The big rivalry between powerhouse publishers Marvel and DC may have started in the four-color pages of comic books, but it’s been visibly fought on screen in recent years.
The Big Two of American comics have been at the forefront of creating viable and enduring shared universes on film, replicating the complicated and intertwined stories fans know from their books.
DC was quick to adapt their superheroes in the 1940s and landed massive hits with Superman and Batman in the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s Marvel that has soared recently.
Marvel has grown the most successful franchise in cinema history with the backing of Disney. In contrast, Warner Bros.-owned DC went straight for the big hitters. Their darker approach confused moviegoers until Justice League exposed the massive gap between DC’s premier superteam and The Avengers.
But change is happening at the comic giant famous for resetting narratives. In June 2023, The Flash will refresh the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), while the studio will let other separate universes develop around smashes like 2019’s Joker and 2022’s The Batman.
We’re yet to see how many greenlit movies will fit into these new-look universes and how they will deal with already introduced characters like Deathstroke. Returning titans Aquaman and Wonder Woman will undoubtedly bring new opponents. Shazam’s second movie will open up the multiverse to gods and monsters.
Black Adam will arrive in October 2022, testing Dwayne Johnson’s promise that the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change. Films starring magician Zatanna and the mystically-powered Blue Beetle have been announced, and we know the DCEU’s Supergirl will debut in The Flash. That film will also return Michael Keaton’s Batman to the cowl for multiple DCEU appearances, including a retro-looking Batgirl.
The great news is that DC still has a vast reserve of exciting characters to bring to their standalone and connected films. Here’s our top picks for characters who deserve their moment in the DCEU.
Superman’s slate of supervillains hasn’t been well explored on film, but Brainiac has come close to movie theaters before. Elements ended up in (terrifying) moments of Superman III, and he would have been the main villain in Tim Burton’s doomed Superman Lives, but it’s time he was unleashed as the universe-level threat he is.
The green-skinned tech tyrant may be one of Superman’s greatest foes, but reinventions throughout his 60-year career haven’t brought him the recognition of Lex Luther. That’s got to hurt. Blake Ritson’s creepy TV portrayal on Krypton showed the potential of this augmented cyborg with a penchant for stealing and shrinking cities.
Best paired with: The whole Kryptonian family for an epic grudge match to reclaim the stolen city of Kandor.
9. Detective Chimp
You’d expect DC Comics to have a strong line of detectives, and the past few years have seen Brian Michael Bendis revive the comic agency Checkmate to prove there’s more than one great detective in the multiverse. While The Batman has boosted the Dark Knight’s deductive skill set, it’s about time Detective Comics showed its roots.
Golden Age superhero Detective Chimp may look like a gimmick with his Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, but he’d be a brilliant addition. This common chimpanzee uses his superhuman-level intelligence to solve crimes and has played a crucial part in significant DC storylines.
Best paired with: Fellow Checkmate enigma, The Question.
8. Ra’s Al Ghul
The DCEU’s original cosmic intentions have been derailed, so maybe it’s time to focus on terrestrial threats. Few have the topical appeal of Ra’s Al Ghul. Since his comic book debut in the 1970s, he’d developed from Batman’s wannabe father-in-law to Justice League-level threat.
Ra’s eco-inspired fight against humanity has brought him to Batman: The Animated Series, Arrow, video games, and the Dark Knight trilogy. His position as head of the League of Assassins and the natural gothic horror of his extended life has great potential in the DCEU.
Best paired with: That other long-lived Legion of Doom member, Vandal Savage, to unlock their immortal rivalry.
7. Jessica Cruz
A Green Lantern Corps film is still on the slate, but DC are understandably wary about bringing their intergalactic police force to the screen after Green Lantern’s plummet a decade ago. Since the DCEU kicked off, the only hint of a green ring has been a flashback in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. There are many worthy ring-wielders, but just nudging John Stewart and Kyle Rayner is newcomer Jessica Cruz.
She had a challenging introduction to the New 52 when she accidentally inherited Power Ring’s mantle during an incursion by the Crime Syndicate from the corrupt Earth 3. Cruz has proved a valuable Corps member, overcoming struggles with social anxiety and the weight of her mission to win a big fanbase.
Best paired with: Accidental Green Lantern partner Simon Baz to recapture their comic book rivalry.
6. Booster Gold
Any reset to the DCEU will undoubtedly attempt to shake off its earlier darkness, and a character like Booster could be essential. Booster emerged after DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths as a time-traveling superhero from the 25th century. But three decades of tragedy and adventure have seen his glory-seeking replaced by something more profound.
Modern Booster is more likely to consider the implications of his future knowledge than crack a joke at Batman. Writers like Tom King (Heroes in Crisis) and his creator, Dan Jurgens (Death of Superman), have shown just how deep this comedy character can be.
Best paired with: partner in crime-fighting, Silver Age Blue Beetle Ted Kord.
5. John Constantine
Few comic characters are as fascinating as Liverpudlian mage John Constantine. He debuted in the pages of Swamp Thing, with a look inspired by Sting, before he headlined an impressive 300-issue run of the Hellblazer title for DC imprint Vertigo. Breaking through to the mainstream DC universe has significantly raised his profile without diluting his edgy character (too much).
After Keanu Reeves brought him to theaters, Matt Ryan’s prominent portrayal in the TV series Constantine and then the Arrowverse has shown the character’s uncanny ability to fit into any part of the DC Universe. He’s likely to shake things up while opening the door to the magical side of the DCEU with mystical superteam Justice League Dark.
Best paired with: Those who have survived knowing him best, Zatanna and Swamp Thing.
Vixen has made a few live-action and animated appearances, including the Arrowverse. TV has proven too small for this superhero who draws on the spirits of animals past and present. Her character and abilities have brought her top-tier Justice League action in recent years, and there’s a real chance she can bring something powerful and new to the DCEU.
Best paired with: Animal Man to unlock the incredible and elemental power of the Red for the DCEU.
3. Mister Miracle
Ava DuVernay and Tom King’s New Gods script was full of potential until Warner Bros. pictures pulled the plug. The closure of the DCEU’s Justice League storyline has robbed immediate plans of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
We’ll have to hope that Scott Free, foster son of Darkseid and an escape artist who honed his skills breaking from the fire pits of Apokolips, gets to bring his blend of superheroics to the DCEU soon.
Best paired with: Big Barda, of course, bringing one of DC’s great romances to the screen.
2. Poison Ivy
The Birds of Prey have assembled, launching some of Gotham’s strongest female characters into the DCEU. While Jurnee Smollett’s Black Canary is set for a feature of her own, there’s one significant omission.
After Batman and Robin mistreated Poison Ivy, it’s time Red brought the antihero goodwill amassed on TV shows like Gotham and Harley Quinn to the big screen. Devastating powers, a fascinating relationship with Harley, and a hotline to nature: few characters can make a splash like Ivy.
Best paired with: Her ultimate best girl, Harley Quinn and Catwoman to complete the Gotham Sirens
1. Reverse Flash
The Flash TV series has shown off the great Rogues of Flash’s Central City, but the Speedster’s twisted mirror image is at the top of the threat list. Barry Allen’s powers have proven pivotal to the DC universes since he was the first to unlock the multiverse during the Silver Age. He’s now likely to be vital in resetting the DCEU, so imagine what his nemesis could do.
Eobard Thawne is the 25th-century speedster obsessed with destroying Barry Allen. He’s influenced other sinister speedsters, including Hunter Zoloman’s Zoom. For knowledge of the Speed Force and the tragic lengths he’s prepared to go to destroy his rival, Thawne could be one of the great DCEU villains.
Best paired with: Every speedster’s worst nightmare, the Speed Force’s psychopomp Black Flash.