Andrew, can you beat this?
Chalice is a new superhero who can manipulate gravity so that she can fly. Chalice is also Charlie Young, a male college student, who, unbeknown to his family, is beginning to transition to female. Unlike most superheroes, who have to maintain one secret identity, Chalice has two.
And so begins Alters, a series from AfterShock Comics, coming in September, that will introduce Chalice in a central role.
The series was created by the writer Paul Jenkins, a comics veteran whose credits include Origin, which detailed the early days of Wolverine. For Mr. Jenkins it is a passion project, one he has pursued since 2005. He gives a lot of credit to his mother, a gay single mom who raised him and his brother in Dorset, England. “If we ever get to a point where issues such as race, sexuality and gender identity are a nonissue, we will have arrived,” he said. “That’s my Mum talking right there.”
With the Alters — this comic’s term for people who have some kind of empowering anomaly — Mr. Jenkins, 50, is set to explore characters who have special abilities and physical, chemical or mental challenges. One story will focus on an unattractive heroine. “The TMZ report would be ‘Ugly Chick Saves World,’” he said. Another will focus on a shape-shifter who becomes quadriplegic and faces a choice: remain that way and live or opt for a final change that will grant mobility but prove fatal after a month.
Mr. Jenkins said that he had always planned for a transgender superhero in the series, but Chalice didn’t fully take shape until he met a fan, Liz Luu, in 2014, at a convention panel about creating characters. Ms. Luu had an appealing idea: a transgender hero who hadn’t transitioned yet and could present as a female only when in costume.
“She can only be herself when she’s not herself” is how Mr. Jenkins summarized her. In exchange for mentoring Ms. Luu, who is now an executive assistant at the Cartoon Network, Mr. Jenkins incorporated that idea into Chalice’s back story.
In some ways, Alters harks back to Mr. Jenkins’s work for Marvel Comics, where he created the Sentry, a Superman-like hero with schizophrenia.
Mr. Jenkins said that he firmly believed that Alters would not turn into a series of moral lessons in which everyone learns about tolerance and grows as a person. “The most important thing in approaching this book is for me to concentrate on these characters as heroes and villains, and to let these things come out during the process,” he said.
A transgender superhero is rare, but not unusual in the current world of comics, where the industry has made efforts to be more reflective of the real world. Recent superheroes have been lesbian, Muslim, plus-sized and more. Next month will introduce Kim & Kim, a sci-fi adventure from Black Mask Studios, about two bounty hunters — one a trans woman, the other bisexual — who are best friends. There is also TransCat, an independently published humor comic about a transgender heroine.
“The big news about diversity in comics is that we now have diversity in comics — in the people who actually create the material and also in the characters depicted,” Mark Evanier, a comic book historian, said. “When I was growing up, every hero might just as well have been the same well-toned male in a different costume.”
This is the second series by Mr. Jenkins for AfterShock, a publisher that was founded last year and whose first comics came out in December. One of those was Replica, by Mr. Jenkins and Andy Clarke, about an overwhelmed detective on a space station, who clones himself 50 times for the sake of efficiency.
AfterShock’s founders are Jon Kramer and Lee Kramer, a father and son with extensive film and television experience; Jawad Qureshi, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur; Michael Richter, a media and technology executive; and Mike Marts and Joe Pruett, comics industry veterans. “When I first started talking to the AfterShock team,” said Mr. Marts, who is editor in chief, “I realized quickly they weren’t in it to make a quick buck or just create intellectual property for TV, movies or video games.”
“Comics are the first priority,” Mr. Pruett, AfterShock’s publisher, agreed. “If it translates into film and television, that’s great.” The company’s series are by a mix of established and emerging creators.
The comic book industry, Mr. Jenkins said, “is such a boys’ club.” It is not a circle that he felt particularly at home in, and so he set out to find people to create Alters who reflected the diversity in the comic.
Brian Stelfreeze, who is black and is currently drawing Marvel’s Black Panther series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, will provide covers; Leila Leiz is handling the interior pages; and Tamra Bonvillain, who is transgender, is the colorist. As for the writer, Mr. Jenkins, he joked: “I have the heterosexual middle-aged man locked up.”