A great many of the most well-known and enduring superheroes in pop culture history come from DC Comics; they’ve been making their mark on comics since the 1930s. So it stands to reason that throughout their lengthy, icon-making history they’d be responsible for more than a few incredible female superheroes – including perhaps the most famous superheroine of them all.
DC has given us one of the greatest superhero-adjacent female characters in comics, superstar reporter Lois Lane, and also supplied a seemingly endless stream of badass female villains (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, among others). Even when a lady hero is branded under a familiar title (such as Batwoman), she is often more than her unoriginal alter-ego might suggest. Each woman on this list has an identity unique to her, a rich history, and an ever-expanding story.
We’ve already taken a look at the best female superheroes at Marvel, but let’s take a look at the 13 Best Female DC Superheroes Of All Time.
13. Renee Montoya – The Question
Renee Montoya starts off as a Gotham police detective, which is when she first comes into contact with the villain Two-Face, who ends up being a defining force in her story. Two-Face falls in love with her, but because he is not the sanest character (to put it mildly), so he decides to express that love by ruining her entire life, publicly outing her as a homosexual and framing her for murder. Renee is eventually able to prove her innocence, but the damage is done: her religious family disowns her, and she later quits the police force due to its corruption.
It’s then that she’s approached by and begins to work with the hero the Question. He becomes very important to her over the course of their partnership and after his unfortunate death, Renee soul-searches and ultimately decides to take over for him as the new Question. An often conflicted character with a chip on her shoulder, Renee’s journey makes for compelling reading.
Hailing from an alternate universe version of Earth, Huntress is really Helena Wayne, the daughter of Earth-Two’s Batman and Catwoman. However, she has come and gone in comics, falling victim to an attempted integration of parallel universes that killed off a lot of characters, then reworked into a different character also named Helena who did not share the same weighty family history. (Though Helena Wayne also returns later on. DC, you fickle mistress.)
The second Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, had an incredibly traumatic upbringing. The daughter of a mob boss, she was kidnapped and raped as a child, then saw her entire family killed as a teenager. This is what pushes Helena to take up the mantle of Huntress in an effort to eradicate the mob in Gotham City. Being a school teacher is her day job, which just goes to show Helena’s dedication to protecting those less able to protect themselves – she knows exactly what it’s like to be helpless.
11. Big Barda
Barda comes from the planet Apokolips, which is ruled by the villainous Darkseid, and she starts her journey under his control, along with everyone else in her world. She serves as a warrior for Darkseid and leads his battalion, the Female Furies. This goes on until she meets a man named Scott Free (a.k.a. Mister Miracle) who would inspire her with his own idealism and eventually become the love of her life. She helps Scott escape and then later follows, after which they settle on Earth together as husband and wife.
Barda is a warrior first and foremost, and often depicted as very tall, muscular and physically imposing. She is notably stronger than her husband and not afraid of using her considerable force to achieve her aims. Her journey from, essentially, a cult member in service of a despotic god to a woman in control of her own life and power is a classic when it comes to winning over audiences – you can’t not root for someone to escape their abuser. Barda does so with her own distinct style, remaining a badass from beginning to end.
Hawkgirl is a moniker held by several different ladies – but not in the way that usually happens in comics, which tends to involve the passing of the torch from one character to another. Hawkgirl is a reincarnated Egyptian princess who, along with her male counterpart Hawkman, appears time and time again as different people. You won’t find one without the other, and they are destined to keep finding each other and falling in love.
Her powers of flight, strength, super-healing, and acute vision come from an alien metal found on a ship that crashed to Earth in Ancient Egypt. She’s been a princess, a superhero, a gunslinger, and an alien cop – not every reincarnation has adopted the Hawkgirl mantle, but every past life informs the character as she moves forward. It’s an interesting twist on the ever-repeating nature of comic book characters, who would all need to have immortal lifespans just to fit in everything they’ve done. In a way, all comic characters are constantly reincarnated. It’s just a little more explicit with Hawkgirl.
Starfire, also known as Koriand’r (not to be confused with the herb), is an alien princess from fictional planet Tamaran. Though she was not the firstborn, she was still next in line for the throne because her older sister Komand’r lacked the skill of flight that rulers of Tamaran needed to have. This seeded discord between the sisters and resulted in Komand’r fraternizing with enemy forces so she could usurp the throne and enslave her sister, tormenting Starfire for years. She was eventually able to escape, finding her way to earth and joining up with the Teen Titans (which led to a romance with Dick Grayson’s Robin).
Starfire has become a controversial character because of the way certain artists depict her. Usually she’s drawn with fiery red hair, deep golden skin, pupil-free green eyes – and a teeny tiny purple outfit. It wasn’t necessarily the clothes (or lack thereof) that were the problem; Starfire has always been presented as a confident free spirit who has no shame about showing off a little. The problem was that Starfire’s personality was erased in favor of making her into a blank, sexy pin-up. Starfire is a fun character, remarkably angst-free despite her near-Shakespearean back story, and squashing those attributes made the character shallow. Thankfully, the 2015 run of her solo title seemed to take steps to correct this.
Mera is Aquaman’s wife, a cool and regal queen with a deep-seated anger problem. Mera was royalty in a watery otherworld called Xebel, which has been both kingdom and forgotten penal colony depending on where you land in DC history. She left to go find Aquaman – either to seek help in regaining her stolen kingdom, or to take vengeance on him as the king of Atlantis for forgetting about the people of Xebel. Whatever the journey was, the destination was the same: Mera and Aquaman fell in love, forging a deep but tempestuous bond that has lasted decades.
After their marriage, Mera and Aquaman had a son called Aquababy (yes – Aquababy) but their happiness was short-lived. Aquababy was kidnapped and killed, which divided husband and wife, filling Mera with an unhinged rage that would continue to have an impact on her character for years to come. After a couple of deaths that didn’t stick (these are comics, after all), Mera and Aquaman found themselves united once again. Though as a designated love interest, Mera’s storyline is very much wrapped up in that of her husband’s, she still stands on her own as a character and is Aquaman’s equal in every single way – making their marriage a true partnership.
7. Power Girl
Power Girl essentially is Supergirl – both are Kryptonian survivors named Kara Zor-El – with the only difference being that Power Girl comes from the same alternate universe as Huntress, Earth Two. She was sent to Earth at the same time as her cousin Kal-El, but she arrived many years after him and had barely aged at all. Considering her lengthy journey had resulted in Superman being so much older than her, he and wife Lois took Kara in and raised her as though she were their own. As his cousin, she shares all of the same powers.
When DC chose to destroy the parallel universes, Power Girl became stranded on the main, official Earth (though she is set to return to her own universe in another retcon). Power Girl is older and more mature than Supergirl, differentiated by that as much as by her slight change of name and costume (her revealing “boob window” is truly infamous). Strangely, despite the hyper-sexualization of her costume, Power Girl has often been seen espousing feminism, with a feisty personality and a focus on her own individuality – perhaps because she isn’t the only one of her kind around.
6. Zatanna Zatara
Zatanna is a magician who also happens to possess actual magical powers thanks to her mother, who was one of a race of magical people. Her mother left early on, so Zatanna was raised by her father Giovanni. His legacy left a big impact on her, as he was also a magician, and she even went on to adopt an altered version of his costume as her own (hers shows a lot more leg, unsurprisingly). After his disappearance, she investigated with the help of Batman (sometimes a childhood friend, sometimes not depending on the canon). She found her father, but the reconciliation didn’t last long before he was killed.
Zatanna has a great deal of power and often has trouble resisting the allure to abuse it. She has come into conflict with several colleagues for wiping and altering their memories without their consent. Guilt caused her to temporarily lose her powers, though she was able to regain them. Part of Zatanna’s appeal lies in her fun and showmanship, like that Las Vegas magician outfit she’s got, but the danger of her very real magic adds depth to the character.
5. Kate Kane – Batwoman
Originally conceived to add to the Batman brand (and to dispel those pesky gay rumors about Batman and Robin), Batwoman was treated as little more than a disposable love interest and was quickly superseded in popularity by Batgirl. Since then, she’s undergone numerous revisions and the present Kate Kane is a lesbian – so it appears Batman was bearding for her rather than the other way around.
As a child, Kate, her twin sister, and their mother are abducted by criminals; Kate is the only one to survive the ordeal. She grows up to attend the United States Military Academy and excels there, but is eventually discharged for being gay. She returns to Gotham to attend college and starts dating a young cop (#13 on our list, Renee Montoya), then has a run-in with Batman – which is what inspires her to take up costumed crimefighting. The character was well-received for years, but some fiddling with her storyline (DC intervened and prevented Kate from marrying her new girlfriend Maggie) disappointed fans. However, as one of the most visible gay superheroes, Kate is still undeniably important.
4. Black Canary
As with many superheroes, Black Canary’s history has changed and shifted over time. Usually, there have been two Canaries: Dinah Drake and her daughter Dinah Lance, who took over from her mother. In the New 52, which revamped all of DC’s ongoing titles in 2011, Dinah Drake had a troubled upbringing; after being born to a teenage mother, she was sent to a variety of foster homes, never lasting long in any of them. As a little girl she ran away and was eventually taken in by an ex-Special Forces agent who cared for her and provided her with lessons in martial arts. She becomes an agent herself later on, gets married (which leads to her once again landing Lance as a surname), and eventually becomes a fugitive.
Dinah has always had a distinct look, wearing an all-black costumes with fish nets and occasionally a leather jacket. Her powers include her incredible prowess at sparring and an ultrasonic scream referred to as the Canary Cry. In her current comics run, Dinah fronts a rock band called – what else? – Black Canary.
Revitalized in the public consciousness thanks the current CBS show, Supergirl hasn’t always been taken very seriously. Similar to Clark Kent’s origin story, his cousin Kara Zor-El is sent to Earth by her parents upon the destruction of Krypton. Since they share an alien physiology, Kara also possesses the same powers as Superman when on Earth, such as flight, speed, and searing heat-vision. For many years she used the alter ego Linda Lee Danvers to avoid discovery, working a variety of jobs.
Being so heavily based on a pre-existing story and not given too much to do, it would be easy to relegate Kara to something of a blonde cheerleader for Superman, a sidekick without much that is unique to her. A Supergirl film in the 80s was almost universally panned (though it became a cult classic, as ridiculous movies often do), so Supergirl wasn’t left with a lot of caché. But thanks to the new show, which stars Melissa Benoist as Kara, that character’s previously untapped potential has begun to be truly utilized.
2. Barbara Gordon – Batgirl
Though many women have shared the title, Barbara Gordon has come to be considered the definitive Batgirl by many people. Barbara is the daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon, and was noted for how active and skilled she was. Previous, brief attempts at a Batgirl character hadn’t amounted to much. In her real life, Barbara had a doctorate in library science and worked as the head of Gotham’s library, making her distinct dual identities very much in line with classic heroes.
Barbara is also involved in one of the most controversial stories in comics, Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. In the graphic novel, Barbara is shot in the spine by the Joker and paralyzed, and she remained in a wheelchair for many years, giving up her Batgirl identity in favor of a new one, Oracle. It divided audiences: some disabled readers identified strongly with Barbara and were glad to have representation in a beloved character, but others were concerned with the amount of violence visited on female characters. Batman had been paralyzed once before, but recovered speedily; some felt that the same should be true for Batgirl, and her de-powering was due specifically to her gender. Whichever side of the debate one falls on, it’s undeniable that Barbara Gordon is a character that hits audiences where they live.
1. Wonder Woman
As easily the most iconic female superhero ever – and one of the most iconic superheroes of all time even without the gender signifier – Wonder Woman’s mythos is well-known enough in bits and pieces. Certain things are lodged in our collective memory: Amazons, truth lassos, stylish cuff bracelets that can deflect bullets. Wonder Woman, whose civilian identity is Diana Prince, hails from the fictional Amazon island Themyscira, where she was molded out clay by Queen Hippolyta and gifted with beauty, strength, speed, and more by Greek Gods.
She leaves her idyllic island for various retconned reasons, but whatever the excuse, she ends up in the world of men fighting crime. Wonder Woman is, in many ways, the ultimate superhero: physically powerful, exceptionally intelligent, and extremely compassionate. In a landscape without many female heroes to identify with, Wonder Woman emerged and gave girls everywhere someone to idolize, as well as paving the way for other female heroes that followed. She wasn’t the very first but her impact is arguably the most keenly felt.
What other DC superheroines deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!