Superhero symbols are something that is kind of brushed off these days. Viewed largely as a form of branding or marketing by publishers, most fans have stopped seeing the appeal of the traditional superhero emblems, and newer heroes tend to eschew them entirely. But despite this, older heroes who have them still use them and they rarely disappear when a character is redesigned. Instead, they may be reworked or changed to better fit the mood of the character’s current run. This still doesn’t change the impact of a character’s symbols, though, as some of these have taken on a stronger meaning due to how the heroes, in particular, are portrayed.
Throughout their history, be it by actions they take or ideas they represent, the symbols of a superhero grows to take on new meaning. The hope inspired by Superman’s emblematic S-shield, the fear inspired by Batman’s iconic bat symbol, or any number of other emblems can take on a more powerful nature based on what they stand for. We’ve come to recognize what these symbols mean over time, to the point where they’ve become a standard storytelling tool. Which of these superhero symbols could be the most effective?
15 CAPTAIN MARVEL/SHAZAM
There’s an alternate Earth where Captain Marvel’s thunderbolt logo is as iconic as Superman’s S. The product of Fawcett Comics, The Big Red Cheese fell out of publication in the wake of a copyright lawsuit with DC Comics over his similarities to Superman. DC and Fawcett ultimately settled out of court, with Fawcett agreeing to never publish the character again and shuttering.
Revived in the thick of the Silver Age by DC Comics, Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam as of The New 52, as Marvel now owns the trademark on the Captain Marvel name) has been a force to be reckoned with, and his thunderbolt logo is one easily recognized. But it’s the lack of originality that puts him so low on this list. At the end of the day, he’s just about equal with Superman in terms of power, and the thunderbolt is ultimately an inverted version of Jay Garrick’s Flash symbol.
When you think sidekicks, you think Robin. He wasn’t the first, but there’s a reason Detective Comics touted him as the sensational character find of 1940. Upon his debut, he wore a simple costume with a simple logo on it, an R in a circle. Over numerous iterations of the character and several universe changing reboots, Robin’s logo has remained the same throughout it all.
There is plenty of debate as to whether or not Nightwing or Robin deserves a place on this list, and there are strong arguments as to both. But at the end of the day, Nightwing’s logo hasn’t really formed into anything concrete over the years, still shaping from artist to artist and design to design. But Robin’s R has remained consistent throughout the DC Universe, even after Dick Grayson defined the role, and that merits it the spot on this list.
13 THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
The standardized logo of the Justice League of America was introduced relatively early on and became prominent as the team ascended to popularity in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The logo adorns pretty much everything associated with the League in their various incarnations, notably used on items such as communicators and the League’s trademark roundtables.
But in 1997, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter really drove home the importance of the logo. After years of being populated by B-listers and failing titles, JLA featured the Big 7 of the League again and bolstered the property yet again. The League became more popular than ever, and that effort has persisted to this day. The only thing keeping this from ranking higher on the list is that since The New 52, the team has opted for the less inclusive Justice League moniker to reflect the group’s worldwide efforts.
Though associated with the Teen Titans for decades, Cyborg finally moved up to the big leagues with The New 52, replacing Martian Manhunter as a founding member in the relaunched Justice League. With the upgrade to the League, Cyborg would later get a pretty substantial redesign, and with it, he got a brand new logo.
Cyborg’s logo at first sight just looks like a pretty basic gear design, highlighting his technological nature. But the hidden C in the design makes this a pretty great logo and one that’s easily recognizable. Cyborg went so long without a recognizable logo that it makes this one a little odd to see these days, which keeps it out of the higher numbers of this list, but over time it’ll only become a more power DC Comics emblem.
11 GREEN ARROW
Green Arrow managed to survive the transition into the Silver Age relatively unscathed, but when he lost his fortune it paved the way for the hero to become the character he is today. Changing up his attire multiple times, Green Arrow eventually came to adopt a simple logo of his initials shaped into an arrowhead, a logo which has persisted for years now.
Green Arrow’s symbol has been persistent in most appearances of the character over the years, typically forming his belt buckle on his costume. Though the character has eschewed the typical branding of comic book characters, the arrow motif is appropriate and fits in. For those who see the symbol, it’s a sign of DC’s original, literal social justice warrior coming in to save the day for the meek and oppressed.
10 LEX LUTHOR
Luthor’s an odd one to put on this list, and not least of all because of his nature. Though recently heroic following the death of the New 52’s Superman, Luthor has historically been a villain. Debuting as a typical, stock mad scientist in his first appearance, Luthor became an evil business tycoon starting with John Byrne’s The Man of Steel reboot in the ‘80s.
Lex has never been one to wear a branding himself, but the Lexcorp logo has become a recognizable force throughout the DC Universe. To the people of the world, it’s the symbol of a better future as LexCorp provides so much to so many. To the superheroes of the world, though, Luthor’s various symbols, most commonly some form of stylized L, are a sign of someone evil. Luthor makes this list because he’s a hero now, but he ranks low because the Luthor branding isn’t always consistent.
9 THE COMEDIAN
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Watchmen’s The Comedian was technically a hero at one point. Dying in the book’s opening panels, The Comedian was a burning garbage fire of a person, and the atrocities he committed are well detailed. But he was well known among the community of heroes, and his iconic pin badge became associated with his unique brand of justice.
The smiley face pin badge worn by Comedian wasn’t just his emblem, but for the series as a whole. The cover art to Watchmen #1, the close up of the smiley face with a blood stain pinned to Comedian’s chest, has become representative of the Watchmen franchise as a whole. So much so that when DC moved to reintroduce the characters in DC Rebirth, the Comedian’s pin was used to punctuate the twist.
8 THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
It’s a testament to the Legion of Super-Heroes logo that it’s stayed the same as long as it has. Typically associated with the Legion Flight Rings, the symbol of the LoSH is instantly recognizable. A simple, giant L forged in a circle, the accented starburst highlights the Legion’s spacefaring nature without being too distracting.
The symbol took a long while to be associated with the team. When they first appeared in Adventure Comics, they wore badges that simply read Super Hero Club, and the first iterations of the now classic Legion Flight Ring was a simple band with a pair of wings on it. The Legion’s recent runs have been hit or miss, but rumors persist of a return soon and their iconic symbol is almost certain to follow.
7 TEEN TITANS
Perhaps it’s fitting that the Teen Titans symbol so greatly resembles that of it’s most famous member, Robin. Across most iterations of the team, there’s a Boy Wonder present in some capacity, with very few and very specific examples. Though the team’s logo wasn’t terribly common in marketing for the longest while, it was always a present object throughout the team’s history.
See, the JLA have a pretty cool logo, and the Teen Titans logo is ultimately just a Robin logo with a giant T instead of an R, but one thing makes it way cooler: Titans Tower. Living inside your logo is just shy of Batman levels of obsessive, but they make it work by putting Titans Tower blatantly in public, turning their own logo into a symbol of justice and hope.
As the ruler of the seven seas, any symbol Aquaman bears is going to have quite a bit of weight behind it. Since his debut, Aquaman’s symbol has been his belt buckle, a stylized A with something of an arrowhead vibe to it. Though he hasn’t had many costume changes over the years, this simple logo has been present in every iteration of the character’s design to date.
Be it his original green pants and orange scale mail top or his infamous late ‘90s hook hand and breastplate attire, Aquaman’s simple A logo has persisted to let anyone he encounters know who he is. In more recent incarnations the symbol has taken on meaning as a royal emblem of Atlantis, with Garth bestowing one upon Kaldur’ahm, the latest Aqualad.
5 THE FLASH
Adapted from the symbol of his idol Jay Garrick, The Flash’s iconic thunderbolt has persisted for over 60 years now. Upon discovering his powers, Barry modeled himself after the star of his favorite comic book, adopting his moniker and updating his costume for the Silver Age. Barry’s red bodysuit is iconic and was ahead of its time in 1954, and his chest emblem was easily recognizable.
A simple thunderbolt inside a circle, Barry took the icon very seriously. At one point it was even stated that the addition of the circle was to represent the cyclical nature of his life since the thunderbolt struck him to give him his powers. The symbol has come to represent hope itself in the DC Universe and is carried on well into the future by others who carry on his legacy.
4 GREEN LANTERN
Another emblem that gained more prominence in the Silver Age, the symbol of the Green Lantern Corps has been a symbol of intergalactic justice throughout the universe. Typically a simple lantern design consisting of a circle and two bars, it has occasionally changed design over the years, notably taking on a more stylized design when worn by Kyle Rayner as the last remaining Green Lantern.
Whether it’s a universe ending event or an everyday criminal, the Green Lantern Corps has evolved from a symbol of one hero’s crusade to a peacekeeping force that patrols the entire galaxy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rough and tough boot camp instructor, a brain-damaged jock or even a fluffy alien dog, when Green Lantern’s light shines down, everyone knows what’s about to go down.
3 WONDER WOMAN
With a costume inspired by the flag found on a plane’s wreckage, Diana’s Wonder Woman costume has gone through a number of tweaks over the years. With very few exceptions, though, Diana typically has the same emblem attached to it, a set of linked W’s that form the breastplate of her costume.
The symbols have come to represent Wonder Woman’s work in the world of man as an ambassador of peace and a literal goddess of truth. While many others have adopted their personal emblems to represent the strong power they bring to the table, Diana’s has become a symbol of love and peace, though its implementation as part of her armored costume serves as a reminder that she’ll still throw down if she has to.
Batman’s logo could easily be at the top of this list, and there’s probably any number of arguments why it should be. And honestly, they’re not wrong. Batman’s symbol has become one that inspires a rather more heroic sense of fear in the modern age, a symbol co-opted by the Bat-family to serve the same purpose.
The batsuit’s prominent symbol is more than just a logo. Much like Barry’s, it’s carried on into the future, but not always by those directly carrying on Bruce’s legacy. It’s carried on by the likes of those who see what it represents as something strong and pure, such as The Sons of the Bat in The Dark Knight Returns, who use it to embolden their revolution. The symbol always carries with it that implication of fear, but over time it comes to mean a symbol of hope for the unjust.
At first glance, the Superman symbol seems like it’s powerful for the same reasons as Batman’s. Much like Batman’s, the S shield has taken on a life of its own, representing the relentless force for good that Superman brings with him. The symbol even carries that buoyant sort of gravitas when it was a literal shield in the Superman/Captain America joint venture Amalgam Comics.
But how could it rank higher than Batman’s? Batman works hard to associate his Bat logo with fear so he can get the upper hand, but Superman’s is more a sign of respect for his Kryptonian heritage. The S shield represents hope and courage, but it does so because that’s what Clark embodies, not what he’s tried to associate with it. It’s that true representation of what makes Superman who he is that lends so much power to his symbol.
Which is your favorite DC superhero symbol? Let us know in the comments!