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

October 7, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

If you haven’t had a chance to read 411 Comics Showcase yet, welcome. The month of October is dedicating to cataloguing the 52 best DC heroes, with thirteen new ones each week. This gives me a chance to shine a bit of a spotlight on dozens of characters at once, and give you insight into some of my personal tastes in comics.

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, and went 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.


#52. Steel
Alias:
John Henry Irons
Created By: Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove
Debut Issue: The Adventures of Superman #500, (June 1993)
The Death of Superman was the most notable comic book event of the 1990’s, as the death of a cultural icon known all over the world gained mainstream media attention. The actual quality of the event is up for debate, and Superman wouldn’t be dead for very long. But the event still had a few long lasting repercussions. One of them was the introduction of John Henry Irons, who took up Superman’s “Man of Steel” persona and helped defend the streets of Metropolis from criminals in his absence. Largely inspired by the famous folk hero for which he is named, Steel was “the new hotness” when I was a kid, and I’ve always been fond of the character when he shows up. He’ll always be tied to a landmark in comic books history, and while he has similarities to a variety of heroes besides Superman (Luke Cage probably being the most obvious), he’s always managed to stand on his own. Steel even managed to make it to theaters in one of the biggest bombs of the 1990’s. The film stars Shaquille O’Neil and has developed a bit of a cult following for being so hilariously awful that it’s actually entertaining. Hmm. Maybe I should introduce Michael Ornelas to that movie as payback for making me watch The Room.


#51. Deadman
Alias:
Boston Brand
Created By: Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: Strange Adventures #205, (Oct. 1967)
One of the things that has always drawn me to DC are the more macabre, supernatural heroes. You’ll see quite a few of them on this list, and Deadman is one of the best. Boston Brand was a circus trapeze performer who was murdered by a villain named Hook and resurrected to solve the mystery of his own murder. Deadman is a ghost who is able to possess bodies and speak through them; the hosts retain no memory of the possession, and Brand uses his powers to help people solve their problems. This rather unique ability has led to Deadman being a popular guest star in several comics and TV shows, working alongside everyone from Batman to Swamp Thing and memorably possessing Superman in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Dead Reckoning”. More recently, Geoff Johns came up with the fun idea of bringing Brand back to life in Brightest Day, a short-lived event that led to a brief romance with Dawn Granger (Dove). He’s since found a regular spot on the supernatural team Justice League Dark, a team which will be the focus of an animated film and (supposedly) a live action film at some point.


#50. Hawkgirl
Alias:
Shiera Hall/Shayera Hol OR Kendra Saunders
Created By: Gardner Fox, Dennis Neville and Sheldon Moldoff; James Robinson and David S. Goyer
Debut Issue: Flash Comics #1, (Jan. 1940); JSA Secret Files #1, (Aug. 1999)
Alright, so this is a case where being featured heavily featured in a TV series is largely responsible for a character’s popularity and her placement on this list. The idea of Hawkgirl has been around as long as the idea of Hawkman; Shiera Hall debuted in Hawkman’s first appearance in Flash Comics #1, and became Hawkgirl only a few issues later. That said, Hawkman and his related mythology is some of the most jumbled in DC canon; are Hawkman and Hawkgirl alien cops from planet Thanagar, or explorers of ancient Egypt? Well, DC can’t ever seem to set this right, and I don’t really care either. And then there’s multiverse stuff, with Golden Age and Silver age Hawkgirls considered to be different characters, and then a third Hawkgirl named Kendra Saunders showing up in 1999. What do you mean comics are tough to get into? In the comics, I enjoy the character well enough, with my personal favorite being the African-American Kendra Saunders of Earth 2 (you may also know here from the Legends of Tomorrow show). But the reason Hawkgirl has a place on this list is because she was awesome in the Justice League show, adding a boisterous, aggressive and often conflicted personality to the team.


#49. Firestorm
Alias:
Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein
Created By: Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom
Debut Issue: Firestorm, the Nuclear Man #1, (Mar. 1978)
No, those two names aren’t different Firestorms; the Nuclear Man is comprised of the psyches of both high school student Ronnie Raymond and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein. When the pair of them are caught in a nuclear accident, they are able to mind meld into the superhero, with Ronnie maintaining most of the control of his powers while Stein provides advice. Possessing the gifts of flight, fusion energy blasts, intangibility and most notably the ability to rearrange atoms of inorganic matter (turning lead into gold, or aluminum into kryptonite for example), Firestorm has been a regular “reserve” member of the Justice League in most of its incarnations. Perhaps the most famous use of the character was in the last few seasons of the Superfriends cartoon, where he and Cyborg were the “new and hip” kid appeal characters on the team. Ronnie was also part of The Flash TV show and is now one of the flagship characters for Legends of Tomorrow DC had a legacy character for Firestorm, an African American teenager from Detroit named Jason Rusch. I like Jason too, but Ronnie will always be the definitive version for me. Fortunately, the concept of the character is perfect for using both Jason and Ronnie, which DC has done.


#48. The Atom
Alias:
Ray Palmer
Created By: Gardner Fox and Gil Kane
Debut Issue: Showcase #34, (Oct. 1961)
Proving that even the smallest hero can make a difference, Ray Palmer’s primary ability is to shrink to atomic size. This allows him to go places other superheroes can’t, earning him a recurring spot on the Justice League. Palmer is a physicist and college professor in the fictional city of Ivy Town, where he discovers white dwarf star matter that grants him his powers. The Atom has never had much much success as a solo character; people know who he is, but aren’t likely going to buy his comics. One notable run called Sword of Atom saw him live with a colony of six-inch high aliens known as Morlaidhans and became romantically involved with their Princess. Palmer’s abilities make him a common guest star in various DC television shows, and is a regular part of the Legends of Tomorrow series. Seems to be a trend in this group. Similar to Firestorm, the Atom also had a younger, ethnic legacy character in the form of Ryan Choi. Much like his predecessor, Choi never really caught on, and Palmer is the character most associated with the Atom name.


#47. Mera
Created By: Jack Miller and Nick Cardy
Debut Issue: Aquaman #11, (Sept. 1963)
Mera is the wife of Aquaman, though the couple has certainly had some tumultuous times. Mera was originally sent to kill Arthur, but ended up falling in love with him; go figure. While she was ever present in Aquaman comics, the last decade has really seen Mera come into her own. Possessing hydrokinetic magic (or waterbending, as Avatar fans would call it) in addition to the usual Atlantean strength and durability. She was a breakout character of the Blackest Night event where she memorably turned into a Red Lantern, and most of Geoff Johns Aquaman run had Arthur and Mera work as equal partners. That run has been instrumental in reinvigorating interest in Aquaman, and Mera was a major part of it. I consider her to be every bit as essential to any adaptation of Aquaman as Robin is to Batman. She’s definitely a personal favorite.


#46. The Phantom Stranger
Alias:
None Known/OR Judas Iscariot
Created By: John Broome, Sy Barry and Carmine Infantino
Debut Issue: The Phantom Stranger #1, (Aug-Sep. 1952)
The Phantom Stranger has been around for a long time, but for most of that time his origins and identity have been shrouded in mystery. DC attempted to rectify this in the New 52’s series by making him Judas Iscariot. Since I don’t particularly care for such on the nose religious elements in comic books, I tend to ignore this. Most dedicated fans of the character agree he’s more interesting the way he was before, with no definitive origin. The Phantom Stranger typically shows up to aid other people against supernatural forces. Possessing seemingly endless power as well as omniscience, the Stranger might be a deus ex machina if handled poorly. Instead, he serves as more of a guiding hand, influencing but never directly acting. This allows him to be an interesting stand in for God or other religious ideas, and he remains one of the single coolest characters in DC. My personal favorite Phantom Stranger stories pit him against The Spectre; I love the grey morality and epic stakes of their conflicts.


#45. Huntress
Alias:
Helena Wayne OR Helena Bertinelli
Created By: Paul Levitz, Joe Staton and Bob Layton (Wayne); Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staton (Bertinelli)
Debut Issue: All Star Comics #69, (Dec. 1977) ; The Huntress #1, (Apr. 1989)
Now here’s an interesting case. The first Huntress is the daughter of Earth 2’s Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Helena Wayne became a hero to solve her mother’s murder and became famous for her use of the crossbow. This character was a reasonably popular one who usually appeared in backup issues of Wonder Woman. This changed in Crisis on Infinite Earths, where the multiverse concept was thrown out for a streamlined timeline. But good ideas tend to get recycled, and a new version of the character debuted in 1989. The daughter of a mob boss, she resents her origins and dedicated her life to fighting crime, often through lethal methods. While her relationship with Batman is rocky, she is a trusted ally to the Bat-Family and a member of the Justice League. But perhaps her most famous role is with Black Canary and Oracle as the Birds of Prey, one of my favorite teams in comics. This was the Huntress I grew up with and narrowly edges out Helena Wayne as my preferred version of the character. I particularly like how her sometimes lethal approach contrasts and creates drama with Batman. Either works well though, and most appearances from Huntress this decade have been of Helena Wayne from Earth 2.


#44. Jonah Hex
Created By: John Albano and Tony DeZuniga
Debut Issue: All-Star Western #10, (Feb-Mar. 1972)
Believe it or not, DC does have heroes in other genres besides superheroes. While the film starring Josh Brolin is probably something we’d rather forget, Jonah Hex is probably the most iconic cowboy in the medium. The iconic look certainly helps him stand out, but aside from that he’s exactly the gritty, honor bound anti-hero you would expect Clint Eastwood to play. But Hex is more than just a master gunslinger. Raised by the Navajo after his father sold him to then as a slave, Hex is also familiar with the supernatural elements he often comes into conflict with. If you’re somebody who wants to read fun, interesting comics but are sick of superheroes, I recommend seeking out any series of All-Star Western. Hex usually stars, but there’s a slew of fun characters that are worth looking into.


#43. The Flash
Alias:
Jay Garrick
Created By: Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert
Debut Issue: Flash Comics #1, (Jan. 1940)
Superman and Batman may have been the kings of the Golden Age of comics, but there were many other popular stars. Jay Garrick was one of the best, and his legacy lives one through several generations of iconic characters. Garrick is the original Flash, the fastest man alive, given his powers by inhaling “hard water vapors”, in case you thought comics were ever not weird. Jay was a member of the first major team of superheroes, the Justice Society, a team which combined most of DC’s second tier heroes of the era like Doctor Fate, the original Green Lantern, the Sandman and Wonder Woman. Once Barry Allen was revealed to be the new Flash, Garrick was brought back in a historic moment; both the Golden Age and Silver Age version of the Flash got to meet and interact with each other. This meeting opened the door for Earth 2, which in turn set the stage for the multiverse and a large bulk of DC’s sprawling continuity. Garrick has more recently been imagined as a younger man in the New 52, but I’m certainly partial to the veteran superhero from before.


#42. Superboy
Alias:
Kon-El, Conner Kent
Created By: Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett
Debut Issue: Adventures of Superman #500, (June 1963)
Alright, here’s another weird one. “Superboy” is the title of a series of Silver Age comics depicting Clark Kent as a child superhero. They are actually quite charming, and had a major impact on setting up the Smallville corner of Superman’s universe; the Kents, Pete Ross, Lana Lang and the Legion of Superheroes all come from this comic. Since it was a popular title, the “Superboy” was a brand name, and in the wake of the Death of Superman, it was given to a Kryptonian Clone who along with Steel, Cyborg Superman and a fourth Superman came into existence to fill the void left by Superman. Preferring to be called “The Metropolis Kid”, the new Superboy was kind of just “there” until Geoff Johns put him onto his revamped Teen Titans book. With a new look and a huge reveal as being a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, “Conner Kent” had his own identity at last. Superboy is a character that I like, and he’s certainly popular, but I’m far from his biggest fan.


#41. Green Lantern
Alias:
Guy Gardner
Created By: John Broome and Gil Kane
Debut Issue: Green Lantern #59, (Mar. 1968)
Spoiler alert: there will be several Green Lanterns on this list. Guy Gardner is the third major Green Lantern character, a “reserve” Lantern from Sector 2814. Obnoxious and jingoistic at times, Gardner has a reputation of being the “unpopular” Green Lantern. And while it’s probably true that Gardner isn’t really cut out to be the lead of a solo series and he’s outshined by other GL characters, I do have an affection for the character. He provides a fun dynamic both in the Green Lantern Corps and on other teams; whether it’s the Justice League or Justice League International. I also feel that DC made a smart move by turning him into a Red Lantern and making him the lead character for their surprisingly successful Red Lanterns book. The Red Lantern gimmick (powered by rage) just seems like a better fit for Guy.


#40. Wonder Girl
Alias:
Donna Troy
Created By:
Debut Issue:
It hasn’t been a secret that I love Wonder Woman, and it probably shouldn’t be a shocker that I love Wonder Girl too. While Donna Troy is probably best known for her multiple conflicting origin stories, I feel that she’s similar to Hawkgirl in that most of us genuinely don’t care what it is. All that’s really important is that she’s a teenaged sidekick, the Robin or Kid Flash equivalent for Wonder Woman. However, most of Donna’s career is defined by her time as a member of the Teen Titans, both the original group of sidekicks and as Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ New Teen Titans series. Deliberately set up as part of a “character triangle” with Raven and Starfire, Donna was the bridge between Raven’s pacifism and Koriand’r’s battle ready personality. As an Amazon, Donna understood both and was able to balance things out. She was also the overall most mature and “adult” member of the team, often serving as the voice of emotional reason. Fitting for Diana’s “sidekick”. Donna eventually outgrew the Wonder Girl persona and even briefly spent time as Wonder Woman, but she’s never truly found a name that works for her outside of “Donna Troy”. She may not be the most high profile character on this list, but any fan of the Titans will agree she belongs here.

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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 and I took a ride on the Snowpiercer train . This week, Michael introduces me to The Exorcist as we welcome the month of October with a bang.