20 DC Heroes Who Didn’t Start as DC Characters (Ranked)

DC Comics is home to some of the greatest heroes and villains in comics history — but a considerable number of them originated at other publishers. These characters range from the obscure to super-stars; still others are waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

DC’s history of acquiring other comic book publishers stretches back to the earliest days of its existence. Detective Comics Inc., the company that would eventually morph into DC Comics, acquired All-American Publications and National Allied Publications; some of the characters acquired in these mergers might surprise fans, as they are now staples of the DC Universe. Over the years, DC has acquired the rights to characters formerly published by Quality, Fawcett, Charlton, and Wildstorm, and then DC incorporated them into its fictional universe with varying degrees of success.

20 Black Condor

Black Condor

One of the many characters acquired from Quality Comics, Black Condor was co-created by the legendary Will Eisner and first appeared in 1940’s Crack Comics #1. After being exposed to a radioactive meteor, Richard Grey gained the ability to fly. As with most Quality characters, Black Condor was revealed to live on DC’s Earth-X, a parallel Earth where the Nazis won World War II. Since Richard Grey, there have been two other Black Condors, one of whom briefly headlined his own book in the early 1990s and was killed at the start of Infinite Crisis. A third incarnation appeared shortly thereafter but has since slid into obscurity.

19 Grifter

Grifter fires his guns in DC Comics

In the late 1990s, DC Comics purchased the rights to Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe. While there were crossovers between the two universes afterward, they were largely kept separate. However, in 2011, DC incorporated the Wildstorm characters into the main DC Universe via the New 52. Among the Wildstorm characters is Grifter, a member of the WildC.A.T.S. team. Grifter has bounced around the DC Universe since his introduction, serving at one point as Lucius Fox’s bodyguard. Grifter can currently be found in DC’s new WildC.A.T.S. book, where the Court of Owls is attempting a takeover of the Grifter’s employers in the Halo Corporation.

18 The Atom

Golden Age Atom Al Pratt

During the Golden Age of comics, DC purchased All-American Publications, the company that gave the DC Universe its first incarnation of the Atom. One of the founding members of the Justice Society of America, the Atom has become one of DC’s most important characters. The Golden Age Atom, also known as Al Pratt, could not change size like his Silver Age successor. Instead, the Golden Age Atom was short but was a skilled fighter. The Atom later gained atomic powers, living up to his name.

17 Blackhawk

The team of Blackhawks in DC comics

One of DC Comics’ most prominent wartime characters, Blackhawk, began at Quality Comics, where Will Eisner played a role in his creation; Chuck Cuidera and Bob Powell also helped create the character. A trained aviator, Blackhawk led a team of individuals displaced by the then-current Second World War. Blackhawk would continue, under the Quality Comics banner, after the war’s conclusion. When Quality closed up shop in the mid-1950s, DC acquired its library of characters — Blackhawk included. DC did not cancel Blackhawk and instead kept it going with the same creative team and the same numbering, without skipping a month of publication.

16 Captain Atom

Captain Atom unleashing his radiation in Justice League Unlimited

Captain Atom has often been a major player in the DC Universe, but he was originally published by Charlton Comics. Created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko, Captain Atom first appeared in 1960’s Space Adventures #33. Later that decade, Charlton launched its own line of superheroes. Captain Atom was revived as one of the line’s centerpieces. Captain Atom is largely famous today for being the inspiration for Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, and many modern takes on the character play on this to varying degrees. However, when he first arrived in the DC Universe, Captain Atom was a leader, becoming the chair of the European branch of the Justice League.

15 Uncle Sam

Suicide Squad Comic Uncle Sam Checkmate

DC Comics acquired the rights to Uncle Sam from Quality Comics in the mid-1950s, but sat on the character for many years. In the ’70s, he and the rest of the Quality characters were brought together as the Freedom Fighters; Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters lived on Earth-X in the classic DC multiverse. In his original Quality appearances, Uncle Sam was the ghost of a soldier killed during the Revolutionary War, and he returned in spirit form when America needed him the most — in this case World War II. Patriotic heroes were a dime a dozen in the 1940s, but Uncle Sam stood head and shoulders above the rest.

14 Apollo

Close up of Apollo from DC Comics

Another Wildstorm character that later found a home at DC Comics, Apollo was a member of Stormwatch before joining the Authority. A product of Henry Bendix’s bioengineering, Apollo has the power of flight, invulnerability, and more, and he is intended to be Wildstorm’s answer to Superman. Apollo is also best known as one of the first publicly out LGBTQ+ characters in comics. Along with his husband Midnighter, Apollo has been a true trailblazer in any universe he is in.

13 The Phantom Lady

Phantom Lady (DC Comics) - Jennifer Knight and Stormy Knight

Before arriving at DC Comics, the Phantom Lady had been published by Quality Comics, first appearing in 1941’s Police Comics #1. The Phantom Lady was a notable example of what is called “good girl art,” which describes a particular style of highly sexualized women in skimpy outfits. As with nearly all of Quality’s stable of characters, the Phantom Lady was retconned to be from Earth-X, an alternate world where the Nazis won World War II. The Phantom Lady was once a member of Uncle Sam’s Freedom Fighters team, and, while the character has not had many recent appearances, she is ripe for a comeback.

12 Black Adam

Black Adam sits on his throne in DC Comics.

For many years, DC Comics was engaged in a lawsuit with Fawcett Publications; DC believed that Fawcett’s Shazam/Captain Marvel character was too close in concept to Superman. The lawsuit bled Fawcett dry, and the publisher folded in the early 1950s. Ironically, DC would license Shazam in the early 1970s, publishing new adventures for the World’s Mightiest Mortal. Of all the Fawcett characters DC bought, no one benefited more than Black Adam. Black Adam had been a one-off villain during his Fawcett tenure, but when DC began creating new Shazam adventures, the company brought Black Adam back — and set him on the path to becoming the iconic anti-hero he is today.

11 The Ray

Freedom Fighters The Ray DC Comics

Another Quality character who landed at DC, there have been several incarnations of the Ray over the years. The first, Happy Terrill, first appeared in 1940’s Smash Comics #14. Blessed with the ability to absorb and manipulate light and energy, the Ray was a member of the Freedom Fighters, alongside Black Condor and Phantom Lady. Perhaps the best known version of the Ray debuted in the early 1990s. Ray Terrill, the son of the Golden Age Ray, took up his father’s mantle, becoming a great hero in his own right. Once prominent in the 1990s, this incarnation of the Ray rarely makes appearances now.

10 Zealot

Zealot uses her sword in DC Comics.

Like her fellow WildC.A.T. teammate Grifter, Zealot began her life at Wildstorm. Created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, Zealot is a fierce fighter, who once functioned as a Wildstorm stand-in for Wonder Woman — right down to an alternate version of Themyscira. Currently appearing in the pages of WildC.A.T.S., Zealot is poised for a big break later this year when she joins a new incarnation of the venerable Birds of Prey, alongside Black Canary, Cassandra Cain, and Big Barda. Now an iconic character in her own right, she’s moved far beyond being a Wonder Woman pastiche.

9 Hawkman

Hawkman howls in fury in DC Comics.

DC would acquire another company, National Allied Publications, also early in the Golden Age of comics. National, which published Flash Comics, had a vast stable of heroes, some of whom, like Hawkman, were already members of the Justice Society of America. Today, Hawkman is one of DC’s most recognizable characters and has been a member of both the Justice Society and the Justice League. He even made the leap to live-action in last year’s Black Adam film.

8 Peacemaker

Peacemaker Cover DC Comics

Another DC character acquired from Charlton Comics, the Peacemaker was the template for Watchmen’s the Comedian. Peacemaker’s gimmick — he loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it — has undergone revisions over the years, but the character’s militant nature remains the same. Peacemaker is also one of DC’s most unlikely success stories. After languishing in limbo for years, director James Gunn added the character to his rebooted The Suicide Squad. Played by John Cena, Peacemaker caught on with audiences and even stars in his own acclaimed series on Max while also serving as an antagonist at the center of DC’s Dawn of DC storytelling initiative.

7 The Question

The Question

Originally a Charlton hero, the Question has undergone some substantial reimaginings in his almost 60-year history. Created by Steve Ditko, the Question was originally intended to be a vehicle for Ditko’s Objectivist ideals, which were inspired by the controversial writings of Ayn Rand. When DC incorporated the Question into the DCU in the 1980s, writer Denny O’Neil and artist Denys Cowan reinvented the character from the ground up. In his first DC issue, the Question is beaten, shot, and left for dead. He is discovered by Lady Shiva, who takes him to Richard Dragon. Dragon then trains the Question in martial arts — and encourages him to jettison his conservative ideals.

6 Midnighter

Midnighter from DC's Authority Team

The husband of the aforementioned Apollo, Midnighter is another DC character originally acquired from Wildstorm. If Apollo is meant to be a stand-in for Superman, then Midnighter is Wildstorm’s Batman. A key member of the Authority, Midnighter is one of DC’s most brutal heroes. Many characters occasionally slip into obscurity, but Midnighter, along with Apollo, is poised for bigger things. The Authority will reportedly be making the leap to live-action as part of James Gunn’s new DC Universe — and mainstream audiences will likely meet Midnighter for the first time.

5 Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle/Ted Kord in DC comics

Charlton Comics gave DC a number of awesome characters, including Blue Beetle. Unlike other Charlton characters, however, Blue Beetle has ties to comics’ Golden Age. When Charlton created the Action Heroes Line, the company created a new Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, to go with it. Ted was incorporated into the DC Universe during the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, and he would later join the Justice League. There he met his best friend Booster Gold, kicking off one of comics’ greatest “bromances.” The current incarnation of Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, is set to star in his own live-action film as well as a new ongoing series from DC Comics.

4 Green Lantern

Alan Scott Lantern Power Ring DC Comics

One of the pillars of the DC Universe, Green Lantern, also began at All-American Publications. DC acquired All-American’s stable of characters early in the Golden Age. Green Lantern, created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell, would go on to become one of DC’s most popular characters, kicking off a legacy that extends to the present. The Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, is one of the founding members of the Justice Society. His knowledge and expertise have made him one of the elder statesmen of the DC Universe. But he still has a vibrant future at DC, as he stars in a new miniseries starting September 2023.

3 Plastic Man

Plastic Man Pulling His Mouth

Another Quality Comics character purchased by DC, Plastic Man has become a fixture of the publisher. Beyond starring in cartoons, he was also a member of the Justice League during Grant Morrison’s legendary run. Between his unique stretching powers and happy-go-lucky personality, Plastic Man is one of DC’s most fun characters. Plastic Man did not start on the side of the angels, however. A former criminal named Eel O’Brian, Plastic Man was exposed to special chemicals that gave him the ability to stretch and bend his body. Deciding to turn over a new leaf, O’Brian becomes the bendable hero known as Plastic Man.

2 Shazam

Shazam 2 Cover DC Comics

First published by Fawcett Publications, Shazam’s rights were acquired by DC in the early 1970s, and he was then incorporated into the DCU. DC, just a few decades earlier, had been locked in a 10-year court battle with Fawcett over potential copyright infringement. When Fawcett folded, no other publisher wanted to touch the character, out of fear of a lawsuit from DC — so DC decided to do it. The publisher has tried several times to reinvent Shazam for its universe, with varying degrees of success. Jerry Ordway’s The Power of Shazam! remains perhaps the best effort to date, although Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s current Shazam! title shows a lot of promise.

1 The Flash

Jay Garrick DC Comics

DC acquired the rights to the Flash when it purchased National Allied Publications. A founding member of the Justice Society of America, the Flash — a title originally held by Jay Garrick — has gone on to become one of DC’s most respected heroes, especially considering his role in originating the multiverse concept. Jay Garrick and the rest of the Justice Society returned to the mainstream DC Universe during DC’s recent Infinite Frontier era, and Jay has been making regular appearances in The Flash since.

That so many characters who have become integral to the DC Universe did not originate there may shock some fans. Legacy heroes are an important part of DC Comics, and characters like the Flash, Green Lantern, Shazam, and more — all acquired from other publishers — helped make it so.

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