The DC Universe is home to some of the most virtuous heroes and despicable villains in comic book history. No matter which side these characters choose, it’s usually based on absolutist ideals: good vs. evil in the most purest terms.
Assassins are different however–often with antiheroic compunction for wealth and independence, and a disdain for societal conventions. It’s this shade of gray quality that makes DC’s mercenaries so compelling. Even the most sadistic and despicable assassin has a code of ethics, and their pragmatic approach to their profession gives them little concern to allegiances, as they’re willing to fight alongside heroes and villains alike as long as it fits their amoral agenda.
Many DC Comics assassins have been adapted to both television and film, and the widespread success of movies like Suicide Squad and television shows like Arrow show that mass audiences are just as intrigued by lethal contract killers as comic book fanboys are.
Here’s our list of the 15 best assassins in the DCU, who hail from far off lands, planets, major metropolitan areas, and all things in-between. But regardless of where they come from, and what their motivation happens to be, the end result is the same: they’re very good at killing people, so stay out of their way.
15. Red Hood
The death of Jason Todd at the hands of The Joker seemed finite. When readers actually vote for a character to be killed off (as was the case for Robin #2), let them rest in peace. But we’re talking about comic books here, and death is never permanent if your name isn’t Uncle Ben. Todd’s resurrection remains one of the greatest modern-day twists in the medium.
Todd, aided by Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul, began a new life as an assassin upon his return from the grave, as well as taking aim on killing Batman, misguidedly blaming him for allowing him to die in the first place. Under his new persona The Red Hood, Todd stalks both his old mentor and his former killer, attempting to pit the two against each other.
Todd’s mental instability (a result of his resurrection in the Lazarus Pit), has spurned him to take on multiple identities and conflicting agendas, making him one of the most unnerving and unpredictable assassins in the business. Buyer beware.
14. Bronze Tiger
Ben Turner lost his childhood innocence at an early age: he killed a burglar with a kitchen knife. Growing up with a sense of endless rage, Turner turned to martial arts to refocus his energies, but he found himself drawn to the criminal lifestyle. It’s this conflict between soul-searching and corruption that has fueled his angst and helped define his character.
Turner adopted the identity of Bronze Tiger, a masked killer with superb fighting skills who has worked alongside both The League of Assassins, the Suicide Squad, and G.O.O.D. (Global Organization of Organized Defense).
Turner was second-in-command during one memorable stint with Suicide Squad, which made his absence from the 2016 film somewhat jarring. He deserves a spot in the sequel, as his all-too-brief appearance on the small screen wasn’t enough to satisfy DC fans.
13. Codename: Assassin
Codename: Assassin (real name Jonathan Drew) was a subject who participated in a series of ESP studies at Antioke University. A freak accident granted him telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which he used to punish and kill his sister’s murderers. He goes on to use these gifts (and his marksman skills) as a masked killer, having worked both on his own as a freelancer as well as serving as the head of security at Cadmus. But the latter position proved to be short-lived after Drew murdered the superhero The Guardian (Jim Harper).
Codename: Assassin has appeared in various DC storylines over the years, one of the oddest being a 2008 arc in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson (which put Jimmy Olsen between his crosshairs). He’s perhaps the most underrated, and underutilized, assassin in DC’s roster, and he seems ripe for a comeback in the comics, perhaps even in live-action.
Cheshire (Jade Nguyen) is a deadly martial artist with a unique murderous signature: poisonous fingernails. A triple-jointed acrobat trained in some fighting techniques so ancient that they’d been believed to have been lost to history, Cheshire survived a traumatic childhood by learning how to kill at a young age.
While Cheshire’s murder-for-profit profession firmly puts her in the villain category, she’s had a tumultuous relationship with Speedy/Arsenal (Roy Harper), and their affair ostracized him from his Teen Titans teammates. Due to their competing alliances, their relationship was short-lived, although Cheshire would later give birth to their daughter Lian.
Cheshire manages to be both a captivating yet underused character, so we’re hoping that she’ll find her place in the pages of DC’s Rebirth. After all, a character who can take on fellow assassin Lady Shiva (more on her in a bit), and gain the upper hand is not someone to underestimate.
11. Constantine Drakon
Our first (but not last) arch-villain of Green Arrow on this list, Constantine Drakon may be small in stature, but he packs a big punch. An assassin who hails from Greece, Drakon is one of the world’s best martial artists, who turned to murder-for-profit for a seemingly random reason, and not from any source of childhood trauma: he just wanted to experience what it would be like to kill, and see how well he could do the job.
Drakon is a multitasker who knows how to clean up the crime scenes that he made bloody in the first place. This included helping to take the heat off corrupt construction company Elevast after it conducted illegal vaccine tests on illegal immigrants–who he then had to kill after it turned them into monsters. Drakon was introduced on the CW’s Arrow in a small role, only to be killed off unceremoniously. He deserves a resurrection and more well-developed character.
10. David Cain
One of the world’s most established and revered assassins, David Cain has taken the lives of some of the most famous people on the planet. Having said that, he’s actually best known to comic fans for someone who he spared. Cain helped train Bruce Wayne, passing on many of the skills that he would use as Batman (minus the murdering, obviously). Batman would rationalize his choice of working with a trained killer by saying: “Knowing how to kill doesn’t mean you must kill.”
Cain’s other major claim to fame is his daughter Cassandra, whom he raised to be a killing machine (refusing to teach her to read, or even talk in her presence). This cold, detached mode of parenting was certainly abusive, but he did help train one of the deadliest heroins in comics. Cassandra’s mother was no slouch in the assassin department either, but we’ll get to her in a bit.
KGBeast may have one of the goofier names in DC Comics, but the character is hardly a laughing matter. A ruthless killer trained by the KGB, Anatoli Knyazev had cybernetically enhanced powers that aided him in racking up a staggering body count (200 people and counting, including Egyptian president Anwar Sadat).
Not even Batman could stop KGBeast’s plan to assassinate high-ranking U.S. government officials (in his original 1988 appearance), which culminated in the deaths of 100 attendees at a high-profile banquet.
KGBeast had a small but pivotal role in Zack Snyder’s 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the storyline merely scratched the character’s surface. While he appeared to meet his end during a standoff with Batman, it might be worth resurrecting the character to fully explore his appetite for destruction (and show off his robotic gun arm).
8. Lady Vic
A British noblewoman who moonlights as an assassin and bounty hunter, Lady Vic (real name Lady Elaine Marsh-Morton), has proved to be a frequent and painful thorn in the side of Nightwing (Dick Grayson) due to her dealings in his home turf, Blüdhaven. A villain skilled in martial arts and acrobatics with a proficiency in a variety of armaments and bladed weapons, Lady Vic has racked up quite the bloody track record on her morbid resume.
Whether working on her own or as a team member of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, Secret Six, Injustice League, or Tartarus, Lady Vic’s endgame is always the same: take every dollar she collects for her contract killings and put them towards staving off foreclosure for her family’s estate. And anyone who gets in the way of that goal will surely regret it.
7. Lady Shiva
A martial arts prodigy (and mother of the aforementioned Cassandra Cain), Sandra Woosan (or Wusan in current continuity) is one of the most ruthless assassins in the entire DCU. The character, (who began as a foe of martial arts master Richard Dragon) took on the title of Lady Shiva to avenge her sister’s death. But her thirst for vengeance was denied, and now she uses her deadly skills for profit.
Lady Shiva employs a hands-on approach to her morbid job in the most literal sense: she prefers to murder her prey using only her bare hands. Despite her well-deserved reputation for killing, she finds an unlikely ally in Batman, having helped him recover from a broken back (more on that in a bit) and offered training to Tim Drake during his tenure as Robin. But her relationship with the Dark Knight remains an uneasy alliance.
6. Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul
Nearly every character on our list of the greatest DC assassins has been involved with Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul at some point in DC history. And for good reason: Ra’s is the head of The League of Assassins, responsible for setting in motion some of the most despicable and ambitious terrorist attacks in the DCU, all with the aim of achieving global balance by eliminating those in humankind whom he finds undesirable.
His daughter Talia proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. An expert physical combatant with extreme intelligence, she has a ruthless efficiency in dispatching her tasks–although we should note that she is motivated by her loyalty to her father above all else–which is often complicated by her love for Batman (and their son Damian).
Brain and brawn are two attributes that are often mutually exclusive, but Bane has claims to both in the highest and most intimidating capacity. An assassin with an unknown identity, the character endured a tragic childhood that helped forge him into a deadly weapon, having committed his first murder at only 8 years old.
During a stint in prison, Bane was injected with an experimental serum called venom. The result endowed him extreme super-strength, but causes him to develop a chemical addiction (he must use venom every 12 hours to keep his abilities intact and avoid debilitating side effects).
Bane’s combat skills and strength made him one of Batman’s most formidable opponents, leading to the iconic moment when the villain broke The Dark Knight’s back. His deadly reputation leads him to the upper levels of mercenary circles, and he has joined both the League of Assassins and The Secret Six over the years.
Green Arrow’s arch-enemy (get it?) rivals Oliver Queen in the archery department. Merlyn uses his arrow-aiming skills strictly for evil–and for cash. His gifts as an assassin have kept him in demand among organizations like The League Of Assassins, Injustice Society, and The Elite (to name but a few), but his arrogant, outsider nature makes him most comfortable working on his own.
With an expert eye, a high tolerance for pain, and a mastery of stealth, Merlyn’s killer quill-work makes him a threat to many heroes in the DCU. However, he has made a few heroic contributions along the way: he helped tutor Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul’s son Damian.
Merlyn’s devious yet determined persona has made him a breakout character on the CW’s Arrow, with actor John Barrowman showcasing the character’s likability, despite his criminal nature.
Deadshot (aka Floyd Lawton) is a character who has vacillated between villain and anti-hero in the DCU, but one thing has remained consistent: he’s the deadliest marksman on the planet, and a formidable hand-to-hand combatant in his own right. His moniker is well earned.
Whether battling Batman or taking on black ops missions with the Suicide Squad, of which he is a prominent member, Lawton is detached when it comes to the task at hand. As long as he gets paid, he’ll kill anyone without a hint of hesitation. His stoic resolve isn’t impenetrable however–Deadshot has a death wish, and he often executes his task with little to no regard for his safety, making him wildly unpredictable and keeping his targets (and any potential pursuers) on edge.
It’s that latter attribute we’d like to see Will Smith explore as the character in the upcoming Suicide Squad sequel and rumored Deadshot solo film.
Despite Lobo’s humorous nature, the “Main Man” is one of the more frightening characters in the DCU. This guy has absolutely no compunction with killing, whether it be an act of outright genocide (he’s the only living soul from the planet Czarnia, because he killed everyone else), or murdering beloved characters like Santa Claus.
His metahuman abilities (including super strength, immortality, and a genius intellect) make the nihilistic space biker one of the most in-demand mercenaries in the galaxy. But lest you think his murderous ways make him unprincipled, he has a strict code of ethics when it comes to following contracts to the letter (“The Main Man’s word is his bond“) and he even has a soft spot for animals.
One of the most formidable villains in all of DC Comics, Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke The Terminator, has a skill set like no other. A former U.S. soldier who underwent a secret experiment, Wilson gained heightened powers to augment his already impressive combat skills: the strength of 10 men, the ability to use 90% of his brain capacity, and the power to heal from seemingly lethal injuries.
In other words, he can think ten steps ahead of his prey, and physically overpower them with ease. A skilled marksman, swordsman, martial arts master, etc…if there’s a way to maim or kill, odds are that Slade has mastered it, making him one of the most lethal assassins ever created. While beloved by comic fans, Deathstroke remains unknown to the public at large, but this will change when he makes his onscreen début (played by actor Joe Manganiello) in Matt Reeves’ upcoming film The Batman. Or, at least we hope it will.
That concludes our list of the deadliest DCU assassins! Which one’s your favorite, and who would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments.