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The Ten Greatest Legacies of the DC Universe

The Ten Greatest Legacies of the DC Universe

By Alex Jaffe Friday, September 3rd, 2021

DC FanDome 2021, the biggest DC event of the year, is fast approaching, and all of us are brimming with excitement about what’s to come. This grandiose celebration of DC in all of its forms is a commemoration of everything our favorite universe represents. So in anticipation, we’re celebrating some of the things that make this ongoing story truly special.

There’s only one logical place to start: LEGACY. It’s a word that carries meaning for creators passing on their torches to the next generation of storytellers. For fans passing on their passion from generation to generation. But for a DC fan, the true meaning of “legacy” is all about how the mantle of DC’s greatest heroes never belongs to just one figure, but a line of successors who they inspire to continue their quest for truth and justice. The concept of legacy is baked into every DC hero from Aquaman to Zatanna, but here are ten of the most exemplary lines of succession we’ve seen to date.


The Legion of Super-Heroes

A thousand years in the future, humanity faces an entirely different set of challenges than the world we live in today. But like so many of us, the leaders of the day way, way after tomorrow take their inspiration from the same source: the example set by Superman, in the 20th and 21st centuries. With their legends of the “Age of Heroism” to guide them, the Legion of Super-Heroes represent the concept of legacy in its purest and most hopeful form, that the best of what we do and who we are today will continue to inform the direction of society long after we’re gone. That legacy of the world which will bring the Legion together is currently being told in the pages of Justice League by Brian Michael Bendis.


Starman

If there’s one thing we can credit writer James Robinson for, it’s reigniting a generation of interest in the Golden Age of superheroes with his landmark title, JSA: The Golden Age. When Robinson began his own ongoing title at DC, he chose to explore the legacy of one of the original super-team’s most complex figures: Ted Knight, the Starman. After a career of traumatic memories and mistakes which impossibly complicated his own legacy, the responsibility of the Cosmic Staff falls in 1994’s Starman to the one child who never wanted it: antiques dealer Jack Knight.

Reluctant to settle the ghosts of his father’s past, Jack only agreed to take up arms if his father would rededicate himself to using his great scientific mind to benefit mankind instead of merely exchanging blows with costumed maniacs. In the legacy of Starman, we see that it’s not always easy to accept what our forebears have given us and that we must sometimes strive not just to live up to what’s come before, but to excel beyond it. The entire run of James Robinson’s Starman is available on DC Universe Infinite right now.


The Atom

When your power is shrinking to submolecular size, it’s quite easy to get in over your head. But where Professor Ray Palmer usually stuck to Silver Age science problems, his protégé Ryan Choi has frequently had to deal with a collision of his atomic-sized world and his very human one. When Ryan shows up to assist Professor Palmer only to find him vanished into the Microverse, Ryan finds himself entrusted with his would-be mentor’s greatest responsibility: the mantle of the Atom. Since then, Ryan has grown into a capable, heroic Atom in his own right, and has earned the right to call Ray his equal. It’s for good reason that in The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” he stood as a champion for the universe as its “Paragon of Humanity” and was recently revealed to be returning on next season’s The Flash.


Mister Terrific

As Mister Terrific, former Olympic gymnast and “third-smartest man in the world” Michael Holt has exceeded the reach of his Golden Age predecessor, Terry Sloane, in every way. At the lowest point of his life, Holt was inspired by his JSA predecessors to do his part in molding an unjust world towards his credo of “FAIR PLAY” emblazoned on his jacket. Since then, Holt has become essential to coordinating the modern Justice Society, quarterbacking the Justice League itself on Justice League Unlimited, leading his own multiverse-hopping team, The Terrifics, and most recently getting to the bottom of the great Adam Strange mystery of Strange Adventures. They call him the “third-smartest man on Earth…” but when you get to know him, you’ll find he may just be acting modest.


The Reign of the Supermen

If there’s any single storyline you could point to about illustrating what legacy means in the DC Universe, it would doubtlessly be the “Reign of the Supermen.” The death of the world’s greatest hero in the iconic battle against Doomsday left the entire world reeling, inside the comics and out. Filling the void left behind by Superman would take more than one S-bearing icon—it would take four. For the better part of the following year, Cyborg Superman, Steel, the Eradictor, and “The Metropolis Kid” would each stake their claim on being the true heir to Superman’s legacy.

Even when Superman returned, these champions had done enough to prove their worth that they’d be a part of Superman’s story forever going forward: Steel and the Kid, now known as “Superboy,” would become two of his greatest allies, while the Eradicator and Cyborg Superman now rank as two of his most terrible foes. The former Metropolis Kid in particular is currently enjoying—well, perhaps “enjoying” is the wrong word—a moment helping Dick Grayson sort out some Bat-drama on HBO Max’s Titans.


Stargirl

Of all of DC’s TV offerings, the one that bears the “Legacy” banner the highest and proudest has to be The CW’s Stargirl. Since the JSA’s reinvention at the turn of the 21st century, this stalwart team of the world’s first heroes has stood for more than just protecting the world from Crypto-Axis villains, they’ve been a mentorship program, providing a bedrock for future generations of heroes to build upon. Unlike the comics by James Robinson and Geoff Johns, however, the classic JSA doesn’t exist in the CW series after an attack by the Injustice Society. But Courtney Whitmore, stepdaughter of a sidekick to one of the team’s lesser members, uses her tenuous connection to that legacy to start building a new Justice Society when the world needs one to answer the call. And while Stargirl is a series which always maintains a connection to the past, Stargirl herself keeps proving that what truly matters is what we do with the future.


Batgirl

There has never been a Batgirl who has ever needed or wanted Bruce Wayne's permission to wear the symbol. That's because the title of Batgirl isn't given. It's taken. Beginning with Betty Kane’s debut as “Bat-Girl” in 1961 and continuing through iteration after iteration ever since, Batgirls have always been inspired by the symbol of the Bat, but never beholden to the man who wears it. Batgirl, in this way, is the best representation of Batman’s dream: that he might function as a beacon of influence to the city he’s sworn to save, autonomously propagating its own heroes to protect and defend its people.

Barbara Gordon, to many the most iconic figure to ever hold the title, has herself mentored a number of Batgirls into prominence. The first would be powerful, but quiet Cassandra Cain, who held the first solo ongoing Batgirl title for 75 issues and who was quickly followed by Stephanie Brown, the daughter of the third-rate super-villain, Cluemaster. Today, as Barbara shifts between her roles as Batgirl and the all-seeing Oracle, she’s been once more employing Cass and Steph as her closest operatives, as a sort of long-anticipated network of “Batgirls.” Make sure to keep an eye on the next chapter of this arrangement as it progresses in “Fear State” this September.


The Green Lantern Corps

Without the efforts of editor Julius Schwartz to revitalize the superhero genre in the 1950s, DC as we know it surely would not exist today. To save superheroes, Golden Age concepts were completely rethought from the ground up for a new science fiction-oriented generation of readers, with new heroes in familiar identities taking inspiration in fiction from the comic books depicting the adventures of their predecessors.

Two of these heroes represented the vanguard for all others, shaping the Silver Age as we know it. One of them, Hal Jordan, would be the viridescent torchbearer of his predecessor Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. The revolutionary concept which Jordan represented was that there was not merely one Green Lantern in the universe, but thousands of them, each assigned to protect a different numbered sector of the universe. As the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, test pilot Hal Jordan was drafted into service of not only his home planet, but all planets which fell under his purview, and banded together with his distant counterparts when called for.

Since Jordan took up the ring, no fewer than eight other human Green Lanterns have answered the call to service in their own right, each of them bringing something new to the oath-sworn duty: Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Jennifer Lynn-Hayden, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Jo Mullein and Keli Quintela. Every Green Lantern reader has a favorite and every favorite is valid. But what really makes this legacy interesting is how each new ringbearer reckons with the self-appointed “Guardians of the Universe” from which their new role came. After all, a hero who doesn’t examine and even question the legacy they’ve inherited is probably not the right person to carry it forward.


The Flash Family

The other, and even more important Silver Age concept engineered by Schwartz, was the reinvention of the Flash. In 1956, the mercurial Jay Garrick was replaced by Barry Allen, a man you may have heard introduced once or twice as “The Fastest Man Alive.”

Though similar in origin and concept, Barry Allen’s Flash tenure added new dimensions to the setting and character, often literally. The concept of the Rogues, a Central City gang of super-villains each with unique powers of their own, challenged the entire superhero genre to step up the originality of their own villains. And in “Flash of Two Worlds,” Barry Allen teamed up with his predecessor for the first time to establish the very concept of the multiverse—an idea upon which practically all of the modern DC landscape rests.

But in 1986, the title of the Flash became something even greater. Sacrificing himself to halt the eradication of reality by the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry’s sidekick Wally West took up his mentor’s mask as the Flash for decades to follow. As a full-fledged protector of Central City and member of the Justice League, Wally West represented a clearer vision than any hero before, or perhaps even since, of what it means to directly follow in a hero’s legacy. Eventually, Barry returned, and for a brief while after that, Wally disappeared. But in the intervening periods, up to and including the current ongoing Flash title, the Flash Family represents a tighter group of heroes than you’ll find anywhere else in the multiverse.


Robins

And then, of course, there’s Robin.

There’s a strong argument to be made that Robin, not Batman, is the most important and influential character to the history of superhero comics after Superman. Because while Batman himself was inspired by pulp fiction mystery men and his Kryptonian predecessor, Robin was something entirely new: the reader-surrogate sidekick to the dark and mysterious hero. Robin was so successful in the Golden Age that until the founding of the Justice League of America, Robin technically appeared in more comic books than Batman himself. And as the original Robin’s been allowed to gradually grow older, no character has grown up in the culture of superheroism quite like Dick Grayson. Both as Robin and as Nightwing—and even, occasionally, as Batman—Dick completely embodies the superhero life and everything it entails.

The example he’s set is one in which a series of Robins, for better or worse, have had to measure up to ever since he struck out on his own. Jason Todd, Robin of Gotham’s inner city who best represents the people Batman himself has sworn to save. Tim Drake, a cunning mind who puts the “Detective” in Detective Comics. Stephanie Brown, the Robin so rebellious that she had no choice but to level up into a Batgirl. And Damian Wayne, the result of Bruce Wayne’s most forbidden love, torn between two conflicting destinies. No Robin has ever worn the mantle the same way, but they’ve all formed the same exclusive club as today’s students of justice and tomorrow’s saviors.

It’s been said many times that “Batman needs a Robin.” But if legacy is the cornerstone of the DC Universe, then so too does the world of heroes itself.


DC FanDome returns on October 16, 2021! For more articles like this one, and to stay up to date on all the latest news, visit dcfandome.com.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.