Jim Harper was a Metropolis city police officer whose beat was the downtrodden neighborhood of Suicide Slum. During WWII he donned a superhero costume to fight crime in a less rigid way after hours and joined the All-Star Squadron.
In his day job Officer Harper came across a group of four hooligans known as the Newsboy Legion and upon learning of their circumstances as a bunch of orphans trying to provide for themselves he got the judge to agree to allow the boys to become his wards rather than go to a juvenile detention center. All four of the boys quickly figured out Jim's secret identity though he denied their accusations of him being the Guardian for decades and only admitted the truth on his deathbed. The Newsboys did very well with a roof over their heads and an adult providing for them and all four of them ended up being important Cadmus employees and eventually directors of the government cloning program. On Jim's deathbed he gave them permission to clone him, though it's unlikely he realized just how many clones, and partial clones, containing his DNA would be running around in the near future.
Jim had two brothers and one sister, through whom he's got a several notable relatives living in the modern day. His great-nephew named Roy Harper is also known as Speedy, Red Arrow and Arsenal and is most commonly associated with the Teen Titans and Green Arrow. His great-niece Jamie Harper became a police officer herself and was Robin's point of contact on the GCPD before she moved to Metropolis. His youngest great-niece Roberta "Bobby" Harper becomes a member of the modern Newsboy Legion and ends up the legal ward of Jim's most prominent clone.
The second Guardian was Mal Duncan, who is better known as Herald and Vox for his portal opening horn and has strong ties to the Teen Titans, a team he was a member of several incarnations of. He used the Guardian identity along with powered armor before gaining Gabriel's Horn and was a handy member of the team given his boxing abilities and capacity for taking on leadership positions. Mal was the first African American to use the Guardian name. For more on Mal see here.
The third Guardian was a clone of the first, who was given implanted memories of the original and therefore had a strong relationship with the now adult Newsboy Legion upon his waking but had conflicting feelings about his status as a clone, and eventually requested that he never be cloned again. He serves as one of the chief security officers of Cadmus and the implanted memories given to him were added to enough to make him more subservient and less questioning of the project than original would have ever been even though is personality is otherwise unaltered. Pre-Crisis he went by the name Golden Guardian, but post-Crisis he was still just the Guardian.
The fourth Guardian was Jake Jordan, a former New York cop who was recruited by the Manhattan Guardian newspaper to be their official superhero, having bought the Guardian name during a period Cadmus was believed defunct. Further thematic links to the original were provided by the newspaper being known for its young "citizen journalists", called the Newsboy Army, and the editor being a former member of a kid gang called the Newsboys of Nowhere Street. The Manhattan Guardian was one of the Seven Soldiers who fought the Sheeda.
Following Flashpoint, a Cadmus clone Guardian named Michael made a brief appearance in Superboy (New 52) and the Earth-Prime version of Jake Jordan appeared alongside the other Soldiers in Sideways, but little has been revealed about either of them. The Earth-Prime Jim Harper debuted in Superman (Brian Michael Bendis), as a Metropolis street vigilante who is offered Leviathan membership; it is not known if he was still connected to Cadmus (which was destroyed in Leviathan Rising with all the other secret government groups).
- Star-Spangled Comics Vol. 1 (1942 - 1947)
- Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen Vol. 1 (1971 - 1972)
- All-Star Squadron Vol. 1 (1982 - 1986)
- Young All-Stars Vol. 1 (1987 - 1989) intermittent appearances
- Newsboy Legion/Boy Commandos Special Vol. 1 (2017)
- Teen Titans Vol. 1 (1970 - 1978)
- Superman Family Vol. 1 (1978 - 1979)
- New Titans Vol. 1 (1989 - 1992)
- Teen Titans Vol. 2 (1997 - 1998)
- Teen Titans Vol. 3 (2005 - 1998)
- Titans Vol. 3 (2016 - 2018)
- Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen Vol. 1 (1971 - 1972)
- Superman Family Vol. 1 (1978 - 1979)
- Adventures of Superman Vol. 1 (1988 - 1997) intermittent appearances
- Action Comics Vol. 1 (1989 - 2010) intermittent appearances
- Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 1 (1991 - 1998) intermittent appearances
- Guardians of Metropolis Vol. 1 (1994 - 1995)
- Superboy Vol. 4 (1994 - 2002)
- Adventure Comics Special Featuring Guardian Vol 1 (2009)
- Superman Vol. 1 (2009 - 2010)
- Superman: War of the Supermen Vol. 1 (2010 - 2010)
- Superboy Vol. 5 (2014 - 2014)
Tropes associated with Guardian:
Jim Harper I/Guardian I
- Badass Normal: The original Guardian has no superpower, but possesses exceptional combat and tactical skills.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Jim is a really nice guy, who goes out of his way to check up on kids and the unfortunate, he's also a really good fighter whose reaction to being mugged while in civilian wear was to take up a secret identity so he can keep fighting bad guys even when he's off the clock as a cop.
- Cool Bike: Guardian rode a custom motorcycle that was fitted with a slot at the front that could store his shield.
- Cool Helmet: He wears a golden helmet.
- Friend to All Children: He's got a soft spot for kids that leads him to requesting the privilege of becoming the legal guardian of four rather out of control trouble-making orphans from Suicide Slum.
- Legacy Character: Other people who took the Guardian alias are Mal Duncan in the Silver Age and Jake Jordan, the Manhattan Guardian.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: He carries a golden heater shield on his wrist.
- Parental Substitute: Jim became the legal guardian of the original Newsboy Legion.
- Proto-Superhero: He was this in-universe in Pre-Crisis days, being one of the very few costumed heroes who were canonically around before Clark debuted as Superboy on Earth-One. note
- Shield Bash: Uses his small shields for combat.
- Stock Superhero Day Jobs: Jim Harper was a police officer outside of his Guardian costume.
- Tangled Family Tree: In addition to the several individuals descended from his siblings and the fact that one of them was adopted by Oliver Queen where do his multiple clones even go on a family tree? His grandniece Jamie then somehow had a kid with the time-traveling Daxamite Lar Gand despite Kryptonians in the setting not being biologically compatible with humans (Daxamites are descended from Kryptonian colonists).
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: He has a strict rule against killing when he's in uniform as the Guardian, and as a Police Officer he will only discharge his weapon if the situation demands it.
- Throwing Your Shield Always Works: He can use his shield as a projectile although he usually keeps hold of it to use for defense and bashing.
Mal Duncan, Herald/Guardian II/Vox
- Affirmative-Action Legacy: The previous Guardian was a white Metropolis based police officer.
- Badass Normal: He was initially just a super-strong boxer in his debut.
- Biblical Motifs: He gets his horn during a vision paralleling that of Jacob, where he wrestles the Angel of Death to a standstill and receives the horn as a reward.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Vanished from DC titles after a while, and him and Karen were said to have divorced offpanel in the Doom Patrol series.
- Disability Superpower: After his horn exploded in his face and left him mute in "Infinite Crisis", Steel and the Chief of the Doom Patrol fused the parts of the Gabriel's Horn into his body, allowing him to become open portals simply by speaking with a synthesized voice box.
- Extradimensional Shortcut: Mal can use Gabriel's Horn to open portals to other dimensions, which he can then use as teleportation like shortcuts.
- Happily Married: To Karen, until the whole Infinite Crisis incident and their divorce in Doom Patrol. The marriage was restored in DC Rebirth.
- Heroic Second Wind: His Gabriel's Horn invoked this pre-Crisis, being most useful when he was at a disadvantage.
- I Have Many Names: Initially just used "Mal" as his codename, but then took on the suit of the original Guardian after his doubts about being an effective team member. He then briefly used the codename "Hornblower" after acquiring the Gabriel's Horn, but went back to his Guardian identity. Post-Crisis, he was always "Herald", and then became "Vox" when he moved to the Doom Patrol.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: After an accident ruins his vocal cords and the magitech of his trumpet is worked into his neck to allow him to talk again he's able to use the same loud audio attacks he used to have access to through his horn with just his voice.
- Musical Assassin: Is best known for playing his horn to use as a weapon and portal creation device. He also owns a jazz club after he's grown up a bit and he can play jazz music that is very nice to listen to and not painful in the least.
- Powered Armor: In his Guardian identity he wore an exoskeleton that gave him super strength.
- Retcon: Was relegated to being a part of the West team in Post-Crisis continuity, rather than the East team. His first two identities were also retconned away, and the nature of the Gabriel's Horn changed from being magical to being of special technology (and made for him by Karen).
Jim Harper II/Golden Guardian/Guardian III
- Clones Are People, Too: Despite being a clone and giving lip service to the idea he goes on a sort of journey of self discovery that cements the concept more firmly for him, especially after meeting Roy Harper and his adorable daughter Lian who are descendants of the man he was cloned from and consider him family.
- Color Character: As Golden Guardian.
- Cool Helmet: His gold helm.
- Expendable Clone: Guardian's subplot in New Krypton retcons that he is not, in fact, the first Jim Harper clone to bear the shield. Or the second. In fact, Cadmus's Guardians rarely last more than a year.
- Legacy Character: To the man he was cloned from, the original Guardian.
- LEGO Genetics: He's not technically a straight clone of Jim I, he's closer than most Cadmus clones to being a copy of the original but is still a "DNAlien"/Genomorph like Kon-El or Dubbilex with DNA from others mixed in to make him a bit sturdier than a baseline human
- Parental Substitute: He becomes the legal guardian of the original Jim's grandniece Bobby and adopts his own opposite sex-clone Gwen.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Quite possibly due to the way his memories were implanted Guardian didn't even think to question his orders to keep track of Superboy/S-13 after the kid's escape from Cadmus even though he knew the project saw him as little more than property and a liability they were likely to lock away forever or even "dismantle". When Superman tries to placate a rightly furious S-13 when the kid makes the same claims by saying there's no way that would happen Guardian seems to realize where he stands and corrects the Man of Steel, which results in Clark officially letting Cadmus know the kid is under his protection and he won't stand for them trying to drag him back again. After this Jim is seen being more critical of his orders, and more likely to ignore or go against those he disagrees with.
- Put on a Bus: Following the events of War of the Supermen, Harper abandons his role as the Guardian and takes his grandniece Jamie (pregnant with Mon-El's child) and Opposite-Sex Clone Gwen off to an unknown destination, apparently abandoning Bobby as well since her status at the time was not addressed beyond being MIA with the rest of the second iteration of the Newsboy Legion.
- Shield Bash: Uses his shield for combat.
- Tangled Family Tree: Not as bad as most examples but he has some relations through the siblings of the man he was cloned from, including Roy Harper, Jamie Harper, "Famous Bobby", and Lian Harper. They all consider him family, and he ends up as Bobby's guardian, but what they call him tends to vary. Then there are the varied other clones of the original and clones of himself, and other Cadmus DNAliens who were made using some of their DNA including an Opposite-Sex Clone Jim II becomes the Parental Substitute for.
- Throwing Your Shield Always Works: Guardian usually prefers to keep hold of his shield, so he can use it like a shield, but he's pretty proficient at using it like a thrown projectile too.
- Super-Reflexes: He has reflexes that are on par with a Kryptonian's.
- Super-Soldier: While the original was a Badass Normal the clone possesses enhanced strength and reflexes, and an accelerated healing factor. He has demonstrated the ability to hurt Superboy (who he trained in hand-to-hand combat) and Kryptonians from Kandor.
Jake Jordan, The Manhattan Guardian
- Affirmative-Action Legacy: Jake may not be the first African American to use the Guardian title, but the previous holder was a white male clone.
- Bulletproof Vest: He wears a bulky armored vest for protection.
- Chest Insignia: Jake's got a label stating "The Manhattan Guardian" across his chest, and is the first and only Guardian to use a chest insignia.
- Cool Helmet: His shiny gold helm.
- Corporate-Sponsored Superhero: Jake is primarily sponsored by a Newspaper that bought the rights to the Guardian name and costume from what was left of Cadmus after Jim II left the role to play a more active role as a parent to the two girls he'd become legal guardian of.
- Shield Bash: Uses his shield to punch people and robots with.
- Stock Superhero Day Jobs: He used to be a cop, now his hero gig is a paying full time job.
- Mysterious Past: Michael is indicated not to be his true name, as a matter of fact Guardian-01 seems closer to his real name as he is presumably a Cadmus clone and the first of a set.