We’ve shown you our most promising class of characters to debut this year. However, 2022 wasn’t just a year for new heroes, but also an elevation for others long established. You never know when a lesser known character is going to get their chance at a boost to the next level, or an unexpected dark horse emerges from the pack. But every year, it’s inevitable that some breakouts in our cast of thousands will get their moment in the sun. These are the greatest superhero glow-ups we saw in 2022.
Peacemaker and Judomaster
The transition to the DC Universe from Charlton Comics in the 1980s was easier for some heroes than others. Captain Atom became a member of the Justice League and is one of the most powerful active superheroes today. The Question got a beloved series by Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan, and a fanbase in Justice League Unlimited. Blue Beetle has a legacy which will see him make the jump to a major film—and very possibly this list—next year. Peacemaker and Judomaster, on the other hand… Well, apart from a miniseries here and a cameo there, they haven’t seen much action. Last year’s The Suicide Squad took Christopher Smith off the shelf, but it was in 2022’s Peacemaker that the silver helmeted lug really got his chance at redemption—not to mention a reunion with Judomaster, a fellow alum of the Charlton Class. Now, Peacemaker’s got everyone dancing.
Season three of Harley Quinn gave us everything we could want from a full-blown, no-hiding #HarlIvy relationship, but it also gave us one of the best Joker stories ever: one where he not only runs for mayor of Gotham City and wins, but turns out to actually be really good at it. School attendance is up, crime is down, healthcare is available to all, the corrupt GCPD is completely defunded, and billionaire scoundrel Bruce Wayne is finally behind bars for tax evasion. We’re all lining up to join the Sane Clown Posse.
Vixen, Zatanna and the Outlaws
One of the biggest runaway successes of 2021 was the Bat-Family’s transition to slice-of-life WEBTOON series Batman: Wayne Family Adventures. This year saw the burgeoning WEBTOON-verse (Earth-W?) expand fourfold, with three vastly different but equally engaging new series: Vixen NYC, which moves a young Mari McCabe into the big city as she grows into her powers; Zatanna and the Ripper, catapulting Zatanna and John Constantine back in time to catch London’s most infamous serial killer; and the chaotic adventures of Red Hood: Outlaws, in which Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro fill in for the Justice League. Getting to see some of DC’s less mainstream heroes have room to breathe in weekly, year-round series has really given them space to develop and for fans to keep on spending time—oh man, am I out of Coins again?
Seems like DC really DOES love the ’90s because the first Robin to choose the mantle for himself is back in business as Batman’s go-to partner in the main Batman series, has his own ongoing series again for the first time in over a decade, a brand new boyfriend to be charmingly awkward around, and most importantly, is straight up ROBIN again. Love the Drake! Big fan of the Drake. How could you not like the Drake?
After Green Lantern: The Animated Series ended its run in 2013, nobody expected to see series deuteragonist Razer, the reformed Red Lantern, ever again. Left adrift in space on a quest for his lost love with redemption trailing behind him, the story seemed to end there with a symbol of hope and nothing more. In 2022, we got the next chapter in Razer’s story in the most unexpected of places, an entire episode dedicated to him in HBO Max’s Young Justice: Phantoms. Years of manipulation by the New God Metron and a reunion with his former traveling companion Kilowog led Razer to become the first Lantern to wield the red and blue rings together, forging a new path forward for himself. Where he’ll show up next, who can say? But maybe we haven’t seen the end of his journey after all. There’s always Hope.
Jackson Hyde and Supergirl
The DC Universe has always been strongest when the long arc of a legacy hero pays off to show them becoming something more than they ever were before, growing into icons in their own right. In 2022, two heroes in the DC Universe significantly stepped up: Jackson Hyde, the son of Black Manta, who grew into his role as the new Aquaman, and Supergirl, who as the Woman of Tomorrow embarked on an epic space odyssey which proved that she possesses all the power, determination and goodness of her cousin and then some. Although their journeys of self-discovery have taken them through different trials, they’ve both ended up in the same place—as the heroes of their own story.
We’ve seen your fanart, you animals. And honestly, we can’t totally blame you. Paul Dano’s performance as the Riddler in this year’s The Batman wasn’t something any of us were expecting, but there’s something about his relationship with Batman, which turns a 74-year-old dynamic on its head. Edward Nashton views Gotham’s young vigilante not as an adversary, but an intellectual collaborator and partner—the perfect body to his perfect brain. You may laugh about him having 500 followers, but how many of your mutuals would strap up and invade a political rally for you? It’s a special kind of freak who’s into this particular Patrick Parker, but you cannot deny that freak is down bad.
There are hot messes, and there are Hot Messes. The latter is always synonymous with Constantine, the smoldering scourge of thaumaturgy. But in a bit of clever double casting, Netflix’s The Sandman took what we knew about the DCU’s most disastrous bisexual and switched it up on us by presenting the traditional John Constantine as Jenna Coleman’s Johanna. Whether she’s prettier to look at than Matt Ryan comes down to a matter of preference, but we can only imagine the real Constantine wouldn’t say no to sharing a cig with either. (And he does exist—just ask anyone who’s ever written him.) What Johanna Constantine does show us is that no matter what form Constantine takes, when you get mixed up in their path, you’re always in for a hell of a time.
2022 was a banner year for the world’s first superhero team. Mixing it up on the big screen with Black Adam, a restoration of their legacy in Stargirl and standing at the forefront of The New Golden Age in the comics, the JSA has been winning a war on three fronts, dominating DC’s film, television and comic books. After a decade of obscurity, it’s safe to say as of this year that the Justice Society has been restored to their rightful place in DC history. Exactly what their place in DC’s future may be lies in the hands of Courtney Whitmore, on a quest to redeem the lost sidekicks of the past, and the original Huntress—not mob daughter Helena Bertinelli, but Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle’s daughter Helena Wayne, now from the future herself.
DC wasn’t joking earlier this year when they declared the death of the Justice League in Justice League #75. The members may be back, but the team as we know it is over. Emerging from Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths are the world’s new premiere A-List protectors…the Titans. The next generation of superheroes is all set up to take center stage, with Dick Grayson leading the pack. And after seeing how they’ve navigated this latest Crisis, we know as well as the original Justice League lineup that Earth couldn’t be in better hands. Titans Together!
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask...the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.