There has always been a major fundamental difference between how DC characters are written in comparison to Marvel characters. Firstly, DC Comics is considered to be the originator of American superhero comics, with characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Those three characters in particular have been able to transcend the medium and became larger than life. Superman is the quintessential superhero and is practically a God – but so are Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Green Lantern. This is just one very big distinction between how DC and Marvel write their characters – DC characters have been written to be God-like beings who are born with their gifts, while Marvel consists of a bunch of scientists and freak accidents.
This, of course, allows the storytelling to take on a different tone as well. Marvel can have some dark stories and characters, but stories within the DC universe are particularly grim and adult. Frank Miller came in and completely changed the medium when he wrote The Dark Knight Returns, and really made Batman the ultimate anti-hero. But some of this can be reflected in the smaller, lesser-known anti-heroes of the universe, not just the big heroes. Everyone knows the Punisher and Deadpool being great anti-heroes over at Marvel, but DC has plenty of anti-heroes who are just as cool, if not cooler. Don’t believe us? You will by the end of this list.
Luckily, because of the big superhero movie craze we’re currently living in, a lot of these characters could be put up on the big screen pretty soon. Mercenaries, cat burglars, corrupt politicians, occult detectives and bounty hunters make up just some of the anti-heroes living within the DC universe.
Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, started out as a simple vigilante in Gotham City, who later decided to turn to the assassin/mercenary life – and was getting handsomely paid to do so. He has a gun mounted on each wrist and he is considered the deadliest marksmen in the DC Universe. Much like Bullseye in the Marvel Universe, Deadshot is said to “never miss,” and to help prove it, he once shot an apple off of the head of Captain Boomerang while his eyes were closed. With all of that being said, strictly classifying him as a supervillain would be categorically false.
During the Bronze Age, the character was fleshed out, given a lot of backstory and even received a new look. He’s got some deep childhood issues and could be somewhat sympathetic to some, becoming more of a traditional anti-hero. Will Smith is more than likely playing this version of Lawton in Suicide Squad this summer.
14. Amanda Waller
Amanda “The Wall” Waller has to be one of the most ruthless and feared figures in espionage. Being the creator, as well as being in charge of the Suicide Squad, Waller is a character who regularly lives in the gray area. Even Batman has had problems with the way she handles things, which actually says a lot. As a high-ranking government official, Amanda has an incredible amount of power within the DC universe. Waller’s relationship with the Suicide Squad showcased how even they have become at odds with Waller and her methods. Most of the team’s criminal members did not really take to Waller’s methods (most notably Captain Boomerang), and even the team’s heroes were often at odds with Waller.
13. Captain Cold
Captain Cold, whose real name is Leonard Snart, is perhaps the greatest enemy of The Flash. He wields a gun that can shoots intensive rays of ice powerful enough to molecularly slow anything down. He also happens to be the leader of Flash’s Rogues Gallery, a team of the Scarlet Speedster’s villains. And while the character has been known to have a pretty cold heart, Snart also has his own code of honor. The character has become an anti hero over on The CW, with The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, played by actor Wentworth Miller. On both shows, more notably Legends, the character is written as a true anti-hero, though he may have started out with the classic villain archetype on The Flash.
12. Roy Harper
This is another character who has been brought to the small screen of the CW universe. Green Arrow’s first sidekick, Roy Harper followed in his footsteps and worshiped him as a hero, almost like the relationship between Batman and Robin. Roy became Oliver’s foster child and benefactor and was trained to be a crime-fighter. He use to be known as Speedy but later became Red Arrow. One thing is for sure, Roy Harper has grown to become one of the most accomplished marksmen in the DC Universe.
Then his life took a dark turn and became a drug addict and was homeless. After working for the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), Roy took on the name Arsenal. Roy ends up being somewhat of a villain in the DCU and he was also recruited to join Deathstroke’s Titans.
A terrific character and creation from the legendary Alan Moore. V is a revolutionary and an anarchist, dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask – the mask of a man who attempted to blow up the House of Parliament in London on November 5, 1605. V has a plan to systematically murder those who were his former captures and who are now leaders of a fascist dictatorship. V is most definitely performing morally questionable actions throughout the novel, but even then, his ultimate goal is to liberate and free the people and let them rule themselves, without a government.
Throughout the graphic novel, the reader is challenged to question whether or not this man is simply psychotic or a sane hero. One thing you don’t have to question, is if it’s a fantastic read or not.
10. Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex is a classic anti-hero living in the 19th Century on the American western frontier. Hex decided to become a bounty hunter after he gunned down his first criminal, “Mad Dog” Lucas McGill, while Lucas was beating his own wife. Hex’s cynicism, the brutal scar on his face and his overall reputation paint him as a pretty bad individual, but he does hold a code of honor, protecting those who are innocent. That really is the definition of an anti-hero. Josh Brolin kind of ruined the character for mainstream audiences, though, when he starred in that Jonah Hex movie in 2010, which was terrible.
Jonah Hex doesn’t have any superpowers, but he did in the 2010 film – possessing the ability bring the dead back to life, which is admittedly a pretty powerful gift. But in the comics, Hex simply had a tremendous amount of talent and training. Jonah’s reflexes are so strong that he once was faster on the draw than even Batman. If you’re a non-superpowered individual and you’re able to one-up Batman, you’ve got some pretty amazing skills.
Some may describe Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, as an anti-hero while others may classify him as an anti-villain. While the definition of an anti-hero seems to be a hero who is just deeply flawed, an anti-villain is a character isn’t completely evil or villainous. He isn’t a murderous psychopath who wants to destroy the world, he simply kills with a very specific purpose. Deathstroke has gone back and forth throughout his publication history, being a straight up villain in certain stories and being of an anti-hero in others. Slade is a mercenary and pretty much kills for money – but the New 52 Deathstroke has him straddling that anti-hero line.
Him being an anti-hero or anti-villain may just depend on who is writing the character at any given moment. Which version of him is more interesting and appealing to fans is something that will continue to be debated.
8. John Constantine
This cynical, working class occult detective is another creation from Alan Moore, who apparently modeled the character after the singer Sting. He’s got a foul-mouth and seems to be pretty addicted to danger in his life of pursuing sorcery and dark magic, while also being quite reckless and hanging around the lowest scum of humanity. The character always ends up hurting those around him, particularly his friends who end up paying the price for his mistakes quite often.
John tries to do the good thing, he’s just trying to rid the world of evil in his own way. The short lived television series that aired on NBC portrayed the character as an anti-hero who was haunted by the sins of his past.
7. The Comedian
Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, is another character created by Alan Moore, appearing in the legendary graphic novel Watchmen. In the 1940s, Blake started out as a hero and vigilante and one scene in particular demonstrated just how deranged and violent he can actually be – even against those who are on his team. This violent rage would continue when, in the 1970s, he killed a Vietnamese woman who was carrying his unborn child, in reaction to her scarring the left side of his face. Needless to say, the man has his flaws but he still manages to have moments of being a human being.
Blake is the most cynical of the Watchmen group, yet he is still able to come to realizations that everyone isn’t.
6. Jason Todd/Red Hood
Jason Todd is a very recognizable name to many comic book fans. Young Jason found Bruce Wayne/Batman as a mentor once Richard “Dick” Grayson had grown up, making Todd the second Robin. But Jason was caught tampering with Batman’s Batmobile (after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths) – and it became clear that Jason wasn’t going to be like Grayson. Jason was rougher around the edges and had much more of a mean streak in him – but that ended once the Joker beat him to death with a crowbar. Or did it?
Jason came back as the Red Hood and truly became an anti-hero, encompassing all of the skills he had learned from Batman, but with a willingness to kill. He’s trying to clean up the streets just like Bruce, but he’s doing it by any means necessary. This whole story arc is actually quite similar to Bucky Barnes’ transformation into the Winter Soldier in Marvel Comics. But Jason Todd as the Red Hood has left an impression on many fans – word is, Ben Affleck is going to be adapting this story for his solo Batman film.
Selina Kyle is another classic example of the anti-hero archetype. Someone who dabbles in villainous behavior and may be willing to cross a line or two, but isn’t an outright monster and still holds somewhat of a code. At least when Batman is keeping her in check. Catwoman has her own personal moral code and represents a gray area in Batman’s otherwise black and white life, blurring the line between right and wrong. No matter how hard Bruce may try to pull her to the side of good, Selina ultimately always ends up pulling away for one reason or another.
She just isn’t built the same way he is and is never unable to stop being a thief for too long. Though, at times, she will team up with Batman and do some good – she’s even saved the lives of the Justice League at one point.
Bounty hunters, for the most part, always tend to be morally neutral and Lobo is no different. His name literally means “one who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it,” which is pretty telling. It’s also worth noting that he is the last of his kind (a Czarinan) due to the fact that he killed every last one of them. At one point, Lobo took a different direction in his life and was no longer a violent man instead becoming an archbishop in the First Celestial Church of the Triple Fish-God, although, he eventually renounced his vow against violence.
Lobo possesses superhuman strength, speed and stamina and is immortal – at least the earlier versions of him were. Even though he is known for his sadistic and vulgar personality, Lobo does have a deep personal code of honor and will never break his word. His resume is further bolstered when you consider he has been a member of L.E.G.I.O.N., the R.E.B.E.L.S. and Young Justice.
Yes, Batman is on the list because the character has certainly displayed some very anti-hero-like actions in the comics, or even certain animated features. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman to stop criminals and deliver justice in Gotham and this is a trait of the usual “good guys.” However, with so many writers adding their own take on the character, Batman has developed some very dark and questionable behavior at times. The character is often described as a vigilante which usually isn’t considered to be “good.” While the argument will continue over whether or not the character truly is an anti-hero, for the sake of this argument, let’s say that he is.
Killing is not the only factor in determining an anti-hero. Batman doesn’t go out of his way to kill his foes, but consider his distrustful nature. He once compiled files of the powers and weaknesses of his JLA team members and crafted ways to take each one down, if they ever turned evil for whatever reason. As far as half of the Justice League was concerned, Batman crossed some serious personal boundaries. Things got even worse when those files were used against them. Dick Grayson ends up walking away from Bruce when he sees how Batman is willing to cross the line.
Bane started out as a villain in the comics, one who stalked Batman and systematically broke him down and finished by literally breaking his back and tossing him off the roof of a building. There’s no better way to introduce your villainy than to do that. But Bane did go through somewhat of a transformation in the comics, particularly in Secret Six volume 3 written by Gail Simone.
Bane was always a man who valued intelligence and brutality, and Simone was able to add a bit more dimension to the character. She allowed to him to have respect for Batman and for Gotham as well, and was no longer taking his venom, the mysterious that has increased his physical strength. It’s possible that this allowed Bane to have a bit more of a clear mind, and while he certainly is not a hero, paired with everyone else in Secret Six, he probably held the most hero-like qualities.
1. Black Adam
Black Adam has primarily been a villain, and an evil counterpart to the character Shazam, but he sometimes is written to be an anti-hero or even an anti-villain. Born an ancient Egyptian, he was a slave and his family was killed by evil dictators in Kahndaq. He stumbles onto his incredible powers through his nephew, Aman – after Black Adam killed him and took Anan’s powerful for himself, for what he thought was the greater good. Throughout his history in the comics, he would go on to partner with the Justice Society, but he would also happen to have a violent and destructive rampage across the globe.