DC Comics’ roster of superheroes is the most well-known, have been a part of popular media from the beginning, and are constantly revitalized for the next generation of comic book readers. Superman and Batman seem to take up most of the media appearances, but this must be their classic appeal. Batman vs. Superman has raged in fan circles from their inception. To me, it is simple, Batman is a selfish character, fighting crime with Shane-like dedication on his own, while Superman is a selfless character, who will sacrifice himself for the good of others. DC has re-booted these characters in the New 52.
10 Captain Marvel – one of the greatest DC heroes who didn’t start out as a DC Comics character? One word… Shazam! Captain Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (1940) published by Fawcett Comics. He was created by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker. The Big Red Cheese was the fulfillment of every comic book reader’s dream. You can dream to be any other hero, but you could become Captain Marvel, you just have to say one word. He appeared one year later, in the serial, Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) starring Tom Tyler. Captain Marvel became one of the most popular comic book heroes in the `40s and outsold every title including DC’s comics. Their success attracted the attention of rival DC Comics, which went through a series of lawsuits that lasted from 1941 to 1952. Due to a drop in sales, Fawcett closed shop, but this was not the end of Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel was acquired by DC Comics, which printed Shazam! #1 (1973) with the returning artwork of C.C. Beck. It had the sub-title, “The Original Captain Marvel”, but the name Captain Marvel was copyrighted by rival Marvel Comics. In this case, there was another highlight of the Bronze Age, Captain Marvel returned to the small screen via Saturday morning television in Shazam! It had two actors, the first was Jackson Bostwick (1974-1975) and John Davey (1975-1976.) The conclusion of the `70s had the Legends of the Superheroes (1979) show which had Garrett Craig playing Captain Marvel. Returning to comic s, Jerry Ordway brought back Captain Marvel in the Power of Shazam comic book. In 2000, Paul Dini and Alex Ross produced the tabloid sized Shazam!: Power of Hope (2000). The character appeared in several episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold voiced by Jim Piddock. In 2007, Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone, brought back the whimsy of C.C. Beck to Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (2007) limited series. Captain Marvel was featured in the direct-to-video Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010) voiced by Jerry O’Connell. Currently, he appears in the Young Justice cartoon played by Chad Lowe. Finally, Geoff Johns has brought back the character (now called Shazam) in a back-up story that began in Justice League #7 (2011.)
9 Supergirl – Superman’s cousin was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino with her first appearance in Action Comics #252 (1959.) The Maid of Steel shared the title with her super cousin and soon gained some super pets including Streaky the Super Cat in Action Comics #261 (1960) and the one time centaur, Comet the Super-Horse in Action Comics #292 (1962.) She had a lead role in her first series, Supergirl #1 (1972.) In 1984, Helen Slater donned the costume for the Supergirl movie, but even though Slater shined, the film made a campy turn to the Super films. The sales for the title became weak and it was cancelled, but this all led to one of the most stunning comic book covers in the Marv Wolfman and George Perez mini-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985) with Superman holding his dead cousin who was draped over his arms. Supergirl again re-appeared as the protoplasmic Matrix in Superman #16 (1988.)
Peter David reformed the character as a merging of Linda Danvers and the Matrix to become an angel starting with Supergirl #1 (1996.) Supergirl appeared in one episode of The New Batman Adventures cartoon, “Girls’ Nite Out” (1998) where she teamed up with Batgirl. Nicholle Tom voiced Kara in that episode, Superman: The Animated Series (1998-2000), and Justice League (2004-2006.) Yet another version of Supergirl showed up in Superman/Batman #8 (2004.) Helen Slater returned to Super roles with Lara-El in Smallville from 2004 to 2010, and Jeph Loeb picked up Kara’s story in Supergirl #0 (2005.) “Firefly” alum Summer Glau voiced Kara from the direct-to-video animated movie adapted from the comic book mini-series, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010). Helen Slater wrote a story in Supergirl #50 (2010.) Supergirl made her debut on Smallville played by the lovely Laura Vandervoort with the episode, “Bizarro” (2007) and returned to the last season episode, “Prophecy” (2011.) The re-boot of the New 52 produced one of its finest titles, Supergirl #1 (2011) by the fantastic writing team of Michael Green and Mike Johnson along with simple, elegant penciling from Mahmud Asrar.
8 Nightwing – Dick Grayson will always be remembered as Batman’s first partner, but on his own, he forged a new identity as Nightwing. As Robin, Dick Grayson, first appeared in Detective Comics #38 (1940.) He was responsible for boosting sales of the comic book. Grayson first appeared as Nightwing in Tales of the Teen Titans #44 and was created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. His appearance was a chance to break away from Batman and strike out on his own. Douglas Croft played Dick Grayson in the Batman (1943) serial. Then, the Batman and Robin (1949) serial had Johnny Duncan playing Robin. The actor best known for playing Robin was Burt Ward who starred in the Batman (1966) and the Batman (1966-1968) TV show. Radio personality, Casey Kasem, voiced Robin in the Batman/Superman Hour (1968-1969) and later the Super Friends (1973) cartoon.
Burt Ward returned to the character in The New Adventures of Batman (1977-1978) cartoon and also the Legends of the Super Heroes (1979) program alongside Retired Man. Grayson showed up on TV screens in the Batman: The Animated Series played by Loren Lester from 1992 to 1995. The character was again introduced in films played by Chris O’Donnell in Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997.) Nightwing headlined his own title first in his mini-series, Nightwing #1 (1995) and then in a regular series. The city he put under his protection was Bludhaven. The Batman (2004-2008) animated series featured Evan Sabara as Dick Grayson. In the aftermath of Batman’s death, Dick Grayson became Batman in Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 (2009.) He partnered with Damien Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, who became the new Robin. He returned to the role of Nightwing in the New 52 with Nightwing #1 (2011) by the team of Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows. He was recently seen in the Young Justice cartoon voiced by Jesse McCartney.
7 Green Arrow – the Emerald Archer was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp. He first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 (1941.) The team of Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams produced one of the most powerful stories in comics starting with Green Lantern #76 (1970.) This storyline had Green Lantern as a conservative counterpart to his liberal Green Arrow. In 1987, Mike Grell brought a mature edge in the Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters (1987) mini-series. Kin Shriner voiced Green Arrow in the Justice League (2004-2006) cartoon. One of the most well known characterizations of Oliver Queen was in the Smallville TV show played by Justin Hartley beginning with “Arrow” (2006.) He became a part of the cast and eventually married Chloe Sullivan.
Green Arrow married long time romantic interest in the comic books, Black Canary, in the Green Arrow and Black Canary Wedding Special #1 (2007.) The most interesting origin tale was in the Green Arrow: Year One (2007) limited series by Andy Diggle with art by Jock. Neal McDonough played Green Arrow in the DC Showcase short in the Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010) direct-to-video film. Green Arrow made appearances in the Batman: The Brave and Bold cartoon voiced by James Arnold. Alan Tudyk from Firefly plays Green Arrow in the Young Justice cartoon. Stephen Amell is going to play Oliver Queen in the Arrow TV series scheduled to debut on the CW soon.
6 The Flash – The Scarlet Speedster ushered in the Silver Age with Showcase #4 (1956) by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. There was a great nod to the Golden Age Flash where police scientist Barry Allen was inspired by the adventures of the first Flash, Jay Garrick. The character went onto headline his own title, Flash #105 (1959) which picked up the numbering from the Golden Age Flash Comics. The Flash was one of the first members of the Justice League of America with Brave and Bold #28 (1960.)
Another landmark in comics history was when the multiverse was introduced in “The Flash of Two Worlds” story in Flash #123 (1961) by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Barry Allen actually meets Jay Garrick, the Flash from the Golden Age. Allen was disintegrated in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985,) which was written and illustrated by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. His young colleague, Wally West, took up the Flash ring and continued his adventures in Flash #1 (1987.) John Wesley Shipp brought the Flash onscreen in The Flash (1990 – 1991) TV series. Geoff Johns returned Barry Allen to the DC Universe in Flash Rebirth (2009.) It was revealed in the series that Barry Allen created the Speed Force when he became the Flash. His return also brought the Reverse Flash whose tampering in the Flashpoint (2011) limited series re-booted the DC Universe to the New 52. In the New 52, writer/artist Francis Manapul helped re-boot Barry Allen in Flash #1 (2011.)
5 Aquaman – The King of the Seven Seas was created by Paul Norris and first appeared in Showcase #22 (1959.) Aquaman was one of the founding members of the Justice League of America and battled Starro in their first adventure, Brave and Bold #28 (1960.) He began his own solo title with Aquaman #1 (1962.) Aquaman found true love with Mera in Aquaman #11 (1963.) A year after they met, Aquaman married Mera in Aquaman #18. The birth of Arthur Curry Jr., a.k.a. Aquababy, was in Aquaman #23 (1965.) The first actor to portray the King of the Seven Seas was Marvin Miller in the popular Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-1968). The most shocking comic book story was the death of Aquaman’s son in Adventure Comics #452 (1977) by his arch nemesis Black Manta.
In the first series of Super Friends, Aquaman was played by Norman Alden from 1973 to 1977. William Callaway played the part the longest in several versions of the Super Friends cartoon from 1979 to 1985. Peter David brought Aquaman in a new comic book series with a bearded Arthur Curry and also had his hand lost in Aquaman #2 (1994) and replaced it with a hook. In the animated Justice League series, Scott Rummell played Aquaman from 2001 to 2004, and then Josh Keaton voiced Aquaman in two direct-to-video animated films, Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010.) His only live action appearance was played by Alan Ritchson in a few episodes of Smallville as A.C from 2005 to 2010. Aquaman was in a few episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold voiced by John Di Maggio. The very talented Phil LaMarr played Aquaman as King Orin in several episodes of Young Justice. Geoff Johns brought some tsunami force to the character in the new 52 with Aquaman #1 (2011.)
4 Green Lantern – one hero is defined by his oath, “In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight, Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!” Hal Jordan has recited his oath re-charging his power ring since Showcase #22 (1959.) He was created by John Broome and Gil Kane and like Flash was based on the Golden Age character. Instead of a magic ring, Jordan wielded a ring given to him by the Guardians of the Universe on Oa, which could create anything he could imagine, except a good movie featuring himself. Jordan joined the Justice League of America when they first appeared in Brave and Bold #28 (1960.) Gerald Mohr was the first to portray Hal Jordan in an episode of the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, “Justice League of America: Between Two Armies” (1967.) It was in Green Lantern #76 (1970) that the character took a step towards more mature themes in comic book storytelling by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Michael Rye played Green Lantern in the various Super Friends series from 1977 to 1985. Howard Murphy was the first to play Green Lantern on screen in the Legends of the Super Heroes (1979) on TV. One of the most influential stories was written by famed comic book scribe Alan Moore in the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 (1986) which set up the Blackest Night event. Distraught over the destruction of Coast City in the Doomsday storyline running in the Superman titles, Jordan went on a rampage in “Emerald Twilight,” which started in Green Lantern #48 (1994.) He ended up killing the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians, but later they were all revived by a cosmic powered Kyle Rayner. The title was then turned over to Rayner as the new Green Lantern. Jordan became the villain Parallax in Green Lantern #50 (1994,) but he sacrificed himself to re-ignite the sun in Final Night #4 (1996.) His spirit then became the Spectre in Day of Judgment #5 (1999.)
In 2004, Geoff Johns brought Hal Jordan back in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Johns combined all of the incarnations of Jordan around the threat of Parallax, a fear entity that possessed Jordan after “Emerald Twilight.” Johns also made long time villain Sinestro a deadly threat in the “Sinestro Corps War” (2007.) He followed it with a look back at his “Secret Origin” starting with Green Lantern #29 (2008.) Johns then unleashed a rainbow of lanterns, the Red Lantern Atrocitus, the Orange Lantern Larfleeze, and the Blue Lantern Saint Walker. Long time romantic interest, Carol Ferris, became the Violet Lantern. This all led to the storyline that sent shockwaves throughout the DC Universe in, “Blackest Night” which began in Green Lantern #43 (2009.) Christopher Meloni played Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern: First Flight (2009) direct-to-video film. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds played GL in the Green Lantern film in 2011. The direct-to-video animated film, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011) had the perfect actor to play Jordan, Nathan Fillion. The Young Justice cartoon has Jordan voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Currently, Josh Keaton is playing Jordan in the Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
3 Wonder Woman – Diana Prince was created by William Moulton Marston and made her first appearance in All Star Comics #8 (1941.) Wonder Woman became a founding member of the Justice League of America in Brave and Bold #28 (1960.) The most interesting change to the character was under writer Dennis O’Neil in Wonder Woman #178 (1968.) Diana Prince was stripped of her Amazonian power and trained under I-Ching. A stunning debut outside of comics was Wonder Woman’s cover appearance in 1972 for the first issue of Ms. Magazine. The criticism of the new direction was led by feminist Gloria Steinem and Diana Prince was restored to full power and costume in Wonder Woman #204 (1973.) Shannon Farnon played Wonder Woman in the Super Friends cartoon from 1973 to 1983. It was in 1975 that the world first saw the actress who would be eternally identified with Diana Prince. Former Miss World USA winner Lynda Carter filled the “satin tights” better than any actress in the Wonder Woman (1975-1979) TV show. B.J. Ward took over the voicing of Wonder Woman in The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1984) and in an episode of the Superman cartoon (1988.) Wonder Woman was disintegrated from her clay form in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (1986.)
She returned with the help of creator George Perez in Wonder Woman #1 (1987.) Perez brought a strong Greek mythological component to the comic book and also a strong female supporting cast. William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato created a compelling storyline with Diana Prince defeated by her fellow Amazon warrior Artemis. This was in “The Contest” beginning with Wonder Woman #90 (1994.) Diana lost her costume to Artemis, but was able to return to form in Wonder Woman #100 (1995.) The tabloid sized Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth (2001) was created by the team of Alex Ross and Paul Dini. Wonder Woman appeared in the Justice League (2001-2006) animated series voiced by Susan Eisenberg. The most interesting take on Wonder Woman was by romance novelist Jodi Picoult with Wonder Woman #6 (2007.) Gail Simone’s brilliant run started with “The Circle” storyline in Wonder Woman #14 (2008.) The direct-to-video animated film, Wonder Woman (2009) starred Keri Russell. Also, Vanessa Marshall played Wonder Woman in the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earth (2010) direct-to-video film. Eisenberg returned to voice Wonder Woman in the Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) and Justice League: Doom (2012) animated movies. Brian Azzarello wrote Diana’s adventures in the new 52 with Wonder Woman #1 (2011.) Actress Maggie Q from the Nikita TV series voiced Wonder Woman in the Young Justice cartoon.
2 Batman – the Dark Knight Detective was created by Bob Kane and he first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (1939.) The first team up between Batman and Superman was in Superman #76 (1952.) Batman did not become a member of the Justice League until Brave and Bold #28 (1960.) The greatest and most lasting impact for Batman came from television when Adam West donned the cowl in the Batman (1966) movie and the TV series from 1966 to 1968. A great comics collaboration was found in the team of Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams (an interview with Adams conducted at Comikaze will be forthcoming) beginning with Detective Comics #395 (1970.) The other influential team was Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers starting with Detective Comics #471 (1977.) In 1978, Adam West again appeared with partner Robin in Legends of the Super Heroes (1979.) West voiced the character in the Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984) and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985.) The most influential modern Batman story was by Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns #1 (1986.) “Watchmen” writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland created one of the most stunning stories with Batman: The Killing Joke in 1988.
Miller returned to Batman’s beginning with the Year One storyline (in the same vein as Daredevil’s Born Again) that featured art by David Mazzucchelli and started with Batman #404 (1987.) Bruce Wayne’s almost awkward attempt to fight crime was also found in part in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005.) Kevin Conroy brought a gravelly edge to his Batman in the Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995.) Adam West returned to a Bat part in Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost” (1992.) The low point in the Bat films was Batman & Robin (1997) featuring the infamous Bat nipples prominently displayed on the Dark Knight’s costume. Artist Alex Ross produced along with Paul Dini the tabloid sized Batman: War on Crime (1999.) Conroy returned to play Batman in the Justice League (2001-2006) cartoon. Christian Bale brought some gravitas to the role in Batman Begins. In Final Crisis #5 (2008,) Batman is apparently killed by Darkseid’s Omega Beams. If you believed that Batman really died, then I have a rainbow bridge to sell to you, act now and get two for the price of one. Nolan’s sequel was a worldwide box office smash with The Dark Knight in 2008. In 2010, three years after a certain flag wearing hero (Captain America) did the same, Batman was discovered not to be dead, but “lost in time” in the Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne comic book mini-series. Kevin Conroy returned to voice Bruce Wayne in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) direct-to-video film. Nolan finished the trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises (2012,) while actor Bruce Greenwood voiced Batman in the Young Justice cartoon.
1 Superman – the Man of Steel created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster made his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (1938.) Superman was so popular that one year later, he had his own title, Superman #1 (1939.) The first star who portrayed Superman was Bud Collyer in The Adventures of Superman radio show which ran from 1940 to 1949. The first on screen Superman was Kirk Alyn who was in two popular serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950.) The one actor who made a definite impression on the character was George Reeves when he starred in the film, Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and then the long running TV series, The Adventures of Superman, which aired from 1951-1958.
Another actor by the name of Christopher Reeve starred in Superman (1978,) Superman II (1980,) Superman III (1983,) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987.) Writer/artist John Byrne did an impressive re-boot of the character post Crisis with the mini-series that started with Man of Steel #1 in 1986, which coincidentally would be a great title for a film. The most stunning story for the Man of Steel was his death which made national headlines. This ended with Superman #75 (1993) which had an edition where the comic book was in a black bag with other special items like the black armband. The point of an iconic character’s death was made in the “World Without Superman” storyline running in several titles which showed the impact of Superman on the world and the average person. Actor Dean Cain filled Superman’s boots in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV series (1993-1997.)
Superman was showcased in the painted art of Alex Ross and the writing of Paul Dini in the tabloid sized Superman: Peace on Earth (1999.) The one actor with the longest run playing the Man of Steel was Tom Welling in the smash television show Smallville (2001-2011.) The show’s concept was embodied by the motto, “No tights, no flight.” During this run, Brandon Routh faithfully played the Man of Steel in Superman Returns (2006.) Geoff Johns co-wrote with Richard Donner, the director of the first Superman film, on the “Last Son” storyline that began in Action Comics #844 (2006.) Under the direction of Grant Morrison, The New 52 re-boot of Superman began with a newly re-numbered Action Comics #1 (2012.) The latest actor to put on the cape for the Man of Steel is British actor Henry Cavill in the “Man of Steel” film, which arrives in theaters next year. “Look up in the sky…” always.