Everyone can agree that Marvel is dominating the big-screen in terms of comic book characters. The entire MCU has been fantastic with numerous smash hits and more coming. They also have their shows on Netflix, Hulu and Freeform to help them out and thus Marvel is pretty much the place to go to in terms of comic book films. DC is trying but the results have been rough as Justice League underperformed. However, Wonder Woman was a smash and most still think a universe of some of the most iconic characters in all of comics is perfect for a series of hit movies. If anything, DC is dominating on television thanks to the CW’s “Arrowverse.” Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Black Lightning have won raves for doing a better job with DC characters on the small screen than on the big one and benefit from longer time to develop characters.
It helps they can do justice to some great characters of the DCU. Yes, they can’t touch the big ones like Wonder Woman or Batman (although Superman has shown up on Supergirl) but still manage to make them all work out great. They can take characters long dismissed as “C-level” and turn them into stars and even shift some villains into good guys. It’s amazing to see as it reminds you that, while Marvel may be dominant, DC were the ones who paved the way for so many iconic heroes and are able to bring them to life well. It’s tricky picking the best with so many but the Arrowverse has a lot and the DCCU movies help as well. Here’s a ranking of the 25 best heroes from the Arrowverse and DCCU and a reminder of how important these characters truly are.
25 John Constantine
Calling him a “hero” may be a stretch but it counts. The classic DC character hit TV in a 2014 NBC series with Matthew Ryan looking the spitting image of the comic book magician. A warlock, Constantine is haunted by mistakes he’s made in the past and not happy to be pulled into a conflict between angels and demons. He insists he’s in this just for himself and has no loyalties to others but still is pulled into helping people in need despite himself.
The show was canceled but Stephen Amell was such a huge fan that he got Constantine to appear on Arrow, helping Oliver out with some mystical stuff. The character recently returned on Legends of Tomorrow seeking help saving a possessed girl and nicely clashing with his sardonic manner. He’ll be joining the show full-time as they take on more supernatural threats, meaning more of Ryan’s fun bits denying his heroism. However, anyone willing to go up against the devil himself certainly qualifies to showcase he’s more the “hero” side of “anti-hero.”
As Black Lightning begins, Anissa Pierce is unaware of her father’s secret life as a costumed hero. An out and proud activist, she’s more concerned about creating rallies for causes and living a good life. However, she soon finds she has super-strength and inspired by Lightning to become a costumed heroine. Naturally, they were rocked to find they were father and daughter with Jefferson wanting Anissa out of the life. But her passion won him over and he soon helped her train her powers and a new costume to fight with him.
Nafessa Williams is terrific in the role, proud about herself although her temper can cause problems (one of her first actions with her powers is to destroy a controversial statue at her college) and her dad has to reign in her hot-headed streak. However, Williams shows how much Anissa cares to help others and that, more than her strength, makes her a heroine that sparks this show up nicely.
23 The Atom
As a former big-screen Superman, Brandon Routh was well-cast as a hero. Ray Palmer was a tech genius out to save Starling City which led him to create a suit of armor as the Atom. He did a good job but an accident caused him to find the ability to shrink in size. Feeling left out of the world, Ray joined the Legends of Tomorrow and his science wizardry a benefit. Routh is great balancing the role with humor as, for all his genius, Ray’s “nice guy” tendencies and often naïve outlook can lead to both laughs and trouble.
His suit gives him great powers of shrinking (and on one occasion grow to 50 feet tall) but it’s his good mind that helps win the day. He always looks for the best in people, even with the twisted Nora Darkh (played by Routh’s real-life wife) and does find a way to redeem her. While funny, Ray shows the hero roots well and how, in any costume, Routh is great as a high-flying guy.
22 Jay Garrick
It appeared Jay Garrick was the Flash of Earth-2, another world, who came to Barry for help facing the evil speedster Zoom. It turned out “Jay” was Zoom aka the psychotic Hunter Zolomon using Barry. He had a captive in a helmet who turned out to be the real Jay Garrick, a Flash from yet another Earth. The casting was brilliant as John Wesley Shipp had played the Flash in the 1990 TV series (and had just played Barry’s late father) so casting him as an older Flash made sense.
While older, Jay was a good influence on Barry, sharing his experiences and such bits as warning Barry on the dangers of using time travel to fix his mistakes. He had a great warm presence helping out in a mentor role even if his appearances weren’t too often. His last had Jay helping Barry stop a nuclear weapon from wiping out Central City, sacrificing much of his speed. He then related that he was finally retiring but training someone to take over his role. Thanks to Shipp, this elder Flash was a true highlight of the series to show how anyone with the mantle can be a great hero.
Originally showing up in an animated series, Vixen came to Arrow as Mari McCabe was a Detroit crime-fighter using a mystical totem that allowed her to channel the power of animals. Legends of Tomorrow wanted to bring her in but the actress wasn’t available. So, using the good excuse of time travel, they introduced Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), Mari’s grandmother who also had the totem as a heroine in the 1940s. She joins the team on their adventures, showcasing a great charm and drive, her animal powers quite helpful in combat.
But Amaya finds herself wrestling with knowledge of the future such as how her tribe will one day be wiped out and tempted to change it. She has a good romance with Nate Heywood even though she knows it has to end and battles her own criminal great-granddaughter. Eventually, Amaya returns to her own time to live out her destiny but for a good period, she proved how heroism runs in the family along with that totem and a great example to others.
20 The Flash (Movie Version)
Ezra Miller had a big challenge as the big-screen Flash. Grant Gustin had done such a great job on TV that having to be another Barry Allen was a big shadow. But Miller managed to pull it off, showcasing a Barry not quite as genius but enjoying himself more. He did live with a father wrongly in jail and had a more a snappy attitude but handled himself well. A big part of Justice League is the Flash handling being a true hero, not used to actually “doing battle” but is able to find his inner strength.
His great lines brought much needed humor to the film and his pure geek thrill meeting Batman, Wonder Woman and others was infectious. His speed was also good, using it in smart ways and despite his own inner doubts, proved himself to be a great hero. Miller looks to be rising up more with a Flash solo film and showcasing how in any version, the Scarlet Speedster is a hero in every way.
19 Captain Cold and Heat Wave
They would insist they weren’t heroes but circumstances prove otherwise. Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller) was a lifelong crook who got his hands on a pair of special weapons. He took one that emitted pure cold and gave the flame-throwing one to his old partner Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell). Together, they gave the Flash a rough time before being recruited for the Legends of Tomorrow.
At first, they were just along in hopes of pulling crimes around time but before either knew it, they soon liked the team. The former Prison Break co-stars had a great chemistry with Snart a planner and Rory thick-headed but some great laugh lines and their dual weapons a serious threat. Snart sacrificed himself to save the team and while Rory continues to be a pain at times, his blunt manner does help out and even proved worthy of commanding a mystical totem. The team briefly had the Snart of an alternate universe who was a true hero along and showcasing how, despite all their denials, these two long-time crooks were even better as good guys.
18 Black Canary
There have been three Black Canaries in the Arrowverse, each with their own distinct traits. The first was Sara Lance, trained by a ruthless cadre of fights, a tough lady who could be excellent in a fight, using a sonic device as a “Cry” to attack enemies. When Sara was killed (she would later come back), her sister, Laurel, was inspired to train herself to take her place. She wasn’t as skilled but quite passionate in a fight and willing to do what it took to get a victory.
Laurel also fell in a battle with her last words to tell Ollie to find a successor. That turned out to be Dinah Drake, a cop who, thanks to an accident, possess her own sonic cry. She joined as a new Canary, a tough fighter but more of a chip on her shoulder and has clashed with Oliver a lot in the field. Each one has their own fans and debate on which was better. However, it showcases how the Canary is a key figure in the Arrowverse and manages to take flight whoever is wearing the mask.
One of the best character evolutions of the Arrowverse has been Thea Queen. She started off as a rich, spoiled brat into partying, acting as if she had it worse than the brother who spent years stranded on an island. But circumstances shifted her up, made her tougher as she had to adapt to changes like finding out what her brother was up to and that her true father was the twisted Malcolm Merlyn. Training allowed Thea to turn into a fantastic fighter on her own and she soon donned a costume as Speedy (although she prefers to be called Red Arrow).
Willa Holland was wonderful showing the character maturing in the role and shifting to a more serious side. She has a wild spirit (not helped by a dip in the mind-altering Lazarus Pit) and even Oliver was concerned over her breaking a lot of rules in a fight. Thea tried to give up the costumed life but it didn’t take long and even a time in a coma couldn’t keep her down. Holland recently left the show as Thea joins her long-time love Roy Harper in a quest to track down and destroy other Lazarus Pits. But she stands nicely as a character that went from an unlikeable jerk to a true heroine in her own right.
He’s low for now but his upcoming solo movie might bump him up a few spots. For too long, Aquaman has been dismissed as a joke character who “only talks to fish.” But in Justice League, Jason Momoa made him a fantastic character, a man rebelling against his heritage but unable to deny it. It helps he’s a very handsome guy with a gruff bearing but also showcases Arthur’s toughness, his ability to swim at high speeds and that “talks to fish” thing isn’t so funny when he can have a pack of sharks go after you.
He also has powers to control water and never gives up in a fight. The best part of the movie’s battle scenes are how it’s obvious Arthur is having the time of his life, grinning and laughing as he takes part in the battle and cutting down parademons with ease. His movie promises to delve more into his origins and spotlight him more as Momoa has helped remind fans that instead of being a joke, Aquaman deserves his place as a DC powerhouse.
15 Alex Danvers
She may not wear a classic costume (although she has upgraded to a nice power suit uniform) but Alex Danvers is clearly a hero. The adoptive sister of Kara Zor-El, Alex had rough times, including a tough period drinking. She got her life back together joining the DEO and soon trained as a commando while also a top scientist. She’s backed up Kara as Supergirl, willing to do battle with aliens and other forces and not backing down.
Chyler Leigh showcases how Alex has been coming to grips with herself, including coming out and some great humor. A classic bit during the “Crisis on Earth-X” crossover was Alex and Sara Lance having a drunken one-night stand, then joining together to fight Nazis. Alex continues to be the support Supergirl needs to keep her humanity grounded, always caring for her sister and doing a great job helping out. Thanks to an upgraded suit, Alex can take it in combat more but it’s how she’s willing to risk herself against threats that give Supergirl pause that prove her heroism.
Originally, Firestorm was lab tech Ronnie Raymond and scientist Martin Stein (Victor Garber) who were merged into one form by an accident. After Ronnie sacrificed himself to save Central City, Stein needed a new host to help carry the power. Enter Jefferson Jax (Franz Drameh), a former football player who proved a suitable partner. There were clashes between the older scientist and the kid with a chip on his shoulder but they formed a good unit, able to use the nuclear powers to help the Legends out of countless jams.
They also had a great bond with Jax seeing Stein as the father he’d never had and helped each other with personal issues. Stein tragically gave his life to stop an invasion of Nazis from another world which left Jax powerless. Jax himself would settle down with a family but clearly still enjoying working with the team and good to get a happy ending. While Firestorm may not be around anymore, he was a great addition while he was there and showing how two men made a great hero.
Once a promising football star, Victor Stone’s body was ravaged in an accident that left him practically nothing but a torso. His scientist father used a discovered alien artifact to bond with Victor, turning much of him into a cybernetic being. In Justice League, Ray Fisher ably shows Vic cutting himself off from the world and obviously angry with his father over turning him into a “freak.”
However, his amazing abilities from commanding computers to transforming into a flying powerhouse, make Cyborg vital to saving the day when aliens attack Earth. The series showcases that joining the League is a great thing for Victor, finding his way and not being judged on his appearance but how he helps others. A man who can connect to any database on Earth and transform himself into a one-man army is a powerhouse but Victor shows it’s the man, not the tech, that makes Cyborg. Under all that metal is the heart of a hero that makes him a standout.
12 Martian Manhunter
It’s one of the best bait and switches ever. When Supergirl began, it looked like DEO boss Hank Henshaw was a sinister figure with a dark secret, down on alien life and working his own plans. But then, the truth came out: the real Hank Henshaw had supposedly been killed hunting an alien. That alien took his place to try and make the DEO an organization to help aliens. He was really J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, an iconic DC character.
Dorian Harewood is excellently cast as J’onn who knows how hard it is for humans to take to what’s different. A great line has him noting he learned more about racism thanks to posing as a black man than being an alien. With his strength, shape-shifting and telepathy, he’s a great fighter but also a leader. He also handles somber bits like his father suffering a mental illness, which is a very human problem. Whether he’s leading a charge of agents, giving the Danvers sisters advice or fighting an evil White Martian, J’onn showcases he’s a hero despite his origins.
11 Kid Flash
A major turn for The Flash was when Joe West discovered his estranged wife had been pregnant and given birth to a son without him knowing about it. Wally was soon getting involved in adventures with the team as he bonded with his dad. Thanks to a “Flashpoint” storyline, Wally soon gained speed himself and became Barry’s partner as Kid Flash. He was young and carried a lot of attitude but still did his best to handle the hero life. His speed was just as good as Barry’s, he just lacked the training to use it properly.
Kelynan Lonsdale brought a good humor to the role of Wally handling his life. He took a long break to get himself together and later joined the Legends of Tomorrow. There, Wally had to handle working with a team and not just charging into things blindly which brought him new maturity. While the actor will be leaving the Arrowverse, at least he had a good run to prove himself well as a top hero in his own right and not just a Kid.
10 Caitlin Snow
Caitlin Snow was a top scientist who became a key ally for Barry when he started as the Flash. A big turn was him discovering an Earth-2 version of her who was the villainous, ice-controlling Killer Frost. Thanks to whacky time travel hijinks, the regular Caitlin developed the same powers, fighting to control them. She was turned to villainy but managed to control it and soon she and Frost basically became a Jekyll-and-Hyde deal with Frost going on adventures.
While she can be brutal and have a wicked sense of humor, Frost could still help in a fight and seemed to really care for Caitlin. It looked like she lost her powers but has gotten them back with the indication they were always inside her since childhood. Caitlin is still doing her best, with Danielle Panabaker showing her good humor but ramping up a great edge as Frost. While the character may not be as purely “good” as others, she’s still trying and shows a lot of heat under that icy exterior.
The comic book Vibe was a terrible character with too many clichés of “Latino street life” mixed with breakdancing. Thankfully, the CW version is much better. Cisco Ramon started off the lab geek at STAR Labs, always there with a clever quip and nicknaming bad guys. However, his genius was crucial to the Flash finding a way to win. A turn had Cisco finding himself with the ability to open up “breaches” which can teleport people, create energy blasts and even open gateways to other worlds.
For a time, he was on the outs with Barry after one of Barry’s time travel trips caused the death of Cisco’s brother. But when he messed up himself on a time adventure, Cisco realized the dangers and forgave Barry. Carlos Valdes is always ready with funny stuff for the show but also balances it with Vibe doing his best as a hero helping others and his powers, science wizardry and humor makes him as valuable to Team Flash.
8 Green Arrow
It may seem odd to put the man who kicked off the “Arrowverse” a bit low but Oliver Queen has a lot of faults. He too often takes everything on himself, often cutting off aid from allies and that haunts him. But this is a man who spent five years in a nightmare life, on a horrible island, and had to fight to survive. His one-man crusade with a bow and arrow has changed to him leading a team and handling the turns of life. He’s now mayor of Star City and a father, managing to balance both with his costumed persona.
Indeed, Oliver tried to give it up but realized it was his calling, that only he could do what was needed as the Arrow. True, that selfish thinking has caused a lot of problems but with his ace archery skills, Oliver is dedicated to keeping his city safe by any means necessary. He may be rough but Green Arrow still tries to aim true and his struggles helped create the entire CW comic book world which means he has to be respected.
7 Black Lightning
It’s up in the air where the world of Black Lightning fits into the Arrowverse’s multiple worlds. But it can’t be argued just how great the character is. Granted amazing electrical powers, Jefferson Pierce fought crime in costume before giving it up for his family. He thought he could help save the world as a school principal and teaching a better way. But Jefferson found himself back in costume to fight a vicious gang and handling various threats.
Cress Williams is well cast in the role, tough and dedicated, handling being hounded by the police and press even as he tries to help his neighborhood out. He also handles his daughters gaining powers and joining him in his crusade. The series is notable for topical storylines and showcasing how a black hero faces challenges others don’t. That Jefferson is able to overcome them adds to his success and why he is more of a role model as a hero than others.
6 White Canary
Sara Lance has been on quite the journey. She was a spoiled brat who, just to tick off her sister, started sleeping with Oliver Queen. She seemed to have been lost at sea only to turn out to have been trained by the League of Assassins as a fighter and the first Black Canary. Caity Lotz was good in the role with nice humor and charm and that connected with fans. Thus, they were quite upset when the character appeared to meet her end.
The producers felt the anger and thus brought Sara back to life. Now the White Canary, she’s stepped up as leader of the Legends of Tomorrow, handling a team of often bungling but well-meaning time travelers fighting across history. She’s haunted by her dark past and the ugly deeds she’s committed. Her playful manner has included quite a few notable hook-ups (John Constantine and Alex Danvers among them) while her fighting skills make her a great sight. But it’s how Sara steps up as leader that makes her a winner.
5 The Flash (CW)
A lab geek at heart, Barry Allen is a great hero even though he’s constantly screwing up. That imperfection makes him relatable, a man haunted by grief and doing his best to fix his mistakes. Sometimes, he goes too far (altering time to save his mother) but Barry manages to overcome it. He has a good code as well; when he’s framed for murder, he refuses to break out of jail because he respects the law too much.
Grant Gustin brings a great charm to the role as he shows how a man who can move at the speed of light still slows down enough to care for others and his bond with wife Iris is great to watch. He has humor and always finds new and amazing ways to use his speed (in one thrilling episode, he extends a single second to an hour in order to stop a nuke from going off) to save the day. It’s how the guy keeps on trying even after so much loss and pain that shows the Fastest Man Alive is a true hero through and through.
There can be complaints over how the Zack Snyder movies made him darker. Yet it’s still Superman, the man meant to be an iconic focus for the world. Henry Cavill did channel some good stuff into the role, the man who wants a normal life but his super-powers push him to be more of a champion. Yes, his killing of Zod was harsh but the movie makes it clear he had to make a brutal choice to save innocents and it drives him to do his best to avoid such a choice once more.
He can be seen in a controversial light but still doing his best, proven when he sacrifices himself to stop Doomsday. His return in Justice League was well done (well, ignoring the terrible CGI to cover up Cavill’s mustache) and the DCCU seems to be doing its best to “lighten up” after it with Superman back as an iconic hero saving people above all else. So dark as it may be at times, it’s still Superman, and he will always be one of the greats.
There are so many versions of the Dark Knight on film and the DC verse one does play on a rougher version. But Ben Affleck proved his doubters wrong by managing to balance a dark Bruce Wayne and her darker costumed persona. His Batman is older, clearly affected by the years of battle and all too willing to see darkness even in Superman.
Affleck shows his athleticism, strength and wits while taking it to Superman in battle and eventually nearly finishing him off. He realizes his mistake which drives him to form the Justice League and allows him to do well in a leadership role. Even with the doubters, Batman is still a fantastic figure in how he can hold his own amid a team of super-powered beings in a great way and a gravitas thanks to Affleck reminding you how great a planner and threat the Dark Knight is.
Long in the shadow of her cousin in the comic books, Kara Zor-El stepped up to the plate big time in the prime-time series which started on CBS but blossomed when it moved to the CW. She shows the issues of Supergirl handling a life of her own, balancing super actions with a normal life as Kara Danvers. Melissa Benoist is wonderful in the role, showing great charm, handling the fight scenes but also down to earth issues from family to a bad breakup.
She keeps to a moral code, such as refusing to take the “acceptable losses” of a few thousand people to save the planet and doing everything in her power to help even her enemies. She has known betrayal and heartbreak, but she has also been great in the moments where good things happen to her. The important thing is showing how it’s her human upbringing, not her powers, that’s made her a hero. The show works on multiple levels to showcase a heroine who’s a true champion without her cousin’s influence.
1 Wonder Woman
The success of her 2017 movie proves how dominant the Amazon is with fans and moviegoers alike. Gal Gadot stole the show in Batman V Superman and then her solo film. She was gorgeous but showed the power of Diana, a warrior able to clash with monstrous opponents and take down armies by herself. She also nails the heart of this character, wanting to help a complex world and shining so well. Her banter with Steve Trevor was good and how she charges into action.
The sequence of her on No Man’s Land was spectacular and Justice League even showed her with some good scenes. It combined into a fantastic heroine, representing the hope of mankind but not afraid to fight for what she felt was right. She’s easily the best part of the DCCU. She managed to prove why she is the greatest hero of all time.
Sources: DC Wikia.com