Too often, police in comics serve as either a hindrance, victims, or outright villains. In a way, this portrayal of law enforcement officers has long helped comic book writers better establish a story’s superpowered star as a true hero. The cops fail to protect the people, a masked bastion for truth and justice steps in, etc. After all, if the cops were able to protect everyone from everything, then there wouldn’t be any need for a superhero to rise up and save the average citizen, would there? Still, that portrayal of police has always seemed a little empty. It makes sense that cops wouldn’t be elevated above the role of a superhero, but must every officer of the law be so irrelevant?
Thankfully, there have been a few writers over the years who have seen fit to treat cops as more than just roadblocks. The thing that binds some of the greatest cops in comic book history is that they all represent some side of law enforcement that is anything but incompetent. Not all of them are heroes -- not strictly speaking, anyway -- but they each showcase some aspect of humanity of that can only be properly captured when you’re looking at folks that have elected to join the fight against seemingly impossible odds.
These are the 15 Best Comic Book Cops Of All-Time.
15 Axe Cop
Who is Axe Cop? He’s a cop with an axe, which is really all you should concern yourself with. If you’re really curious, though, Axe Cop is the star of a webcomic designed by Ethan Nicolle. Well, actually, his younger brother invented the idea of a cop who wields a fire axe when the two were playing together. Ethan just ran with the persona as part of his efforts to learn to create comic storylines.
As such, there’s a wonderful, nonchalant nature to the blade-wielding officer of the law. Axe Cop was born from a child at play, and his world still exhibits the qualities of childish imagination. For instance, Axe Cop attacks criminals while they sleep and was once married to a female version of Abraham Lincoln. Within his own twisted fantasy world, Axe Cop is a highly effective officer of the law who represents whatever strange sense of order exists in a universe where a character named Uni-Baby grants wishes with help from his magical unicorn horn.
14 Dan Turpin (Superman)
Dan Turpin technically became a part of the DC universe in 1942, but he went under the name of Brooklyn at that time and wasn’t really much of a factor in any ongoing storylines. It wasn’t until some years later that Turpin was given a proper name and a role in the ongoing secret wars between superheroes. Turpin received a promotion shortly thereafter, and began to become a regular in several Superboy and Superman storylines.
Turpin isn’t exactly a Jim Gordon-esque friend on the force. He’s helped the Man of Steel out from time to time, but he’s not a vital part of the plan. In some way, that’s what makes him so noteworthy. He’s just a good cop whose instincts to preserve law and order aren’t hampered by concerns regarding the danger of certain superpowered beings. He’s the kind of officer you want to believe exists in every department, and the kind of officer of that perfectly fits into the world of comics.
13 Maggie Sawyer (Superman/Batman)
Whereas Dan Turpin was just a regular cop who worked his way into the world of superheroes due partially to a sense of duty that forced him to get involved with that side of the law, Maggie Sawyer was assigned to the cape and tights beat. As part of a squad tasked with battling superpowered menaces that Superman couldn’t get to, Smith soon became the Last Son of Krypton’s primary contact in the police department. She later became the star of a story titled Metropolis S.C.U. that followed a special crimes division in the Metropolis Police Department. Eventually, she got transferred to Gotham and assisted Batman and the various heroes of that crime-ridden town.
Maggie Sawyer might not have any superpowers, but she is just as valuable and determined as any card carrying superhero. She’s also famous in the world of comics for being an openly gay character who once refused to give into Lex Luthor’s attempts to blackmail her and expose her sexual preferences to the public. She’s a pioneer, and a great character to boot, and we're glad she's been given her time to shine on The CW's Supergirl.
12 Jim Harper (The Guardian)
Once upon a time, Jim Harper was just a humble beat cop assigned to the Suicide Slums of Metropolis. Even though he was tasked with protecting one of the roughest areas of the city, Harper couldn’t help but notice that many of the people he caught usually got off on some kind of technicality. As such, he decided to become a vigilante named The Guardian who dispenses his own brand of justice.
As a hero, The Guardian never exactly ranked among DC’s elite. He was involved in some pivotal moments, most notably Infinite Crisis, and made some cameo appearances here and there, but he’s more than a few ticks below Batman on the vigilante scale. Still, Harper was a badge-wearing member of the force who turned to the vigilante life because he felt he wasn’t able to really do the job of a police officer. Even as a vigilante, The Guardian emphasized certain moral principles in line with those of sworn officers.
Like the previous entry on our list, The Guardian has popped up in The CW's Supergirl, although the man behind the shield is definitely not Jim Harper.
11 Sara Pezzini (Witchblade)
Sara Pezzini was a New York City homicide detective. She was one of those kinds of good cops that could only exist in the world of comics. Her life fell apart one day when she and her partner were left for dead while working a case. In that moment, she was confronted by a man named Kenneth Irons, who offered her the chance to live if she took possession of a gauntlet named Witchblade and agreed to join an ancient fight against the kind of evils your standard homicide detectives can’t possibly confront.
Even then, Pezzini still continued her day job despite her new set of responsibilities. However, her clear-cut -- some would even call them misguided -- views on the nature of good and evil which inspired her to become a police officer have never really been corrupted over the years, even as Pezzini was faced with complicated moral quandaries. Eventually, Pezzini was forced to become a private investigator.
Despite the seemingly unadaptable nature of some of her best-known comic looks, a Witchblade series is currently being developed by NBC.
10 Savage Dragon
Savage Dragon shares some similarities with Axe Cop. He was created by Erik Larsen when Larsen was only a child, and as such, it’s hard not to Dragon as a fundamentally childish character. He’s best described as The Incredible Hulk with characteristics of Batman, which is something only a child would dream up. The Dragon was found by a Chicago Lieutenant by the name of Frank Darling. The green-skinned beast ended up joining the police at the behest of Darling, and eventually became something of a “cop for hire” once other departments got word of his abilities.
Dragon is a bit like Hellboy -- the two have actually teamed up before -- in that he technically works for an agency, but isn’t exactly known as the type of employee that stays late to file his paperwork. He’s a superpowered operative whose moral compass is affixed in the direction of good despite his seemingly evil demeanor and origins. He’s a fun character and an incredibly effective cop.
9 Harvey Bullock (Batman)
For most of Harvey Bullock’s early days, he was a crooked cop within the crooked world of the Gotham City Police Department. In fact, he was usually the de facto representative of the evil the lurked within the GCPD. It wasn’t until after Crisis on Infinite Earths that he became a more complex corrupted cop who was beloved by his fellow officers and reviled by others. Eventually, he was altered slightly and presented as a fundamentally good cop who does bad things in order to get information and arrests that other cops simply can’t.
From there, Bullock continued to evolve and basically became Gotham City’s Vic Mackey. One of the things that make him so hard to place on the morality scale is his undying loyalty to Jim Gordon. He’s not always a fan of Batman -- and he has a tendency to get into some morally questionable situations -- but the latest version of Bullock would never betray Gordon. He’s been a villain and a hero, but he’s always been Bullock throughout it all.
8 Jean DeWolff (Spider-Man/Marvel)
Due in no small part to the innovations of a certain character yet to appear on this list, cops that help superheroes became en vogue during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Jean DeWolff was envisioned as something of a common thread that tied together the Marvel universe. Writers felt that they could use her as a common link between various characters and have her appear in several different Marvel stories that required a cop. Even though DeWolff appeared in many publications, she has always been associated with Spider-Man due to a famous issue published after DeWolff’s death, which saw Spider-Man find her secret stash of Spider-Man photos and clippings. The implication was that she was in love with him.
DeWolff was more than just a lovelorn cop, however. She was intended to be a pseudo-realistic female character in the Marvel universe who showed girls that you don’t need to be a superhero in order to be tough. Her death at the hands of Sin-Eater left an emotional void in the Marvel universe.
7 Renee Montoya (Batman)
There wasn’t much to the initial version of Renee Montoya. She was created for Batman: The Animated Series, where she provided a strong contrast to Harvey Bullock’s occasionally immoral cop. Montoya made the transition to comics shortly thereafter, but she didn’t really become a star until the Gotham Central series. As one of the main characters in that story, Montoya became famous for a storyline involving Two-Face becoming obsessed with her. She is eventually outed as a lesbian, almost kills a man for compromising an investigation, and resigns from the force. Following a period of drunken depression, Montoya assumed the role of The Question and began serving Gotham in other ways.
Remarkably, this is just a brief overview of Montoya’s career. From humble beginnings, she became one of the most complicated and compelling characters in the greater Batman continuity. She’s a testament to how much mileage good writers can get out of a good cop in a bad world, one that we'd love to see join the DCEU at some point.
6 Deena Pilgrim (Powers)
In the world of Powers, there is a distinctive line between the police and superheroes. There are few comics which clearly demonstrate the divide between the mythical figures that are superheroes and cops which could just as easily exist in our own humble world. Deena Pilgrim is sometimes referred to as an average member of the decidedly human police force, but it’s not long into the series until you find out that she’s actually an exceptional detective. It's her job to solve crimes involving superheroes, and her job has forced her to sometimes treat superheroes like celebrities: occasionally valuable, but mostly a headache that requires special treatment in otherwise ordinary situations.
Pilgrim’s hard edge and less-than-sentimental views regarding superheroes is a refreshing alternative to comic cops which somehow feel overwhelmed by the presence of these mythical giants in their own world. She’s not really interested in becoming a superhero or directly aiding them. In fact, certain events lead to her exhibiting a more negative view of the entire dynamic.
5 Christian Walker (Powers)
Christian Walker is Deena Pilgrim’s partner in crimefighting. Unlike Pilgrim, Walker doesn’t have a particularly unsentimental view of superheroes. That’s due largely to the fact that he used to be one. Walker was originally portrayed as a boring detective, but it was eventually discovered that he used to be a hero, having lived for hundreds of years in which he assumed many different heroic roles. In fact, it’s even suggested at one point that Walker might be the world’s first superpowered being. He eventually became a cop partially due to feelings of fatigue that only a millennia of being a superhero can inspire, but largely because of an event that deprived him of his powers.
Walker and Pilgrim are both fascinating in their own right, but Walker’s incredibly long history and dealings on both sides of the superhero/police line means that he often expresses a unique viewpoint which sometimes contradicts the logical views of his partner. He’s the Mulder to her Scully.
4 Barry Allen (The Flash)
The Flash may be known far and wide as one of the world’s fastest men, but before he had such incredible powers of speed, Barry Allen was an investigator. Well, actually, he was a police scientist, which is a fascinating distinction to consider when you recall that the character was created years before programs like CSI brought that position to the forefront. Even then, Allen was shown to be an extremely capable detective whose ability to dissect a case through research rivaled even Batman’s.
Allen’s duties as a forensic investigator -- as the position would later be referred to -- have certainly taken a hit over the years as he got more and more involved with the whole Flash thing, but Allen has always relied on the skills he learned in that role to aid him in his superhero-ing. After all, what good is nearly infinite speed if you’re not even sure who you should be chasing? Had Allen never been granted the abilities he would eventually acquire, he would still be one of DC’s best crimefighters.
3 Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd has always been a polarizing legal figure, but the evolution of certain real world legal matters has cast a new light on Dredd’s particular brand of law enforcement. As a Judge, Dredd is granted the authority to expedite the traditional legal process a bit. If he deems a criminal to be guilty on the spot, he is permitted to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. He’s a vigilante with a badge and a license to kill, which isn’t the way that many people prefer to envision law enforcement officers.
As a fictional character, though, Dredd is an utterly compelling example of comic book law enforcement. He serves as an almost Terminator-like force who -- despite his disinterest in due process -- does usually intend to serve the common good. Dredd considers no crime to be beneath him. If you rob an old lady, you’re subject to the wrath of Dredd. If you run a criminal empire, you’re subject to the wrath of Dredd.
Here's hoping that Karl Urban gets another crack at the character on the big screen in the near future.
2 Dick Tracy
It’s hard to believe that Dick Tracy was created in 1931. Granted, his original tales weren’t exactly groundbreaking examples of serialized comic storytelling that still resonate today, but Tracy eventually became a true comic icon. The years saw his rogues gallery grow into one of the best in all of comics, which required Tracy to adapt more of a noir private investigator attitude and begin using a series of advanced technological devices.
This combination of qualities always lent the Tracy character a wonderfully pulpy feel. You have to look pretty hard to find a traditionally dark Dick Tracy storyline -- at least during most of the character’s run -- but Tracy helped introduce certain aspects of the criminal investigation process to the world of comic books. Through the years, he has remained a fascinating combination of Humphrey Bogart and Inspector Gadget. To this day, he’s a lovable throwback to a simpler age of comics and comic law enforcement.
1 James Gordon
From the beginning, James Gordon has been a friend of Batman. Sure, Gordon didn’t always agree with the way that the Dark Knight did business, but he realized that the vigilante was a valuable asset in the war against far greater evils. It wasn’t until the Year One storyline, however, that Gordon became arguably the most compelling character in the Batman storyline. It was then that we really got to see Gordon evolve into a good cop who grows to accept that the Caped Crusader is more honest than most of the cops in the department. Ever since then, Gordon has become one of Gotham’s greatest heroes.
Gordon has always been the stalwart example of good that Batman has sometimes failed to be. When the Joker needed a subject for his sick social experiment designed to prove that even the best men could break under the right circumstances, the Clown Prince of Crime chose Jim Gordon out of everyone in Gotham. He didn’t break then, and you get the feeling that he never will.
Did you favorite comic cop make the cut? Will the medium ever produce a finer police officer-ing character than Jim Gordon? Let us know in the comments.