11 awesome comic books that are more than just muscle-y white dudes.

These days you can't go anywhere without seeing superheroes — or someone (rightly) decrying their lack of diversity.

As both a lifelong comic book fan and a lifelong white dude, I understands both sides of it. On one hand, it's exciting to see these iconic characters finally get the spotlight after 50-plus years of being relegated to four-color funny books. I mean, we get at least seven different superhero blockbusters this year alone, and that's not even counting television!

But on the other hand, well ... let's just say that guys like me have never been left wanting for role models that look just like us.


Fortunately, things aren't quite the same as they were back in 1939, when Superman first showed up on the scene. Sure, there are still plenty of characters (and fans) who stick to their traditions of Stoic Manguy Hero and The Sexy Lady That He Rescues All the Time. But now it's easier than ever to find comic books that accurately reflect the world we live in — where there are more distinctions between people than the color of their spandex over-the-pants underwear.

Here are just a few of our favorites:

1. "Spider-Man"

Wait what?! Don't worry, Peter Parker is still around. But a black Hispanic teenager named Miles Morales is also Spider-Man, thanks to Brian Michael Bendis, a Jewish-American comic book writer who wanted a more diverse role model for his adopted children. Originally introduced in 2011 as part of Marvel's "Ultimate" universe (a parallel alternate continuity ... because comics), the new Spider-Man comic launching in February will place him firmly beside all your other favorite heroes.

Image by Sara Pichelli/Marvel.

2. "The Wicked + the Divine"

"Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead." It's happening again right now — and this time, they're all beloved pop stars. That's the basic premise of "The Wicked + the Divine," which explores fandom, death, divinity, and the irresistible allure of pop music. While the book itself is set in England, the pantheon of deities pulls from every culture and historical period and mashes it together with a cast that spans the spectrum of race, gender, and sexuality. And it all oozes with a rock 'n' roll sex appeal.

Image by Jamie McKelvie/Image Comics.

3. "Midnighter"

When he was first introduced, Midnighter and his now-ex-husband, Apollo, were basically a gay homage to Batman and Superman. And if that sounds like the concept to a cheap sketch comedy, that couldn't be further from the truth. Midnighter is more powerful than Batman and at least as badass — if not more. (Let's just say his early appearances were part of DC's adult-oriented publications.) He was also the first gay male to headline an ongoing DC comic book, and the current iteration is the first time it's being scripted by an out writer, too.

Image by David Messina/DC Comics.

4. "Lumberjanes"

Speaking of adult content, "Lumberjanes" is probably the most delightful all-ages comic you will ever read. The girls at the (big breath!) Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types (yes, really) get into all kinds of fantastical mischief as they learn about friendship and about themselves. It's heartfelt. It's fresh. It's universal. It's like the best parts of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Scooby-Doo," and "Salute Your Shorts" all rolled into one. Did I mention that it also features a transgender cast member and can help kids and adults alike to empathize with issues of gender dysphoria?

Image by Brooke Allen/BOOM! Studios.

5. "Ms. Marvel"

If you thought Peter Parker was the only character who is relatable as the lovable loser whose superhero antics get in the way of getting his life together, then you haven't read "Ms. Marvel." Kamala Khan is a nerdy teenage girl living in Jersey City when she discovers that she has superpowers. Think about your own most embarrassing high school experience; now imagine that it happens when you're teaming up with Wolverine and that you can't tell anybody about it and that your parents still won't let you go to that party with all your friends — ugh. On top of all that, Ms. Marvel is the first mainstream Muslim superhero comic, scripted by a Muslim writer, and it doesn't shy away from all the complications that come along with that.

Image by Giuseppe Cammuncoli/Marvel.

6. "The Private Eye"

It's cool enough that "The Private Eye" is a pay-what-you-want digital comic about Internet privacy that was specifically designed to be read on a computer or tablet. It's also an incredibly compelling detective story with a bisexual, biracial protagonist, set in a near-future society after The Cloud burst and released everyone's private information out into the world. The international and highly acclaimed creative team have also made the book available completely DRM-free, with translations in English, Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese. You have pretty much no reason not to read it all right now, and the only reason you'll want to stop reading is just so you can change your passwords.

Image by Marcos Martin/Panel Syndicate.

7. "Bitch Planet"

"Bitch Planet" is a science-fictional feminist riff on '70s exploitation movies, set in a dystopian future where "non-compliant" women are sent to an off-planet prison where they learn to be subservient — so, maybe not so different from the real world. The allegory is obvious, but the action and the characters are anything but. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick never shies away from going there, wherever "there" might be. Think "Orange is the New Black" but in space. Or maybe Margaret Atwood meets "Inglorious Basterds." Either way, it's awesome. 

Image by Valentine DeLandro/Image Comics.

8. "Black Panther"

We've written before about why we're excited to see MacArthur-Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates take over the new "Black Panther" comic book, but it still bears repeating. The leader of a highly-advanced African nation, T'Challa is a super-powered super-genius who has served as a member of The Avengers as well as the Fantastic Four. And, oh yeah, he has that movie coming out soon, after his upcoming debut in "Captain America: Civil War." Let's just say that it's about time he had his chance to shine. While Coates' comic doesn't debut until April, you can currently catch Black Panther in the Marvel comic "Ultimates." (Not to be confused with the aforementioned Ultimate universe continuity of ... oh, forget it. It's comics.)

Image by Brian Stelfreeze/Marvel.

9. "Virgil"

Like "Bitch Planet" above, "Virgil" is a twist on '70s exploitation films, only this time, it's a black, queer revenge story. Virgil is a Jamaican policeman who is forced to hide his sexuality from his fellow officers, especially when they use their authority to bully the brothels. But when his secret is exposed and his partner is kidnapped — well, to say the least, there aren't any funky "Shaft" guitar licks during Virgil's brutal, bloody odyssey to save the man he loves. Added bonus: "Virgil" is a complete graphic novel (as opposed to a collected series of comic book issues), which means you get the whole story in one book. But speaking from personal experience, I should warn you not to crack it open right before bedtime or you won't go to sleep.

Image by JD Faith/Image Comics.

10. "Batgirl"

Barbara Gordon is more than just a Batman knockoff in a purple suit. The current "Batgirl" comic makes her into her own force to be reckoned with, an incomparable computer hacker and crimefighter who's still dealing with the ramifications from a traumatic crippling at the hands of The Joker.

Also? Her roommate and friend Alysia Yeoh is the first transgender character in a mainstream superhero comic (which made her recent wedding the first transgender wedding in a mainstream superhero comic, too).

Image by Daniel Sampere and Vicente Cifuentes/DC Comics.

11. "Trees"

10 years ago, 10 strange alien monoliths — the titular "trees" — landed on Earth. And ever since, they've ... just kinda been there, as if these extraterrestrials had come to Earth in search of intelligent life but just gave up. "Trees" explores the personal lives of its international ensemble cast and the ways they've been affected — or not — by the presence of the Trees. From Slavic scientists to Brazilian drug-runners to Manhattan businessmen to queer artists in China's quarantined "cultural zone," it's a socio-political tapestry about the aftermath of the most disappointing alien invasion ever.

Image by Jason Howard/Image Comics.

These stories and characters might be fiction, but that doesn't mean they can't reflect the world we live in.

People are resistant to change, and we can't change that about them. But stories can help us empathize with other people and understand the way we live.

So while it is important to applaud the diverse casts in these and other books, what makes these comics great is the same thing that makes any comic great: a cast that we connect with, regardless of their gender, race, age, or sexuality. Even if you're a white dude like me, there's still a lot that you can learn from a super-powered Pakistani-American girl. (Which is only fair, since we've expected everyone to empathize with us for so long.)

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."