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Comic Theme Month – Best Comic Villain Turned Hero

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is “What do you think is the best comic book villain-turned-hero?”

Read on to see what I’m looking for specifically, along with some examples to get you started…

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Characters like Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Songbird, Rogue, Catwoman and more have begun their comic book lives as villains but eventually became heroes.

Which one do you think is the best?

When I say “villain-turned-hero,” they have to last at least one full issue as a villain to count (so no Vision!).

66 Comments

Magneto’s the first one to pop to mind, but I guess he’s back to being a villain again? Also, he’s probably a more valuable character as a villain, albeit a complex, sometimes sympathetic one.

Rogue is also a pretty major one. She did a lot of damage as a villain but became a very good hero.

I’d also have to say Magneto was one of the first that came to mind. A couple of others would be Wonder Man and The Punisher

Pied Piper (from Flash) comes to mind. He was an enemy of Barry Allen but for the better part of Wally West’s series he was a hero who helped the homeless.

You name a lot of the great ones (Hawkeye, Black Widow, Rogue, Scarlet Witch)

There’s also Quicksilver, Pied Piper (the Flash villain), and Emma Frost. All great characters.

Your inclusion of Catwoman is interesting. Does that mean Black Cat and Punisher are eligible candidates? Magneto? Eddie Brock?

I formerly great example would have been Deathstroke, who was a fascinating adversary, and then later an ally during Titans Hunt. He later carried his own series as a multi-faceted anti-hero. Now he’s a one-note killing machine, and so far away from the interesting character Marv Wolfman and George Perez created.

The Shade. Perhaps doesn’t qualify as fully Villain to Hero; but Villain to fascinating character at least marginally more on the side of good doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Banshee and Sunfire are two more that pop into mind. Actually, a staggering number of X-Men fit this category: in addition to those and Rogue and Magneto, there’s also Emma Frost, Danger, Mystique, Sabretooth, Juggernaut, Mimic, Changeling, Sage, Warpath, Lady Mastermind, Legion, and Frenzy (among others, perhaps?)

Love Shade, also Namor. But to have a great hero it takes a great villain. Batman vs the guys in my neighborhood is just….well, not heroic. If they are bad keep em bad. Sandman! Dragonman! Magneto! get on the wrong side of the tracks right now! Juggernaut as an x-man, that kinda makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Would Omni-Man from Invincible count?

I’d go with The Shade as well. One of the best in my opinion.

Sinestro I would say

Baron Zemo II – has he gone back to being a villain though?

Oh, and Namor the Sub-Mariner of course (can’t believe I overlooked him, he’s one of the best)

I don’t know that I would count Shade any more than I would count Lobo. They’re both firmly anti-heroes, at best. At worst, the Shade was retconned into never having been much of a villain in the first place.
That said, not a lot of DC on the list. It was more common in the 80s and 90s, but the “back to basic” approach of the Johns era seems to have ended that.
Wait… Catwoman, maybe? Still seems more anti-hero than hero, but she had a few years of doing good…

Oops, Catwoman mentioned right in the original article. Shucks.

Don’t forget Hawkeye, from the avengers (I think, I’m not really a marvel reader), and DC’s Plastic Man! Should we also include Max Damage, from the Irredeemable/Incorruptible universe?

Allright, Hawkeye also mentioned… I should learn to read the whole article first, before jumping to the comments… sorry!

My picks are Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Black Cat. I can’t think of any DC examples.

What about anti-heroes? The Punisher started out as a bad guy and antagonist for Spider-Man, but eventually became the protagonist of his own series. The same applies to Venom.

A large number of mutant characters written by Chris Claremont fit into this category, most obviously Rogue. One of the things that made the x-titles such an interesting comic mythos is that very few of the villains were “evil” in the Dr. Doom/Joker/Luthor/Green Goblin way. Most of the antagonists in the x-books had their own complicated motivations, especially deeper into Claremont’s run, such that it’s easier to refer to them as non-heroic than straight up villainous. Magneto, Mystique, Emma Frost, and several others all carried themselves as though they were doing the “right thing” for mutant kind, which is why it was easy to have so many of them toe the line between hero and villain at various points in their character history.

I also think Shade is a great answer for this question, and he was the first person I thought of. And, sticking with Robinson’s Starman run, Solomon Grundy could fit in as well.

In a bit of a lesser qualification, Matt Cable went from killing his wife in Swamp Thing #29 as an instrument of Anton Arcane to becoming Morpheus’s assistant Matthew the Raven in The Sandman.

But, to answer an earlier post, I don’t think The Punisher counts, as the character never changed at all. Yes, the way he was used changed dramatically, as he was originally an antagonist for Spider-Man and then became the protagonist in his own series. But nothing about the character himself changed at all. The same could be said about Deadpool: he never switched from villain to hero, only from antagonist to protagonist.

Forgot about Deathstroke, who is also an obvious choice. Never really a total hero, but was a member of the Titans for a bit.

It would be interesting to also talk about best heroes to turn into villains. My pick would be Kid Miracleman.

I’ve always loved The Eradicator. The storyline where he returns in human form to transform Earth into New Krypton is one of my favorite Superman stories. I loved his cold, calculating personality, with a clear goal in mind. He also had a great costume design that fit his character perfectly.

A couple of years after that story arc, he returned to assume the Superman identity in the wake of Superman’s death. He eventually adopted his own identity, joined The Outsiders, fought alongside the Superman family (and occasionally against). After years in limbo, I was happy to see him return during Dan Didio’s Outsiders run, and the Reign of Doomsdays crossover. Of course he’s gone now, but I still have those stories to look back on.

If Shade and Deathstroke can be named, what about Deadshot and Lady Shiva? What about the Riddler? Has Harley Quinn ever gone straight? What about Etrigan?

DeadShot, Lobo!!!

Wow. Catman isn’t mentioned yet? Seriously. Maybe he’s not white horse to save the day but I’d say he regularly sat as the moral center of the Secret Six and more often then not played hero. He’s at least as much villian turned hero as The Shade.

Ronald Jay Kearschner

December 12, 2011 at 1:33 am

Avengers seem to have a lot. Wonder Man Hawkeye Scarlet Witch Quicksilver Swordsman Black Widow Black Knight (same name, different character) Hercules was a foe of Thor in his first appearance and did terrible things in classical mythology. That’s just the first fifty issues, off the top of my head.

Less famous but also appropriate answers that I like are Mark Shaw and Blok (from the Legion of Super-Heroes). People have mentioned the Pied Piper but I preferred the Trickster, who definitely moved toward being at least a near-hero prior to Johns getting ahold of things.

What about Songbird and Mach V from the Thunderbolts? They started out as villains but decided they enjoyed being heroes so much they wound up sticking with it.

Black Adam would be another one I would add since he was a member of the JSA for a bit. Maxima, too.

Sandman, before it was changed again in the reboot post clone saga, and nobody has ever even acknowledged his heroic time since then.

My favorite comic- Thunderbolts!! – has heaps of them!!

Baron Helmet Zemo (back and forth really! haha…)
Songbird
Mach V
Fixer
Moonstone
Ghost
Juggernaut

Catman is also great!

Multiple Man! Multiple Man! Multiple Man!

}Multiple Man!{

I don’t understand some of these suggestions. I love Secret Six era Catman as much as the next person, (I shudder to think what has become of him in the new DCU), but he doesn’t count as a hero. Nor does Deadpool or the Punisher. They’re not even anti-heroes (which is a more accurate description of a lot of comic book “heroes”, especially Marvel characters), they’re anti-villains at best. Simply being a protagonist in a story does not make a character a hero.

Minimidget? The Cat Man?

Sorry, been reading scans of Centaur Comics lately. ;-)

Seriously, I liked the Sandman’s attempt to go straight. shame Byrne hit the Retcon button on that.

Deadpool’s on a hero team! A bloody, messy hero team, but they’re on the right side, no?

Also, the Punisher’s not shooting heroes in the face, so why wouldn’t he be a hero? Yes, he is a violent anti-hero, but that means that he’s a good guy who isn’t following the code of heroes. Also, when those hero calendars and universe posters come out, Punisher’s included.

No one has mentioned Thanos. If you read the original “Infinity Trilogy” (Infinity Gauntlet/War/Crusade) you see a very nice character arc for him. He goes from a “mad titan” obsessed with death and nihilism to a contemplative anti-hero who is willing to work with the traditional good guys because he needs to live in a moderately safe universe. It was a fun trilogy to read and Thanos would usually get the best lines in the whole thing too. Kudos to Starlin for making something fun but not too serious.

my picks besides magnetoe and rogue and emma. got to do with dead shot and catman from secret six though always on the edge of being their old evil selfs they still some time choose the right thing for a price plus thought bane was actully cool as his time as a good guy working with batman. plus the enchantress

Emma Frost, of course. Medusa was a big, bad villainess at firrst,
even helping the Frightful Four turn the Thing into
a bad guy. Thundra was also a Frightful Four member
initially. Those three come immediately to mind.

The Riddler decided having Batman hand his ass to him on a regular basis wasn’t good for him, and became Edward Nygma, security consultant. That didn’t make him a “hero” if you only count those who kept the name and costume while switching sides.

Should we count characters who were planted into superhero groups to betray them from within, and ended up sacrificing themselves to heroically save the group SEVERAL issues later? I’m thinking the original Terra on the Teen Titans. I also thought of Tomorrow Woman on the JLA, but the “no Vision” rule would apply. I think Red Tornado was also a T.O. Morrow plant, but he reformed himself in the SECOND issue of his introduction.

I think a last minute hero is definitely a hero. What villain would sacrifice him/herself for others?

Captain Librarian

December 12, 2011 at 7:32 am

Giving a shout out to Max Damage from Incorruptible.

Can’t believe it took so long for somebody to vote for the Thunderbolts.

I liked Major Disaster when he was with the JLI, not when he was with that horrible JL EXTREME that did a take on the Authority.

“Should we count characters who were planted into superhero groups to betray them from within, and ended up sacrificing themselves to heroically save the group SEVERAL issues later? I’m thinking the original Terra on the Teen Titans.”

That’s the cartoon version of Terra. The comic book version didnt save anyone — her rage consumed her and she buried herself in a ton of debris. If anything, she was just a villain the whole time, really.

Here’s a couple more…
Joker’s Daughter (Duela Dent) started as an adversary in BATMAN FAMILY
Bombshell (Teen Titans) was originally a spy for Deatshtroke, until she later joined the team

Yup, Major Disaster and the crew from JLI/Antarctica. Best Justice League ever!

Definitely Hawkeye and Emma Frost.

No love for Nighthawk from the original run of DEFENDERS? Probably most folks are too young to remember… Sucks to get old.

I’d vote for the (original) Swordsman from the Avengers

Let’s not forget Max Damage from INCORRUPTIBLE . . .

I almost expected this list to read like “Hawkeye” “Hawkeye” “Hawkeye” “Hawkeye” “Black Widow” “Hawkeye” “Deadpool”

I should have known better. Wish I had read this before I responded to the heros to villains thread.

Good points by Third Man and Lorrie on the difference between “hero/villain’ and ‘protagonist/antagonist’

I’d prefer to restrict things to people who were villains for more than an issue or two, and who stayed on the side of good after switching, rather than going back and forth between heroism and villainy (which leaves out Moonstone, who would otherwise be a fantastic choise).

I think Songbird works best with my limitations, since she had a fairly long villainous career (more than a decade), and then became a big-time permanent hero. Rogue is another great choice, and the Black Cat.

A lot of people have mentioned Wonder Man, but I think he flunks the Vision test, since he switched sides at the end of his first story (if the flashbacks I’ve read are accurate– I haven’t read the original story).

No love for Nighthawk from the original run of DEFENDERS? Probably most folks are too young to remember… Sucks to get old.

Oh yeah, both Nighthawk and Hyperion of the Squadron Sinister are good choices.

I don’t get the Magneto references. Anybody who ever tried to write him as a misunderstood mutant champion never read any of his pre-Claremont appearances. He was a madman who would use or kill anyone- mutant or otherwise as means to his ends.

Yeah, but did pre Claremont X-Men really exist?

Ok, I’m new here, new to the whole internet comics thing entirely, believe it or not. I have a question for the general readership, something I have wondered- This is my mental picture, my mind’s-eye imagining- Is the way we feel today about the stuff going on in comics that we absolutely hate at all analogous to how I imagine Brian Michael Bendis felt about The Beyonder when reading ‘Secret Wars II?” And do we not all dream of eventually getting to retcon all this stuff like Benis did the Beyonder from “Secret Wars II’ And if that is in fact the case, do we not all feel obligated to do a better job of retconning it all than Bendis did fixing the Beyonder from ‘Secret Wars II?’

Yeah, ok, maybe it is just me.

Sorry, haven’t talked to other comics people online much. Mostly been restricted to politics and sports and stuff. Sorry again, if this went down the wrong way.

Much love to y’all

Hawkeye all the way. The guy started out as a villain and now he’s the quintessential Avengers according to the head writer of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Chris Yost

I’ve read his early appearances, but Pre-Claremont Magneto was just not very interesting or distinctive. No wonder people prefer the later version.

But I would not count him or Deathstroke or Catwoman or any of the characters that alternate between hero amd anti-hero and villain and anti-villain in a regular basis.

Best Villain turned Hero: Catwoman, Magneto, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, Emma Frost, Plastic Man, Max Damage from Incorruptible

Heh. Maybe just you and I here know about Vegeta, Ross. Didn’t think to go to Japanese works.

What about Ares? He was a villain for most of his published life (see Avengers #100, for instance), but became an Avenger eventualy.

Though he joined the Dark Avengers, he ended as a real hero.

By the way, what does it say about our society that the God of War was a villain in the 60s/80s and, without any major change, is a hero in the 00/10´s.

There are many interesting villains-turned-hero, as this thread demonstrates. In my opinion a better question would be “who are the best heroes-turned-villains?” That would be a good question to explore because while reformed villains are an extremely common trope, former heroes going for the dark side are much less frequent. I suspect we would find much fewer cases. There’s Kid Miracleman of course, and Ozymandias, and ex-Batgirl Cassandra Cain became a potentially interesting villain for a short while despite her fans’ protests (what’s the status on that, btw? Does she even exist in the Nu52?)… but I’m having a hard time thinking of more lasting examples.

I wonder why that is; I would imagine that “former ally turned full-on villain” would be good fodder for drama.

Oops sorry, I just checked and found the thread with the question I mentioned. Sorry bout that, don’t mind me, I should be going to sleep anyway.

Favorite story arc for villain turned hero would be Claremont’s Magneto, with X-Men #200 as the turning point. I love the ending to that issue. Very moving stuff.

Sandman was really on a roll there for several years until Byrne’s reboot.

Another favorite “slow redemption” was the original Trickster, James Jesse.

Hawkeye
Black Widow
Wonder Man
Banshee
Rogue
Black Cat
Nighthawk
Songbird
The Beetle
Catwoman
Pied Piper
Blok
Roxxas
Saturn Queen

For a while in the late 70s through early 90’s, Harry Osborn.

On the blurrier side:

Emma Frost
Mark Shaw
Steve Dayton
Quicksilver
Deathstroke
Sunfire
Catman
Deadshot
The Shade
Sinestro

Jonathon Riddle

January 17, 2014 at 2:28 am

Baroness Paula from Wonder Woman is the earliest case I know of a hero actually reforming a former villain. That was a comic ahead of it’s time, I’d say. Imagine if Batman actually tried to reform his foes!

But the best of all time has to be the first of all time: The Superman.

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