The DC Universe boasts some of the most popular characters and heroes of any popular media in the world, but with over 10,000 characters in the mix, who are the best among them? Here’s our list of the top characters in DC’s expansive catalog.
Superman is possibly the most powerful being in the DC Universe. First appearing in Action Comics #1 in 1938, Kal El is an alien from the planet Krypton. His parents launched him into space as their planet exploded and he landed on earth where he was raised as a human, Clark Kent, and grew up to be a journalist for the Daily Planet.
Early in his adulthood, Clark receives a message from his late father and learns of his Kryptonian abilities, which have been enhanced thanks to the abundance of sunlight available on Earth. Clark can fly, lift massive objects with his super strength, deflect bullets with his own body, and even shoot lasers out of his eyes. Superman is a founding member of the Justice League and is powerful enough that Batman creates contingency plans in case the Man of Steel ever goes rogue.
Bruce Wayne doesn’t have any superpowers, but thanks to his exceptional intellect and vast wealth, that’s never stopped him from being one of the greatest heroes in the DC Universe. After the murder of his parents when Wayne was a young boy, Wayne dedicates his life to fighting criminals and trains physically and mentally to become Batman.
Batman first appeared in 1939 with the 27th issue of Detective Comics. He’s a founding member of the Justice League and has gone toe to toe with some of the best villains DC has to offer, including the Joker, Deathstroke, Bane, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, and many more.
Robin is Batman’s trusty sidekick and several characters have taken on the role including Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake. The Boy Wonder’s first appearance was in Detective Comics #38 in 1940 and he has been a trusty companion to Batman ever since.
The first Robin, Dick Grayson eventually goes on to become Nightwing and Jason Todd, the second Robin, becomes an antagonist known as The Red Hood, after his apparent murder at the hands of the Joker. More recently, Batman chose his own son, Damian Wayne, to become the fourth iteration of the character during the 2009 Battle for the Cowl storyline.
Nightwing is the persona Dick Grayson takes on after leaving the role of Robin, but the character’s origin actually comes from the Superman storyline in which the Man of Steel takes on the name of Nightwing as he protects the planet Kandor alongside his friend Flamebird or Jimmy Olsen. Dick Grayson decides to take up the original Nightwing’s mantle after drawing inspiration from the legendary Kryptonian vigilante.
Drawing on his experiences as an acrobat and the Boy Wonder, Grayson uses a high-tech suit and gadgets to patrol Gotham, most notably, his pair of eskrima clubs which can act as grappling hooks or even line guns as well as melee weapons.
Princess Diana of Themyscira or Diana Prince when she’s blending in with humans is Wonder Woman, and she made her debut in All Star Comics #8 in 1941. Wonder Woman is a founding member of the Justice League and is known for her heritage as an Amazonian warrior. She uses an array of magical objects she uses to fight crime, including the Lasso of Truth, indestructible bracelets, a projectile tiara, and her invisible jet.
Wonder Woman is also descended from Zeus and thus possesses godlike powers like immortality and the ability to fly. The character draws inspiration from early feminism and is perhaps the most popular female hero in the entirety of the DC Universe.
Green Lantern is a name several characters in the DC Universe have taken on, with the first being Alan Scott in All-American Comics #16 in 1940. Originally wielding a magical ring crafted from a magical lamp, the Green Lantern alias was later reimagined as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a kind of cosmic police force.
The Green Lantern’s powerful rings allow them to manifest almost any object they can imagine into reality and control it using their mind. Besides Alan Scott, other characters who have taken turns as The Green Lantern include Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Jessica Cruz.
Flash is the alter ego of at least four different characters throughout DC Universe history. True to the name, Flash can run faster than the speed of sound using the power of the “speed force.”The speed force is so powerful that it allows Flash to literally run through time.
Jay Garrick was the original Flash and debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940, but Barry Allen, Barry’s nephew Wally West, and Barry’s grandson Bart Allen have all stepped into the role at different points. Flash has worked both as a member of the Justice League and Teen Titans and even competed in several races against Superman.
Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 and is another founding member of the Justice League. The character is massively popular and remains one of the world’s most recognized superheroes to this day.
Aquaman’s true name is Arthur Curry and he is the half-human, half-Atlantean king of Atlantis. He is capable of communicating telepathically with sea life as well as breathing underwater and he wields a three-pronged trident against his foes.
Billy Batson is a young homeless boy who can transform into an adult superhero by speaking the word “Shazam.” Shazam can fly and possesses superhuman strength and speed. He first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 in 1940.
Billy gains his abilities from a wizard who tells him he has fought evil for 3000 years using the powers of the gods Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury (SHAZAM), but is now too old to continue. Billy takes on the wizard’s responsibilities and regularly battles with the Monster Society of Evil. Shazam’s original name was Captain Marvel, but D.C. began to downplay that name in favor of Shazam after a copyright dispute with Marvel over their superhero of the same name.
The Martian Manhunter is an original member of the Justice League. His real name is J’onn J’onzz and he and made his first appearance in Detective Comics #225 in 1955. J’onzz is a humanoid Martian with green skin and has several powers and abilities. He can change shape, turn invisible and speak to other beings telepathically in addition to his super strength and flying capabilities.
J”onzz uses his shapeshifting abilities to disguise himself and better blend in with humans. He often takes on the persona of a detective named John Jones during the course of his adventures and he is among the most powerful members of the Justice League.
Hawk Girl first appeared in Flash Comics #1 in 1940 and she is one of the first female superheroes to appear in DC comics. Many different versions of Hawkgirl have appeared since the heroine’s original debut with characters including Shiera Hall, Shayera Hol, and Kendra Saunders stepping into the role.
Hawk Girl wears armor with a pair of artificial wings that allow her to fly and uses weapons out of medieval times like her mace. The character often appears alongside her male counterpart, Hawk Man.
Garfield Mark Logan is Beast Boy and he’s capable of shapeshifting into any animal he sees be it in his everyday life or in a picture. He first appeared in The Doom Patrol #99 in 1965 and has worked as a member of both the Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans during his superhero career.
Garfield gains his abilities after contracting a rare disease that only the West African Green Monkey is capable of surviving. Garfield’s father attempts an experimental procedure, turning Garfield into a green monkey for 24 hours in a desperate attempt to save his son’s life. While Garfield does indeed survive the virus, his father’s procedure has the unintended consequence of turning him green and bestowing him with his shapeshifting abilities for the rest of his life.
Starfire is the alter ego of Princess Koriand’r of the planet Tamaran. SHe first appeared in DC Comics Presents #26 in 1980. Like Kryptonians, Starfire’s people derive their powers from solar energy. Starfire can fly and shoot blasts of ultraviolet energy called star bolts from her hands. She left her homeworld for Earth after a bitter feud with her sister, Blackfire, who attempted to enslave and then kill Starfire.
Upon her arrival on Earth, Starfire meets Dick Grayson’s Robin and joins his team, the Teen Titans, which includes Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Raven. She even blends into human society using the alias Kory Anders to become a professional model when she isn’t thwarting evil with the Titans.
Similar to Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen is a playboy billionaire who moonlights as a costumed superhero. Queen’s alter ego, Green Arrow, first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941 and uses his incredible skill with a bow and arrow to patrol the streets of Star City and Seattle. In addition to his standard arrows, Green Arrow makes use of an array of specialty arrows like grapple, sticky, and explosive arrows to adapt to a range of situations.
Green Arrow is sometimes associated with left-wing politics, at one point even losing his fortune to become a hero for the poor and working class. He has also fought alongside a number of other popular DC heroes including Black Canary and the Green Lantern as well as other members of The Justice League.
Black Lightning made his debut in Black Lightning #1 in 1977 and was the first Black American superhero with his own series in the DC Universe. Jefferson Pierce is his real name and he was a top Olympic athlete before moving to Metropolis to be the principal of Garfield High School. He uses an advanced utility belt that gives him electric powers to clean up his neighborhood of Southside or “Suicide Slum” Metropolis.
In later storylines, Pierce either internalizes the powers of his utility belt over time or he is reimagined as being born with the innate power to channel and control electricity with his body. At one point, Black Lightning teams up with the Justice League and is offered a position in the group before turning them down.
Raven is the Cambion daughter of a human mother and demon father, Trigon, and goes by the name Rachel Roth when she wants to pose as a normal human. She’s a member of the Teen Titans and can sense emotions and control her soul separate from her physical body in addition to being proficient in the ways of magic.
Raven came to the Justice League and asked them to help her defeat her father, Trigon, but they turned her down and she turned to the Teen Titans including Robin, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Starfire, and Cyborg, eventually becoming a permanent member of the team.
Victor Stone is Cyborg and he is the son of scientists who subject him to experiments to enhance his intelligence as a young boy. He first appeared in DC Comics Presents #26 in 1980. An interdimensional creature that emerges from one of his parents’ experiments kills Victor’s mother and critically injures him while he is visiting one of their labs.
Victor’s father manages to save his son by implanting him with prosthetics all over his body, including the better part of his head. Victor is initially horrified and resentful of his father, but he eventually learns to harness his new body in the fight for justice, joining at different points with the Justice League and the Teen Titans.
Nite Owl is one of the main heroes in the 1986 limited series Watchmen. Hollis Mason and Dan Dreiberg each take a turn as Nite Owl over the course of several decades and two generations of vigilantes. Mason joined the masked vigilante team, the Minutemen in 1939 before ultimately retiring in 1962 and passing on the mantle of Nite Owl to Dreiberg. In 1985, a street gang breaks into the retired Mason’s home and tragically murders him.
Dreiberg also retires as Nite Owl for a time after President Nixon makes masked vigilantism illegal, but he steps back into the role after the murder of the Comedian, a former member of the Minutemen, and slowly uncovers a murderous plot to save the world with the help of other masked heroes like Silk Spectre and Rorschach.
Silk Spectre is the superhero identity of the mother and daughter Sally Jupiter and Laurie Juspeczyk, and both appear in the original 1985 run of Watchmen. Sally was a member of the Minutemen and was an American sex symbol and superhero pin-up model during her career.
Laurie serves as the Silk Spectre after her mother’s retirement and has romantic relationships with both Doctor Manhattan and Dan Dreiberg during her career. Laurie has a somewhat strained relationship with her mother, but as she uncovers the murder plot behind the Comedian’s death, she slowly unravels a dark secret about her mother’s past and her own lineage that turns her world upside down.
There’s something wrong with Rorschach or Walter Kovacs, who is the only masked vigilante who remains active after Nixon makes vigilantism illegal. He’s antisocial and thinks like a conspiracy theorist based on his monologues and journals, but he might be onto something when he begins to investigate the murder of the Comedian with suspicion of a vast conspiracy to kill masked vigilantes.
As deranged as the man might be, Rorschach drives the plot of Watchmen forward with his investigation, bringing his old team back together to solve the mystery. He’s most notable for his ever-morphing mask which changes into various shapes resembling the psychological Rorschach test.