The Top 5 Underused/Misused DC Characters

I was stumbling around my apartment in a drunken, St. Patrick’s Day haze when I came across my Giant Gray DC Binder. I got myself all gussied up and popped open another beer and sat down for a trip through early 1990s memory lane.

One thing kept occurring over and over, I came across tons of characters I hadn’t seen in a while and really missed. Or characters I still see but don’t have as strong of a bond with now like I used to.

I now present the Top Five Underused/Misused DC Characters:

1) Aqualad

Where the fuck is Aqualad? He made a very brief appearance in Final Crisis but before that I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to when the last time it was I saw him in a comic book that takes place in the DC Universe here and now (Teen Titans: Year One doesn’t count).

Even though he was a founding member of the Teen Titans, Aqualad (I won’t call him Tempest) has always been the forgotten member of the group. No one seems to know anything about him, and no one seems to know what to do with him. He was never really involved in any of the interesting interpersonal stuff that would go on within the Titans. There was the Dick-Donna-Roy love triangles and Wally and Dick are best friends, but what of Garth? He was always just off to the side, not really involved.

In a company that focuses so strongly on legacy, it’s a real surprise that nothing ambitious has been tried with Aqualad. Why not make him the new Aquaman instead of that really, really lame Arthur of Maine character. If I recall correctly, there was a brief flirtation with bringing Aqualad more into Aquaman’s role during Peter David’s excellent run on Aquaman, but since then I can’t recall anything interesting being done with Aqualad.

If you think, as I do, that Aquaman has been given the short shrift lately, he’s got nothing on Aqualad. But I can feel it in my bones — the time is ripe for an Aqualad comeback.


2) Rocket Red

Oh, Dimitri Pushkin, you cold war relic stereotype! Yes, I realize that Rocket Red died during Infinite Crisis, but that’s a minor hurdle to overcome in comics. To be honest, I don’t find myself really yearning for Rocket Red stories so much as I always just liked having the guy around.

He was one of those characters that really just enjoyed being a superhero. Rocket Red was always laughing and having fun, and it became contagious for the reader! In Keith Giffen’s Justice League books he was a nice counterpoint to the (hysterical) cynicism that ran through most of the other characters. The dude loved his life, he loved his wife, and despite being Soviet, he looooved America with our blue jeans and our rock n’ roll music.

Hell, when he joined Justice League Europe, he became best friends with Animal Man and they spent their downtime chatting about how great their marriages were!

Another great thing about Rocket Red is that he breaks up the dominant stranglehold that America has on superheroes in most of our comics. It’s always good to mix up the nationalities and backgrounds of your characters, especially in team settings. It leads to interesting and new dynamics. It was unexpected that the character from the big, bad Soviet Union was in fact the nicest guy in the world. When he first showed up, the Justice League expected the worst and instead got Dimitri with his big missing-a-tooth grin.

I hope that some day Rocket Red can find his way back to the DC Universe.


3) Commissioner James Gordon

I know this is a strange one to have on the list, but here it is. Commissioner James Gordon has been totally underused since “One Year Later.” Previous to that storyline, James Gordon had retired as Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department and had pretty much been out of the picture in the Batbooks for years. And in one of the greatest travesties in recent comic book history, he even missed out on being a part of the best cop comic book ever — Gotham Central.

The biggest problem with Gordon being retired is that he is as important to Batman as Alfred or Robin. He is a part of the dynamic. He is what Bruce Wayne can never truly be. DC finally brought him back to the top job with the “One Year Later” time jump and since then it’s almost as if he hasn’t been back at all. There have been very little meaningful stories involving Gordon and he usually just shows up to give Batman pertinent information on a crime or escaped criminal. Hell, we still don’t even know how it was he un-retired. There is a story there that is just sitting, having been un-mined for the last two and a half years.

Commissioner Gordon has always been one of my favorite characters and it almost pains me more to see him standing around doing nothing rather than not being there at all. I realize, of course, there is a Commissioner Gordon themed book coming out next week. So maybe we are headed in the right direction.


4) The Phantom Stranger

I never see The Phantom Stranger anymore. When I was a kid, he used to always just show up randomly in a story and when he did you knew there was big trouble looming. In that way The Phantom Stranger was kind of like DC’s equivalent of The Watcher over at Marvel. And while The Phantom Stranger would actually sometimes get involved in the action and not just observe, his presence served the same purpose — there’s some cosmic level shit headed your way when you seem him standing before you.

Plus, you used to get awesome stories in books like The Brave and The Bold when The Phantom Stranger would team-up with Batman and those stories would get trippy.

My favorite thing about The Phantom Stranger? His totally awesome seventiesness. Just look at him! 70s-era turtleneck worn under a dark suit. Big gold medallions dangling around his neck. Long white sideburns. He looks like he should have been a villain on Columbo. I love it. His visual look is so completely and totally out of date, and yet it perfectly suits this mysterious character from another time. And that makes his look awesome, and that makes The Phantom Stranger awesome.

I don’t even know the last new comic book I read that featured The Phantom Stranger and that makes me sad.


5) The Flash (Wally West)

Hey, remember Wally West? The badass superhero who is so fast that he is a member of both the Justice League of America and the Titans, all while finding time to patrol his beloved Keystone City?

What happened to that guy?

He used to be one of the major forces in the DC Universe, one of the top tier characters, but these days he seems more like a non-factor. At least it has seemed that way since Infinite Crisis, and that ended two and a half years ago.

Maybe this is some elaborate plan to reintroduce Barry Allen as the premiere Flash in the DC Universe. Maybe if we had a strong, dominant Wally West, there would be more push back from the readership in regards to the return of Barry Allen. As it is, people seem hungry for a good Flash, and they now seem to be looking to Barry to fill the void left by the man who is but a shell of his old self.

I couldn’t even tell you much about Wally these days. I know he has those two creepy kids, but that’s about it. I’ve read every issue of Titans and until recently I read Justice League of America, and I couldn’t tell you anything he may or may not have done in those pages.


  1. Wow, I didn’t even realize there was a Russian superhero like that.  I think I’d heard the name before and just assumed he was a villain (Crimson Dynamo, anyone?)  This reminds me I have to catch up with those JLI trades.  I bought the first HC when it was book of the month but haven’t been keeping up.  Thanks for the reminder.

    Also, there is ALWAYS room for more Jim Gordon.  Hopefully there will be room for him in the revamped Bat-verse.  Having a one shot is a step in the right direction, anyway.

  2. The Phantom Stranger was in Brave and the Bold and the Solomon Grundy Faces of Evil. It probably leads to the new Grundy minseries.

  3. Just an FYI about Phantom Stranger that you might strike your fancy – A three (or maybe four) parter starring him, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow just ended in The Brave & The Bold. Not terribly important, but pretty fun none the less, as all B&B stories should be.

  4. My dreams are filled with a Gordon mini-series, written by Rucka…sigh…

  5. Two Words – Dexter Myles.

  6. Great stuff, but no Vibe?

    And will we see a Marvel version of this in the future?

  7. Mark Waid’s run on FLASH (Wally West) is one of my favorite comic book runs ever.  DC’s flip-flopped so many times on who’s more powerful/faster, it’s rediculous.  Now poor Wally can’t run faster than the speed of sound.

  8. Yeah I’ve seen a lot of Phantom Stranger, so I think DC is using him more now then they ever had.

    I remember seeing Rocket Red in the JLI trades, I liked that character a lot. Maybe we’ll see more of that character again? I mean we’ve focused a lot of the Chinese superheroes in 52 so why not?

  9. It’s funny you mention the Phantom Stranger.  At my LCS last week, they had one of his Showcases on sale for like $5.00.  I was tempted to get it, but know nothing about the character.  Anybody read those old comics tell me if they’re any good?

  10. Blue Devil!

  11. Do we really need two water-based characters in the DCU? Really? How many fish are there that need a good talkin’ to? 

  12. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    About 70% of the planet is covered in water.  The real question is how many land and air based characters the DCU really needs.  

  13. Phantom Stranger was in Solomon Grundy #1 for a page

  14. Isn’t he also a regular in that Willingham book about the magic folk of the DCU?

    What’s that called…

  15. @Paul Well played sir.

    Conor. good article. And I agree with it. I would also humbly suggest Reformed Riddler (Misused, in that he’s a joke), Speedy II (Mia) and the JLA!

  16. Agree on Gordon and Wally. The rest…eh. If someone has a good story I won’t <i>not</i> read it because Aqualad is featured. Overall, I am not dying for Aqualad stories. No. 

  17. I definitely agree on Wally. How they managed to take a well-defined, interesting character and ground him down to nothing in the space of a few years is both amazing and horrifying.

    I think the Rocket Red love may have been more due to his interactions in JLI and JLE (actually, particularly in JLE, which I still think was often the superior of the two titles). He was definitely one of my favorite parts of that era, but I don’t know where he’d fit in now unfortunately. I mean, the JLA has sunk so low that I’m not even sure they’d know what to do if a member of their team had a personality at this point.

    As much as I love Phantom Stranger, I have seen him around lately. Aqualad and Gordon…eh…

    Personally (and I wish I had my Who’s Who binders with me right now), I’d probably go with Northwind (and not the completely birded out one they’ve got flying around now. I kind of like the one who could speak.), Bette Kane (Flamebird. Mostly because every time I see her, I get a nice flash back to when I was a kid fascinated with finding old and cheap 50s/60s back issues of Batman/Detective), Black Orchid, and…damn, I wish I had my Who’s Who with me! Well, we’ll just leave it at that for now.

  18. articles like this remind me of why I could never dig DC.  Agualad, really?

  19. Phatom Stranger is awesome.  I loved when he would show up in Swamp Thing and just a bunch of othe random places.  Glad to hear that he is being used currently.  The last time I saw him in a book I recently read was the Zatanna Seven Soldiers mini.  He showed up from a 2 year trip to the grocery store to pick up bread.  I found it hilarious and could not stop laughing.

  20. Do Vertigo titles count? The Phantom Stranger is an important character in the Madame Xanadu series. I believe he’s been in every issue so far. He’s a sort of teacher to her.

  21. THANK YOU! I’ve pissed as hell that Aqualad has been nowhere to be seen for years.  He’s the Iceman of the DCU.

  22. the phantom stranger has been in the vertigo series Madame Xanadu (one of those "long bus-rides away from the DCU" Vertigo titles like Swamp Thing and Sandman) as well as the recent Solomen Grundy story.

    and if memory serves me correctly, i think Rocket Red was in the "One Year Later" Green Lantern story where Hal was a pow/ hostage (i could be wrong) and also i believ poped up in the earlier Booster Gold stuff.

    also, the Gordon-less Bat books, im sorry to say, are some of the best. Not because he’s absent, it was just a good era of Batman that he wasnt around for about 80% of (the Rucka/ Brubaker era)

  23. Darn you east coasters. I just woke up and already everyone else has mentioned the Phantom Stranger in Wagner’s Madame Xanadu. A very good on going series.


  24. I just need to comment to say how much I love Garth. Of course, this is my standard reaction to pretty much any Titan. *hearts*  (He had a *really* bad arc in Aquaman where he came back with amnesia temporarily and had no powers and then wandered off with a sorceress to look for his wife and kid, but nobody noticed.)

    And I second the love for both Commissioner Gordon and Wally. 

  25. I’m not knowledgeable in DCU canon but hasn’t Aqualad always been kind of a running joke?  Isn’t part of the reason that nothing much has been done with him because there hasn’t been to many defining stories about Aquaman himself?  It’s hard to create a legacy for a character when the predecessors stories have been of sporadic quality and meaning at best. 

    When I saw Rocket Red I thought he was going to be a villian/Crimson Dynamo rip-off.  Based on your description he sounds like a really interesting character.  By all means, put him on a team and run with him.

  26. @BrianBaer: No Marvel version, at least from me, as I do not have a big binder full of Marvel characters to reminisce over.

    @JasonB35: There have been plenty of great, quality Aquaman stories. Peter David’s four year run was fantastic.

  27. I didn’t read any of the othe comments, but here is my short list of mis/unused, mostly unused characters.

    Etrigan, the Demon/Jason Blood. I god-damn-love Etrigan. The run that DC did in the early 90s was sooo good, up until they added LOBO to the action. I think, now that Final Crisis is up, this would be the perfect opportunity to add him to, say, JSA.

    SPEAKING OF JSA, I would like to see more Spectre. Lots more Spectre. It seems that he is only used when there is a CRISIS these days. WTF has Crispin been doing since Infinity Crisis? OH, 3 issues worth of REVELATIONS, which was good, but not enough. It seems silly to me that there isn’t a current arc of Detective Comics, or some kind of JSA or even HELLBLAZERS crossover with the Spectre.

    Lastly, Cyborg needs an image update. After seeing how Teen Titans on cartoon network made him look, I can’t see him in ANYTHING old or new without totally gagging on how cheesy he looks. He looks the same as he did in 1979! How come EVERYONE ELSE gets a new image, or even several new looks over the last 30 years, but Cyborg is stuck in a Neil Adams comic?

  28. Who does the art on the Gordon picture… I seem to remember the same guy did the art for Batman 2001 (the armagedon 2001 annual)

  29. @PaulSharkey: It’s Jim Fern.

  30. @Conor. Cheers, what a great artist.

  31. Hawkman lost his on-going series in 2006, came back into Justice Society just to argue with people, then died again in Final crisis. I want to see some love for Hawkman.

  32. I think the last I heard of Tempest (it’s a good name!) as an active force in a story was during the Obsidian Age.  I saw him in Infinite Crisis but that was only to kind-of-die.  He does need to be used more. 

  33. @Daytona: Wally’s back up to full speed.  Limiting him to the speed of sound wasn’t a change in direction, it was an obstacle for that story arc.

    @burn: Cyborg’s been updated a bunch of times, then reverted a few years ago.  He got an almost totally robotic shell in the early 1990s, then had this weird spiky black-and-red look as "Cyberion" in the mid-1990s, then turned solid gold looking sort of like Captain Atom in the late 1990s, then got reset to hisbasic look aroun 2002 or so.  Examples here.

  34. Some people have already mentioned Madame Xanadu, and I’d like to support that.  That title was one of the biggest surprises of last year, for me, and it has been consistently in my top three books, every month.  Wagner manages to use the Stranger almost monthly and still not reduce either his strangeness or his phantomness.

    I had faith that Busiek was going somewhere interesting with the Sword of Aquaman series until he left Tad Williams screwed it all up.  Now, I wish that we could forget and go back to Hook Hand.  Luckily, a single panel in Final Crisis seems to have done just that.

  35. Why Conor, you named a Giant DC Binder after me . . . I call mine Otto.

    Anyroadup, lovely piece. I agree, we need more Garth; it seems to me that anyone who thinks he or Aquaman is a joke hasn’t actually read many of their stories. I actually like the Tempest name (as I did when it belonged to a member of Paul Kupperberg and Joe Staton’s Doom Patrol, underused every one), new powers and costume, it made him more his own man. I’m glad he’s back to being himself after the weirdness of the recent Tintin-style Tintin Aquaman book. Now if only someone would use him.

    Rocket Red was a fun character, despite the fact that supersuit types generally bore me. Wasn’t there another RR after him?

    I agree, Gordon is terribly ill-served, and it’s a disgrace, the way Wally has been sidelined. As for the Phantom Stranger, he’s too mysterious to be seen regularly, surely? And you’re spot on with the Columbo comment, oddly so as he’s dressed that way since the Fifties.

    My underused characters are Lois and Jimmy, so famous that surnames are unnecessary, occupiers of self-titled comics for three decades, yet reduced to cameos in the Superman books of late. I’m delighted to see James Robinson bigging Jimmy up and handling Lois well, but both deserve at the very least a back-up strip.

  36. @Mart: I almost put Perry White in the top five, he’s been given even less face time than Lois and Jimmy.

  37. If this were a year ago, Jimmy Olson would be my number one, but it looks like he’s going in the right direction.  Wasn’t Aqualad one of the originl three teen titans, back when they fought Mr. twister?  

  38. @Gabe: Yes, he was.

  39. I really hate to say this, but besides Gordon, and Wally, I dont actually know other people, however I do like what I read about The Phantom Stranger. Maybe someone will come along and pull him out of the chest and use him for some good story.

  40. when Didio came to DC there were two great books. The Flash and JLA since his tenure they have both fallen to such lows that it is quite sad.




    as for misused:

    Jason Todd 

  42. Wait, wasnt that Rocket Red dude a villain in Green Lantern? It was the story right before the Star Sapphire arc

    As for Gordon, I agree that Gordon is such an underdeveloped character, when he does show up its just to turn on the Bat-Signal and tell Batman whats going down, but I have to say that I dont feel that Gordon is such a crucial character that he makes or breaks a story. A writer could tell a great story without Gordon at all

  43. @Smeeeeeee If you haven’t, read Huntress Year one.  I disagree about Jason Todd, cause he shoulda just stayed dead.  @leigh, for Flash give it a few months.  Also, think of the fantastic series’ that have come since DiDio came.  GL, 52, Final Crisis (YES), Batman, Detective, Nightwing, Robin, JSA, Action, Superman, the list goes on.  I am pro Didio, if you couldn’t tell.  


    As for my pick, a bit late but Martian Manhunter.  Aside from New Frontier he dosn’t have a great story to his name.  Blasphemy!  

  44. @Gabe: J’onn has been involved in – and has been the focus of – plenty of great stories, usually in JUSTICE LEAGUE books.

  45. TOTALLY agree with the Commissioner Gordon thoughts. I always saw Gordon as Batman’s best friend, one of the few people he fully respects & sees as an equal. So to have him out of the mix for so long, Batman comics just felt … wrong. Even though it’s great that he is back now, I couldn’t agree more that his role needs to be kicked up about 300 notches & I hope some day we get the "coming out of retirement" story.

    PS — I miss Wally West too.

  46. …but what about Jacob Whorsman?

  47. @hakaider: I came across Jacob Whorrsman and oh, did I laugh.

  48. Rainbow Rider or Dr. Spectrum?

    I mean DC is doing an event all about colors soon (Blackest Night). Get that into high gear Didio 🙂

  49. i miss Bruce Wayne

  50. I’d have to go for Animal man, if ever there was a character Morrison needed to revisit in a mini its this one…the Creeper, The Question (not the all new all female version), Jim Gordon (has a young Jim story ever been done? not Batman year 1 young…in his 20’s young), and Metamorpho i always thought deserved a decent modern take on the character.

  51. Creeper’s forever stuck in a never ending loop of origin reboots. I wish someone would just have fun with the character and go to town. Hopefully The Outsiders will be an attempt to do just that.

    Rene Montoya’s Question is so far removed from what I felt made the original Question so cool.

  52. Where’s the Love for Hawkman?

  53. @GreenLantern2814: It’s here.

  54. Superman #666 has the Phantom Stranger. I love that Alan Moore PS story.

  55. Fantastic choices.  Wally is one of (if not) my favorite hero.  I love Rocket Red in the JLI, I love everyone in the JLI.  Commisioner Gordon is a bit silly I think, like you said, he is getting his own mini right now.  Phantom Stranger is just a total badass through and through.

    I’ve never paid any attention to Aqualad though.

  56. @savinglala: Gordon’s not getting a mini, it’s a one-shot next week.

  57. Ah, well I knew it was something.  I guess I thought it was like the Oracle thing.

  58. @Daytona: Because we can’t have anyone faster than Barry!  Why is DC so darn determined to bring us back to the Silver Age?  I love Barry, he had an amazing death in Crisis.  Why cheapen it by bringing him back?

  59. Well, at least some Rocket Reds are showing up in Superman 689:

  60. Didn’t Rocket Red show up towards the end of Rucka’s Checkmate run? Maybe he’ll use ’em in Action Comics….

    Also, a few folks have mentioned it, but the Madame Xanadu title is pretty decent. I’m enjoying it. And it’s not actually far from DC continuity. References have been made in issues to Etrigan, Dr. Fate’s Helmet, and even a Green Lantern lamp. Little easter eggs for the longtime DC fans.


  61. i totally want more rocket red!! after JLI i want more of him cuz hes hilarious

  62. To me all the Kirby’s Fourth World is undersued and/ or misused. As Keith Giffen said, the Darkside onipresence is tiresome. Another character was Martian Manhunter. Sadly, the DC’s decision over both of them was not the best.

    The biggest DC’s misuse has been Dial H for Hero. The 2003 series that ran as H*E*R*O* was depressing and the BEST interpretation of the book’s concept is Ben 10!!!!!

  63. @ Conor:  I’m with you on Wally West Flash for sure.  They got rid of him in Infinite Crisis, made a big deal about bringing him back with those stupid kids, did nothing with the rogues for a year (except for the super-awesome Rogues Revenge Final Crisis tie-in).  I feel so gypped over the money I spent buying issues Flash #231-247 because I wanted a Flash title.  They screwed Bart with his 13-issue teaser series, did the Lightning Saga and brought Wally back with a bang, then serious fizzle.  It was horrible!  So we see Bart back at the end of Legion of 3 Worlds #3, but is it future Bart, or current day Bart?  Will current day dead Bart be a Black Lantern?

    I feel we’ve seen a lot of Phantom Stranger through B&B lately, and Reign In Hell, and Shadowpact.

    Aqualad I agree with, and he should have been used in Sword of Atlantis instead of Tom’s of Maine, or whatever his name was.  🙂

    Not sure I agree about Commissioner Gordon, but would be interested in seeing a Rocket Red Year One.

    Now do your most underused Villains list. 

  64. @PhantomPhrenemy: I wanted to put villains on the list, but I couldn’t find any in the binder that I thought were underused/misused lately.  The villains are being handled pretty well at DC, I think.

  65. Yeah, you’re right, what with Salvation Run and all the greatness going on with Evil Winning or whatever happened in Final Crisis, I’m still not clear.