When Marvel conceived their flagship characters during the sixties the goal of their creators was to make these super-powered figures relevant in their place and time, such as Spider-Man who represents the lives of his nerdy readers who had to endure the difficulties of everyday normality. However, when creators in the eighties i.e. Alan Moore subverted that Marvel idea and placed superheroes in our “grim reality”, great work certainly came about as a result, but if you’re anything like me you felt like you needed a shower to cleanse yourself from the darkness you’ve just read.
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Leila Leiz
If you want to see a level of progression in terms of what superheroes should represent in our day and age, you could always read stories that show an optimistic light, such as G. Willow Wilson’s current run of Ms. Marvel. Fortunately, under the publication of indie comics publisher AfterShock, Alters by Paul Jenkins and Leila Leiz explores subject matters that uniquely fit into the superhero genre.
As the world struggles to accept the emergence of a new kind of human species known as alterations (or “Alters” for short) and two opposing armies fighting for both justice and supremacy for this new race, Charlie is living three lives: the super-heroic Alter known as Charlice, a transgender and the middle brother of three.
Having worked for Marvel for two decades, Paul Jenkins is taking a lot of cues from his former publisher, most notably the X-Men, which wasn’t just about good versus evil, but a perfect soap opera for the youthful outsider. Because of its X-influence, a lot of Alters isn’t original as the Alters are essentially mutants, the good Alters are essentially the X-Men — the most glaring similarity being that they have an academic genius as a leader and even a form of transportation that looks a lot like the Blackbird.
However, while it lacks in superhero originality, Jenkins pushes the theme of being an outsider into groundbreaking territory through the depiction of its heroic protagonist. Struggling through his multiple identities – to which he quotes: “I feel like I’m just taking one costume… and swapping it for a different one” – Charlie is a compelling protagonist with secrets he wishes not to keep from friends and family and in the alter-ego of Charlice, she will not make the best decisions that will affect those around her.
Being published by an indie company, Alters does not shy away from being a tad aggressive in its depictions of heroes and villains who are not only swearing, but pummeling each other in blood-spattered battles. Even the artwork by Leila Leiz doesn’t lend itself to mainstream appeal, but along with colorist Tamra Bonvillain, the art is bright and uniquely cartoony in the character designs.
Though the book has its faults, Paul Jenkins and Leila Leiz present an important introduction to the world’s first transgender superhero, and showing what these cape-wearing characters can mean to people with such equal weight.