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Comic Theme Month – Best Comic Hero Turned Villain

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 a follow-up to the last topic “What do you think is the best comic book hero-turned-villain?”

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

This one is also pretty self-explanatory. A comic book hero who became a villain. For the sake of difficulty, let us not count reformed villains who returned to a life of crime. Let us stick with villains who were always heroes until they turned bad.

There are not as many examples of this phenomenon. Kid Miracleman is the most famous, I suppose.

Bishop ended up becoming pretty much a bad guy. Forge of the X-Men also went nuts and became evil.

Currently, Archangel is evil, but that might not be a permanent thing.

What other good examples can you think of?

65 Comments

There’s Sharon Ventura, who after refusing to betray the Fantastic Four to Dr. Doom was punished by him by being transformed into a form even more monstrous than her “She-Thing” one. After the grief and suicide attempt a somewhat addled Sharon was recruited by the Wizard into his Frightful Four and fought her former teammates in one issue of Fantastic Four Unlimited. But that didn’t last too long.

Hal Jordan/Parallax is a pretty famous example, as is Hawk/Monarch.

No Jason Todd? I’d think he’s our posterboy for the past few years.

Hal Jordan. He got better of course, but his downfall paved the way for my favorite Green Lantern to make his debut: Kyle Rayner.

Raven’s gone evil a bunch of times IIRC. Also got better.

Daredevil went pretty bad during the Shadowland arc. I didn’t read much of the main miniseries, but I thought the lead up to it was pretty interesting, and especially well illustrated.

These really are pretty rare, given that the tendency in comics publishing history so often rolls back to Framer’s Intent, though the opposite (villains into heroes) works sometimes because you can write more stories with heroes (or at least anti-heroes).

There are some characters who have a definite heel turn, though you could argue against them ever truly being “heroes” in the first place: Ozymandias or Maxwell Lord, for instance.

There are also the characters who were created specifically for the “shocking betrayal” arc: Mimic in the original X-Men run, the first Swordsman in Avengers, Terra in Teen Titans.

There’s also the “villain pretends to be a new hero” schtick like the Thunderbolts or Xorn/Magneto.

Even though he seems to be on a redemptive path right now and was introduced post “turn”, Sinestro is a pretty prominent example. So is Two-Face. Magneto fits the mold, but has spent too much time being a hero to really fit into this category. I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of other characters who have spent 99-100% of their published history as villains, but have a Fall from Grace as part of their origin story.

But in terms of a character who was initially portrayed as a hero and has been consistently and prominently portrayed as an unquestionable Bad Guy, I think it has to be Superboy Prime. Who is basically Kid Miracleman. So we’re back to your example.

Madelyne Pryor? She wasn’t really a hero, per se, but she wasn’t really a bad guy until Jean came back and Scott left her and, y’know, all that.

Bucky.

And Archangel, the first time around. If only he had stayed that way for more than one issue.

Triumph. Odd character, great concept but he never quite worked as well as he could. Cool hair as a bad guy though. Probably was most interesting when he turned bad.

Beast Boy (Lallorian hero) gets my official vote. His story is quite tragic and that LSH tale packs an emotional punch.

Scarlett Witch, nuttier than a fruit cake. More recently Wonderman, think he now has a severe hard on for the Avengers.

Henry Bendix in Stormwatch.

Would The Plutionian count in Irredeemable? Since technically he was only a hero in flashbacks.

Hal Jordan. Jason Todd. Hawk. Obsidian. Element Lad. Laurel Kent. Scarlet Witch. Superboy-Prime. Phoenix. Jericho. Maxwell Lord. Alley-Cat Dabra. Princess Projectra (from the Threeboot).

Fortunately many of these seem to have “gotten better”. But I used to wonder which hero that I was reading and enjoying today would be turned into a crazy villain in ten year’s time.

DC has some pretty bad examples. Superboy Prime and Jericho come to mind.

This was actually a theme of the third X-Men movie and First Class, now that I think of it.

Maxwell Lord could have been a good one, but they went way overboard with it.

Phoenix!

Brainiac 5 went mad and nearly destroyed the universe — that was pretty chilling. And he stayed mad for several years.

J.

Scarlet Witch should count for both of these. Villain turned hero turned villain.

Fine. If no one else wants to say it, I will. Roy Harper. But after his arm was chopped off, his daughter was violently killed, everyone acting like it was his fault and coddling the girl who was actually looking after his daughter and left her alone to fight a supervillain, being treated by a doctor oblivious to the fact that he was easily taking painkillers from his medication supply, being given a horrible prosthetic that enhances the pain in his stump and hinders his ability as an archer, suffering from hallucinations whose source was not clarified, the impotence, his mother figure washing her hands of him, and his friends pretty much doing nothing after the first mean word out of his mouth (and those that did help did half-assed and made the situation worse, Dick), can you honestly blame him?

The Plutonian

AndWhoDisguisedAs

December 12, 2011 at 4:23 am

Um, Reed Richards in the Ultimate Universe who is evolving into Doctor Doom.

Captain Atom -> Monarch even if it doesn’t come to anything. Batman and Brother-eye is almost a villian.

Not exactly a hero, but Cassidy from Preacher.

I’d put Batman down as best hero turned villain. He’s gone from saving lives and preventing deaths to becoming an enabler for serial killers.

There was a great example in the original Legion Lost 12 issue series. I won’t name the guy because it was very effective and I think the story is available (or coming out soon).

I loved Hal as Parallax circa Final Night. The idea that the fearlessness drove him to be uncaring about the consequences of his actions was a great concept. He was going to change reality so who cared what he did in the meantime to make it happen. Everything would be okay in the end and he had no doubt that he’d reach that point because he was Hal Jordan and he didn’t fail.

Namor. Marvel Boy (later retconned, of course). The golden age Spider (in the first Shade miniseries).

Oh! That guy who turned out to be the killer in Judgement Day, in Alan Moore’s revamped Liefeldverse.
Ok, maybe not the “best”, but pickings are slim.

Quicksilver

Morrison’s Doom Patrol had a good example that I won’t name not to spoil it. It was a shocking revelation that obviously required quite a bit of retconning, but it still made a lot of sense and provided a great finale for his run.

None mentioned are best, all of these heel turns sucked royally and should never have happened.

Captain Librarian

December 12, 2011 at 7:27 am

No one is going to say Iron Man and Reed Richards in Civil War? >:)

More seriously, Ozymandias in Watchman.

@XBen: Alley-Kat-Abra didn’t really turn evil; it was her evil twin, Dark Alley, according to the most recent Captain Carrot mini.

Hey, Brian, there’s an “Abandoned an’ Forsaked” for you!

I enjoyed Phil Urich’s heel turn at the hands of Dan Slott not too long ago, mostly because it gave new purpose to a forgotten 90′s character I actually remembered pretty fondly, but also took the Hobgoblin identity and repositioned it as something a lot closer to where Peter Parker was coming from (which, if you think about it, you could say retroactively justifies Phil being a bit of Parker ripoff in the first place.)

El Hombre aka the Conquistador from Astro City’s The Tarnished Angel.

@ Matthew Johnson – wasn’t that a ret-con, though? Even if it might have been in the very next appearance that the characters showed up in. I know the original story where she went evil was a bit of a joke, but it was right around then that I began to feel that nobody was safe.

To be clear, I wasn’t saying that any of the examples I listed were best – I find most of them to be a bit aggravating. And I forgot about Roy Harper. But if I did have to pick a “best” – at least of those I was reading as it happened – I’d probably agree with T J Williams and say the one from the Legion Lost series, just because I could imagine how it could have happened.

Max Lord I find the most irritating just because it made the least amount of sense. (Actually, it would have made sense if they just said that he went crazy and evil later on – to say that he was evil all along is just ludicrous).

Phoenix is in a bit of a different category since I didn’t really discover the story until much after the fact, and her turning evil was fairly justified in story and dealt with quite quickly.

The Hulk, in the eyes of Marvel Universe residents, has surely switched sides many times, so I don’t know which of these topics he belongs in. In his very early days he was lucid enough to be a founding Avenger, so that might make him more hero-turned villain?

Ozymandias!

In the villain turned hero page, someone mentioned Omni-Man from Invincible but he’d fit here as well.

Yeah, Omni-Man has a hero -> villain -> hero again character arc that works nicely and feels credible. It probably helps that Robert Kirkman must’ve planned the whole arc beforehand, which obviously isn’t the case with most hero-turned-villains or villain-turned-heroes.

Re: Incorruptable / Irredeemable: The Plutonian and Max Damage should not count for either of these polls because swapping their roles is the base concept which builds their comic franchise. Heck, it’s right there in the title of the books.

Max Lord works if we don’t retcon the whole Kilg%re thing where he is resurrected and merged with Lord Havok of The Extremists.

Just thought the traitor from Runaways vol. 1 (won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet).

I guess it’s in the same character as Terra/Xorn, where they were never really heroes but just pretending, waiting for their moment.

June Moon, the Enchantress. Obscure 60s heroine who did a couple of appearances in Strange Adventures, and then was brought back in the early 80s as a villain. More recently seen with Shadowpact and Justice League Dark.

Would Elektra count? In her first appearance she was pretty clearly a villain, but chronologically this is not the case.

Original Ghostrider/ Zarathos, he went from saving Johnny Blazes but whenever in trouble, and defending the weak, to a straight up sociopathic murder demon, before finally being split from Noble Kale, for Dan Ketchs iteration of GR.

There’s a bunch of these….

Some heroes who turned villain who were later redeemed again, like
Jen Grey Phoenix/Dark Phoenix
Collosus as an Acolyte
Angel as Archangel
Hal Jordan as Parallax
Hank Hall (Hawk) as Monarch and then Extant
Jericho going insane during Titans Hunt, and later in the second TITANS series
Raven, multiple times
Magenta (Frances Kane)
Golden Eagle tried to kill Hawkman, and later mellowed out
Obsidian
Bucky as Winter Soldier assassin

Some heroes that turned bad and it more or less “stuck”:
Risk
Superboy Prime
Omni-Man
Madelyne Pryor (as the Goblin Queen)
Ricochet Rita was revealed to be Spiral
“Future Nightwing” from Team Titans became Deathswing

There’s Terra from the Teen Titans, who was “revealed” as a villain, although she really was bad all along so not sure if it counts.

Cyclops. Just look at the kind of things he’s been up to over the past few years!

i still think that the Plutonian is a contender because he’s obviously a stand-in for Superman.

Yeah, I second that Cyclops vote. Pardon my French, but when fucking WOLVERINE has to tell you you’ve gone too far, you maybe need to rein it in a little.

Maddy Pryor from mom/wife/clone to Goblin Queen.

Cyclops is not a villain. That chestnut is already old, and the whole Schism was so forced and hypocritical, especially on Beast’s part, but I digress.

Guy Gardner, when he was first revived from his coma, and became a Green Lantern for real, was pretty nasty for a while, even trying to kill Hal Jordan when they were out in space, fighting the Anti-Monitor and stuff. Of course, who HASN’T tried to kill Hal Jordan? Or at least wanted to. Then he got over his murderous impulses and settled for just trying to drive him crazy.

Deliberately alternative parsing: I’d say Iron Man was the Best Hero who was later turned into a Villain, around the time of the Crossing. But that is very different from the Best Case of a Hero Being Turned into a Villain; Iron Man around the time of the Crossing is a contender for Worst Case of a Hero Being Turned into a Villain!

It’s not just Schism itself, but everything leading up to it since around Messiah Complex. Cyclops created an assassination squad of largely young mutants, including those he denied proper therapeutic treatment in order to keep his secret (Rahne, Warren). During the Secret Invasion tie-in, he threated to unleash the Legacy Virus upon the Skrulls, a tremendous war crime too reprehensible to even consider. During the Dark Reign he frequently took trips to the mainland believing that if Norman’s forces attacked him, they’d have to attack every single X-Men (thus gambling with the lives of his subordinates, a common theme for his rule). And at the end of the Fear Itself story, Scott threatened to secretly murder the Mayor of San Fransisco if she ever crossed the X-men again.

Granted, Scott had justifications for all of these deeds. But so does Magneto. Which is why Cyclops works better as a complex well-intentioned extremist villain, rather than a duplicitous, vicious ” hero ” who regularly treats his followers as expendable and stacks his team with uber-powerful terrorists as a deterrent.

“Golden Eagle tried to kill Hawkman, and later mellowed out”

I love what that wording evokes in my mind.

“Oh, hey, sorry man. That was like, really harsh of me.”

I love that there are so few legitimate examples of this that Phil Urich has me saying ‘Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?’

Of course, that depends on what is your definition of ‘hero.’ Protagonist to antagonist or just character you look up to who becomes a character you root against/despise? If it is the second, I nominate the Punisher. Guy went from a Mack Bolanish/ sort of anti/80′s action hero to a psychopath. But that is just me.

The Sentry. Kinda hard to believe that no one mentioned him yet.

I was going to say Ozymandias but you all did it 35 minutes ago.

The only other ones I could think of that no one else mentioned were Feral and Colossus in the ’90s. I can’t say they fit meet anyone’s criteria for “best,” though.

Darn it, Fabricio, you wrecked it. We were all keeping silent hoping that had gone away. Well, maybe he will show up in an Abandoned and Forsake’d circa 2017 ‘The Sentry ever existed (well, at least beyond the original Jenkins work.)

Xavier. It made too much sense that he’d have the thing for Jean regardless of what you thought of the whole Onslaught thing.

Can we use Gepetto?

both Will Magnus from the Metal Men and the Chief from Doom Patrol. I think Will’s just bipolar now but the chief (last I heard) was evil now.

The Sentry. Kinda hard to believe that no one mentioned him yet.

Maybe because he was never established as a proper hero, except possibly in his first mini? When they brought him back as a recurring character, it was pretty obvious the Void would one day overthrow his heroic side (which wasn’t that strong to begin with).

Hal Jordan/Parallax (embodiment of how one bad day can drive someone crazy — thank God for Green Lantern Rebirth); Sentry/Void; Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix; Raven; Jericho; Monarch (should have been Captain Atom but the idiots in charge changed him to Hawk — hope Flashpoint has removed that travesty out of canon); Superboy-Prime; Angel/Archangel; Plutonian

Not sure if we’re counting motion comics, but the Ashley Wood-drawn cutscenes within Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker establish Big Boss as this trope’s Most Triumphant Example.

Sasuke Uchiha, Hunter Zolomon, Adam Warlock.

@ Tuomas:

Morrison’s big twist at the end of his Doom Patrol run was pretty terrific.

The other big example is Phoenix from UXM.

Phoenix and Superboy prime

Is it fair to call Ozymandius evil? I think that depends on your political spectrum. That’s like calling Harry Truman evil. He certainly was from the Japanese POV.

At the same time, you could say Ozymandius saved countless lives by uniting the superpowers and averting World War III (albeit an alliance that will be temporary). Im not of that camp, but he’s certainly no more evil than Dick Cheney… hey wait a minute…

@Dominic – I loved Triumph!! :) Justice Jeague Task Force by Priest was AMAZING!! At first I was glad when he appeared in Morrison’s JLA (along with Gypsy and The Ray!), but I should of known he was only brought back…..

SPOILERS!!!

… to be killed off :(

Jason Todd is one of my top choices!

I think it’s pretty fair to call Ozymandias evil. He might have saved countless lives, but of course he doesn’t know that for sure. He just has a crazy plan which involves, lying, killing a whole bunch of people including a former team mate, and blowing up New York City, because he thinks in the long run it’ll be better. Real-life political comparisons aside, that makes him pretty evil to me.

Jonathon Riddle

January 17, 2014 at 2:21 am

I can’t believe no one else has mentioned Namor the Sub-Mariner.

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