20 of the most iconic heroes in the DC universe

DC ComicsPeople pick favourites when it comes to superheroes.
  • In most polls, the top three favourite DC heroes are always the same – only the order changes from poll to poll.
  • Also, in many cases, these top three DC heroes are also considered the top three most beloved heroes.
  • Wonder Woman has been a feminist icon for most of the 20 th and 21st centuries – and her popularity has extended far beyond the reaches of comic fandom.
  • DC’s movies in recent times haven’t been very well-received by critics or fans – but the Arrowverse TV shows continue to keep fans engaged every single week while adding new dimensions to beloved characters.

Above all else, heroes endure – and DC has had some of the most beloved heroes in the world as part of its ranks since the invention of superhero comics.

Of course, there have been missteps along the way – but anything that’s around for 90 years isn’t going to come out unscathed. If you’re lucky, there are way more hits than misses – and by that standard, DC has been very lucky indeed.

Here’s a look back at some of the greats that DC has given us over the years.


Batwoman is all bat, all woman, and all badass.

CWBatwoman.

First appearance:Detective Comics #233 (1956); rebooted in 52 Week #7, released June 21, 2006

Created by: Kathy Kane (1956): Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff; Kate Kane (2006): Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen

Why we love them: In 1956, National Comics – DC’s predecessor – decided that Batman needed a love interest to prove that he wasn’t in a gay relationship with Robin. The Kathy Kane incarnation of Batwoman was plenty badass despite having been created primarily as a love interest – but she was eventually killed off in 1979.

In 2006, Batwoman was reborn as part of DC’s 52 series – this time, as complete certified badass Kate Kane, who is also an out and proud lesbian.

During the December 2018 Arrowverse crossover event “Elseworlds,” Batwoman made her small-screen debut, played by Ruby Rose.


Green Lantern — in any incarnation — is a true intergalactic guardian.

DCGreen Lantern.

First appearance:
All-American Comics #16 (July 1940)

Created by: Bill Finger and Martin Nodell

Why we love them: There have been a few Green Lanterns over the years – Hal Jordan is probably the best known, but there’s also Guy Gardner, John Stewart (who was one of the first Black superheroes to grace comics in general), and Kyle Rayner, as well.

Rings filled with the green energy of willpower and created by the Guardians of the Universe are worn by all members of the Green Lantern Corps – and anyone or anything can be a Green Lantern if they have a ring.

So far, Green Lantern had his own live-action major motion picture debut in a film of the same name that starred Ryan Reynolds as the Hal Jordan incarnation.Reynolds himself pointedly mocked that role later on as “Deadpool,” so you’re probably better off reading the comics.


The Atom was pretty down-to-earth in his original 1940s incarnation — but his revamped form found the ability to go sub-atomic a full year before Hank Pym over at Marvel.

The CWThe Atom.

First appearance: Al Pratt version: All-American Comics #19 (October 1940); Ray Palmer sub-atomic version: Showcase #34 (October 1961)

Created by: Bill O’Connor and Ben Flinton; revamped sub-atomically by Gil Kane and Gardner Fox

Why we love them: In the comics, after Ray Palmer disappeared, Palmer protege Ryan Choi stepped up to become the Atom thanks to creators Gail Simone and Grant Morrison in the DCU “Brave New World” series.

Currently, the Ray Palmer version of the Atom is played by Brandon Routh in the Arrowverse CW show “Legends of Tomorrow” after he was introduced on “The Flash.” Routh also played Superman on the big screen in “Superman Returns” – which is a fairly unique situation.

Routh told ABC News,

“I often get asked what’s better to play, Superman or The Atom,” he said. “Superman was like the pinnacle of all superheroes and the movie that made my career, so you can’t really compare, necessarily, but they are all fun.”


Doctor Fate has virtually unlimited magical powers thanks to his mystical helmet.

First appearance:
More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940)

Created by:
Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman

Why we love them: Over time, the mystical object known as the Helmet of Nabu conferred virtually unlimited magical powers upon its wearer – in part because it was also possessed by the spirit of the ancient being known as Nabu. Teleportation, precognition – you name it, he can probably do it.

The helmet originally bonded with Kent Nelson, whose father Sven had initially discovered the tomb of Nabu. There have been other Doctors Fate in the comics, but the Kent Nelson version was a recurring character on “Smallville” played by Brent Stait.


Black Lightning might be the most relatable superhero on this list — which makes him even more powerful.

Bob Mahoney/The CWBlack Lightening.

First appearance:
Black Lightning #1 (April 1977)

Created by:
Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden

Why we love them: The character of Black Lightning was DC’s first African-American superhero to headline his own book – but initially, the company had some objectively terrible ideas about how they wanted to play it.

The company originally intended to create the character as a white racist who magically transformed into a black superhero when he was stressed out. Tony Isabella – who had previously worked on the Luke Cage comic at Marvel and also created the character of Misty Knight – stepped in and created Jefferson Pierce instead.

A mild-mannered and inspiring educator by day, badass crimefighter in his community by night – the character of Black Lightning is currently played by Cress Williams in the “Black Lightning” series on the CW.


Starfire can fly by absorbing ultraviolet rays and converting them — and anyone who can’t fly is jealous.

Warner Bros. TelevisionStarfire.

First appearance:
DC Comics Presents #26 (September 30, 1980)

Created by:
Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Why we love them: Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran can’t just fly – she can fly faster than light and survive the cold vastness of space with no external help. She’s also able to use ultraviolet light as a weapon thanks to some sketchy experimentation that was done to her after her jealous sister betrayed her and forced her into slavery when she was young.

Kory honed her skills, broke free, and headed to Earth to become Starfire – and she’s currently played by Anna Diop on the DC Universe series “Titans.”


Raven’s magical, telekinetic, and psychic powers make her extremely powerful.

Warner Bros. TelevisionRaven.

First appearance:
DC Comics Presents #26 (September 30, 1980)

Created by: Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Why we love them: As the half-demon, half-human daughter of the interdimensional demon Trigon and human Angela Roth, Rachel Roth had to learn how to control her emotions from an early age – or risk destroying the universe. Luckily, she can channel those emotions into powers.

Raven – Rachel – is currently played by Teagan Croft on DC Universe’s “Titans.”


Cyborg is half-man, half-machine, and all hero.

Warner Bros.Cyborg.

First appearance:
DC Comics Presents #26 (September 30, 1980)

Created by: Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Why we love them: As a human/technology hybrid who’s able to interface with any and all technology with ease, Victor Stone – Cyborg – is clearly a guy you want on your team. Also, his cybernetic implants give him super strength, speed, and endurance.

Cyborg has made three live-action appearances so far. In “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League,” he was portrayed by Ray Fisher. In the upcoming DC Universe series “Doom Patrol,” he’ll be played by Joivan Wade.


Aquaman is like that one kid who always got picked on — but then he worked out and got strong, and now he wants to show the world what he can do.

Warner Bros.Aquaman.

First appearance:
More Fun Comics #73 (October 31, 1941)

Created by:
Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris

Why we may eventually love them: As DC and Marvel continually kept one-upping each other’s character ideas over time, some were bound to work immediately – and others weren’t.

Aquaman has had more screen time outside of DC properties than any other character on this list, all thanks to constantly being mocked in pop culture.

The Jason Momoa incarnation of Aquaman has graced the big screen in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Justice League,” and his solo film debut “Aquaman” – and he’s working hard to change our minds while still being a good sea life steward.

Whether this love will last remains to be seen – but if there is anything movie and comics fans both love, it’s a good redemption story.


Black Canary has turned damsel in distress tropes upside down since the beginning.

Katie Yu/ The CWBlack Canary.

First appearance:
Flash Comics #86 (August 1947)

Created by:
Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino

Why we love them: Utilising both her martial arts and detective skills, Black Canary isn’t so different from Batman – minus the Wayne family fortune, of course. It’s a combination of admirable and aspirational character traits that fans have been loving practically forever.

Black Canary in live-action form has been played by Danuta Wesley in “Legends of the Superheroes,” Rachel Skarsten in “Birds of Prey,” Alaina Huffman in “Smallville” – and most recently, Katie Cassidy and Juliana Harkavy have played different incarnations of the character on “Arrow.”


John Constantine’s occult detective and his wisecracking, inherently flawed ways have won over fans for the past 34 years.

The CWJohn Constantine.

First appearance:
The Saga of the Swamp Thing #25 (June 1984)

Created by:
Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben

Why we love them: Tapping into powers of the occult is otherworldly but not automatically considered a superpower in the way that, say, the powers of flight or superhuman strength might be. Also, did we mention that he’s an infamous and blatant con artist?

If anything, over time, Constantine has proven himself to be more of an antihero than anything – but that’s why he’s so appealing.

The character has made live-action appearances played by Keanu Reeves in the movie “Constantine” and by Matt Ryan in the short-lived “Constantine” TV series, as well as “Arrow.” Ryan plays the character now on “Legends of Tomorrow.”


Beast Boy can shape-shift into any animal at will — and fans can’t get enough.

Warner Bros. PicturesBeast Boy.

First appearance:
Doom Patrol #99 (November 1965)

Created by:
Arnold Drake and Bob Brown

Why we love them: Garfield Logan was a normal enough kid – until he developed a rare disease that almost killed him.

Luckily, his parents were two brilliant scientists, and they tried a previously untested experimental treatment on young Garfield that both saved his life and turned him into Beast Boy. Maybe you wouldn’t want that ability, and maybe you would – but it’s definitely cool that someone with Garfield’s personality has it.

He’s portrayed by Ryan Potter in the DC Universe series “Titans.”


Supergirl’s charm lies in the fact that she’s not perfect — but she truly relishes being a hero and doing good in the world while learning from her mistakes.

DC ComicsSupergirl.

First appearance:
Action Comics #252 (May 1959)

Created by:
Otto Binder and Al Plastino

Why we love them: Superman is Superman in part because of his human family – but what if you were a Kryptonian and had all the powers that entails but didn’t end up with adoptive parents like Clark’s? You’d be a different person – you’d be Supergirl.

Kara Zor-El – cousin to Kal-El – was adopted in the comics by the Danvers family. Eventually, she gave her life to save everyone else, including her cousin – and died in the book Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October 1985).

In live-action form, Supergirl has been played by Helen Slater in the 1984 “Supergirl” movie, Laura Vandervoort on “Smallville,” and is currently played by Melissa Benoist on the CW’s “Supergirl” series.


In Nightwing, we get to witness some of the most impressive character development of any superhero in the DC universe.

DC ComicsNightwing.

First appearance: (as Robin) Detective Comics #38 (April 1940); (as Nightwing) Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (July 1984)

Created by: Dick Grayson/Robin created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; Nightwing created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Why we love them: Even the most casual fans of Batman know about Robin – and some might even know that there’s been more than one person behind the mask over time. The first Robin was Dick Grayson, whom Bruce Wayne adopted as an orphan and trained to fulfil his role as Robin.

Over time, Dick Grayson began to question what he was doing as Batman’s sidekick – before eventually deciding that although he wanted to be a hero, he also wanted to do it his own way. He handed over his costume – and permission – to a new orphan named Jason Todd, who would go on to become the new Robin.

Soon after, Dick Grayson reappeared as Nightwing. Although fans of DC animated offerings have seen Nightwing several times onscreen, it’s likely we’ll be getting at least one live-action representation of him soon. A Nightwing movie has been announced, although no details are available yet.

It’s possible that we’ll see Nightwing sooner via DC Universe’s “Titans,” which makes sense. The Dick Grayson/Robin there – played by Brenton Thwaites – is clearly transitioning away from his previous Robin role as Batman’s sidekick. Jason Todd has also been introduced, so it’s a distinct possibility.


Batgirl has been a mastermind since the beginning — and over the years, she’s proved it time and again.

WikipediaBatgirl.

First appearance:
Detective Comics #359 (January 1967)

Created by:
Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino

Why we love them: Much like Batwoman, Batgirl was introduced back in the day to make Batman and Robin’s relationship seem less homoerotic. Unlike Batwoman, the character of Batgirl didn’t fade away and disappear for 30 years – instead, she developed into an integral part of the team.

In 1988, courtesy of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s book “The Killing Joke,” the Joker shot Barbara Gordon through the spine and paralysed her. Barbara Gordon adapted to her new circumstances and used her brilliant mind to become Oracle – evolving yet again.

DC decided it wanted to have the Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl – not Bette Kane, Stephanie Brown, or Cassandra Cain, who had all also been Batgirl in the comics – back again for its New 52 relaunch in 2011. By then, Babs had been Oracle for 23 years.

This was a controversial move at the time – as there simply aren’t a whole lot of disabled superhero stories being told by anyone, let alone as well-respected a writer as Gail Simone.

Live-action versions of Batgirl have been portrayed by Yvonne Craig on the Adam West-starring ’60s “Batman” TV series and Alicia Silverstone in the movie “Batman and Robin” (though it’s worth noting that although she was Batgirl, she was not Barbara Gordon – the movie created a character not seen elsewhere in DC lore called Barbara Wilson, a niece of Alfred Pennyworth). A live-action Batgirl movie is reportedly in development.


The Flash shows no signs of slowing down — even though he’s been running for nearly 80 years.

Dean Buscher/The CWThe Flash.

First appearance: as Jay Garrick: Flash Comics #1 (January 1940); as Barry Allen: Showcase #4 (October 1956); as Wally West: The Flash #110 (January 1960); as Bart Allen: Flash Vol. 2 #92 (July 1994)

Created by: Jay Garrick version: Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert; Barry Allen version: Robert Kanigher, John Broome, and Carmine Infantino; Wally West version: John Broome and Carmine Infantino; Bart Allen version:Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo

Why we love them: The Flash started with Jay Garrick, a college student who had a terrible laboratory accident that mysteriously gave him super-speed.

When the hero known as the Flash was rebooted as police scientist Barry Allen in 1956, the idea of updating heroes for modern times was born – and comics literally have not been the same ever since. For example, the current Barry Allen as seen in the CW tv series “The Flash” is now a forensic scientist – a profession that didn’t even exist when the character was first introduced in the comics.

As you might imagine, the Flash has been portrayed in various live-action incarnations. In 1979, “Legends of the Superheroes” specials saw him played by Rod Haase; in the 1990 TV series “The Flash,” he was played by John Wesley Shipp; in “Smallville,” he was played by Kyle Gallner; in the Arrowverse shows, he’s played by Grant Gustin and John Wesley Shipp, while Keiynan Lonsdale plays Kid Flash; in the DCEU movies, he’s currently played by Ezra Miller.


Green Arrow is more vigilante and less super — but he’s no less compelling as he’s fighting crime on the streets of Star City.

Dan Power/The CWStephen Amell stars as the titular hero on ‘Arrow.’

First appearance:
More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)

Created by:
Mort Weisinger and George Papp

Why we love them: Who doesn’t like a story about an obnoxious, spoiled rich kid who gets trapped on an island, has to master the use of a bow and arrow to survive, and develops a purpose in life by fighting greed and corruption once he finds his way back home? That’s the story of Oliver Queen – who’s similar to Bruce Wayne in that his choice to use his immense wealth to fund his fight for justice is his superpower.

In live-action roles, Green Arrow has been portrayed by Justin Hartley on “Smallville,” Stephen Amell in the Arrowverse series on the CW, and Joseph David-Jones as the Connor Hawke Green Arrow in “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”


Superman is the original — and most super — of all heroes.

IMDb/Warner Bros.Superman.

First appearance:
Action Comics #1 (June 1938)

Created by:
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Why we love them: Put simply, Superman is the hero that everyone else looks up to – the one that everyone else wants to be. It’s his sheer goodness and drive to do the right thing that makes his appeal so enduring. His amazing powers don’t hurt, but they wouldn’t work without his innate goodness.

Superman has been portrayed in live-action form by George Reeves in the “Adventures of Superman” ’50s TV series and the “Superman and the Mole Men” movie; Christopher Reeve in the “Superman,” “Superman II,” “Superman III,” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” movies; Dean Cain in the “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” series; Tom Welling as Clark Kent pre-Superman in “Smallville”; Brandon Routh in the movie “Superman Returns,” Henry Cavill in the movies “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and “Justice League”; and Tyler Hoechlin on “Supergirl.”


Wonder Woman is the prototypical female superhero who remains unequaled to this day.

Warner Bros.Wonder Woman.

First appearance:
All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941)

Created by:William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne, Harry G. Peter

Why we love them: So many heroes have a tragic origin story that spurs them to become the best possible versions of themselves – but not Wonder Woman. Formed out of clay, given life by Zeus, and raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta on the Paradise Island inhabited only by women – also known as Themyscira – Diana’s origin story is the stuff of very pleasant dreams rather than fevered nightmares.

And then she proceeds to fight with love – not with anger, nor with hastily weaponised hate. This simple choice is what makes her unique among superheroes.

Despite her status as an internationally beloved character whose fame has only grown over the many years she’s been around, Wonder Woman has had relatively few live-action depictions onscreen. She’s been played by Cathy Lee Crosby in the 1974 made-for-TV “Wonder Woman” movie, by Lynda Carter in the “Wonder Woman” TV series, and by Gal Gadot in “Batman vs Superman,” “Justice League,” and Patty Jenkins’ 2017 “Wonder Woman” and upcoming “Wonder Woman 1984” films.


Batman consistently tops fan favourite polls of all superheroes — not just those in the DC universe.

Warner Bros.Batman.

First appearance:
Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)

Created by:
Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Why we love them: The tale of a boy raised by his butler after his parents were horribly murdered in a dark alley by criminals – and who then grows up to use his detective skills and considerable financial resources to fight crime in his city – is practically irresistible.

It’s no wonder that various outlets have crowned Batman “the greatest superhero ever.”

Live-action Batman turns have been performed by Adam West in the ’60s “Batman” TV series; Michael Keaton in the Tim Burton-directed “Batman” and “Batman Returns” films; Val Kilmer in the “Batman Forever” film; George Clooney in the “Batman and Robin” film; Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy; David Mazouz as a young Bruce Wayne who is developing into Batman on the Fox TV series “Gotham”; and Ben Affleck in the DCEU films “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Justice League.”

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