Gen V's Jordan Li is the most interesting TV superhero we've seen in years

Gen V
(Image credit: Prime Video)

Gen V, the college campus spin-off of Amazon Prime Video’s ultra-cynical, ultra-violent, and ultra-entertaining superhero satire, has made a three-point landing on our screens. 

Taking place after season 3 of The Boys, this side-story moves the action to the Godolkin University, where the next generation of superheroes are grappling with the now-widespread knowledge that they were injected with Compound V as infants, all while attempting to successfully brand themselves as future protectors and celebrities in the Vought corporation’s media machine. Cue great cameos of The Boys’ most famous superheroes, constantly-updated popularity polls, and fellow students looking to exploit each others’ secrets for online clout.

But whereas The Boys often satirizes well-known superhero figures, like Superman, The Flash, or Ant-Man, Gen V takes a different tack – tying the powers of its young heroes to a host of anxieties around body image, self-harm, disordered eating, and gender identity.

From the blood-bending powers of Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), who caused the death of her own parents while getting her first period, to a YouTuber who has to vomit in order to shrink down to a super-small size (Lizzie Broadway), Gen V offers a fascinating distortion of body (dis)empowerment for the small screen, without feeling like a checklist of 'Gen Z issues' that it could have easily become.

But the most interesting hero of the lot has to be Jordan Li, a bigender Korean-American shapeshifter who can move between two differently-gendered bodies, attaining distinct abilities in either form. There’s the male Jordan, with greater strength and invulnerability, and the female Jordan, with greater agility and telekinetic blasts. The common factor? Both can really pull off a suit.

Gen V

(Image credit: Prime Video)

Both London Thor (You, Never Have I Ever) and Derek Luh (Shining Vale, Runaways) do an incredible job of playing their gender-swapped selves, with the same hard, frustrated edge as they continually insist on their worth to the people around them, making every 'jump' between bodies seamless and convincing, with a clearly common soul.

It’s a startling smart depiction of gender fluidity, and feels like a game-changer for the kinds of gender-diverse superheroes we see on screen – hopefully the first of many. But crucially, it allows Jordan an immense complexity in their personhood, with a whole load of family baggage from parents that purely code them as male, and a tension between their inherent power and the perceived confusion of Vought’s target demographics in white rural America, continually holding them back from Godolkin’s number one spot.

Mainstream superhero movies are still shaking off dull binaries of strong men and lithe women, and even last year's She-Hulk suffered from a limited understanding of what a woman’s body could be, even a super-strong one. But what happens when someone can be both, either? What does that do to the way people perceive them, and how does that confuse their ever-important branding, in a world where we’re often expected to have a single, static, sellable identity? What pronouns should Godolkin’s wealthy donors be expected to use for the multitudinous Jordan?

I’m a huge fan of the young superhero genre, where teen angst is accentuated and complicated by newfound powers, whether it’s the fly-away fuckboys of Extraordinary or the high-stress ambition of an engine-legged class president in My Hero Academia. And in a genre so wedded to outlandish leaps of imagination, it shouldn’t be so surprising to see explorations of gender that are increasingly quite commonplace in the public sphere. But it’s still much more common to see someone who’s half-spider (how many movies now?) or has galactic blood, than someone whose gender has been morphed, molded, expanded by their internal power.

Personally, I’d like a lot more of the latter.

Gen V is airing weekly on Prime Video. For more on the show, check out our guides to:

Freelance Writer

Henry St Leger is a freelance write who has written for sites including NBC News, The Times, Little White Lies, and Edge Magazine, alongside GamesRadar. Henry is a former staffer at our sister site TechRadar too, where started out as Home Technology Writer before moving up to Home Cinema Editor. Before he left to go full-time freelancer, he was News and Features Editor reporting on TVs, projectors, smart speakers and other technology.