DC Comics are home to some of the most iconic and long-lasting comic book characters, not to mention one of the largest assortments. This was not only a strategy of in-house content, but also of acquisition over decades. Indeed, the publisher began as several different entities, including Detective Comics (home of Batman and Superman) and All Star Comics (home of the Golden Age Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Atom, Green Lantern and, the Flash).
They would continue this consolidation strategy, by adding to their already impressive arsenal of characters over the decades, purchasing the rights to other superhero heavyweights from lesser-known companies like Charlton, Timely, and Wildstorm. The rights secured, DC introduced the characters to the DC Universe by either taking them wholesale, merging them in slowly, or extending their legacy through enhanced origins and superpowers.
With that in mind, let’s look at 15 comic characters from different publishers that now call the DCU home, and look at those who have found their footing and others who still have untapped potential.
15. Rainmaker (Wildstorm)
Wildstorm began as an indie comic success story. But the company, started by artist extraordinaire Jim Lee, hit hard times during the decline of comic book sales in the mid-90s and DC bought the rights in 1998.
One title to make the leap was Gen13, about a group of superpowered teens. They were lab rats for genetic experiments who eventually escaped, becoming fugitives. The most outspoken character was Sarah Rainmaker, who had the power to control the weather and movement of water, ride on wind currents, and shoot lightning.
While weather manipulation isn’t anything new, Rainmaker’s blunt personality was her most intriguing aspect. She was an openly gay and uninhibited political activist who never suffered fools. This made her a controversial presence at the time, with the series both providing a soapbox for political awareness while also spoofing it, too.
Sadly, Rainmaker and her cohorts got short shrift when DC ended the Wildstorm imprint and introduced them to the DCU writ large, where they’ve never really been given their due. But there’s been a long-in-the-works film adaptation that may change all that. Megan Fox has lobbied to play the part, but given her box office clout as of late, it’s too soon to get our hopes up!
14. Peter Cannon Thunderbolt (Charlton)
Peter Cannon is one of several DC characters who originally appeared in Charlton Comics, a Connecticut based (and entirely in-house) publishing company that had a healthy stable of interesting, vibrant characters, but hit hard times in the 1980s. Facing bankruptcy, they sold all their superheroes to DC in 1983.
Cannon (created in 1966) was an orphan raised in a Himalayan lamasery who, after extreme mental and physical conditioning, gained the ability to use portions of his brain that the average human was incapable of unlocking. He possessed superhuman endurance, reflexes, and the ability to heal quickly.
While Cannon never became a household name in DCU or pop culture at large, his impact on DC Comics is critical: he was Alan Moore’s primary inspiration for Ozymandias, the megalomaniacal arch-villain in his classic superhero deconstructionist series Watchmen.
Cannon is the only character on this list no longer owned by DC. He was the one Charlton character who required separate licensing from the creator, Pete Morisi, and it reverted to his estate after his death in 2003.
13. The Ray (Quality)
The Ray is one of several characters to originally appear in Quality Comics, which sold its comic characters to DC after folding in the mid-50s.
There have been multiple “Rays” over the years, the first being Langford “Happy” Terrill who gained powers after a ballooning accident gave him mass exposure to sunlight and lightning. Later his son Ray inherited his powers, and as of this writing, we’re now on the fourth incarnation, Lucien Gates, who gained his abilities after being hit by a particle beam.
The Ray has the ability to absorb, store, and release pure light, which he can use for flight, to emit bursts with destructive force, or to create illusions, constructs, and even render himself invisible. He’s got a pretty sweet costume too.
He’s also notable for being part of the Freedom Fighters; a DC supergroup composed entirely of former Quality characters, a few of which will appear later in this countdown. The Ray will be getting a shot at mainstream pop culture with his new animated show on CW Seed.
12. Peacemaker (Charlton)
This intriguing Charlton acquisition is a superhero quite hypocritical in nature: Christopher Smith is a pacifist diplomat, so dedicated to wiping out war and violence that he’s not afraid to dish it out with an arsenal of non-lethal weapons to give bad guys a dose of tough love.
But things got darker in his DC incarnation, after he learns his father was a Nazi SS solider. This sense of guilt sends him on a murderous rampage. His mental state is so frayed that he thinks his victim’s souls live in his helmet, offering advice, or in the case of his dead father, judgment and shame.
The Peacemaker has had various incarnations and identities over the years, most notably popping up in DC’s 2006 miniseries, 52. He was also the prime inspiration for the amoral vigilante The Comedian in Watchmen. He’s the ever-fascinating personification of conflict of interest, still ripe with infinite possibilities for future story arcs.
11. Jack Hawksmoor (Wildstorm)
Possibly the weirdest character on our list, Hawksmoor was another member of the Wildstorm universe, starting off in the supergroup Stormwatch (and later The Authority). A mysterious figure who was abducted and experimented on as a child, he has the unique ability to be linked to whatever city he happens to be in at the time. He has no need for food, getting nourished from air pollution. The bigger the city, the stronger he gets. But he can also die if outside an urban environment for too long.
As long as he’s in a city, he has superhuman strength and the gifts of telepathy, psychometry, and precognition, allowing him to experience and communicate with the city as if it were a singular organism. He also has the ability to transport between different cities and can use architecture as armor or even weaponry.
Hawksmoor is the kind of wonky creation that could only come from the mind of Warren Ellis. He may not be the most powerful or useful superhero on this list, but he’s certainly one of the most uniquely memorable and oddly poetic. Too bad this has made him tricky to integrate into the DCU, post-Wildstorm. He’s just waiting to be rediscovered.
10. Human Bomb (Quality)
Our second Quality character on the list is the Human Bomb, AKA Roy Lincoln. He’s a character who truly lives up to his name, able to create massive explosions with the touch of his fingertips. And the harder the contact, the bigger the blast. This power however, comes at a price, as he must wear protective gloves at all times, and a HAZMAT suit during battle.
Lincoln gained his unique skill during his work as a scientist working with his father on the explosive chemical “27-QRX.” During a Nazi raid (which killed his father) he drank the contents before they were able to steal it for their own gain.
Human Bomb is yet another Quality member of the superhero team the Freedom Fighters. He was unceremoniously killed off during DC’s Infinite Crisis series, only to reappear as a Black Lantern in Blackest Night. There have been a few other incarnations, but none that have really done him justice. There’s a lot of untapped potential to be explored.
9. Phantom Lady (Quality)
The Phantom Lady was one of the first female superheroes of the Golden Age of comics, with a rich, and sometimes controversial, legacy and multiple incarnations (Sandra Knight is the original, Jennifer Knight the most current).
Knight was the Bettie Page of comics, a voluptuous heroine with pin-up appeal who freaked out the moral authority in 1950s. But rather than being a sexist caricature, she used her revealing outfits to distract the bad guys before giving them a good ass-kicking.
In addition to her no-nonsense attitude and fighting style, she has a host of nifty abilities thanks to her high-tech wristbands and visor, which have evolved over the years, including (but not limited to) teleportation, phasing, invisibility, the ability to project darkness, and even the power to bend reality itself. This made her a valuable asset when she joined the aforementioned Freedom Fighters. Her feminine wiles and curvy figure was yet another influence on Watchmen. As Moore’s basis for the second Silk Specter, she was the only non-Charlton character to be used as source material.
8. Nightshade (Charlton)
Created for Charlton by Steve Ditko and Joe Gill, Nightshade (secret identity Eve Eden) was born into a powerful political family, but that’s just for starters. She and her mother actually hail from another dimension: a nightmarish realm known as the land of the Nightshades. There, her mother was considered royalty and imbued with magical abilities. Eden inherited the same powers from her mother. She was able to tap into the haunted “land of the nightshade” to use for teleportation, to turn shadows in solid and semisolid shapes, and to create homunculi to do her bidding.
These powers (along with her skills in martial arts) came in quite handy when DC drafted her into the Suicide Squad, making her more espionage anti-hero than mere do-gooder. It was a glaring omission not including her in the recent Suicide Squad film, especially given her strong ties to that film’s villain, the Enchantress. She should definitely be in the sequel.
7. Grifter (Wildstorm)
One of the most popular Wildstorm characters, Grifter is the archetypal superhero badass, an expert marksman and physical combatant with the powers of telekinesis, telepathy, enhanced healing factors, and endurance… not to mention a killer mask.
Debuting in 1992’s Wild C.A.T.S. #1, Grifter (AKA Cole Cash) was a former member of U.S. special forces, who went on to join the shadowy black ops group Team 7. He was deliberately exposed to chemicals that activated his psionic abilities. But it also affects his mental state, causing him to break rank and become a solider of fortune.
Grifter has gone through various different incarnations in his DC transition, and like many Wildstorm transplants, his reboot in the New 52 miniseries was met with disappointment. Given that Geoff Johns’s Rebirth series is pointing DC in a more optimistic direction, it is hard to see where Grifter’s more cynical worldview could fit. He’s essentially DC’s Wolverine, and deserves another shot.
6. Plastic Man (Quality)
The best known of all the Quality transplants, Plastic Man first appeared in Police Comics #1 in 1940, as petty criminal Eel O’Brian, who gets exposed to dangerous chemicals after a robbery goes astray. But instead of being killed, he’s given the ability to stretch and contort his features and molecular structure into any shape or form he chooses.
Plastic Man’s comedic, oddball presence made him a great comic foil in the DCU, expertly used by Grant Morrison in his run on JLA. Plastic Man is always drawing comparisons to Elongated Man, another DC stretching super-sleuth. Oddly enough the latter was created after Plastic Man was already bought by DC, but creator Carmine Infantino was entirely unaware of the similarities, and it’s proven problematic balancing the two ever since. In addition, besides a brief cartoon series that ran on ABC from 1979-81, Plastic Man is a sorely underused entity in pop culture. He’s an amazing comedic superhero movie just waiting to happen!
5. The Question (Charlton)
Iconic comic book artist Steve Ditko created The Question for Charlton Comics in 1967. The character is notable for being inspired by Ditko’s interest in Objectivism, the philosophy of rational individualism developed by author Ayn Rand. The Question’s secret identity was Vic Sage, an investigative journalist in Hub City who decided to take on crime rather than sit on the sidelines. He obscured his identity with a bizarre artificial skin that gave his face a featureless appearance.
The Question has always been a dark character, unafraid to get his hands dirty. This made him a perfect character to reintroduce during the grim and gritty ’80s in a series from writer Denny O’Neill, where he became even more paranoid and intense.
The character has been used to varied effect over the years, even transferring identities when ex-Gotham cop Renée Montoya took on the mantle for a brief time. An intriguing twist on a familiar archetype, The Question is one of DC’s most gripping characters who was also an inspiration for Watchmen, inspiring another vigilante with an unforgiving philosophy: Rorschach.
4. Midnighter (Wildstorm)
Our final Wildstorm entry to this list is arguably the coolest. Midnighter is a deconstructionist/parody of Batman by Warren Ellis, who is best known for appearing in The Authority, a Justice League-esque group that frequently overstepped its boundaries. He’s also one half of a power-couple with his Superman-esque teammate Apollo.
Lucas Trent is a violent vigilante with powers resulting from bioengineering. He has heightened reflexes and the tactical ability to predict all possible outcomes while battling an opponent, thereby assuring his victory. He also has an extra heart (in case his main one stops), and the ability to heal from injury and disease.
Midnighter was a Wildstorm favorite, and DC made a strong attempt to place him smack dab in the DCU during the New 52, slightly tweaking his powers to include precognition (he can even finish people’s sentences). And he’ll be back in 2016, with a new Apollo and Midnighter series set for fall of 2016.
3. Blue Beetle (Charlton)
Easily the most beloved of all the Charlton heroes, Blue Beetle was also the most successful addition to the DCU, thanks to his humorous alter ego Ted Kord. Blue Beetle was a wise cracking inventor with an IQ of 192, expert agility, cool gadgets, a nifty blue suit, and a Beetle shaped aircraft.
Kord was actually the second hero named Blue Beetle, taking the mantle from mentor Dan Garrett. But unlike Garrett, who gained powers from his Silver Scarab, Kord held no superhuman abilities. The character is most well-known for his relationship with another goofball character, Booster Gold, who were basically DC’s Odd Couple.
But Ted was eventually killed, leading into a variety of successors, most notably Jaime Reyes. Reyes actually harnesses the power of the Scarab, which gives him a near-impenetrable costume equipped with a sword, shield, cannon, powered blades, and his own communication satellite. There seems to be an always evolving and expanding sense of what power the Scarab holds, making Blue Beetle one of the most engaging and captivating characters in DC.
2. Captain Atom (Charlton)
After Naval officer Nathaniel Christopher Adams is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s given an out: volunteer for a top-secret science experiment and he’s a free man.
The aftermath of the experiment makes Adams the most powerful of all the Charlton characters– and of the DCU as well. Due to his metallic skin, he can control and absorb massive amounts of radiation, as well as change the structure of objects, fire atomic blasts, pick up on all communication wavelengths, and even blow himself up and put himself back together again.
His near indestructibility makes him rival The Man of Steel as a heroic force, which is why he’s occasionally used as a villain. Perhaps the most awesome thing about Captain Atom is that his range of powers is so immense that his storytelling possibilities feel endless. It feels like he’s just getting started.
And his addition to the DCU has engendered three major contributions: in addition to bridging together the DC and Wildstorm universes, he was both the inspiration for the villain Monarch in Armageddon 2001 and Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.
1. Shazam (Fawcett)
DC Comics freaked out when Fawcett Comics debuted their hero Captain Marvel in 1940. Not only did the character bear resemblance to Superman, he was outselling him too. Their successful formula was simple yet effective. Marvel’s alter ego Billy Batson was a young boy who, with one word, could become a god. This was perfect wish-fulfillment for young readers. To battle their competition, DC sued Fawcett for copyright infringement, and they ceased publication in 1953.
Then DC brass began licensing the character, eventually gaining full ownership and introducing him to the DCU in the early ’90s. But due to Marvel Comics also having a character named Captain Marvel, he’s now referred to as Shazam. That’s also the name Batson yells to transform into a being with super strength, flight, speed, magic, teleportation, and the ability to control electricity, all gained through the magic of ancient Greek gods.
In other words, Shazam is one of the most powerful characters in the DCU. He’s still vastly underused, but with plans for a feature film, perhaps he’ll become the champion he was always meant to be. He’s their ultimate acquisition, just waiting for his place in the world.
That concludes our list of the best DC Characters from other publishers. Which ones would you add to the list? Be sure and tell us in the comments!
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