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411 Comics Showcase – Top 52 DC Heroes (#13-1)

October 28, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

DC Comics has a very long history, and thousands of heroic characters; it would be impossible to list them all without a reference book. I could have easily compiled a Top 100 list if I had the time and energy, but chose to go with 52 as a clever justification to add two more to the official list. While I couldn’t list them all, I did choose to include a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions: Commissioner Gordon, Plastic Man, Big Barda, Captain Atom, Kilowog, Saturn Girl, Mr. Terrific, Deadshot, Cassandra Cain (Batgirl), Lobo, Adam Strange, Simon Baz (Green Lantern), Mary Marvel, Elongated Man, Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl), Chameleon Boy, Impulse and the Spectre.

Additionally, characters from Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman were excluded; while great characters published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, they just didn’t seem to fit the overall theme of the list and I chose to exclude them and focus on other characters that might not have made the list otherwise.

The List So Far…
#52. Steel (John Henry Irons)
#51. Deadman (Boston Brand)
#50. Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol)
#49. Firestorm (Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein)
#48. The Atom (Ray Palmer)
#47. Mera
#46. The Phantom Stranger
#45. Huntress (Helena Bertinelli or Helena Wayne)
#44. Jonah Hex
#43. The Flash (Jay Garrick)
#42. Superboy (Conner Kent)
#41. Green Lantern (Guy Gardner)
#40. Wonder Girl (Donna Troy)
#39. Robin (Damian Wayne)
#38. Hawkman (Carter Hall)
#37. Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
#36. Booster Gold (Michael Jon Carter)
#35. Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson)
#34. Arsenal (Roy Harper)
#33. Etrigan the Demon and Jason Blood
#32. Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)
#31. Changeling (Garfield Logan)
#30. Batwoman (Kate Kane)
#29. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
#28. Animal Man (Buddy Baker)
#27. Zatanna Zatara
#26. Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)
#25. Red Hood (Jason Todd)
#24. Raven
#23. The Question (Vic Sage)
#22. Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel)
#21. Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz)
#20. Starfire (Koriand’r)
#19. Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner)
#18. John Constantine
#17. Black Canary (Dinah Lance)
#16. Robin (Tim Drake)
#15. The Flash (Wally West)
#14. Catwoman (Selina Kyle)


#13. Cyborg
Alias:
Victor Stone
Created By: Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Debut Issue: DC Comics Presents #26, (Oct. 1980)
Whether as a Teen Titan or a Justice League member, Cyborg has been one of DC’s mainstays for over thirty-five years. Turned into a half-man, half-machine by his father Silas, Victor went from being a football letterman to a living weapon overnight. He is able to connect to virtually any computer, and as the internet has become more prominent, so has Cyborg’s utility as an almost omniscient computer. Most of Victor’s history has seen him as part of the New Teen Titans group, serving as an older brother of sorts to most of the team, often at odds but eventually embracing them as family. Since 2011, Cyborg has been tied to the Justice League, and while I love him as a Titan, I can’t hate this move too much. Vic’s youth and skill set make him different from every other major JL member, and it doesn’t hurt to have some diversity on DC’s flagship team. He feels just at home on that team, and the fact that he so effortlessly blends in with the biggest names in comics is a testament to his strength as a character.


#12. Swamp Thing
Alias:
Alec Holland
Created By: Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
Debut Issue: House of Secrets #92, (July 1971)
Consistently ranking in my top five favorite DC characters is Swamp Thing, a plant monster who is the avatar for the Green, the source of all plant life on earth. Before he was a monster, Alec Holland was a botanist who worked on a bio-restorative formula, but was murdered and left to die in a Louisiana swamp. The Parliament of Trees used his conscience to bring Swamp Thing to life, and the monster served as a guardian of plant life, fell in love with Alec’s friend Abigail Arcane, and battled her uncle Anton, one of the cruelest, sickest villains in all of comics. This run of comics was written by Alan Moore and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in mainstream comics, paving the way for DC’s Vertigo imprint. I consider it one of the must-read runs of comics, a vital look at how a creator can reimagine and elevate a character. Swampy has had several stories of varying quality since that run, but my favorite was Scott Snyder’s relaunch in the New 52. Snyder brought Holland back from the dead and had him choose to become Swamp Thing, expanding the mythos while respecting the work that came before him.


#11. Captain Marvel/Shazam
Alias:
Billy Batson
Created By: Bill Parker and C.C. Beck
Debut Issue: Whiz Comics #2, (Feb. 1940)
For a significant period of the Golden Age of Comics, there was no more popular character than Captain Marvel. Fawcett Comics’ flagship character was immensely popular with children, and it’s not hard to see why. While kids may have wanted to grow up to be Batman or Superman, they didn’t have to grow up to be Billy Batson, a child that could turn into an extremely powerful being simply by saying “Shazam!” Captain Marvel’s comics were known for outlandish stories that threw reality out the door for imagination, and also for having the first family of superheroes with Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. Eventually bought out by DC Comics, Captain Marvel has never quite reached the heights of his early years. DC has put more focus on the idea of Captain Marvel (now called Shazam) as a child in a superhero’s body, giving him a reckless and charming personality. In a sense he’s carrying on the legacy of a bygone age. Nothing wrong with that; comics wouldn’t be where they are today without him.


#10. Supergirl
Alias:
Kara Zor El
Created By: Otto Binder and Al Plastino
Debut Issue: Action Comics #252, (May 1959)
For someone I don’t necessarily consider to be a favorite character, I’m amazed at how consistently I enjoy whatever she’s in. Most of her recent comics are solid, she’s great in the DCAU, I like her new show for the most part, and she’s a big part of why Batman/Superman: Apocalypse and Superman Unbound are two of my favorite DC animated movies. What’s the appeal? I think it boils down to Kara’s youth; while Clark is older, wiser and more in control of his emotions, Kara is capable but reckless and prone to letting her emotions get a hold of her. Sexist? Definitely in her early years, but it paradoxically makes Kara a more dynamic and interesting character. And these days there’s a Superboy around with a lot of those traits, so it feels more like an age gap than anything. Supergirl is sadly most famous for dying in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but going out in grand fashion and being on one of the most famous covers in history will do that to you. Supergirl ended up climbing higher up this list than I expected, but she’s a great character and certainly iconic in her own right. And since some people will ask; Power Girl, the Kara Zor-El of Earth 2, is not a character I’m overly fond of. I’m not against her, but I prefer Supergirl and the “boob window” is one of my least favorite things in comics.


#9. Aquaman
Alias:
Arthur Curry
Created By: Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger
Debut: More Fun Comics #73, (Nov. 1941)
King of Atlantis, founding member of the Justice League, devoted husband and father, and serial killer of eldritch horrors with a trident, Aquaman is an all around awesome character. The main theme of the character is responsibility; balancing his marriage with his superheroing, his Justice League duties with his duties as King, and his human and Atlantean heritages. The guy has a lot on his shoulders but always seems to rise to the occasion. I find this makes Arthur Curry compelling and easy to relate to. And yet, Aquaman occupies this unique place in mainstream culture as a hero that everyone knows, but who everybody considers a joke. Now, fans of Aquaman have always known the guy was nobody to mess with in or out of water, but unless Justice League can do for Aquaman what The Avengers did for Thor, I don’t know if he’ll ever shake that image in the public eye. That’s alright with me though; whether it’s the classic version of Aquaman or the gritty 1990s version who cut off his hand, I love the character and always will.


#8. Batgirl
Alias:
Barbara Gordon
Created By: William Dozier, Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: Detective Comics #359, (Jan. 1967)
Barbara Gordon was brought into comics largely so she could be a part of the Batman television show’s third season. Popular from the get-go, Batgirl was a regular fixture of Batman related comics throughout the late 1960s and 70s. Batgirl became the center of controversy when The Killing Joke shocked readers by having Joker shoot through her spine and sexually assault her. Rather than allow this to be the end, DC had Barbara develop a new persona as Oracle, providing intelligence and computer skills for other heroes. Oracle was most closely associated with Black Canary as the Birds of Prey, but also worked for the Bat-Family and the Justice League at times. Oracle received praise from many for being a rare disabled comic book character, and when DC decided to return her to her Batgirl persona in the New 52, there was a predictably mixed reaction. I see both sides, but ultimately, I was happy to see Barbara showcased as a star of her own series. Whether she’s Batgirl or Oracle, I’m just happy to have her around. Babs is a character defined by her intelligence and resourcefulness even more so than Batman; she doesn’t have Bruce’s UFC fighter build nor does she have his nearly unlimited resources. And between her father (or Uncle depending on timeline) Commissioner Gordon, Canary, Bruce and Dick, she’s always got some fun interplay with other heroes. Barbara is an amazing character and I hope she never goes away.


#7. Green Arrow
Alias:
Oliver Queen
Created By: Mort Weisinger and George Papp
Debut Issue: More Fun Comics #73, (Nov. 1941)
Combine Robin Hood with the Scarlet Pimpernel and you basically have the original version of Green Arrow, who many consider to be an ersatz Batman with an archery gimmick. That’s not an unfair description of the character’s first thirty years, when he had an Arrowcar and an arrow signal. But under Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neal, Oliver Queen found his identity as the “social conscience” of DC; a left-wing progressive character who was concerned not just with saving the world, but improving it. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow series is famous for tackling issues like racism, corporate corruption, pollution and drug use, and Oliver has largely been tied to grittier, more “human” comics than other DC icons. Mike Grell’s “Mature Audience” run on the character ranks among my favorite comics, and I recommend seeking it out. While I was always a fan of Green Arrow, I never expected the character to become huge outside of comics; surprisingly, Arrow was both a huge hit and a launching pad for the CW’s DC line up. In a sense, Oliver is DC’s Iron Man; a B-Lister who was realistic enough to launch a fantastic world in a new medium that wasn’t used to superheroes. Now, he’s unquestionably one of DC’s most well-known heroes.


#6. Nightwing
Alias:
Dick Grayson
Created By: Bill Finger and Bob Kane
Debut Issue: Detective Comics #38, (Apr. 1940)
While compiling this list, the top three were obvious, as were the next three, but where to rank them was a tough decision. Dick Grayson is unquestionably one of the most well-known comic characters of all time. Along with Superman and Spider-Man, “Batman and Robin” is a brand name known all over the world; you can say “The Dynamic Duo” to almost anyone and they know who you are talking about. As Robin, Dick Grayson defined the sidekick role, and has been an influence on many characters on this list. As leader of the Teen Titans, Robin proved that he could step out of Batman’s shadow and be a great hero in his own right. To reflect the change, Dick grew up and became Nightwing, an identity that is inspired by Batman but recognizable his own. Dick Grayson’s evolution and growth is in many ways symbolic of how the industry changed over its history, and I’m sure there are many older fans who felt a kinship with the character as they were growing up. While Nightwing is certainly a popular brand in his own right, I ultimately chose to go with the next two for the top five. Make no mistake though; Nightwing is neck and neck.


#5. The Flash
Alias:
Barry Allen
Created By: Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: Showcase #4, (Oct. 1956)
If Superman’s arrival was the catalyst for the Golden Age of Comics, then Barry Allen’s was the signal for the arrival of the Silver Age. While Jay Garrick was one of several superheroes with a gimmick (being super fast), Barry’s creators pushed the ideas further and gave him one of the best and most enduring costumes of all time and turned Flash into a legitimate star for comics. Barry was able to use his speed in new creative ways, he could travel through time and space, and he did battle with everything from psychic gorillas to a gang of underrated supervillains called The Rogues. Combining the detective and urban vigilante themes of Batman with the colorful imagination of Superman, Barry was largely the best of both worlds. Barry was eventually killed off (sort of) in a sacrificial move that helped resolved Crisis on Infinite Earths and was replaced by Wally West, his former sidekick Kid Flash. While Wally replaced Barry as well as any legacy character has ever replaced anyone, Barry would eventually make a comeback as well. While it’s unfortunate that his return pushed Wally to the sidelines, it has allowed Barry to regain his foothold as an icon. Personally, Barry is my preferred Flash, but I don’t begrudge any Wally fans out there. Regardless, the Flash is an icon, and one of my favorite heroes because his comics tend to be fun and imaginative but shockingly emotional when they want to be. That tone has carried over remarkably well to the TV show as well, resulting in my favorite DC product outside of the comics this decade.


#4. Green Lantern
Alias:
Hal Jordan
Created By: John Broome and Gil Kane
Debut Issue: Showcase #22, (Oct. 1959)
There’s been several Green Lanterns featured on this list, but if there can only be one definitive GL, it has to be Hal Jordan. Created in 1959, Hal Jordan’s story took the basic idea behind the Golden Age Green Lantern books and completely revamped it with imaginative science fiction. A test pilot with the ability to overcome fear, he was chosen by the ring of dying alien Abin Sur to be his replacement in the Green Lantern Corp. Hal was a mainstay in the Justice League but also an intergalactic knight of sorts. Sadly, Hal wasn’t quite as popular as other heroes of his day, which led to a lot of reinvention of the character, much of which was detrimental in my view. This culminated in his turn to villainy as Parallax and his death. As sometimes happens, death can galvanize a fanbase, and Hal couldn’t seem to die. Whether it was in elseworld stories like Darwyn Cooke’s seminal The New Frontier or as the Spectre in the main continuity, Hal stuck around before Geoff Johns finally revived him in grand fashion in 2004. With an innate understanding of the character’s appeal and a wealth of mythology building ideas, Johns helped turn Green Lantern into one of DC’s flagship brands. It’s been a bumpy road, but worth it in my view. Hal’s “go with your gut” personality plays like a mix of Harrison Ford’s greatest roles, and he’s one of the most fun characters to read.


#3. Wonder Woman
Alias:
Diana of Themyscira
Created By: William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Harry G. Peter
Debut Issue: All-Star Comics #8, (Dec. 1941)
Much like the last three, I knew who my top three would be but went back and forth a hundred times on where to rank them. If I were tacky enough to have ties in my list, I would probably declare this a three-way draw. If I were only using my subjective opinion, then of course Wonder Woman would top this list. I just can’t really justify putting either of the top two at number three. The Princess of the Amazons is the single greatest female superhero of all time. And not just because she came first; Diana has, in my opinion, the most fleshed out mythology, the richest themes and the most layered personality. The Amazons and the Greek Gods give her a unique corner of the DC universe while keeping her in the same vein of mythic heroes like Achilles and Perseus. She is a champion not just of feminism, but also of the LGBTQ community, a rare example of a positive role model character who has been coded queer since the first moment she was put to page. Diana is a fiercely competitive warrior, but also a peaceful diplomat who believes in cooperation and mutual understanding. Wonder Woman rules, her comics are awesome, and she may even be able to single-handedly save the DCEU’s long term prospects next year. In my opinion, that’s exactly the monumental task you call Diana for.


#2. Batman
Alias:
Bruce Wayne
Created By: Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Debut Issue: Detective Comics #27, (May 1939)
While everyone has their personal favorites, I don’t think anyone can truly make an objective list of the greatest superheroes of all time without having these two at the top. Taking what worked about pulp character The Shadow and making it conform more with what Superman was, Bob Kane and Bill Finger made Superman’s thematic opposite. Batman has no “superpowers”, save for his mind, his will, his determination and the privilege of his social class. And pretty much every character since fits somewhere along those extremes. Combining parts of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, and sharing more than a few things with James Bond, Batman is probably the most popular character in the genre this decade. I would argue that he’s somewhat overexposed, and there’s an obnoxious group of Bat-Devotees who insist he’s the only good DC character or even the only cool superhero. You know, the kinds of people who say “Batman would win a fight because he’s prepared for anything.” As if this is a barometer for good a character is. But I digress; at his best, Batman embodies the spirit of humanism, using mental, physical and capital resources to make the world a better place. On a more personal note, Batman stands for the idea that no personal tragedy is so brutal that you can’t rise up, move on, and make something worthwhile from the experience.


#1. Superman
Alias:
Clark Kent
Created By: Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster
Debut Issue: Action Comics #1, (June 1938)
On a lot of lists like this, you see writers bestow the top crown on Superman in a reluctant, almost backhanded way. They’ll cite his overwhelming influence as the most well known superhero, the one who started and gives his name to the genre, and how every single character in Marvel or DC is in some way a reaction to him as the deciding factors. And yes, all of those are true. But you’re not going to see me crying about having to put Superman at the top; I love Superman. I love almost everything about Superman, and while he isn’t my favorite DC character, he and Batman are permanently locked at third place. Created by two Jewish kids who were inspired by stories of Samson, Moses and others, Superman is the Ur Example of the ethical power fantasy that defines the genre. He’s got the moral fortitude to do what’s what, he believes in helping and protecting people, and he has the strength and stamina to actually accomplish things. Batman may be a detective at heart, but Clark is a combination of a reporter and a fireman. He investigates and exposes evil, and he’s always on call for an emergency. Superman isn’t defined by fistfights with villains; he is defined by saving lives and inspiring people to be better. He’s the ultimate immigrant story, finding a balance between honoring where he comes from and embracing where he is now. Superman exemplifies the best of what humanity can be, and stands for those principles even when they aren’t popular. Superman doesn’t just belong at the top of this list; Superman is the reason I care enough about comics to do the list in the first place.

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