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Celebrating an 80-year legacy of heroism, we count down the best of the best.
Its been over 80 years since Superman first debuted in the pages of Action Comics 1 and jump-started the superhero genre. Since then, DC has spawned thousands of heroes and villains across countless comics, TV series, movies, and video games. But through it all, a select few have emerged as the best of the best. We hear that Batman fellow is still pretty popular.
With the DC Universe constantly growing and expanding in comics, TV, movies and games, its all the more important to remember those heroes who have defended it all this time. Thats why were counting down the 25 greatest heroes who live and fight in the DC Universe. Obviously that leaves out independent DC franchises like Fables and Y: The Last Man, and we also left out the Sandman crew, as theyre a bit above the concept of good and evil. But everyone else in the DCU is fair game. Read on to see which heroes made the cut, and let us know your favorites in the comments section below.
As much as Tim Drake and Dick Grayson have become like sons to Bruce Wayne, theres only one true son of Batman. Damian exploded onto the scene in 2006 as part of Grant Morrisons Batman run (See it on Amazon). By the end, he had proven himself worthy of the Robin mantle despite his prickly, arrogant personality. Many consider him to be the greatest Robin of them all. Though Damian heroically sacrificed himself in battle, he now lives again and has set about carving a reputation outside his fathers shadow.
He shares his superhero name with the Golden Age Atom, but Ray Palmer is more a scientist than a pugilist. His patented size-changing belt allows him to shrink down to subatomic size. This versatile power allows for all manner of superhero adventures, from mind-bending sci-fi to swashbuckling adventure. Rays fortunes have risen and fallen in recent years, from the tragic fallout of Identity Crisis to his return to prominence in DCs current comics and the Arrowverse. Through it all, he remains the greatest hero to call himself The Atom. (Check out Legends of Tomorrow: The Atom on Amazon)
Vic Stone is more machine than man, but dont call him twisted or evil. He emerged from a near-fatal accident to become one of the greatest of a new generation of heroes among the Teen Titans. Forget his enhanced strength and advanced weaponry - Cyborgs ability to tap into computer networks makes him one of Earths most formidable heroes. Cyborgs star was already on the rise thanks to the Teen Titans animated series. But thanks to DCs New 52 relaunch and the Justice League movie, hes now firmly established as one of the founding members of the Justice League. (Check out Cyborg: Imitation of Life on Amazon)
Far more than just being a female sidekick to Hawkman, Hawkgirl has established herself as a equal to and even superior to her namesake. Maybe thats why she was the one to be cast as a major player on the Justice League animated series. Like Hawkman, Hawkgirl soars on a set of artificial wings and boasts all manner of powers bestowed by her Nth metal technology. But while Hawkman is often a slave to the cycle of death, rebirth, and renewed romance that ensnares the two, Hawkgirl would rather seek her own destiny. (Check out Hawkgirl on Amazon)
Starfire has come a long way from her initial conception as Red Sonja in space. This hotheaded alien princess traveled to Earth and became one of the core members of the 1980s-era Teen Titans, a group that frequently rivaled the X-Men in popularity. Shes been a mainstay of the Titans in various incarnations ever since. Much of Starfires appeal comes from her joyful personality and unfamiliarity with Earth culture and customs, elements that were heavily emphasized in the popular Teen Titans animated series. Starfires adventures continue to unfold in comics like Justice League Odyssey and TV series like Titans and Teen Titans Go! (Check out the awesome1980s run of Teen Titans on Amazon)
Jonah Hex isnt the only cowboy hero at DC by any stretch, but hes remained the most popular since his introduction in 1972. Maybe its his distinctive, scarred visage or his gruff, anti-hero personality. Maybe its the fact that hes a very versatile hero, starring in colorful supernatural adventures as readily as straightforward, gritty Wild West tales. Weve even seen him interact with some familiar, modern day DC faces in both the comics and DCs Legends of Tomorrow. This versatility will ensure that Hex endures, even if his movie career isnt looking so hot. (Check out Jonah Hex on Amazon)
When youre a washed-up athlete in a world full of futuristic technology, how do you recapture that lost glory? Why, by stealing a bunch of gear and traveling back in time to present yourself as the worlds greatest superhero, of course. Folks in the present day DC Universe dont tend to see Booster Gold as the great hero he imagines himself to be. Hes more of a running joke. But he perseveres, and over the years hes proven that he really does have the right stuff. The combination of goofball humor and time travel antics always make Boosters misadventures fun to follow. (Check out Booster Gold on Amazon)
Black Canary is one of the oldest female heroes in the DC Universe, with the original being a martial arts expert and core member of the WWII-era Justice Society. But its the modern incarnation most fans remember. Dinah Lance pairs her combat skills with a wicked sonic scream that leaves enemies reeling. Shes been both the leader of the Justice League and the Birds of Prey, as well as the frequent on again/off again lover of Green Arrow. And thanks to shows like Smallville, Justice League Unlimited, and now Arrow, her Hollywood presence is increasing all the time. (Check out Black Canary on Amazon)
Superman may be the Last Son of Krypton, but hes not the only survivor. His cousin, Kara Zor-El, also made the trip. Supergirl has been a mainstay of the Superman franchise since her debut in 1959. Like Mary Marvel and Batgirl, she was an early example of a female sidekick developing a large fanbase in her own right. There have been many versions of the character, some Kryptonian and some not. One of them even dated Lex Luthor for a while. But in every case, Supergirl has been one of DCs most powerful heroes, and a standard to hold other female heroes against. (Check out Supergirl on Amazon)
John Constantine would probably resent being included on this list. This crafty magician tends to look out for himself alone, and his friends usually end up paying the consequences. But even though his morals are often questionable, and his smoking habit excessive, Constantine has saved the world plenty of times. He debuted in the pages of Swamp Thing, spun out into his own long-running solo series, has been adapted for both movies and TV and has now taken on a much more prominent role in DCs superhero universe. Constantine has even led a Justice League squad of his own, but hed prefer if you didnt use that name. (Check out John Constantine on Amazon)
If not the first or last to carry the Batgirl name, Barbara Gordon is by far the greatest. Babs was introduced to the comics just ahead of her appearance on the 1960s TV series, and shes been integral to the franchise ever since. Her heroic mettle was put to the ultimate test when she was shot and paralyzed by Joker. Proving that heart and will make a hero, not muscle, she carried on as the computer expert Oracle. Babs has been given a second chance at being Batgirl in the comics, and she continues to soldier on the face of all adversity. (Check out Batgirl on Amazon)
Comic book fans tend to stick to what they know, and its always difficult to replace a familiar hero with a newbie character. But Kyle Rayner beat the odds. Kyle was introduced as the new Green Lantern after Hal Jordan went insane and all but destroyed the Corps. In terms of personality and temperament, Kyle couldnt have been more different from Hal. But he thrived in the role and became
Green Lantern for a full decade. Even though Hal has been redeemed and returned to duty, Kyle remains an active hero and one of the few deemed worthy enough to wield a White Lantern ring. (Check out Green Lantern on Amazon)
As tragic as Supermans origin is, at least he was just a baby when he was sent rocketing away from his doomed world. Jonn Jonzz had to watch his family, his people, and his entire Martian culture burn down before his eyes. But rather than wallowing in misery to the end of his days, the Martian Manhunter made a second home on Earth. Hes found plenty in human culture worth fighting for, including his favorite delicacy - Choco cookies. And with his Superman-level abilities, hes a force to be reckoned with. Jonn has been a recurring member of the Justice League in the comics and animated series, and we imagine its only a matter of time before he appears on the big screen as well. (Check out Martian Manhunter on Amazon)
Many comic publishers have different takes on the story of a brilliant scientist who is transformed into a hideous monster. DCs most famous version is Swamp Thing. After his experiments on his bio-restorative formula were sabotaged, Alec Holland emerged from the swamp as a lumbering, mossy creature known as Swamp Thing. But though the character pretty quickly transitioned to TV and film, much of the Swamp Things depth and enduring appeal came courtesy of Alan Moores legendary comic book run. Since then, Swamp Thing has struggled with his connection to the mystical force known as The Green and the thorny issue of whether hes a man turned into a monster, or merely a monster who thinks it used to be a man. (Check out Swamp Thing on Amazon)
Green Arrow started life as one of a myriad of Batman clones. He had his trick arrows, teen sidekick (Speedy), and even an Arrow Car and Arrow Cave. But the character really came into his own several decades later, when he ditched the playboy billionaire routine and became more a socialist crusader for the people like his inspiration, Robin Hood. Green Arrow is among the more grounded members of the Justice League, but his deadly aim makes him a tough opponent indeed. Green Arrows popularity has exploded in recent years thanks to the TV series Arrow. Whether you prefer the swashbuckling adventurer or the grim vigilante, Oliver Queen is a name everyone knows nowadays. (Check out Green Arrow on Amazon)
Aquaman used to be the butt of pop culture jokes thanks to his portrayal on the Super Friends cartoons and its various spinoffs. Now hes the star of one of the biggest superhero blockbusters ever. But as many fans will tell you, Aquaman was always cool. Hes not only as strong and capable in battle as anyone who swims miles under the surface of the ocean would need to be, hes the leader of the vast underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Aquamans core appeal lies in the fact that his loyalties are constantly tested. Does he side with the surface world, where he was raised, or with his people in Atlantis? (Check out Aquaman on Amazon)
The hero once known as Captain Marvel (legal battles convinced DC to change the name) was once more popular than Batman or Superman. Young readers identified with the concept of an ordinary boy who could transform into the Worlds Mightiest Mortal simply by uttering the word Shazam! Superman was the cool, confident dad, but Captain Marvel was more like a brother. Shazam has never quite regained that popularity, but hes remained an important part of the DC Universe since they acquired the character from Fawcett Comics. Between his modern comic book revamp and his cinematic debut, Shazam is poised for even bigger things in the months and years ahead. (Check out Shazam on Amazon)
Barry Allens debut in 1956 is credited with kicking off the Silver Age of comics. Barry assumed the mantle of the Flash from Golden Age hero Jay Garrick. He quickly proved to be one of the most popular of DCs new wave of heroes thanks to his almost limitless speed powers, his colorful adventures across time and space, and his neverending struggle to balance his superhero antics with his professional and personal lives. Despite his incredible speed, Barry always has a reputation for being late. Barry was killed off in the 1986 story Crisis on Infinite Earths, casting a long shadow on the rest of the DCU in the process. But hes since returned and taken up the mantle of the Flash all over again, as well as become a core pillar of both the Arrowverse and DCEU. (Check out the Flash on Amazon)
For many years, Catwoman would have had no place on a list of DCs greatest heroes. But shes slowly made the transition from antagonist to defender of Gotham in the last several decades. Selina Kyle may be a thief (possibly the best in the world), but she also fights fiercely for those she cares about. Shes also one of the few people who can lead Batman on a merry chase. The two have developed a tenuous co-existence, with Selina defending her patch of Gotham and only occasionally butting heads with her sometimes enemy/sometimes lover. The two even came within a stones throw of being married. Catwoman is a mainstay of pretty much every multimedia Batman adaptation, and played a starring role in both Batman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises. She even had her own solo movie, but we try to ignore that one. (Check out Catwoman on Amazon)
Kyle Rayner may have managed the difficult task of establishing himself as a worthy, lasting hero alongside Hal Jordan, but only one DC hero has filled the legacy so completely that hes surpassed his predecessor. That man is Wally West. This former teen sidekick to Flash became Flash himself after Barry Allen died in Crisis on Infinite earths. For the next 20 years, Wally became the defender of the twin cities of Keystone City and Central City. His status as a family man and his struggle to live up to Barrys reputation lent him a depth his mentor never had. Its telling that the Justice League animated series skipped straight to Wally rather than featuring Barry as Flash. Wallys fortunes have shifted quite a bit in recent years, with the character basically vanishing during DCs New 52 reboot, returning in DC Universe Rebirth 1 and then falling from grace in Heroes in Crisis. But no matter what hardships life throws at him, Wally is worthy of the mantle of The Fastest Man Alive. (Check out Wally West on Amazon)
Batman is often credited as being the most Marvel of DCs heroes, but that distinction really belongs to Dick Grayson. Like his mentor, he overcame childhood tragedy and became a defender of Gotham Citys residents. But Dick has also managed to escape the shadow of the Bat. He graduated from being Robin, the original teen sidekick, to becoming Nightwing, a full-fledged hero in his own right. Dick doesnt have the infinite resources and unbreakable will of Batman, but he keeps fighting anyway. And therein rests the core of his appeal as a hero. Hes like the Peter Parker of the DCU. (Check out Nightwing on Amazon)
They used to call Sinestro the greatest Green Lantern. Now Hal Jordan holds that title. As with Barry Allen, Hal Jordan helped usher in the Silver Age at DC by taking on the mantle of a familiar Golden Age hero. But with Hal came an entirely new mythology featuring the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps. Hal became the first human ever to wield a ring, and his adventures have taken him from one end of the universe to the other, and places beyond. Hes starred in one mediocre Hollywood movie and one criminally under-appreciated animated series. Hal has suffered as much as any hero in comics, and yet the fierce willpower that fuels his ring is never dimmed. (Check out Hal Jordan as Green Lantern on Amazon)
Among the very first female superheroes, Wonder Woman has been a DC icon ever since her 1940 debut. She was created by the same psychologist who invented the polygraph test, which explains the magical Lasso of Truth she wields alongside her unbreakable gauntlets and her Amazonian strength. Wonder Woman has been a founding member of the Justice League in just about every incarnation of the DCU. Shes as strong as Superman and as fierce as Batman. Shes been a feminist icon for decades, long before she starred in one of the most successful superhero movies of all time. Everyone, regardless of gender or background, can admire Wonder Womans strength and compassion for humanity. (Check out Wonder Woman on Amazon)
You can trace the various inspirations for Batman clearly enough. Hes equal parts Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, and the Shadow. But put all those elements together and you arrive at something truly special. Since 1939, Bat-fans have been fascinated by the saga of a man who dresses like a bat in order to inspire fear in the hearts of criminals. Its a saga that has played out in every form of media. Unlike most of DCs heroes, Batman has no superhuman abilities. He merely has the training, the resources, and most importantly, the will to wage a one-man war on crime. And its a testament to that will that no one ever questions whether Batman has what it takes to stand alongside the rest of the Justice League. Any human who can defeat Superman through sheer cleverness deserves to be feared and admired. (Check out Batman on Amazon)
Whether you label Superman as the first superhero depends on what your definition of superhero is. But whether or not he was first, hes undoubtedly the best. Superman is the purest distillation of everything we love about heroes. He has the tragic, almost Biblical origin - a baby is sent hurtling from a doomed planet, is adopted by a human couple, and grows up to become the worlds premiere defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Thanks to his Kryptonian physiology, hes a hero of almost unlimited strength.
But what makes Superman great is that its not about the American Way. He cares about everyone, regardless of creed, color, or nationality. Hes a man who should be profoundly lonely and unhappy in the universe, but instead embraces his new home and shows us all a heroic ideal to aspire to. Hes become an international icon arguably more famous than Mickey Mouse, and he endures every revamp, reboot, and re-imagining largely unchanged. What worked 80 years ago still works today. (Check out Superman on Amazon)
Jesse hasnt been reading DC for 80+ years, but it seems like it sometimes. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket byfollowing @jschedeen on Twitter, orKicksplode on MyIGN.
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