There are many kinds of strength. Some people can lift cars but break down in tears at a stubbed toe. Others struggle to lift a bag of sugar but can grin and bear the most terrible of tragedies. Some superheroes punch real hard, others run real fast. Some can stop the world from turning with just a word, or even a thought. Once we move beyond physical prowess, we enter a new world of reality warpers, time travellers and sorcerers who are as far removed from other superheroes as superheroes are from us mere mortals.
Some of them are content to walk among humanity, never forgetting where they came from. Others have a higher calling, defending entire galaxies or even universes. Some have yet to reach their full potential. Some serve their country, their planet, or their friends. At least one serves the highest power, across all there is and will be. Their enemies range from petty criminals to Lovecraftian abominations bent on the end of all that is. Or both. At least one functions as a Jiminy Cricket, reminding people that they have a conscience, and the choice and the strength to save or condemn themselves.
To say one superhero is the strongest is difficult. For every strength, there is a weakness. And how do you define power? Is it surviving a crisis? Is it reordering the universe, or shattering a planet? Here, we put together an ascending list of DC superheroes you don’t want interrupting you in the middle of a bankjob.
15 Animal Man
A chance encounter with some aliens gave stuntman Buddy Baker some special powers. He can access the evolutionary grid of Earth, giving himself the natural abilities of any animal on the planet. Later, this was expanded to all life across the universe.
Doesn’t sound too impressive? The key here is not the level of power, it’s the way he utilises it. He can combine powers to make himself one of the deadliest men on Earth. Imagine someone with the strength of an elephant coming at you at the speed of a cheetah. Imagine taking a punch from a t-rex that then injects you with hallucinogenic poisons and sprays you like a skunk.
Perhaps most terrifying though, is what he knows. He knows that he is just a comic book character. He has struggled through Limbo, where forgotten characters go to rot. He has met his writer, and punched him. And how many people can say they did that?
Another DC character best known for his Vertigo stories, like Animal Man, Swamp-Thing (formerly known as Alec Holland, sort of) is a shambling muckman with control over plantlife. Again, it doesn’t sound like much. Until he makes a redwood grow through your house. Until he makes the trees stop producing oxygen.
He is the master of the Green, one of the four elemental orders that control and preserve all life on Earth, and was previously a master of the other elemental forces that keep the planet turning. As long as plant life exists, so does he. He has been maimed, mutilated, and completely destroyed, and popped up seconds later, hale and hearty.
13 Green Lantern
As a member of the Green Lantern corps, you are given a battery of near limitless power and a ring powered by your will and imagination. Only those of incredible courage and willpower are selected.
Each individual Lantern also brings their own natural abilities to the table. For example, Sodam Yat also has all the powers of a Kryptonian on top of the rings powers. Hal Jordan makes up for it with guts. Kyle Rayner’s incredible imagination lets him dream up almost anything.
Amongst the stars, the Green Lantern Corps defend peace and broker treaties amongst warring plants. The power of their rings have ended wars, held planets together as they were cracking apart, and allow faster-than-light travel.
Clark Kent, adopted son of John and Martha Kent, AKA Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara-El, AKA Superman, needs no introduction. He's the premiere superhero, the one who set the tone for everyone to follow.
His powers fluctuate between incarnations. Initially he could jump ¾ of a mile and shrug off bullets. Later incarnations have survived nuclear holocausts. But whatever interpretation you favour, he is consistently one of the most powerful superhumans in his stories. His extended family aren’t slouches either, with Supergirl consistently being described as stronger, but less disciplined. Superboy’s telekinesis puts him on an equal playing field, and will only grow stronger.
11 Martian Manhunter
The last Martian, J’onn J’onzz (or John Jones to his friends) is a key member of the Justice League. With super strength, speed, flight, shape-shifting abilities and multiple psychic abilities, he ranks among the strongest members of the League. Batman himself described him as a combination of Superman’s powers and Batman’s own detective skills, but even that high praise doesn’t quite cover his power set.
His powers include flight, “Martian vision,” and vast psychic abilities, including hypnosis, manipulating memories, astral projection, and super lungs, that let him blow hurricane-force winds. Like Swamp Thing, he can reassemble himself after physical trauma, but not as quickly.
His only weaknesses? Fire and Oreos.
10 Captain Atom
Sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, Captain Nathaniel Adam was offered a full pardon if he took part in an experiment involving an alien metal and a nuclear bomb. Rather than kill him, he survived, having been blasted 18 years into the future and bonding with the metal to become Captain Atom, one of the few superheroes who actually is a Captain.
A living nuclear reactor, he can absorb and redirect energy, see electronic signals, and unleash massive energy blasts that can destroy cities. One such blast destroyed an entire universe. He can also change some physical properties of certain materials, turning arrows into butterflies or even create his own universe, populated by its own Superman, Flash and more.
Zatanna spends her nights working as a simple stage magician, and her late nights working as a consulting sorcerer and superhero.
She is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the DCU, with time travel, healing, resurrection and rebuilding entire cities being some of the tricks up her sleeve. Typically, she speaks backwards to activate the spell (for example, “Tegrof” would make someone forget, “laeh” would heal any wound), but that’s just showmanship. She can do it by speaking normally, and even without speaking. She has also cast spells by writing, occasionally in her own blood. She can also divine the future using tarot cards.
8 Captain Marvel/Shazam
When exploring Fawcett City, Billy Batson accidentally stumbled upon a magic train. After meeting the great wizard Shazam, he was chosen to wield his great power. With the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the courage of Achilles, the power of Zeus, the stamina of Atlas and the speed of Mercury, he is one of the most powerful sorcerers and superheroes in the universe. Although he is mostly seen as Superman’s equal in many respects, his experience in magic gives him the edge, once knocking Superman out in just one punch.
His mastery of magic, combined with his incredible physical abilities, have placed him high on the food chain of the DC universe.
7 The Flash
Barry Allen can move fast. Very fast.
Again, it doesn’t sound that impressive.
Think about getting punched at light speed. Imagine being so fast, you get your own special version of death. Time literally does not apply to him. He has run through dimensions, to the end of time (and back), and once spent decades racing Death, before returning during Final Crisis.
His nephew and others took up his title after his apparent death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but none of them ever reached the level Barry was on. Driven by the guilt of his mother’s death, he attempted to travel back in time, running so fast it shattered reality and led to the creation of a new multiverse.
6 Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)
High school student Jaime Reyes always wanted to be a superhero. Then he bonded with a piece of alien technology and became the third Blue Beetle. Now he has Batman on speed-dial and has teamed up with almost every major hero in the DC universe.
The reason we’re putting Jaime so high on the list is the sheer insanity of how powerful his armour is. Some of his weapons have theological implications. He has yet to fully master it, and rarely uses the more powerful weapons, because he is (understandably) afraid of them.
He can track anyone, anywhere in the universe, scan anything and anyone within a minimum of five miles, survive under the most extreme conditions, and manipulate energy depending on the opponent (blasting Superman with kryptonite radiation, yellow energy against a Green Lantern), with no apparent upper limit.
5 Phantom Stranger
The one who walks in shadow, the Stranger has vague powers and even vaguer goals. Depending on who you talk to, he is anything from a time-tossed survivor of the end of the universe, a fallen angel, a suicide, or Judas.
His first appearances saw him tangle with criminals running magical hoaxes. Think Derren Brown, but with a sweet hat. Later stories expanded his abilities, without any concrete explanation. Later still, he stood at the gates of Heaven and challenged the celestial host of angels.
His powers and origins are shrouded in mystery, but the Stranger lives to turn humanity from sin, one soul at a time.
4 Doctor Fate
Whosoever wears the helmet of Nabu, Lord of Order, wields the power of Doctor Fate. Those powers include incredible magic abilities, knowledge of all things arcane, advanced wisdom, near-invulnerability, and all the power and prestige deserving of the agents of Order.
While wearing the helmet, the user is possessed or guided by Nabu, as long as Nabu approves of the wearer. If he does not approve, getting a blinding migraine is considered lucky. Total annihilation of your body and soul is more likely.
The helmet has had many bearers through the centuries, with varying power levels. Despite this, even the weakest Fate is considered a serious threat to the dark lords from beyond.
3 Captain Allen Adam
A second version of Captain Atom, Allen Adam was the character carried over to DC from the original Charlton Comics series.
A quantum Superman, Captain Allen Adam was born in nuclear fire. Reassembling his body with the aid of his atomically supercharged mind, he became a physical god on Earth. He has survived the Final Crisis, survived molecular disassembly, and even created life. His quantum senses allow him to perceive all time simultaneously, letting him flip back and forth like a reader skipping the pages in a book.
He has all the powers and abilities of Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, who was created in homage to the Captain. It’s safe to assume he has the same power levels, including the creation of life, inter-stellar teleportation, self-replication and altering physical states.
2 Nix Uotan/Superjudge
The Monitors are observers beyond gods, guarding the Multiverse from threats too great for others to handle. Then something came along that was too big for them to handle. Nix Uotan is the last survivor, the Judge of All Evil. And when a crisis looms, you can bet he’ll be there, with his trusted assistant, Mr Stubbs.
He has rebuilt entire planets after nuclear annihilation, stared dark gods in the face, escaped black holes, all in the name of preserving life across the universes. He can bounce between universes, travel to the end of time and space and back again, and switch between a normal human form and his Superjudge form at will.
1 The Spectre
The Spectre is the Right Hand of God, the embodiment of God’s Vengeance on Earth. You name them, he smote them. Sodom and Gomorrah? That was him. The dinosaurs? Him. Egypt’s First-born? Take a guess. To list his powers would take entirely too long. Let’s just say “near-infinite” and leave it at that.
The Spectre’s greatest weakness is his need for a host. He must bond with someone to enact his will. If that host is weak, or easily corrupted, so is the Spectre. Even then, he is a necessary evil, who is exposed to all cruelty and evil in the world, and is driven to punish it with wildly inventive punishments (like turning someone into a pencil to be sharpened for all eternity). In contrast, his hosts tend to prefer mercy over justice. The best Spectre stories revolve around this conflict. How should evil be punished? Which is more important, retribution or rehabiliation? When you’ve been empowered by God Himself to act as his avenging angel, can you control that kind of power, or will you let it destroy you? If power corrupts, what does ultimate power do?
He also has some of the most metal covers of all comics. That’s gotta count for something.