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411 Comics Showcase – Top 52 DC Heroes (#26-14)

October 22, 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
Created By: Steve Ditko
Debut Issue: Captain Atom #83, (Nov. 1966)
I alluded to this last week; while Jaime Reyes is an excellent character, Ted Kord is the definitive version for me. Created by Steve Ditko as a way to write the type of Spider-Man stories he felt were missing in Marvel’s books, Kord was himself a reimagining of a Golden Age hero. The original Beetle was Dan Garrett, a blatant rip-off of Green Hornet and fairly typical of the pulp hero detectives of his day. Tim Kord was a wisecracking and gadget oriented hero, a product of the Silver Age. Kord’s most notable piece of tech was a flying beetle ship; the look and powers served as an inspiration for Alan Moore’s Nite-Owl II in Watchmen. Along with other Charlton Comics characters bought by DC, Kord was integrated into the post-Crisis continuity. He became synonymous with Justice League International and his friendship with Booster Gold. Always depicted as a more human than his fellow heroes, Kord is one of my favorite comic characters, a shining example that having a character and a book dedicated to just having fun can indeed be worthwhile.

#25. Red Hood
Jason Todd
Created By: Gerry Conway and Don Newton
Debut Issue: Batman #357, (Mar. 1983)
Sometimes the third time’s a charm. Jason Todd was originally a near identical copy of Dick Grayson, complete with an identical origin story. Some more creativity was used for the post-Crisis continuity, but as writers like Jim Starlin and Dennis O’Neal tried to differentiate the two, Jason became increasingly less popular, eventually being chosen to die by reader vote. While not without controversy, the fan poll led to one of the defining moments of Batman’s character when Joker murdered Jason. While DC admirably kept Todd dead and buried for over a decade, a tease in the popular Hush book led to Judd Winick reviving the character. Now a brutal odds with Batman, Todd has fond his identity and his audience as Red Hood, an identity stolen from Joker’s past life. Despite his contentious relationship with the Bat-Family, Todd has struck me as an interesting look at who Bruce and Dick might become if they pushed the envelope a little further. Whether he stars in his own series or with other Outlaws, Jason is a character to watch from here on out.

#24. Raven:
Created By: Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Debut Issue: DC Comics Presents #26, (Oct. 1980)
The New Teen Titans is a title that I love, a book that expanded the personalities of existing characters and creating three new ones. Raven is the one who brings the team together to fight her father Trigon, an extra-dimensional godlike tyrant. An empath who is able to read emotions and absorb and redirect emotional pain, Raven is the most powerful Titan but the least inclined to fight. Her peaceful, mysterious and introverted nature puts her at odds with most of the team, but overtime they learn to accept each other as dear friends. Raven was always the Titan I identified with most, and I always appreciated how her arch is about coming to terms with emotions and embracing new family. Those friendships felt earned over time, and are deeper as a result. What I enjoy most about comics is seeing characters interact with each other, and Raven is a prime example of how that can payoff over time.

#23. The Question
Vic Sage
Created By: Steve Ditko
Debut Issue: Blue Beetle #1, (June 1967)
Much like Tim Kord, The Question originates in Charlton Comics and was incorporated into DC’s post-Crisis canon. A native of Hub City, Vic Sage is an investigative journalist who starts taking down criminals. A master detective and hand to hand fighter with more ruthless methods than typical heroes, Question can be considered a more down to earth version of Batman. Or a more dangerous Lois Lane. Question is known for his genius intellect, attention to detail, and a willingness to consider ideas others would overlook. My favorite version of the character is in the Justice League Unlimited show, where he is used to investigate conspiracy theories and has a fun relationship with Huntress. Like his other Charlton heroes, Question served as inspiration for Alan Moore’s Watchmen series, in this case Rorschach. With his striking appearance, outside-the-box thinking and abrasive personality, he’s one of my favorite B-level characters.

#22. Harley Quinn
Harleen Quinzel
Created By: Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Debut: The Joker’s Favor, (Sept. 1992)
I debated with myself at length about whether to include any villains who were also known as anti-heroes on the list. Two made the cut at the expense of including Captain Atom and Adam Strange. As popular a character as DC has ever had, Harley Quinn debuted in Batman: The Animated Series as the Joker’s would-be girlfriend. A combination of charm, humor and vulnerability made Harley the dark horse of the entire show, and she’s made her way into comics and movies. While Harley is definitely a villain, she is more often than not the centerpiece of whatever comic she is in. In the last five years she has distanced herself from Joker, become the face of the Suicide Squad comics, and had several lighter, zanier comics that have cemented her as more of a hero than a villain going forward. Without a doubt in my mind, she is the definitive breakout character of the last twenty-five years. I love Harley in virtually every incarnation, and feel like this is an appropriate spot for her.

#21. Martian Manhunter
J’onn J’onzz
Created By: Joseph Samachson and Joseph Certa
Debut Issue: Detective Comics #225, (Nov. 1955)
This feels low for a founding member of the Justice League, but after looking over the twenty characters I put ahead of him, I feel like J’onn is where he belongs here. J’onn is a character that I like because of his stoic, contemplative personality and his dry sense of humor. He feels a lot like Mr. Spock, and I’m sure that’s intentional to some degree. He’s also got a unique, interesting look and power set, being one of the few heroic telepaths of note in DC. However, with his grab bag of super powers, inhuman personality and lack of interesting foes, J’onn doesn’t make for a compelling solo character. Despite that, his value to any interpretation of the Justice League is considerable, and there is no shame in being better suited to team up comics than to solo comics. Martian Manhunter is a great character who remains interesting in spite of being the most overpowered hero in DC canon.

#20. Starfire
Created By: Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Debut Issue: DC Comics Presents #26, (Oct. 1980)
If Raven is the Titan I identified most with, Starfire is the one I always wanted to know. The two new girls were polar opposites in personality and origin. Raven was raised by pacifists monks, and Starfire came from a warrior race of aliens called Tamaraneans. Raven was introverted and reserved; Starfire had big emotions and made both friends and enemies quickly. The two complement each other perfectly, and with Donna Troy somewhere in the middle, there was never a shortage of compelling drama in the series. Starfire has come under a lot of scrutiny for various portrayals that seem to focus more on her sex appeal over her character, and it makes me somewhat sad that she’s become a poster child for that. Her sex appeal is part of her character; the issue I have is when she lacks the empathy and big emotions that also define her character. DC has tried to strike the right balance; the fact that they so often fail is a tribute to Marv Wolfman’s skill as a character writer.

#19. Green Lantern
Kyle Rayner
Created By: Ron Marz and Darryl Banks
Debut Issue: Green Lantern #48, (Jan. 1994)
Kyle Rayner is probably the first “new” character I was ever excited for. While I was very young at the time, my older brother had a keen interest in Green Lantern comics. Status quo changes for major DC characters was par for the course in the early 1990’s, but Hal Jordan’s was more severe than anyone else. While going mad with grief and becoming the supervillain known as Parallax, Ganthet came to Earth to crown a young graphic artist as the new Green Lantern. With a distinctly modern (for the time) costume, a creative mind and a newly murdered girlfriend, Kyle Rayner soon made his own mark as Green Lantern. Maybe it was because the nature of GL mythology has always made allowances for new members, but Kyle just seemed to fill a need for younger heroes in DC’s universe now that the Teen Titans were grown up. Even when Hal Jordan came back, Geoff Johns and other writers found new and interesting things to do with him, eventually letting him become the one White Lantern after mastering all of the emotional spectrum. I’ve always felt a certain kinship with Kyle and I’m glad that he’s continued to stay relevant.

#18. John Constantine
Created By: Alan Moore, Stephan R. Bissette and John Totleben
Debut Issue: The Saga of the Swamp Thing #37, (June 1985)
I went back and forth about whether to include John Constantine on this list. I knew if I did he would rank very highly, as the cynical, snarky occult detective is one of the greatest comic book characters of all time. But I also excluded characters like the Sandman because they are Vertigo characters and they don’t really fit the idea of this list. Constantine is most well-known for his starring role in Hellblazer, but has been incorporated into the main DC canon since 2011. This ranking reflects where John should be for his recent solo series and as part of Justice League Dark. While certain elements have changed, John’s personality remains largely the same. He is arguably the greatest anti-hero in comics. Essentially a modern interpretation of the sorcerer battling monsters and demons, Constantine is a natural fit in DC’s darker corners.

#17. Black Canary
Dinah Lance
Created By: Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: Flash Comics #86, (Aug. 1947)
Time for some more continuity fun! Black Canary was created near the end of the Golden Age as a street-level crimefighter. A detective and martial artist, she can be seen as a sort of Batman to Wonder Woman’s Superman. Later stories added a deadly sonic scream known as the Canary Cry. Similar to Hawkman, DC decided to split the Golden Age, powerless Canary and the Silver Age metahuman Canary into two separate characters, but with a much simpler explanation. Dinah Drake Lance was a Golden Age hero and part of the JSA with Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, and her daughter was Dinah Laurel Lance. The younger Lance is one of my favorite characters. She works as a member of the Justice League, but works even better working with Oracle and Huntress as the Birds of Prey. Dinah is often tied to Green Arrow professionally and romantically, and I’m a big fan of the pairing.

#16. Robin
Tim Drake
Created By: Marv Wolfman and Pat Broderick
Debut Issue: Batman #436, (Aug. 1989)
When I think of “Robin”, my mind always goes to Tim Drake. Dick Grayson was the original, but he outgrew the role of sidekick and became something more. Jason Todd never quite fit, and Damian Wayne always feels a bit shoehorned into the role. But Tim just seems to fit; a whip-smart detective who deduced the secret identity of Batman after Todd’s death, he believes that Batman needs a Robin to function properly. While Tim fits the role of Batman’s ward, he is also fleshed out enough that he feels like a star in his own right. A testament to that is his solo series, which was published continuously for sixteen years. The identity of Robin is one of the most iconic in comics history, and while he isn’t the best character to have been Robin, he is the best Robin in my opinion.

#15. The Flash
Wally West
Created By: John Broome and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: The Flash #110, (Dec. 1959)
Wally West debuted as the original Kid Flash, one of several sidekick characters for other heroes. Along with Dick Grayson and Aqualad, he formed the original Teen Titans and was a regular member of the team until Barry Allen was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally took the mantle of The Flash, and while the character struggled to live up to Barry’s legacy in the comics, fans embraced the change. Many consider Wally to be the best version of the character, and while I disagree, I think it just boils down to taste. Both characters served as The Flash for nearly equal amounts of time and Wally certainly had a bigger presence in cartoons, where he was the comic relief in Justice League. Known for his humor and his self-doubt, Wally is a character that fluctuates between annoying and likable for me. He’s my least favorite major member of the New Teen Titans, but fits in nicely on the Justice League and as the star of his own comic. Recent years have proved to be interesting for Wally; a bi-racial version of the character was created in the New 52, while the original character made his return in grand, emotional fashion this year.

#14. Catwoman
Selina Kyle
Created By: Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Debut Issue: Batman #1, (Spring 1940)
Other than the Joker, I can’t think of a Batman antagonist more iconic than Catwoman. While Selina Kyle has a long history of being a villainous character, she has always seemed harmless compared to the psychopathic killers in Gotham City. So, add copious amounts of sexual tension with Batman and a penchant for helping the less fortunate and you get a character who walks the line between hero and villain perfectly. For almost thirty years now, Selina tends to be the protagonist of her own stories, and while she is still a jewel thief, she tends to play the hero more often that not. No other character has made the transition from villain to anti-hero as smoothly or with as permanent results. Catwoman is one of my favorite characters in comics, and she was bound to rank highly on this list.

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Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, Michael took his first dive into Dark Horse Comics characters with Hellboy . This week, I am introduced to 1960’s Village of the Damned.