A bevy of DC characters are household names. These heroes and villains are known and recognizable even to folks that don’t know the difference between DC and Marvel. Thus, such characters transcend comic books, they even transcend geekdom. Heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash do not just flourish in media either. They are more than a television show, film, or ongoing comic series. These heroes and the iconography most notably associated with them (i.e., Superman’s sigil) grace backpacks, T-shirts, jewelry, and more worldwide. The exact same can be said of villains like Joker, Reverse-Flash, Lex Luthor, and several others. Of course, not every character has garnered similar fame. Still, there are many that seemed poised to take on the role of DC’s next big thing.
Characters of this nature are often placed in positions that should see them rise above their stature. Starring in shows, films, solo comic series, and other media nets them the opportunity to do so. Yet, for some reason, the likes of Booster Gold and Hawkgirl have yet to achieve esteem on par with that of Green Lantern or Batgirl. Similarly, villains such as Mongul and Crime Syndicate are leagues behind the notoriety of Darkseid or Legion of Doom. That said, all of these characters still have the potential to evolve into something far greater than their present status. However, there is one DC character who appears as though they may never quite attain the popularity they deserve. Here are 19 characters that were supposed to be the next big thing, and one that will never make it there.
20 TIM DRAKE
Of the four main Robins, which include Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne, Tim gets the least attention. It’s an odd conclusion to draw, when considering that from a purely sidekick standpoint, Tim is arguably the best of them. He’s the least troublesome and is the only one who actively seeks out the mantle.
Attempts to see him flourish beyond a sidekick role have him accept the Red Robin persona following Dick’s adoption of the Batman role. Tim’s becoming Red Robin constitutes an inspiring move that seems to position him as the new Batman’s equal. Too bad little is done to elevate him further. Red Robin is less well known than the man who stakes claim to the title.
Lex Luthor acts as the perfect analogue to Superman. The same can be said of Joker and Batman. Does Wonder Woman have a villain with whom she is synonymous? As far as the masses are concerned, the answer is a resounding no. However, of all the Amazonian’s foes, Cheetah is the better known of the bunch. This leaves Circe to play second fiddle, despite being incredibly powerful.
In fact, Circe’s power can eclipse even Wonder Woman’s reach as the sorceress sometimes poses a threat worthy of League interference. Unfortunately, her notoriety doesn’t translate to the real world. Circe’s cross-media appearances are few and her recent ventures in the comics do not have many begging for more.
18 BLUE BEETLE
Blue Beetle is one of DC’s better known legacy characters. Dan Garrett, Ted Kord, and Jaime Reyes have all donned the mantle. However, it’s the latter two that audiences may find most recognizable. Jaime Reyes made his debut in 2006, and as a young latino boy from El Paso, Jaime adds a new flavor to DC’s front-facing lineup. He joined the Teen Titans, became the New 52’s main Blue Beetle, and even starred in an episode of Smallville.
Yet, for some reason Blue Beetle, regardless of who possesses the scarab, has not gained the traction he deserves. It’s possible that Jaime Reyes’ star is on the rise, but the hero overall has sat on the sidelines for far too long.
That Zatanna isn’t a more prominent figure in the DC Universe continues to surprise. She’s a powerful magician with ties to Batman, the Justice League, Doctor Fate, many magic-users, and the list goes on. In truth, John Constantine arguably constitutes the only DC magician to have transcended geek culture. However, Zatanna has long seemed poise to hit a similar trajectory. It’s a wonder this has yet to occur.
Apart from a few appearances in Smallville and across animated projects, Zatanna rarely receives the opportunity to shine in front of mainstream audiences. Thankfully, on the comics side of things, the character still thrives. She’s featured in myriad series where DC creatively explores its supernatural elements. One day, Zatanna will achieve the adoration and fame she’s owed.
16 BLACK MASK
Roman Sionis is a gangster with an abundance of power in Gotham’s underworld and a penchant for murder. Honestly, he doesn’t sound as though he warrants special attention. What differentiates him from villains of a similar characterization? The answer manifests in the black mask and the horrid story behind why he dons it.
In pre and post-Crisis continuity, Sionis inherits the family business after he offs his parents. Upon losing the company, fits of rage send him storming to their resting place where he carves bits from his father’s casket to create the famed black mask. His business acumen, tactical prowess, and combat know-how makes him one of Gotham’s deadliest criminals. It’s a shame he has had so few chances to prove his worth in mainstream media.
15 JONAH HEX
Make no mistake, DC and Warner Bros. want to make Jonah Hex the next big thing. Unfortunately, their efforts have yet to pay off as intended. Of course, the most notable example is found in the bounty hunter’s titular solo film in 2010. Even with Josh Brolin as the lead character and Megan Fox in a supporting role, the film didn’t manage to make waves critically or commercially.
A few guest appearances on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has Jonah Hex’s live-action reputation on the mend. However, it seems the character will not take hold of the limelight in a significant way anytime soon. Here’s to hoping he won’t maintain his status as a B-list hero indefinitely.
DC wants Hawkgirl to be a name, so, too, does Warner Bros. Evidence of this appears in the way the Thanagarian features in projects beyond the comics. If her involvement in a television show, live-action or animated, makes sense, you can bet Hawkgirl will appear. Furthermore, you can bet her role inevitably evolves into a significant one.
Fascination with Hawkman and Hawkgirl never ceases, but she is often positioned as the prominent of the two. Their complex history in the comics probably makes them difficult to market. However, it would seem that reboots could fix such conundrums. Perhaps that’s the key to making Hawkgirl DC’s next big star -- the Hawks require a story that’s universally understandable.
It’s outright shocking that Lobo is not yet known the world over. To an extent, Lobo acted as DC’s Deadpool before the Merc with a Mouth ever debuted in a Marvel comic. But somehow the boat missed the intergalactic bounty hunter. His vulgarity, penchant for violence, tragic backstory that’s his own doing, and biker-styled sense of fashion makes him easily appealing.
Apart from the New 52 iteration, Lobo’s never depicted in a manner that fans aren’t drawn to. This is true of his appearances in comics and cross-media. So why isn’t the Main Man a bigger deal? It’s hard to say, honestly. Perhaps the live-action film that’s purportedly been in early development for years will eventually change things.
12 BLACK CANARY
It’s arguably unfair to place Black Canary on such a list -- her star is on the rise, after all. This was true even before the Arrowverse shows brought her into the spotlight. For years, she’s been one of DC’s most valued characters. Her role alongside Green Arrow and her being one of the Birds of Prey ensures she never strays far from the publisher’s most important stories. Recently, Black Canary moved away from being in the shadow of others.
As a skilled martial artist, she ranks among DC’s top-tier fighters. With a Birds of Prey live-action film on the way that she’ll purportedly star in, an audience spanning the world over will finally see what they’ve been missing out on.
While Victor Stone is considered one of the Justice League live-action film’s highlights, few are clamoring for a Cyborg solo feature. As such, Warner Bros. seemingly sees the writing on the wall and hasn’t made any announcements regarding the standalone that was once set to star Ray Fisher’s Cyborg.
DC fans, those both casual and fervent in their love of the brand, consider Cyborg a beloved member of the canon. His story inspires, his positive and outgoing attitude is infectious. It’s unfortunate that those who aren’t dialed in to popular culture have yet to see this behavior from him. To DC’s credit, at least the comics are depicting Cyborg in important roles, considering the New 52’s positioning him as a founding member of the League.
Hush can’t be an easy character to write, let alone turn into a cultural figure. Thomas Eliot, alias Hush, is a physician obsessed with orchestrating Bruce Wayne’s downfall. In an attempt to do just that, he surgically removes the faces of his victims to stitch together a visage that will make him appear to be Bruce in the flesh. Joker’s simple to sell, the same is true for Riddler, Poison Ivy, even Hugo Strange. Hush represents a different case.
This villain’s basic premise isn’t conducive to narratives of varying kinds. Therefore, the threat he poses will always be personal to Batman. Unless Hush receives characterization that depicts him as more than a criminal with limited purpose, he’s bound to remain a niche Batman rogue.
9 BOOSTER GOLD
Booster Gold is the perfect brand of superhero and even he is aware of it. His attitude, bravado, futuristic technology, and robot sidekick… what’s not to adore? Try as DC might to make the time traveller their next sci-fi golden boy, nothing has stuck. Debuting in 1986, after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Booster Gold brought a new flavor to the DC canon. Booster’s exhausting arrogance and narcissism, while occasionally detrimental, is often played for jokes.
Why he’s yet to become a household name is hard to decipher. All of the ingredients are there. Perhaps there hasn’t been enough of him, though. Other than guest appearances in animated series and Smallville, mainstream audiences have yet to truly see Booster for all he has to offer.
8 DOCTOR FATE
Many characters have worn the Helmet of Fate. Within the DC Universe, the title of Doctor Fate is highly respected. Only the most powerful of magic-users are trusted with the responsibilities that accompany the mantle, which primarily includes maintaining order throughout the universe. The character’s assortment of abilities and the way in which creators situate Fate in larger narratives secures him/her a spot among fan favorites.
However, this love apparently fails to exceed a certain limit. Typically, Doctor Fate acts as a supporting character in comics and cross-media projects. Rarely does Fate earn the honor of being the focal point. This is true for most of DC’s magical heroes. If Constantine was able to buck the trend, perhaps Doctor Fate will soon receive similar opportunities.
Starfire is undoubtedly beloved. However, that love primarily comes from a niche part of the DC fandom that follows the animated projects and/or adores the Teen Titans. Slowly, but surely, the Tamaranean hero has come into her own. This allows her to reach beyond comics and animated adventures. For example, Starfire recently appeared in Injustice 2 as one of the game’s guest characters.
The forthcoming Titan series from the DC Universe streaming service may present her another opportunity to take hold of the limelight. Like other characters on this list, her star is indeed rising and, arguably, has been since Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans launched in the early '00s.
6 THE QUESTION
Fans want more of The Question. This is a character that for far too long hasn’t received the tender loving care they are owed. Vic Sage’s role as The Question may be better known, but Renee Montoya’s run in the mask also garners praise. During the New 52 continuity, a nameless figure takes on the mantle, before Vic Sage adopts the title again. Interestingly, The Question has yet to appear in DC Rebirth, but will debut in Action Comics #1005.
The vigilante features in a number of DC’s cross-media projects. However, each appearance positions Question as a supporting character. For years, fans have wondered if a version would appear in the Arrowverse. Apparently, he or she will be put to use elsewhere.
Mongul surprisingly isn’t a bigger name. Any character who can give Superman a run for his money in a pound-for-pound match seems worthy of notoriety. Sure, he does not pose the threat of Doomsday or Darkseid. However, he is a formidable foe nonetheless, one that should never be underestimated.
As the ruler of the gladiatorial planet Warworld, this villain often finds himself in Superman’s path. Enhanced abilities and combat prowess allows him to match Superman in many respects. How has Mongul not become a shining star in DC’s pantheon of characters, then? The idea of Warworld alone carries with it endless possibilities. Sadly, even when Mongul does become the center of attention, he never stays there for long.
Being one of the few recognizable Green Lantern villains should mean that Atrocitus sits alongside the likes of Sinestro in terms of stardom. Yet, the leader of the Red Lanterns has not achieved such stature. DC has tried giving him the spotlight, though. Atrocitus plays a prominent role in the short-lived Green Lantern: The Animated Series. Furthermore, the rage-filled alien was one of the first characters announced for Injustice 2.
He gets plenty of love, it’s just slow to bear fruits where popularity is concerned. When Atrocitus will reach a caliber akin to Sinestro remains to be seen. For now, outside of comics at least, the Red Lantern doesn’t seem as though he’ll make a grand appearance anytime soon.
3 WONDER GIRL
Young allies or sidekicks for adult superheroes were once an incredibly popular occurrence. Everyone knows Supergirl and Superboy, Robin nears Batman in terms of pop culture relevance, and most people at lease recognize Red Arrow/Arsenal. On the contrary, Wonder Woman’s younger counterpart, Wonder Girl, isn’t very well known. In fact, mainstream audiences are probably unaware of her existence. Admittedly, this holds true for most of Wonder Woman’s supporting characters. Wonder Girl is special, though.
Recent years have seen the her earn more time in the limelight, minimal though it may be. Unfortunately, her cross-media appearances are only ever for secondary or tertiary roles. Therefore, she’s still not receiving the exposure of her fellow sidekicks.
2 CRIME SYNDICATE
The Crime Syndicate consists of the Justice League’s evil Earth-3 counterparts. This villainous team has existed in various forms since 1964, but it’s only in recent years that they’ve gained notoriety. Their newfound fame is primarily thanks to Geoff Johns’ and David Finch’s Forever Evil series/event.
Crime Syndicate members have appearances that are both similar to their Earth Prime counterparts and drastically different. This also rings true for the backstories that fuels their malicious deeds. Despite this, the Crime Syndicate has yet to reach a caliber that rivals that of the Legion of Doom or even Lex’s Injustice League. Surely, it’s only a matter of time before the non-comic reading world gets to see the Crime Syndicate for the fascinating characters they’ve become.
1 THE ONE THAT NEVER WILL: MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Of everyone on this list, J’onn J’onzz is the most well known. It’s fair to say that, barring Cyborg, he’s the only household name. Folks unfamiliar with comics assuredly know of him. But will he ever achieve a stature akin to DC’s Trinity or the likes of Flash? Unlikely. This appears to be the doing of DC.
There’s no arguing that Martian Manhunter should eclipse Superman. Many of his powers are identical to Superman’s and he harbors mental abilities surpassing most comic characters. At every turn, however, the Martian’s depowered. His abilities don’t affect Kryptonians, he’s averse to fire, and on Supergirl his physiology often keeps him from missions. It appears Martians aren’t meant to outclass Supers in any way, shape, or form.