‘Alters’ explores a teen beset by superpowers … and new sexual identity

ALTER STATES | Sexy superheroine Chalice, above, and gender-dysphoric teen Charlie, below.

When a new comic book title issues a “No. 1,” collectors often perk up their ears. Getting in on the ground floor of a new imprint is like attending opening night of a new play, or discovering a great new chef. So the comic book Alters — which released its first issue this month — might generate some interest. But the superheroine at the center of the story — an “alter,” this universe’s word for a mutant or genetically-enhanced human — turns out to have two secret identities: First, teenaged suburban middle son Charlie; second, Charlie’s trans identity, Chalice.

alters_2“Comics have had trans characters before, but none like Chalice — the lead in a new superhero book,” says Richard Neal, who owns Zeus Comics. “What’s refreshing is this window into her sheer joy when she puts on the costume.”

Issue No. 1 unfolds with a lot of backstory that writer Paul Jenkins parses out slowly: The presence of “alters” among us, and the insistence of the maniac villain Matter Man that all alters do his bidding. We quickly piece together that Charlie and Chalice are one, though Charlie hasn’t officially come out to his family. By the end, though, Chalice makes her formal appearance: A sexy, kick-ass powerhouse whom no one suspects was born male.

The artwork (by Leila Leiz) makes Chalice seem both powerful and feminine — indeed, one straight male character openly lusts after Chalice not realizing she is actually his friend Charlie.

Ever since Peter Parker, comic books have routinely shown young superheroes grappling with the real-world troubles of adolescence. This one does the same — but it covers all-new ground.  Welcome to the 21st century.

— Arnold Wayne Jones