There is a lot of talk about superhero fatigue and superhero over-saturation in the media right now, with none other than Steven Spielberg suggesting that it could collapse soon. However, the market, in both comics and movies, is currently dominated by only two companies: Marvel and DC.
Despite the strong material available from those two companies, there is also a rich world of comics, television, and movies that aren’t associated with these two companies, and still manages to deliver superheroes that are layered and complex. These superheroes are often interesting because don’t rely on the huge names that they hold. They are simply characters that are well-rounded and fun to read and/or watch.
With the Marvel and DC universes expanding at such rapid rates, let’s back-up and slow down to take a look at some superheroes that deserve our attention. It might be hard to take time away from nerding out about Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you might also fall in love with some characters you never knew existed.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of the 11 Best Non-Marvel & DC Superheroes.
I’m sure many of you are aware of Spawn thanks to the 1997 train-wreck that was the movie, but Spawn actually got his start in comics. Spawn was published by Image Comics and was one of their most successful characters. Spawn, although extremely dark, is considered by many to be among the best comic book characters of all-time. This sort of success wasn’t garnered simply by fancy covers and a film, but by Todd McFarlane’s amazing ability to make us care about a character as intensely unique as Spawn.
Al Simmons’ journey from the underworld and battle against both Heaven and Hell is just about as compelling a story can be for a demonic warrior controlled by one of the rulers of Hell. He is constantly at odds with evil beings from both above and below while also trying to do what he thinks is right for the people of earth. Spawn delivers harsh punishments to those who deserve one, but still struggles with his internal desires for evil brought on by his unstable suit.
Spawn is not your typical boy scout like Superman or Captain America, and even makes some of Marvel and DC’s anti-heroes look a bit weak. Not only does Spawn have incredible power rivaling that of the Spectre, but he has a tragic story that makes his character too compelling not to care about.
Ron Perlman, as awesome he is as Hellboy, was not the first incarnation of this character. Hellboy, created by Mike Mignola, actually got his start at comic publisher Dark Horse and became one of their most successful characters. Although Hellboy has crossed over with other comic characters, such as Batman, he has remained a Dark Horse property. His adventures are more than worthy to earn a spot on this list, but we must first recognize his fascinating origins. Hellboy was sent to Earth as the harbinger of the apocalypse – a literal spawn of Satan – but instead of following through on his evil instincts, he decides to fight paranormal villains in order to protect the friends and family he had makes on Earth.
On top of that, he got his start during the Second World War, as he was summoned from Hell by Nazi occultists, including that most intriguing of Russian boogeyman: Rasputin. On top of that, he has one of the weirdest teams in comic history – including a super-intelligent amphibian humanoid and a “pyrokinetic” young woman who can create fires with her mind – yet they all blend together incredibly well.
Of course, Hellboy has two amazing movies that have increased the popularity of the character immensely. Although neither movie made massive amounts of money, they have become cult hits and even garnered talks of a third installment by director Guillermo Del Toro and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman.
9. The Incredibles
You may be wondering how the whole family can serve as one spot on this list. Well, it really has to do with their ability to work as a symbiotic team and the need for them to stick together. Whenever there is a conversation about superheroes and Marvel and DC are taken out of the equation, we all immediately look to The Incredibles. This is because Pixar and Brad Bird were able to catch everything we’ve loved about superheroes for decades and present it in a new and immensely entertaining way.
Each family member is relatable in one way or another (along with their admittedly Fantastic Four-like powers), but them being part of a family is even more relatable. We all have been scolded by our mothers. We’ve all argued with our siblings. All of our dads have left in the middle of the conversation to ignore us for a beer and a football game. It’s the recognition of this realistic lifestyle juxtaposed against the insanity of heroism that makes The Incredibles so special.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I’m sure everyone is aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the popular television shows and movies that have come out in the past 20 years, but the TMNT actually got their start in comics. This debut showcased a version much darker than any we’ve ever seen in both television and film.
Although much of the origin remains the same – the Turtles are created when toxic use turns them into conscious, martial arts-weilding, pizza-eating teenagers – many people don’t know the comic origin of Splinter, the Turtles’ rat-like master. Splinter was the pet rat of an ex-Foot Clan member who was murdered for killing members of the clan. He witnessed the murder of his owner and his wife, but had also bared witness to something else. Splinter had, for years back in Japan, watched his master practice his martial arts and began to try to mimic him. These memories lead Splinter to become the master of the Turtles. Once the toxic ooze is spilled onto him and his size and intellect are doubled, he is able to hone the skills from the memories of his past. Finally, having found an old renaissance book in the sewers where they lived, Splinter named all of his young disciples after the craftsman of the era: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael.
Once the turtles were trained and fully functioning, intelligent beings, they begin encountering the Foot Clan and their arch nemesis, Shredder. During these original adventures, the Turtles are portrayed in a much more violent and mentally damaged way. For instance, Raphael is a hot-headed violent turtle who almost kills several others. These early comics, published by Mirage, also see the Turtles becoming emotionally scarred and crippled by fear. When Leonardo is nearly killed by Shredder, he regains his strength but struggles with his confidence, making him useless for some time.
Before turning his directorial skills towards the origin of Spider-Man, Marvel’s most famous character, Sam Raimi created his own superhero tale with Darkman, a twisted origin story about a scientist, Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is disfigured and left for dead by a mobster. However, Westlake finds a way to recover and seek vengeance on the mobsters that tried to kill him. Though he doesn’t have any superpowers, Westlake is able to create convincing prosthetic faces that can help him impersonate his enemies, sewing confusion among their ranks.
Despite coming before the wave of superhero movies that began with Blade and X-Men, Liam Neeson gave audiences a great cinematic proto-superhero, who was so popular that he eventually became the star of a comic series (along with a number of lesser live-action sequels). It also proved that Sam Raimi was the right guy to shepherd Peter Parker to the big screen.
6. Avatar Korra
Avatar: The Last Airbender has been a beloved series for years now on television and on the pages of comic books, in which its heroes are capable of “bending” the four elements that make up the Earth. As interesting as Aang and his gang are, Korra truly embodies what it means to be a superhero. Whereas Aang was reluctant to use his powers, and didn’t truly have a grasp on them until much later in his life, Korra mastered almost all of the elements before she turned 20 and was able to go into the Avatar State at will shortly after that. She was much more focused on helping the individual person and protecting not only her city, but the innocent everywhere. She embraced her role as the Avatar and struggled with the tough decisions she had to make, but still made them. Korra was what an Avatar was meant to be.
However, the most interesting parts of her character were her flaws. We love heroes that make mistakes and have boundaries. Korra is no exception. She had crippling flaws like her self-induced fear, her inability to embrace her spiritual side, her overbearing arrogance, and her inability to recognize that she needs help (although this was fixed before the end of the show).
Jack Boniface, a character who comes from the Valiant comic universe, is a man possessed by a spirit that propels him to hunt the wicked. At night the spirit manifests itself, using his body. Jack gains his powers through a talisman left behind by his father who was the previous Shadowman. The talisman protects him from evil spirits and once he becomes Shadowman he gains super strength and fearlessness. Along with these powers, the soul that possesses him compels him to strike down evil as well as be able to pass through worlds.
Shadowman has been able to call upon spirits from the “Deadside” to help aid him in his battles against the likes of Master Darque and Mr. Twist. Jack has also been on the team Unity and fought alongside other notable heroes of the Valiant comic universe. Unlike many of those on the team, Shadowman is the token hero who is able to communicate and associate with the world of the living, the world of the dead, and the in between making him an invaluable member.
4. The Darkness
Jackie Estacado is the host of the eternal force known as The Darkness, an anti-hero created by Marvel and DC veterans Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and Dave Wohl for Top Cow Productions. He gains his powers through a lineage passed on by his father. The Darkness doesn’t manifest until his 21st birthday thus creating his more brutal persona. Jackie has always been a fighter and has even worked as a mafia hit-man much like those in his family. Once gaining these powers, he uses them to enforce his will upon others and to further his gains in the criminal organization. It isn’t until later that Jackie decides to use his powers to combat more sinister forces as well as The Darkness’ oldest foe, Angelus, the eternal power of light. He has many run-ins with Angelus and has to kill a lot of people to survive their many battles.
Not only is The Darkness an incredibly well-drawn comic, but it is extremely mature and interesting. He has remained an extremely popular character due to his often villainous nature, thus setting him far apart from the likes of DC and Marvel’s anti-heroes.
One of the toughest and harshest heroes on this list, X – published by Dark Horse comics – is an unknown man who will give criminals one shot at redemption. What X does is mark his victim with one slash, so that later on he may return and give them the final slash that creates the X. Once the “x” is complete, he kills them. Although X is known for these extremely violent tendencies, he is still considered a great hero for his crusade against any form of corruption. For instance, he not only takes on hired hit-men and gang members, but he even targets the corrupt police commissioner.
What makes X special is his anonymity. There are other characters in comics whose identity remains a secret, the Joker is a prime example, but X has a tactful reason for his lack of identity. In one instance a criminal knocks the lock off of his mask and successfully removes it. X is pleased because the mask is actually a form of self-control and once it is off, he feels free to exact even harsher justice.
Beyond just his mask, X doesn’t really have any form of gadgetry or tricks he uses to aid in his crusade. He is basically a mad man who was pointed in the way of justice. He kills all who threaten his city and those who are innocent. Everyone gets one chance, and then they die. It’s really as simple as that, but in that simplicity X thrives as an interesting character.
Before anyone points it out, we know that Midnighter has been introduced into the New 52 for DC. However, we will focus on the character prior to his assimilation, as published by Valiant, because he was a beloved and well established hero long before his inclusion. So, with that said, Midnighter is a long-time member of Stormwatch and one of Valiant’s most profitable characters. He and his husband Apollo were amongst the first superheroes to be introduced as gay. With this, Midnighter has cemented his spot and importance in comic book history.
Midnighter is an extremely violent and murderous character who often kills his foes and villains. Not only does he feel his killings are necessary, but he has an intense love for it. He possesses some standard superhero abilities like super strength and speed, but his most important ability lies with his mind. Midnighter is referred to as the greatest tactician in existence and is able to determine what will happen in any situation before it even occurs. Along with this amazing ability, he possesses an extremely powerful healing factor that has let him survive the likes of AIDS, bullet holes, and even a broken neck. With Midnighter’s love of killing, his amazing mental capabilities, and his sexual orientation he has become one of the most interesting characters in comics.
Invincible, created by Walking Dead mastermind Robert Kirkman, is like Spider-Man, but with Superman’s powers. Real name Mark Grayson, he begins as a high school student who is just coming into his own superhero persona. His father, Omni-Man, trained Mark to hone his powers, but it complicates their lives when he reveals he was meant to conquer Earth. Mark is baffled by this news and attempts to stop his father from carrying out his original orders. Even though Omni-Man nearly kills Mark, Invincible remains as one of Earth’s most dependable heroes.
Invincible, despite being a vastly powerful human/alien hybrid, is a relatable teenager who is constantly acting in such a way that many of us have when we were his age. Many complain about Superman being so powerful that he becomes boring, yet Invincible is close to the same strength and continues to be one of the most interesting and fun characters to read in comics. This is really all thanks to the genius of Robert Kirkman. Having the success he has had, Kirkman’s publishing company, Skybound, has been able to deliver some magnificent titles under his tutelage and with the partnership they have with Image Comics.
There you have it fellow nerds. We hope you enjoyed my picks, but we’re sure there are several that we’ve left off that would have been great choices for this list. Be sure to let us know which non-Marvel/DC superheroes you would have liked to see on this list, and tell us which one on this list was your favorite. Were there some heroes that you’d never heard of before that you’re now interested in?
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