9 Outstanding Graphic Novels About Being A Hero

Classic superheroes will always be popular, but there are some amazing independent writers and artists telling stories about superheroes, and about what being a hero really means even when you don’t have superpowers. Here are some of my favorite graphic novels and comics about saving the world – or at least making a difference.

The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. So some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all. I hope you find something new and interesting to read here!

Before we jump in:

  • All comics here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
  • Amazon links are affiliate links.
  • Any questions, corrections, recommendations? Let me know via my contact form.

Super Indian (Amazon / Comixology / Goodreads) By Arigon Starr.

Arigon Starr is an actor, musician, playwright, and a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. She initially created Super Indian as a radio drama performed with a live audience. She then turned it into a comic book, writing and drawing it herself, because she is unstoppably multi-talented. It’s incredibly funny. Starr isn’t afraid to play with superhero conventions, reference pop culture, and comment on racism, oppression, and cultural appropriation in a way that makes you laugh, even while you’re shaking your head because it’s so sadly true.

Here’s the setup: Hubert Logan gained superpowers as a child due to a government research project that laced commodity cheese with “Rezium.” He keeps his alter ego, Super Indian, a secret while working as a janitor in the reservation bingo hall. His two personas have very different lives. We first meet Super Indian as he’s battling an evil anthropologist! We first meet Hubert as he’s being turned down for a date. :( Things just get more ridiculous and funny from there. A librarian suggests that Hubert start a blog , but unfortunately Hubert doesn’t blog responsibly in his third persona as “Rez Boy.” His blog stirs up all kinds of trouble, some of it involving a Brazilian rodeo cowboy, and there’s also a headlock incident due to an unfortunate comment about Revenge of the Sith. I know that as a non-Native, I didn’t even get all of the jokes, and I still laughed until I almost cried.

There are two collections out so far, and there may be a bit more webcomic that didn’t make it in, but I haven’t yet checked. Note to self!

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out (Amazon / Goodreads) By Brandon Thomas. Illustrated by Lee Ferguson.

Woman of color science hero in outer space? YES THANK YOU. Do I need to say more? Okay, I will!
Miranda is so fierce, and she’s all about smarts, strength, integrity, and saving lives. This book has action, adventure, futuristic gadgets, friendship, and even a section you have to turn upside down to read. What more could you need? C-Man said it was possibly the best book we read that year and I could not contradict him. Co-creators Thomas and Ferguson have done a bang-up job with one of the coolest female superheroes we’ve met. I was heartened when Brandon Thomas told me directly on Twitter that there will be more Miranda Mercury, because I would absolutely read an ongoing series.

A note about her costume: it’s kind of ridiculous for the first two thirds of the book. There are gals who would choose to wear a top that has big red circles for their boobs, but I am skeptical that Miranda is one of them. In the last third or so of the book, the design gets WAY better. Not sure what happened there.

Five Weapons: Making the Grade (Amazon / Comixology / Goodreads) By Jimmie Robinson.

C-Man read this, looked at me, and said “This is one of the best comic books I’ve read all year. Possibly the BEST.” (This was a different year from Miranda Mercury.) Five Weapons is whip-smart, has intrigue in all the right places, and mixes action with human connection in perfect proportions. Tyler Shainline, son of the famous assassin, enrolls in an elite school that promises to teach him how to kill. The only problem is, he won’t pick up a weapon. Why not? And who else is hiding something?

Yes, it deals with a school for assassins, but there’s really nothing distressing or gory about it. Its focus is on Tyler’s own survival, but also his efforts to help others by exposing secrets and leveling the playing field. C-Man appreciated the non-violent problem-solving without any cheesy after-school special aspect. There’s also an interesting “passing” aspect which isn’t explicitly discussed in terms of race and class in the first book, but which is good food for thought and discussion.

Starling (Amazon / Goodreads) By Sage Stossel.

Amy Sturgess became a superhero crimefighter in her teens. She kept doing it while going to college and landing her dream job. Her secret life as Starling often sabotages her work life, though, and let’s not even talk about relationships. As this book begins, things are getting even more complicated. The job is finally getting away from her. Her brother’s trouble with the law may collide with her crimefighting. The boyfriend that got away is back, but possibly not in a good way. This is the sweetest little book about trying to make life work, which all of us have trouble with. Even though we can’t generate electricity with our hands like Amy does.

Dragman (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Steven Appleby.

“August Crimp can fly, but only when he wears women’s clothes. Soaring above a gorgeous, lush vista of London, he is Dragman, catching falling persons, lost souls, and the odd stranded cat. After he’s rejected by the superhero establishment, where masked men chase endorsement deals rather than criminals, August quietly packs up his dress and cosmetics and retreats to normalcy — a wife and son who know nothing of his exploits or inclinations.

When a technological innovation allows people to sell their souls, they do so in droves, turning empty, cruel, and hopeless, driven to throw themselves off planes. August is terrified of being outed, but feels compelled to bring back Dragman when Cherry, his young neighbor, begs him to save her parents. Can Dragman take down the forces behind this dreadful new black market? Can August embrace Dragman and step out of the shadows?”

Red Sonja: The Art of Blood and Fire (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Gail Simone, with art by Walter Geovani and Noah Salonga. Colors by Adriano Lucas and Elmer Santos. Letters by Simon Bowland.

I will always be skeptical of Red Sonja’s chain mail bikini. I also remember the 1985 movie Red Sonja far too well. So it took convincing for me to read this book, even though it’s written by comics rockstar Gail Simone. I loved it! And Sonja herself, who is bisexual in Simone’s series about her, yay!

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Mercenary Red Sonja doesn’t want to take a job offered by the dying emperor, but she hates slavery more than just about anything, and the fate of one thousand slaves hangs in the balance. So she’s off on a quest to fetch six great artisans for the emperor’s “I’m dying” bash before it’s too late. Beyond even the physical challenges of the job, Sonja finds herself changed in ways she didn’t expect as she completes her tasks.

I was surprised to find so much attention to personalities and relationships in an action-adventure comic, and I was impressed. Simone’s always at her best when writing a team book, and she does “found family” very well. She mixes humor, action, and emotion deftly, and Geovani draws the main story with great details. This is not the beginning of Simone’s run on Red Sonja, but it can be read on its own, and it’s the book I liked best out of what she wrote for this character.

Strong Female Protagonist (Amazon/Kindle / Comixology / Goodreads) By Brennan Lee Mulligan, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag.

This may be the most thoughtful book about superheroes I’ve ever read. Alison Green used to be Mega Girl. She was really good at punching robots… until she discovered that punching robots couldn’t save the world. Now she’s in college, trying to live a normal life and figure out how to actually save the world. But things are more complicated when you have superpowers.

There is so much heart in this book, so much love for Alison, and Alison has such deep love for people. Mulligan and Ostertag explore the question of what you should do with your abilities, whatever they may be. And they do it well. The second book came out since I first started recommending this series, and it was completely satisfying. We’re definitely in for the third!

You can read Strong Female Protagonist online, since it was a webcomic before being collected in book form. The printed book has an advantage, though, because they included a line at the bottom of every page that’s semi-hidden as mouseover text in the webcomic. It’s like director’s commentary, but bite-size and funny. I like the book lettering better, too.

Jember by Beserat Debebe, line art by Stanley Obende, colors by Toyin Ajetunmobi (Volume 1 HC from Etan Comics / Digital Issue 1 from Etan Comics / Goodreads)

“Anxious, frustrated, and ready to leave his city behind, jobless graduate Amanuel Tilahun is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts that change his life. He must now make a choice; to help himself or the city that’s treated him like a nobody, and now sees him as a threat. Etan Comics presents the all-new JEMBER, the first Ethiopian Superhero comic book.”

The Shadow Hero (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Gene Luen Yang, with art by Sonny Liew.

Yang and Liew are two of our favorite comics creators, and their reincarnation of an almost-forgotten 40’s superhero called Green Turtle is absolutely perfect. Who was Green Turtle? How did he get his powers? I just have to show you:

Okay, so, that didn’t work. Neither do any of his mother’s other attempts. She finally takes him for kung fu training from her ex-boyfriend (that’s not awkward), and The Golden Man of Bravery is born! Except a name change is possibly in order. The Golden Man of Bravery is too long! Whatever his name, I can’t think of a better way to describe this book than what’s on the back cover: “…this hilarious and insightful graphic novel about heroism and heritage is also a loving tribute to the long, rich tradition of American superhero comics.” So pick it up, y’all!

That concludes today’s roundup of comics about being a hero that I love and recommend!