Superheroes are absolutely everywhere today. From Oscar winning movies, Game of the Year winners, TV shows, and, yes, even comics, superheroes have never been more popular. But some are more popular than others. For every Iron Man, there’s a Blue Beetle (or three). For every X-Men, there’s a Xenobrood. Sometimes it’s a matter of right place, right time. Sometimes a movie or a game sparks public attention. Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck.
It’s nearly impossible to predict who’ll be a hit or a flop. Spider-Man was deemed too risky a prospect and nearly shelved, until Stan Lee shuffled him into the final issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy. There have been many hundreds (thousands?) of attempts at catching the spark that makes a hit. And many of them are unfairly overlooked.
But while guys like Batman and Wolverine are very well known, there is a trade-off. The cost of exposure is status quo. The Joker will always escape Arkham Asylum. Peter Parker will never be able to cover rent. Why? Because that’s what they’re known for. The lesser-known heroes are freer, in a way. They live in their own little worlds, with their own struggles and victories. And when the story ends, quite often, it stays ended.
Heroes typically follow two archetypes, either inspirational or aspirational. They make us want to be better, or they themselves want to be better. You can mix and match, some inspirational heroes often feel like they’ll never live up to their own myth, and aspirational heroes often don’t realize how they inspire those around them.
We think some of these heroes deserve more attention, so we’re shining a spotlight on some superheroes we think our readers would love.
10 Jack Staff
Humble builder John Smith has a secret. He was born in the Victorian Era, has been a superhero since at least the Second World War, and is plagued by prophetic nightmares of a coming crisis. Not one of the usual builder secrets, like skimping on concrete mix or tax dodging.
Destined to protect a chosen one from some great evil (or perhaps to stop her from becoming that great evil) Jack Staff uses his powers of energy manipulation to fight vampires, serial killers and insane military robots, even though he's pretty terrible at it. As supporting character Marlan the Mystic notes, he may not be capable of defeating evil, "but he's going to try anyway." And isn't that what a superhero does best?
9 Black Beetle
Drawing on the early "masked man" pulps that inspired Batman, the Black Beetle explores the dankest sewers, the swankest nightclubs, and everything in-between in his quest for justice. Armed with an array of retro-futuristic gadgets, he fights crime in Colt City (think Gotham, but darker and grimier). Crime here includes the Nazi Werewolf Korps, corrupt politicians and mob bosses, giving him a good workout every time he suits up.
The best thing about the Beetle is he makes mistakes. Although he is extremely competent, he can be taken by surprise. He takes hits in fights. He can fail. We have yet to find 0ut the identity of the Beetle or his origin, focusing instead on his rise as Colt’s premiere masked man, with occasional clues (his gun, an off-handed mention of Haiti) to tease the reader with.
Coupled with gorgeous art by his creator, Francesco Francovilla, Black Beetle is a hero well-worth checking out.
8 Kaiketsu Zubat
Hayakawa Ken, Kaiketsu Zubat or the Magnificent Zubat, is a polymath cowboy. A scientist, guitarist, gunslinger, cardshark, champion drinker, boxer, swordsman; you name it, he's mastered it. And lucky for him, too, since his best friend was just murdered by the criminal group Dakker, and now he's out for revenge. Travelling across Japan, he tangles with organised crime, animal abusers and mad scientists to avenge his friend and bring Dakker to justice.
Unlike many superheroes, Zubat's enemies are all normal people, just phenomenally skilled at their chosen trade. Luckily for Ken, he's even better than they are. Armed with a power suit, a guitar and a flying car, Kaiketsu Zubat is on a mission to defend the helpless from organised crime.
7 Sledgehammer 44
In the depths of the Second World War, a prototype war machine is wheeled out. Powered by the mysterious Vril energy, and piloted by a dead man, Sledgehammer 44 is America's secret weapon against the Nazi's occult menaces.
Set in the same universe as Hellboy, Jim Sacks (the ghostly pilot of the Sledgehammer) is a hero trapped between worlds. Torn between a life imprisoned in an iron suit and the freedom of death, he's in over his head against Nazi sorcerers, like the Black Flame and Memnam Saa, who seeks the Vril energy for his demonic masters. Although he is offered the universe, his steadfast refusal to abandon his friends and humanity marks him a true hero.
Imagine being the child of a superhero. Not just any superhero. THE superhero. Now imagine not really wanting to be a superhero. That’s Zenith, a former rock star turned Messianic figure, the last line of defense between mankind and alien gods from beyond.
Dragged out of his humdrum life of interviews and screaming fangirls, Zenith (AKA Robert MacDowell) is forced to join a war against ancient alien gods bent on controlling the universe by possessing superhumans. The son of two of the greatest heroes, Zenith is initially lazy and egotistical, with powers that are best described as “erratic.” He’s also one of the few remaining superhumans left, after most died, disappeared or lost their powers with age.
Initially a reluctant hero, he quickly establishes himself as a worthy successor to his parents, while remaining true to himself and his dreams.
5 The Question
The Faceless Man. A better detective than Batman. One of the meanest street fighters in DC. Exploring many different philosophies, the Question is a menacing figure, walking the streets of Hub City alone.
The inspiration for Watchmen’s Rorschach, Vic Sage is a mystery man who wants you to ask the question, and question the answers you get. Hub City is the worst city in America. Gotham looks like a playpen compared to it. The Question is the only superhero it has. Tangling with corruption, government conspiracies, and inner-city crime as both the Question and as a journalist, Vic Sage ultimately passed the title onto Renee Montoya, a disgraced Gotham cop. Although Vic Sage died, the Question lives on.
So far, he has only appeared in animated form (Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold), but I fully expect to see him show up in an upcoming movie.
4 Captain Universe
Most superheroes have one identity. Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Superman is Clark Kent. Some superheroes change names, like Speedball to Penance, or Captain Marvel to Shazam. Captain Universe is a bit different. Captain Universe can be anyone. Even you.
In times of great and unnatural disasters, an individual is chosen by the Enigma Force to wield the semi-phenomenal, nearly cosmic power of Captain Universe. Such powers include flight, matter manipulation, invulnerability, super-senses, and super speed, among many others. Those chosen include Spider-Man, the Juggernaut, an astronaut, a toddler and a dog, and have battled everything from cosmic menaces to schoolyard bullies.
Captain Universe is a reminder that everyone has the potential to be a hero, even the worst of villains.
What happens when a ragtag band of misfits decide to try to be superheroes? When they're Nextwave, stuff blows up. It blows up a lot. All the time. And then the explosions explode.
Made up of a former Avenger (Photon), an X-Man (Boom-Boom), a robot (Aaron), a monster hunter (Elsa Bloodstone) and the Captain (just the Captain), Nextwave are the most explosive, alcoholic, violent, petty, destructive, self-destructive superheroes Marvel have yet produced. They’re on a mission to save the world from Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction, including dragons, dropbears, Ultra-Samurais and evil Avengers knock-offs fresh from the sweatshop.
The great thing about Nextwave is that they try to be better than they are. Although they are all terrible people, they know where the line is, and God help anyone they see crossing it.
2 The Rocketeer
After stealing an experimental jet-pack from the Nazis (there are a lot of Nazis here, aren't there?), pilot Cliff Secord is christened The Rocketeer. Flying through the clouds, he's a two-fisted crime fighter, with a beautiful girlfriend and a modestly successful film (made in 1991). Set in 1930s New York and LA, his stories are glorious romps through the Golden Age, pre-Code Hollywood, where martinis flowed freely, Bing Crosby was crooning, and the mobster graves were shallow.
As mentioned, there was a film adaptation in 1991, with a sequel or reboot stuck in development hell. Director Joe Johnson has since done another Nazi punchfest with Captain America, in part due to his work with the Rocketeer.
1 Kamen Rider
Takeshi Hongo, AKA Kamen Rider, was a young man abducted by the terrorist group Shocker. Forced to undergo cybernetic enhancements, he was reborn as Kamen (Masked) Rider, and swore to stop Shocker at any cost. As the years went by, many others were inspired to take up the name and continue the fight against evil.
Beginning in 1973, Kamen Rider is a household name in Japan. The title has been passed on to many different heroes, including a detective, a vampire, and a feral child, and has fought everything from cults to aliens and God himself. Although it reboots every year, all those who carry the title are united in their desire to ride sweet motorcycles and punch monsters in the face.
He also has two planets named in his honor, which is pretty cool.