Some of the most powerful characters in comic book history belong to DC, but for every alien and metahuman to have been granted extraordinary superpowers, there are just as many martial artists working hard to hone their skills. Granted, Superman and Wonder Woman would likely beat even the best human martial artists, and both have knowledge of the martial arts, but this list is based on our characters’ skill in that one area specifically.
It goes without saying that we are ranking on visual evidence over hearsay; White Canary, for example, is stated outright to be “better than Lady Shiva” (keep that name in mind for later), but we have seen little on the pages that backs this up as fact. Wonder Woman is also touted as the single greatest fighter in the world, though we are attributing this more to power and weaponry than her martial arts prowess, and the same goes for her arch rival Ares, who has demonstrated omnipotence to far outweigh his skill in hand-to-hand.
We are focusing on the heroes and villains of DC whose knowledge and skill in the martial arts are their dominant assets, and though the origins of certain characters are questionable, our martial artists are at least primarily human.
Here are the 16 Greatest Martial Artists in DC, Ranked.
Prometheus may be best known for his run as the big bad of Arrow’s most recent season, but his CW portrayal is actually a reimagined version of a character traditionally associated with Batman. That said, both incarnations have similar origin stories, with the comic book character also losing his father at a young age. Prometheus was on his way to meet the Justice League when his criminal parents were gunned down by police, and he vows to one day “annihilate the forces of justice.”
He goes immediately into training, and develops a helmet that allows him to download the combat expertise of more skilled martial artists, including Batman and Lady Shiva. Prometheus is an experienced mercenary, and has beaten both Batman and the Huntress with the aid of his helmet, but it’s unclear how he matches up to the other names on this list without it.
15 Dick Grayson
There have been several DC Robins over the years, but Dick Grayson has both the experience and the agility to win out over the rest. Damian Wayne, the fifth Robin and son of Batman and Talia al Ghul, has the potential to surpass the lot, while Jason Todd has become one of the most dangerous anti-heroes in DC since his reappearance as Red Hood.
But given that Dick has a slightly more reserved approach towards killing than his successors, it’s possible that we haven’t seen the full extent of what he’s capable of. Batman has personally overseen his development, and he was even trained by martial arts legend Richard Dragon for a brief time. Dick has displayed abilities to rival Batman during his time as Nightwing, and he has twice been entrusted to uphold the Batman mantle himself.
14 Vic Sage
More commonly known as the Question, Vic Sage is rarely considered among the top martial artists in DC, but his origins show that he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. Early on in his first solo series, Vic is beaten soundly by Lady Shiva, but his talent catches Shiva’s eye, and she directs him to Richard Dragon following his recovery.
He spends an entire year training with Dragon, one of DC’s leading figures in martial arts, before finally resurfacing and being drafted as an ally to Lady Shiva (though he has never come close to beating her). In turn, he has trained the Huntress, and has worked alongside both Superman and Batman for the Justice League. He isn’t quite on Batman’s level as a martial artists or a detective, but he isn’t far behind on either count.
13 Connor Hawke
Connor Hawke is best known for taking the mantle of Green Arrow from Oliver Queen, and though he never managed to quite live up to his father, he is the far superior hand-to-hand combatant. Connor has fought the very best of the best, from Silver Monkey-- the strongest of Lady Shiva’s Monkey Fist Cult-- all the way to Shiva herself, who was impressed at how long he could hold his own.
Though entirely human, he has the unique ability to mimic any fighting style he sees, which he uses to defeat the largest land army on the planet in “The Thousand Year Night”. Connor has made an appearance as the future son of John Diggle on Legends of Tomorrow, where he defeats Grant Wilson with the help of an older Oliver Queen.
12 Constantine Drakon
One of Connor’s most feared adversaries, Constantine Drakon beat the entire Green Arrow family after bursting onto the DC scene. He might have killed Connor if not for the interference of Speedy, but Constantine had little trouble taking the pair of them on at the same time, dodging arrows from both at point-blank range.
Connor has yet to defeat Constantine, but it’s credit to the second Green Arrow that he hasn’t been killed by his arch rival. Constantine killed his first man at the age of 10, for no reason other than to know what murder felt like, and claims to have killed more people than cancer in the years since. His reputation isn’t quite upheld in the Arrow pilot, where he plays a henchman of Adam Hunt and is swiftly dispatched by Oliver.
It’s tough to know exactly where to rank Adrian Veidt, given how far removed Watchmen is from the traditional DC canon. Based on the simple fact that he is more than capable of catching a bullet from close range, we can assume that his reflexes are at least a step up from Constantine’s, whose ability to dodge arrows doesn’t look quite so impressive when compared to Adrian’s bullet catch.
He is self-described as the pinnacle of human physicality, and he has the hand-to-hand skill to match, easily handling the combined efforts of Rorschach and Nite Owl. Of the entire Watchmen team, only the Comedian is able to hang with Adrian. The Comedian actually dealt Adrian his only defeat early in his career, but was easily outmatched and killed in their rematch.
On the other hand, Slade Wilson is a recurring figure in DC’s main continuity, and even non-comic readers will be familiar with the name through his appearances on Arrow, Teen Titans, and Young Justice. Wherever he goes, Deathstroke can match just about anyone in hand-to-hand combat, and he has beaten the entire Bat family (including the Dark Knight himself) at one point or another to prove it.
Slade honed his skills during a long career in the military, where he became a master of disciplines such as karate, boxing and jiu-jitsu, but it’s his physical enhancements that allow him to go toe-to-toe with some of DC’s greatest martial artists.
The fact that Batman is consistently able to stand up to Slade is evidence that without his heightened stamina and reflexes, Slade might not be quite on his level.
9 David Cain
David Cain was trained from a young age to become one of the world’s most dangerous assassins, and as a member of the League of Assassins, he now trains others into following the same path. David has taught some of the biggest names in martial arts, including a young Bruce Wayne. He is also responsible for teaching Lady Shiva everything she knows, and in return asks for Shiva to bear him a daughter (more on her later).
David, whose training regime leads to the death of several children and the insanity of others, is no hero, but he has a great respect for those who practice the martial arts. He has gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Deathstroke and Batman, both of whom consider him one of their greatest rivals.
8 Ra’s al Ghul
To put it simply, Ra’s al Ghul has trained half of the names on this list, and beaten the other half. Enhanced by the Lazarus pit and armed with a blade, Ra’s is nigh unbeatable, and his many centuries spent studying the martial arts has allowed him to keep hold of his title as the Head of the Demon (above such names as David Cain).
However, in strict, hand-to-hand combat, Ra’s’ prowess tends to differ depending on the story at hand, and he is generally one-upped by Batman in any given League of Assassins arc. He is undeniably one of DC’s greatest minds and a world class strategist, but in pure martial artistry, he doesn’t quite reach the top tier of DC’s greatest hand-to-hand fighters.
7 Black Canary
Dinah Lance is the first name on this list to be accepted as a member of that top tier. Originally trained by Wildcat, it wouldn’t take long for Dinah Lance to surpass her teacher, and her mentors since have been a huge step up from Ted Grant. Wonder Woman has passed on some of her knowledge of Amazonian fighting styles to Dinah, and she has been taught in conventional martial arts by both Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva.
She has been likened to the latter on several occasions, at one point swapping life experiences with Shiva so as to follow in her footsteps and potentially succeed her. Elsewhere, she has gone toe-to-toe with Bronze Tiger and Green Arrow, generally using her Canary Cry as a secondary to her combat skills.
6 Bronze Tiger
Likewise, Ben Turner has studied under Dragon and Shiva, but the list of opponents he has at least matched far outweighs Black Canary’s. Bronze Tiger has faced off against Richard Dragon, most of the Bat family, and Slade Wilson, overcoming the latter two at least once and fighting his former master to a standstill.
Without the aid of superpowers, enhancements, or gadgets, Bronze Tiger can compete with anyone on skill alone. He is a master in almost all forms of martial arts, including aikido, karate, jiu-jitsu and judo, and is respected by each and every one of the top names on this list.
Turner has appeared as a member of the Suicide Squad on Arrow, though he actually led the team at one point in the comics, and he is currently a member of the League of Assassins.
Comparing Batman’s record to the rest of this list is fairly straightforward, given that he’s Batman and at the center of all things DC, meaning he has fought just about everyone mentioned through this ranking. He has comfortably beaten Ra’s al Ghul, David Cain, and Deathstroke, stalemated Bronze Tiger at his absolute best in one of their many fights, and defeated Lady Shiva once (though fans remain unconvinced by this particular victory).
Taught by Shiva, Richard Dragon, Ted Grant, and several others on his travels, Bruce has picked up over 127 different styles of martial art, using an unpredictable combination of eight as his base fighting form.
Similar to Nightwing, his reluctance to kill can leave him vulnerable on occasion, but his ability to go one-on-one with the best of the best while still holding back is just one reason why Batman is a legend.
4 Cassandra Cain
The aforementioned daughter of David Cain and Lady Shiva, Cassandra Cain has arguably more martial arts potential than anyone in DC, and she has already fulfilled a good chunk of it. Trained in assassination by her father before she could even speak, Cassandra would soon ally herself with Batman, and has since received training from the likes of Bronze Tiger, Black Canary, and Merlyn.
Her multiple teachers have given her a knowledge of various martial arts techniques to rival even Batman’s, though she picks them up in a far shorter amount of time. She has twice defeated her mother, and is on her way to surpassing her for good, having recently taken the mantle of Orphan from her father following his sacrifice in The New 52.
3 Lady Shiva
Finally we’ve reached Lady Shiva, and you need only look down this list to see the impact she has had on the martial artists of the DC universe. Originally known by the name Sandra Wu-San before her training under David Cain, it is an honor to train under Lady Shiva; an honor she has granted the likes of Batman, Bronze Tiger, Black Canary, and her own daughter.
Shiva is feared even by her students for possessing a number of fighting styles previously considered lost to time, and her innate desire to constantly refine her technique means that she improves on a day-by-day basis. She has defeated countless armed opponents on skill alone, with a finishing move called the Leopard Blow, which utilizes her mastery of Leopard-Style Kung Fu to obliterate her rivals' ribcages.
2 Richard Dragon
Richard Dragon has an equally impressive list of trainees, including Batman, Nightwing, Connor Hawke, Vic Sage, and Lady Shiva herself, but he is one of DC’s only Grand Masters in multiple martial art forms. Through his unparalleled knowledge of Aikido, Karate, Kung Fu (including the Dragon and Leopard styles), Jiu-Jitsu and so many more, it is said that his fighting style embodies physical perfection.
He has also mastered the art of meditation, which allows him to reach such an intense state of concentration that he can access chi energy to use alongside his skill in straight combat. Richard is another one to have twice beaten his great friend Lady Shiva, but as they both continue to improve, the number two spot is consistently switching between the pair of them.
1 Karate Kid
A samurai from the future, Val Armorr has mastered literally every form of martial arts up until the 31st century, giving him a range of techniques unknown to the other characters on this list. To give you some idea at how overpowered Karate Kid is, his feats include punching through 70 kilotons of ice, defeating a meteor, and holding his own against Supergirl and Superboy (actually defeating the latter).
More impressive still is that he can match a Kryptonian without the use of superpowers. Val is simply human, and any perceived superhuman powers he might possess (such as the ability to sense the weak spots in his opponents and a resistance to mind control) come only from his complete mastery of Earth’s fighting techniques and weapon training.
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