5 Animated DC Characters That Are Way Better Than They Ever Were in the Comics

Caution: I've had this post idea for a while, and now that DC has rebooted its entirely line, the animated versions of practically EVERY DC character stand a good chance of being better than their comic book counterparts. That's why I'm saying "ever", taking into account all possible continuities.

While Marvel Comics has been dominating the big screen, DC has long held the gold standard on the small one, in particular through animated shows. Bruce Timm's work on Batman, and its ensuing legacy, has set the stage for clean, simple distillations of DC's superhero properties, wonderful reinventions that have somehow eluded comic book writers and artists. Here then are five of my personal favorites, in order of appearance. I've skipped over anyone who appeared in cartoons first, but feel free to add them (or anyone else you think deserving) in the Comments section.

Mr. Freeze
Show: Batman: The Animated SeriesThough I'd seen Freeze in an issue of Who's Who, it was really Paul Dini who put him on the map in the award-winning episode, "Heart of Ice". Suddenly, he's being played by Arnold in a major motion sickness picture, and showing up in all the video games. Still, even after his accession to the A-list, he was never as soulful, sympathetic or (I'm gonna say it) cool as he was in the Batman animated series.

Show: Superman: The Animated Series
I can't believe it took that long to make Brainiac a real part of the Superman legend, and had it happened earlier, we might actually have seen him in a Superman film pinch-hitting for Luthor. A Kryptonian computer intelligence, this Brainiac has a vested interest in Superman (in a sense, he's a little like the Eradicator). He plays a role in dismissing Jor-El's findings while secretly working to escape from the doomed planet, makes his way to Earth, absorbing the knowledge of every world he encounters, and tries to take over the world. Not the alien invader, nor the robotic skeleton, nor the circus psychic, nor the various combinations of these, but a true legacy character that is indivisible from his continuity's Superman.

Slade (Deathstroke)
Show: Teen Titans
Doing away with the terrible codename was the first good decision the makers of Teen Titans made for the character, but it only went up from there. From lame mercenary assassin to criminal mastermind, Slade is at once the mystery man behind most of the bad things that happen, a hand-to-hand fighter on par with Robin, a Dr. Doom-type who sometimes turned out to be a robot double, and eventually, a man who sold his soul to the devil for even more power. I HATE Deathstroke and I LOVE Slade. That says something about the power of the Titans cartoon show.

The Question
Show: Justice League Unlimited
Granted, the various versions of the Question in the comics are already pretty good - Ditko's original mystery man, O'Neil and Cowan's conflicted zen Buddhist, you might even count Rorschach in there - however, the Question as a conspiracy nut is a character I wish they'd introduced in the comics. Not only are his theories a real hoot, but his ability to see connections where he shouldn't is an interesting and seldom seen wrinkle for superhero books. And then there's the weird romantic relationship with the Huntress. He would be awesome even without Jeffrey Combs' voice.

Green Arrow
Show: Batman: The Brave and the Bold
I know fan wisdom would have me name Brave and the Bold's Aquaman in this slot, but I dare say, as fun as the series' Aquaman is, he's not necessarily "way better than he ever was in the comics" (I've been a big fan of several incarnations, in fact). For my money, I've got to give it to Green Arrow, a character that hasn't had a good story arc in decades. Gone are the hypocritical politics, the bad relationships and the (ugh) killer arrows. They've regressed Oliver Queen to his Kirby days (before the beard) when he was basically a Batman rip-off, and used that to fuel a healthy competition between the two characters. He's the cocksure one in green.

Who do YOU prefer on the small, animated screen?


Anonymous said...

Starfire. In the comics she has been fantasy material since day one; on "Teen Titans" she was optimism and openness. Even her first English-learning kiss with Robin was framed as an act of pleasure in comics, but in the cartoon it was simply her needing to learn the language and warn the Titans to stay out of danger.

Jor-El. in S:TAS, we finally had a Jor-El who had a solid immediately workable plan (put everybody in the phantom zone / have one guy fly to earth / he frees everyone), he matched wits with Brainiac, he had a shoot-out with the police, AND the rocket didn't crash for once when it reached earth. Jor-El has normally been a walking plot point, but this was the first Jor-El where you really felt that he loved his world and he was deeply in love with his wife.

LiamKav said...

I know you said you haven't done cartoon-first, but I really have to mention Harley. She works in the cartoons in a way she doesn't in the comics, and I'd put a lot of that down to the animted Joker. the BTAS and Justice League Joker is an almost perfect mix of clown and killer, something the comics have struggled to get right over the years. You laugh at him, and then are scared by him. The fact that he couldn't brutally murder people left, right and center meant that the writers had to work harder to make him scary, and they succeeded beautifully.

Martin Gray said...

The only one I'd disagree with there would be Brianiac, as I'm not big on him being super-Krypton-connected. I prefer him as a malevolent presence from Out There.

Siskoid said...

Starfire is sweet in the cartoon in a way she cannot be in the books, true.

Jor-El as action hero. I would have watched a series just with that guy in the lead.

Had I gone that route, Harley would definitely have been in the lot.

Austin Gorton said...

I've always been partial to BtAS's Poison Ivy, who always seemed to have a more distinctive voice/purpose than the comic's.

As LiamKav said, the animated Joker is all kinds of brilliant.

And not so much a character, but the idea of a Batman/Wonder Woman relationship was a pretty brilliant idea hatched from Justice League and ported into the comics.

Bill said...

Great list. I totally agree on Green Arrow and would even go so far as to add JLU Green Arrow. He was so entertaining as the 'common man/hero', taking the place of Batman as the non-powered guy we could relate to.

I also liked Clayface a lot on B:TAS though I'm not as familiar with the comics version.

Siskoid said...

I agree with everything you two have nominated. I especially loved the Green Arrow/7 Soldiers of Victory episode, and Wonder Woman very nearly made it on the list.

Bubbashelby said...

I can't disagree with any of these, great list! I would say 'Harley Quinn' should be on it but you are only counting characters who existed before their animated debut.

But I would definitely add B'Wana Beast from Brave and the Bold. He was essentially a Z list throwaway in the comics (I doubt many comic fans have ever even read a comic appearance by him) that suddenly mattered so much in the cartoon that his surprising death brought tears to many viewers' eyes.

Siskoid said...


Craig Oxbrow said...

Despite Liam Neeson to the contrary, I'd be tempted to include Ra's Al Ghul presented in BTAS as a dashing Bond-level villain with a clear (although morally unacceptable) argument for his ideas. Being David Warner didn't hurt either.

SallyP said...

I completely agree with you about Green Arrow on Brave & the Bold. In fact,I would have to say that I loved EVERYONE on Brave & the Bold!

American Hawkman said...

Hawkgirl and John Stewart are on my list.

Lazarus Lupin said...

All of the teen titans were better than their comic counterparts. Raven's snarky coolness. Starfire's awesome naivity. Cyborg's bombast. Robin's ultra coolness. It all melded just so well. I love the episode where Robin was gone and soon everyone was wearing a robin costume. In the comicverse no one would be caught dead in a robin costume. That's how cool they made Robin!

Lazarus Lupin

Bill D. said...

Bouncing Boy and Shrinking Violet on the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon. BB in the comics was dumb when he was young, and then the wise-married guy when he was older (being one of the first married Legionnaires). In the cartoon, though, they made him the easy-going big guy, the likeable lug who was, in many ways, the heart of the team. It was easy to see why they made him leader by the end of season 1. He earned it.

As for Vi, pre-Crisis she was just kinda... there, and post-Zero Hour she was pathologically shy, which was interesting but still a long way from making her a favorite for me. This version, though, was fun, and funny, and combined with her sorta-gothy look, she reminded me of so many theatre girls I had crushes on in high school. Plus, she snorted when she laughed, and they were totally aiming at shipping her with the cartoon's Brainiac 5, which would have been interesting.

Bill D. said...

Oh, and I agree 100% on the JLU versions of Green Arrow and the Question. JLU made me fans of both characters where I hadn't been before.

Siskoid said...

Haven't watched the Legion cartoon yet, but it sounds real interesting.

Mitchell Craig said...

My Picks for Animated DC Characters That Are Better Than They Were in the Comics:
Two-Face: In B:TAS, Harvey Dent was made into an ultimately tragic hero driven to crime. It's also a stroke of genius that he's also Bruce's best friend.
Batgirl:Barbara Gordon is given a much better reason for dressing in a Batman-style outfit when she's forced to strike out on her own to save her father's reputation.
Wonder Woman: The Justice League incarnation is the most consistently satisfying version of Princess Diana.
Mr. Myxyzptlk: Superman's fifth-dimensional nemesis gets a logical motivation for pestering the Last Son of Krypton: he's the ultimate challenge for a natural trickster like him.

Randal said...

Brave and the Bold's Aquaman rocked in so many ways.

Matthew Turnage said...

I definitely agree on Mr. Freeze. While I liked the animated version of Brainiac a lot, I still like the early post-crisis version best. I haven't seen the Teen Titans cartoon, but it's hard to believe Deathstroke could be cooler than the early Wolfman/Perez version. I loved him in the Judas Contract.

Siskoid said...

It's likely that was the inspiration for Slade, much more than the anti-hero he later became.

delenore said...

There are so many great iterations of characters throughout the animated series(es), but I have to give love for some of the lower tier villains and heroes featured on Brave and the Bold. The show itself was a wonder just to see how and which characters would be re-imagined.
Bat-Mite as a raving fan boy? Yes, please!
Katana as Gogo from Kill Bill? So sweet. Hell, just recasting the Outsiders as teenagers was a good call.
The Red hood as alternate universe joker being batman?!?! Perfection.


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