.
Kim & Kim by Magdalene Visaggio and Eve Cabrera
I’ve talked about Kim & Kim before, and for good reason. It’s fun. Reading it is a goddamn delight, and I really need SyFy to make a TV show out of it — except, the old SyFy, when it was still Sci-Fi and doing stuff like Farscape or Warehouse 13. The comic is superhero in the way Deadpool or Taskmaster (the actual Taskmaster, not whatever that was in the Black Widow movie) are superheroes, but make it queer and put it in space. More gays in space, y’all! You can never have enough gays in space.
Astro City by Kurt Busiek
Astro City is a superhero comic unlike many others. It’s self contained, where you can just pick up a volume and just start reading. It’s nice, especially these days where if you want to start reading a new DC or Marvel character, you have to spend half the day doing a Wikipedia deep dive. It’s a superhero comic much in the way that The Watchmen is as well, where it breaks down the superhero trope and looks at what’s underneath. Astro City makes the superheroes more human, more like us: regular people dealing with regular issues. This is another comic that would work better as a TV show, especially as an anthology series.
Faith by Jim Shooter and David Lapham
I remember the impact Faith made when she got her own run in 2016. A fat superhero? And not only that, a fat FEMALE superhero? In a genre where female appearances tend to not be that diverse? That’s something we lacked on the big screen. She’s relatable too, someone a little more Every Man than some of the superheroes we see these days. She’s a breath of fresh air with an interesting story to boot, and exactly what is needed in the superhero movie world today.
Black by Kwanza Osajyefo and Jamal Igle
I won’t lie, this one is a bit difficult to read. It’s good, it’s necessary, but whoof. It starts with a young Black man getting gunned down by the police, but he gets back up. And discovers something: only Black people have superpowers. Not all of them, but if you have superpowers, you’re Black or mixed race. And there’s a government agency trying to keep that secret. This one would be good if it was done right and actually taken seriously — not following Marvel’s formula of all glitter with no substance. It would have to be handled with care, making sure that Black pain isn’t the only thing focused on in the movie.
If you’re still feeling that itch for some more superheroes in your life, the Big 2 or not, you can check out our list of queer comic book characters, or if you’re really more of a novel person that enjoys superhero movies, we have our list of novels based on comic characters.