Feels Good to be Bad: The Best DC Comics Antiheroes
We all know the goody-two-shoes (cough, Superman, cough) of DC Comics. The super heroes who refuse to kill are most often the ones who end up in the Justice League as pillars of peace and prosperity. But sometimes, it feels good to be a little bad. People who walk the line between hero and villain often get the most immediate results. Whether those results are good or evil is up for debate.
Still, we can’t help but adore the characters who give their all when fighting back. Below, join us as we break down the histories of some of DC Comics’ best antiheroes.
Real name: Theo Ramses Djoser Teth-Adam
Powers and abilities: Divine empowerment, flight, superhuman agility and strength, electrokinesis, accelerated healing, magic, etc.
Main storyline: Long ago, Teth-Adam was enslaved in Kahndaq. He escaped with his nephew Aman, and during their escape, the two met the wizard Shazam, who gave Aman powers. While Aman wanted to create a peaceful world without bloodshed, Adam wanted revenge. He killed his nephew to seize the wizard’s powers for himself, then defeated all of the dictators and invaders. Finally satisfied, he returned to the Council of Eternity, slaughtering every member except Shazam. For this transgression, Black Adam was sealed away for centuries.
In the 21st century, Adam’s tomb was unsealed by Doctor Thaddeus Sivana. While explaining how much the world had changed, Sivana brought Adam back to New York City. Sickened by the world’s despair, Adam planned to destroy it and remake it into a utopia under his control. He was stopped, and went back to conquer his homeland Kahndaq instead. Now he rules with a firm but protective grip. Thus Adam has always been motivated by peace — he just doesn’t mind doing the dirty work to get there.
Real name: Dr. Harleen Quinzel
Powers and abilities: Intelligence, acrobatics and gymnastics, hand-to-hand combat, toxic immunity, weaponry
Main storyline: Dr. Harleen Quinzel was a brilliant student who graduated and began working in Arkham Asylum as a criminal psychologist. She thought the other doctors had misdiagnosed The Joker, and wanted to get closer to him to help him. When the Clown Prince of Crime opened up to her and killed the man responsible for her dad’s death, Harley Quinn fell hard. She loved The Joker’s commitment to her, as well as the freedom from societal constraints and rigid academia. Thus began her life of insane devotion to a criminal mastermind.
Over the years, Harley had an “on again and off again” relationship with The Joker. Her personality and demeanor changed drastically – from a demure doctor to a woman extremely comfortable with herself and her desires. Sometimes she would aid Batman in defeating her old flame, and sometimes she’d be sucked back in by The Joker’s passion and wreak havoc alongside him. Eventually, she broke free from Mistah J and crafted her own persona, toeing the line between villainous and not-so-villainous (often accompanied by her girlfriend Poison Ivy). So is Harley Quinn a hero or a villain? Depends on her whims and the day of the week.
Real name: Jason Todd
Powers and abilities: Acrobatics, weaponry, hacking, Lazarus Enhancement (magic negation and soul-blade summoning)
Main storyline: Jason Todd first entered the Bat-Family as the young hero Robin — the second child to adopt that moniker. He was determined to live up to the legacy of Dick Grayson, who had become Nightwing. However, Jason fought recklessly and aggressively, not always following the tactics and wishes of Batman. Unfortunately, this distance between Jason and Bruce led the Joker to manipulate Jason into wandering toward a trap. Once he was out from under Batman’s wing, the Joker beat Jason Todd to death with a crowbar.
Sixth months later, Talia al Ghul resurrected Jason using the Lazarus Pit. Revived in body and mind, yet still filled with rage, Jason trained with a group of warrior-monks, then joined the League of Assassins. Eventually, valuing justice over profit, he resurfaced in Gotham City as the Red Hood. Most notably, Jason used guns — a weapon completely banned by Batman. Now Jason has mostly reconciled with the Bat-Family, but he still prefers his lethal methods and won’t give them up despite Batman and Batgirl’s urgings.
Real name: Bella Garten
Powers and abilities: Genetic engineering, intelligence
Main storyline: Bella was raised on a military base, where she developed an interest in botany. Later in life she attended Hudson University, working closely with the scientist Jason Woodrue — a recurring enemy of Swamp Thing as well as the man who abused and caused Pamela Isley to become Poison Ivy. Similarly, Bella was encouraged to experiment in her field and create highly unethical plant/animal hybrids. Alongside her lover Pamela, Bella became an eco-terrorist, but the pair eventually parted when Bella realized Ivy’s misandry was too severe.
Bella, also known as The Gardener, continued her super-criminal activities anywhere but inside Gotham. However, Harley Quinn later contacted Bella and asked her to help track down Ivy after her powers threatened to destroy Gotham City. Therefore The Gardener’s current plans align with our heroes — we’ll see if Bella sticks to that as her story progresses, though.
Real name: Selina Kyle
Powers and abilities: Peak human condition, acrobatics, disguise, espionage, martial arts, boxing, thievery
Main storyline: From a young age, Selina Kyle was forced to fend for herself. She learned how to steal for a living, perfecting the skill until she garnered infamy and attention for her role as Catwoman. One day she kissed Batman to evade capture, igniting within them both an intense interest in each other as well as the games they played. But Batman wanted to “fix” Selina — turn her over to the good side where she wouldn’t kill or commit crimes any longer.
Eventually Selina took it upon herself to reform her behavior after a run-in with Black Mask left Selina’s sister Maggie in complete agony. Batman recruited her to help stop other criminals, and the two succumbed to their romantic attraction for each other during this time. Not long after, Batman proposed to Selina. While the two never officially got married, Selina is still committed to Bruce. She also has (mostly) left behind her larcenous and lascivious past, though we all know she’s never really going to hang up that catsuit.
Powers and abilities: Czarnian physiology, super-leaping, enhanced durability and senses, regenerative healing factor, immortality
Main storyline: Famous for his violent temper and bloodlust, Lobo was a ruthless child who hurt and bullied his family. When he reached maturity he slaughtered his entire race except for his lover Princess Sheba. Afterwards, as the toughest and last of his kind, Lobo took to intergalactic mercenary work — hunting anyone as long as he got paid. He didn’t care what or who he destroyed in the process. As a result, sometimes he’d catch bad guys and other times he’d get in the way of real justice.
But Lobo also teamed up with the World’s Greatest Heroes to stop Earth’s annihilation. In addition, he’s known for protecting the Space Dolphins, the only beings in the universe that he feels true love for. Plus, Lobo mentored and cared for his daughter Crush. So while Lobo is extremely indiscriminate in his aggressive actions, he’s not entirely heartless or brainless like many people see him.
Real name: Helena Bertinelli
Powers and abilities: Archery, firearms, martial arts, investigation, stealth
Main storyline: Helena Bertinelli was born the daughter of a powerful Mafia boss. When Helen was only 8 years old, a rival burst into her home and killed her entire family, while only Helena was spared. Relocated to Sicily, Helena trained her body and mind, fashioning herself into a weapon to exact vengeance. However, upon moving back to Gotham, she realized the Mafia was a corrupt and poisonous system. She vowed to instead be like Batman, who inspired fear in the people Helena hated.
Thus Helena became the vigilante Huntress. However, her methods of beating up criminals were initially too violent. She circumvented the justice system a little too much for Batman’s tastes. Batman has still not entirely been able to curb Huntress’ more intense nature, but her tenure on the Birds of Prey has taught her how to channel her rage into something that truly helps Gotham City.
Powers and abilities: Magic, astral projection, enhanced senses, energy projection, exorcism, teleportation, pyrokinesis, illusion casting
Main storyline: John Constantine was born and raised in Liverpool, England. A scrappy young fellow, he was extremely antisocial and arrogant. His arrogance and ambition cost him his family’s lives when he performed a spell to increase his magical power, uncaring of the sacrifice it required. As a teenager John was part of a mystical-punk band that dabbled in both the occult and the music scene. Over the years, everyone John ever cared for either met a horrible end or wasn’t more valuable to John than magic itself, and thus he became an outright jerk, pushing everyone away for their own safety.
Constantine went to Hell and back, lost and saved many friends and lovers along the way, and even aided the Justice League. He’s an extremely powerful occult detective — but bad luck follows him everywhere he goes, and he’s made enemies with more than his share of humans, demons, and faeries alike.