Historically (in a comic book sense), the caped ones were teflon-coated. Heroes were heroes, and that always shined through.
But what if they weren't?
Watchmen (1986) is, of course, the king of this genre. The entire theme of the book is (superish)heroes gone wrong - unchecked power and ego leading them to sins small & large. Still, Watchmen isn't the only great example of this genre.
Here are five more... Agree? Disagree? Read our list, have your say, and abuse us in the comments.
The American (Mark Verheiden): First appearing in 1987, The American is a bizarre, satirical series about a Captain-American-type too-good-to-be-true superhero. When an investigative reporter looks into his childhood hero, he unravels a conspiracy that takes him to some very strange places: a cyborg Eisenhower, an apple-pie-loving Red Skull knock-off, a spoof of Scientology and much more. All in all, it is a little worthy, but still a good read.
New Statesman (John Smith / Jim Baikie): The late 80's British comics are really weird, but the dystopian vision of 1988's New Statesmen takes the cake. In the future, each American state is represented by a genetically-improved superhero. Shockingly, this goes wrong. As one runs for President (Arizona's "Pheonix"), several others run for their lives. (Fun fact, in 2047, England is a state. That must've scared readers more than anything else...). I've read the collected edition three times, and still couldn't tell you how it ends. But this is a book about a tone, not a plot (I hope). And the art is stunning.
Black Summer (Warren Ellis / Juan Jose Ryp): The struggle between established and popular power is one of Ellis' favorite topics, and in Black Summer (2008), superheroes are the major players. John Horus, superhuman vigilante, decides to buck the system and go after the 'big crimes' (that is, the government). His former superhuman peers are stuck in the middle - hunted down by the paranoid powers that be and blamed for their teammate's increasingly explosive acts of 'terrorism'. It isn't Ellis at his finest, but, like all of his Avatar works, it is an imaginative and experimental idea.
Squadron Supreme (Mark Gruenwald / John Buscema): If any book could claim to trump Watchmen's role in this particular sub-genre, it would be Squadron Supreme. Squadron was published in 1986, reputedly as a parody of DC's popular "Justice League" - including analogues of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Instead, Gruenwald turned it into much, much more. For the good of humanity, the Squadron Supreme wind up taking control of their version of Earth. Despite their noble intentions, things go horribly horribly wrong. Touching on serious issues, but in a very four-color way, this never had quite the impact of Watchmen, but certainly had the ambition. Squadron Supreme has been revived in the past few years, but that's long after the fact - Gruenwald was ahead of his time.
Cla$$war (Rob Williams): Cla$$war begins with a superhuman, American, using his heat vision to brand the word "liar" into the President's forehead. It gets no less brutal (or more subtle) from there. The former members of "Enola Gay" (again, that brutal/subtle combo...) are dragged into the conflict as the irate American kicks off against the Establishment. Much more black & white than the other books on this list, Cla$$war skirts the issues, but largely ignores them in favor of explosions. First released in 2001, Cla$$war is back on the shelves from Com.x, with rumors of a film in the works.