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411 Comics Showcase – Top 52 DC Heroes (#40-27)

October 14, 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
Created By: Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert
Debut Issue: Batman #655, (Sept. 2006)
Damian is a character I would never have considered putting on this list a few years ago. The fourth young man to take up the Robin mantle is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. Trained almost since his birth to be a cold-hard killer, Damian’s combative personality is ill-suited to the hero business, but it does make for an interesting dynamic with his father. I initially disliked Damian; I hated how he was more skilled than Tim Drake, I hated his bratty, bullying behavior and I hated how so much time was devoted to him. These days, I think it has more to do with the writer than the character; I like very little of what Grant Morrison has written. He’s creative and daring, but he often writes like an alien trying to understand humanity. I started to come around a bit when Damian was paired with Dick Grayson when Dick was Batman, but it was Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s run on Batman and Robin that brought me around to actually enjoying the character. Damian’s issues provide new dimensions to Batman and Alfred, and Damian himself has been able to mature into a character who’s still flawed, but not annoyingly so. While far from my favorite Robin, he’s carved a unique spot for himself in Batman lore.

#38. Hawkman
Carter Hall/Katar Hall
Created By: Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville
Debut Issue: Flash Comics #1, (Jan. 1940)
Explaining the appeal of Hawkman as a character is simple; he’s got a great look with the mask and the wings, he’s got an indestructible spiked mace, and his characterization could best be described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Wolverine. His wings have been an inspiration for heroes like Falcon and Angel, and his Nth Metal Mace was an impossibly cool weapon before Logan’s adamantium claws or even Captain America’s vibranium shield. Conversely, explaining Hawkman’s origins is needlessly complicated. While other Golden Age heroes like Flash and Green Lantern were inspiration for entirely new characters in the Silver Age, Hawkman was largely unchanged in terms of name or powers. Instead, it was his origin that changed. Golden Age Hawkman was an archeologist who discovered the artifacts that gave him his powers in Ancient Egypt. Silver Age Hawkman (and Hawkgirl) were alien police officers from the planet Thanagar, who came to Earth and stuck around to run a museum and work with the Justice League. Simple enough I suppose, but when DC combined their multiverse into one streamlined continuity, Hawkman suffered more than most. Various writers have tried to explain or marry the concepts, as well as introducing new ones like the two constantly reincarnating and always finding each other in their past lives. The muddled history has worked against almost every attempt at doing a Hawkman solo series, but I’ve always liked having him as part of the Justice League. He is certainly an iconic character in spite of everything working against him.

#37. Green Lantern
Alan Scott
Created By: Martin Nodell and Bill Finger
Debut Issue: All-American Comics #16, (July 1940)
To a casual comic book fan, likely the only thing one knows about Alan Scott is that he’s gay. Or rather, the New 52, Earth 2 version of Alan Scott who gets his powers from that Earth’s version of the Green is gay. And I like that Alan Scott well enough, I think he’s as good a character as any to build the Earth 2 mythos around. But I’m always going to be partial to the old man Alan Scott that was hanging around in the comics when I was a kid. The original Green Lantern was a railroad worker with a magical ring that lets him walk through walls, fire energy beams, and a variety of other abilities. The “constructs” that later GLs would be famous for were also used by Alan, but he prefers to do most of his fighting with his fists. While I like these original stories, my favorite version of the character is the aged superhero who married and had two superhero children; Jade and Obsidian. Jade was the love interest of Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern of the 1990’s. I’ve always felt this was a fun way to have the two Green Lanterns interact with each other, since they really have nothing in common in the actual DC universe. Like Jay Garrick, Scott is outshined by his legacy character Hal Jordan, but I think he’s fared better, so he ranks a bit higher on my list.

#36. Booster Gold
Michael Jon Carter
Created By: Dan Jurgens
Debut Issue: Booster Gold #1, (Feb. 1986)
The first new DC superhero after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Booster Gold is a disgraced football player turned night watchman at a Gotham museum in the 25th century. Stealing equipment with the help of a robot named Skeets, he goes back in time to masquerade as a superhero. A shameless self-promoter who seeks fame and fortune, Booster Gold is generally considered to be a joke by other heroes. And to be fair, many readers also refuse to take him seriously. I personally love this idea, and Booster Gold’s character is both entertaining and interesting to me. I’ve never really invested in the character as much as I would like to, but I’m a fan of his friendship with Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and the implication that he’s more important to the overall timeline of DC than any of us really know. Unique, funny and unforgettable, Booster Gold is proof that being a joke character isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

#35. Doctor Fate
Kent Nelson
Created By: Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman
Debut Issue: More Fun Comics #55, (May 1940)
There are few characters that make me immediately invested in a story like Doctor Fate. I loved him from the first time I saw him guest star in the Superman and Justice League animated shows. Doctor Fate is a mantle that’s been passed to several different individuals, but for the sake of simplicity, Kent Nelson is the one I’m most familiar with. The son of an archeologist (evidently a popular profession in the Golden Age) who discovers the tomb of ancient Babylonian god Nabu the Wise. Nelson’s father is killed, while Kent is trained in the ways of sorcery and given several magical objects, most notably the iconic helmet. Along with his wife Inza, Kent becomes Doctor Fate, the primary guardian against supernatural and extra-dimensional beings. Over time, the helmet has been portrayed as being the true source of Doctor Fate’s power, possessed by Nabu and whoever happens to be his host. And there have been several. I have an affinity for the supernatural, mystical elements of Doctor Fate’s mythos; I love demons and magical artifacts and eldritch gods. So of course I was going to have an interest. But ultimately it’s Kent’s superiority that always sticks with me as an entertaining trait, as well as the madness that he pushes himself to while fighting monsters. He’s one of my favorite guest stars in comics.

#34. Arsenal
Roy Harper
Created By: Mort Weisinger and George Papp
Debut Issue: More Fun Comics #73), (Nov. 1941)
Whether you know him as Speedy, Red Arrow, Arsenal or just Roy Harper, this character has been around a long time and never really seems to get his due credit. Originally serving as the sidekick to Green Arrow in the Golden Age (since Oliver didn’t have enough in common with Batman already), Speedy was also part of the original Teen Titans with Robin and Aqualad. However, the one thing Roy will always be remembered for most is being part of a Green Arrow/Green Lantern story where he is revealed to be a heroine addict. Being a recovering junkie and a spokesman against drugs has been a major part of his characterization ever since. Another key trait was that Roy became a single father, raising his daughter Lian with only occasional support from her unstable mother, the villainous Cheshire. The late 1990’s single dad is my favorite era for the character, and I was furious when DC pointlessly killed Lian off in Cry For Justice. Roy went to some very dark places here that I’d rather not discuss, but The New 52 helped course correct him a bit in my view. While Red Hood and the Outlaws has its problems, Roy’s characterization was closer to the Roy I was a fan of. Roy has also been a featured part of Arrow, and so far that version has fared reasonably well.

#33. Etrigan the Demon
Jason Blood
Created By: Jack Kirby
Debut Issue: The Demon #1, (Aug. 1972)
Much like Doctor Fate, Etrigan the Demon and Jason Blood are characters that always increase my interest in a given story. It is somewhat misleading to label Jason Blood as an “alias” for Etrigan, as the two are actually separate characters. Jason is a knight in King Arthur’s court who is bound to the demon by Merlin, and thus blessed and cursed with immortality. Etrigan is a very powerful character with a penchant for speaking in rhyme, but can only come to earth when Jason summons him with the rhyme “Concealed within the form of man, release the demon Etrigan!” When this happens, Jason takes his place in hell. Being tied to Jason and hating the villainous Morgaine le Fey means that Etrigan usually ends up fighting for the side of good, despite his demonic nature. Etrigan’s rhyming allows for a lot of wit from writers, which I love, but the mechanic of Jason and Etrigan switching makes Etrigan’s appearances feel more special. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love for anything with a mythical, supernatural or horror edge to it in comics, and Etrigan ticks all of those boxes. My favorite appearances of Etrigan include Alan Moore’s first Swamp Thing annual and Demon Knights, which was one of the best books of The New 52 relaunch. Not only is that book a delightful Dungeons and Dragons style adventure, but it also features Jason and Etrigan in a love triangle with Madame Xanadu.

#32. Blue Beetle
Jaime Reyes
Created By: Keith Giffen, John Rogers and Cully Hamner
Debut Issue: Infinite Crisis #3, (Feb. 2006)
Ah, Blue Beetle. Jaime Reyes is the third version of the character, and his mythology is vastly different from the first two. Jaime came around the same time as Ryan Choi (Atom) and Jason Rusch (Firestorm), all attempts to diversify DC by taking B-List heroes and using their names to promote newer characters. Jaime is the only one who has had any lasting impact, and I think it comes down to being the most different from the hero he replaced. Significantly younger, Jaime Reyes has often been compared to Spider-Man in terms of his characterization and appeal, and I think it’s a fair enough comparison. This Blue Beetle also stands out as more of a powerhouse; bonded with an alien Scarab from an alien race known as the Reach, Jaime has an impressive and adaptive arsenal of technological weapons and tools. The character has notably been adapted to several different shows, being a major part of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and also showing up in Smallville. I particularly enjoy how Jaime is often written as an ascended fanboy of heroes; he really embodies how young comic book fans take to the medium. Twenty years from now, I may consider Jaime to be the definitive version of Blue Beetle. Many already do.

#31. Beast Boy/Changeling
Garfield Logan
Created By: Arnold Drake and Bob Brown
Debut Issue: The Doom Patrol #99, (Nov. 1965)
Experimented on by his scientist parents, Garfield Logan has the ability to morph into animal he chooses. While initially introduced as part of the Doom Patrol in the 1960’s, Gar is most closely associated with the New Teen Titans, where he was depicted as the youngest and least mature member. Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ run on the Titans is probably my favorite comic book run, so don’t be surprised when more of them show up on my least. Gar is known for his clownish sense of humor, his often inappropriate flirting, and for being perhaps the most emotionally vulnerable Titan. While he can be irritating at times, Changeling is also a loyal and sincere friend, and the good outweighs the bad for me. I love how is a “kid brother” and clashes with Cyborg, Robin and Wonder Girl, and I love his well developed romance with Raven. As for his names, I suppose it depends on where you know him from; I prefer Changeling because it’s what he goes by in New Teen Titans, but it’s hard to argue that Beast Boy doesn’t suit him. And since the animated Teen Titans show uses it, it is pretty much going to stick.

#30. Batwoman
Katherine Kane
Created By: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Ken Lashley
Debut Issue: 52 #7, (June 2006)
Of all the Silver Age heroes that have been reinvented, none has quite the irony as Kate Kane, the modern age Batwoman. While she was introduced in the year long event 52, my favorite Jewish lesbian crimefighter really came into her own when she was made the star of Detective Comics during Bruce Wayne’s “death”. Writer Greg Rucka and master artist J.H. Williams III fleshed out her backstory and set her up as the bane of Gotham’s supernatural monsters. The story received a great deal of acclaim for stunning artwork and the layered romance between Kate and detective Maggie Sawyer. While depictions of gay characters in comics has varied from the well-intentioned and clumsily executed (Northstar, Iceman) to “let’s not draw attention to the obvious” (Wonder Woman), Batwoman may be the gold standard for how to do it properly. Which is to write it like any other romance and remember that there are other aspects of a character than their orientation. And for a character who is a reimagined version of a character that only existed to show readers that Batman was “totally not gay at all”, it just seems poetically correct.

#29. Green Lantern
John Stewart
Created By: Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams
Debut Issue: Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87, (Dec-Jan. 1971/72)
Nothing has made me appreciate the popularity of the Justice League cartoon like going to see 2011’s Green Lantern in theaters and hearing so many people complain that Green Lantern wasn’t black. Now, Hal Jordan was always Green Lantern to me, so I found this rather fascinating. It speaks to the impression John Stewart can make, and more importantly to the diversity problem that still exists in the superhero genre. DC’s first black superhero was chosen to be the new backup Green Lantern after Guy Gardner was injured. Created by Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams in their groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series, Stewart was an architect and former marine before being chosen to wear the ring. Stewart had a respectable presence in comic books, and even got to be the star of the Green Lantern title from 1982 to 1984. But it wasn’t until Bruce Timm and Paul Dini chose Stewart to be the GL on their Justice League cartoon that Stewart became a genuine star. Not only did he help provide some racial diversity on the team, but his hard-nosed personality stood out among the team. Stewart has since been a fixture of Green Lantern comics, almost always being the focus of at least one book.

#28. Animal Man
Buddy Baker
Created By: Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: Strange Adventures #180, (Sept. 1964)
The 1960’s was the second great boom for superheroes. DC reinvented less popular Golden Age heroes while Stan Lee and Marvel flooding the market with new and popular character. Animal Man never quite achieved that kind of popularity, only appearing in eleven scattershot issues of DC Comics before Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in 1988, DC gave Grant Morrison the reins on Animal Man, and a character and a comic unlike any other was the result. Buddy Baker is a would-be actor, dedicated family man and part-time superhero with the ability to reach into the “life web” and gain the natural abilities of animals. This ranges from everything from an eagle’s flight and a cheetah’s speed to a fly’s weight, making him a powerful and often unpredictable hero. Morrison used the character as a megaphone to champion animal rights and vegetarianism, but also as a vehicle for his taste in the bizarre and obscure. From combining Jesus Christ and Wile E. Coyote into one character in the Eisner-award winning Coyote Gospel story to having Buddy come face to face with his writer, Morrison’s run established that nothing could be predictable in Buddy’s life. Animal Man spent some time switching between DC’s main continuity and its Vertigo imprint, but made a huge impact in 2011 when Jeff Lemire’s writing on Animal Man #1 demanded attention, standing tall among the relaunched titles.

#27. Zatanna
Created By: Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson
Debut Issue: Hawkman #4, (Oct-Nov. 1964)
Zatanna Zatara is both a stage magician and a true magician, most often in the form of spells cast with “sdrawkcab hceeps” (backwards speech). In a sense, she is a Silver Age reimagination of her father Zatara, a man with similar skills and powers who was popular in the Golden Age and even debuted in Action Comics #1. Zatanna is by far the more prevalent character however. Introduced in a long series of crossovers where she was searching for her father, Zatanna eventually became a regular in the Justice League. Zatanna is known for her playful, outgoing personality and her long friendship (and teased romance) with Batman. She’s also had a long association with John Constantine and is a starring member of Justice League Dark, one of the New 52’s better new ideas. Zatanna is probably still considered a “B-Lister”, but her appearances in the DC animated universe, and everything from Smallville to Injustice: Gods Among Us have certainly kept her present in the minds of DC fans.

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