Following the controversial revelation in Marvel’s newest Captain America run that the American superhero, Steve Rogers, has always, in fact, been an agent of Hydra, we began to wonder: how many other superheroes have turned evil?
Either due to a retcon, a third-party influence, or a mental breakdown, or because they were just big jerks, many superheroes (throughout their long runs) have at one point or another succumbed to a life of villainy. Sometimes they come back to the light and redeem themselves, but not always. As Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
With that in mind, here are 15 Superheroes Who Turned Evil.
15. Jean Grey
As a charter member of the X-Men, Jean Grey has become one of the most recognized and cherished superheroes in the Marvel universe. And while she is a powerful telepath and telekinetic in her own right, her potential is far greater than even Professor Xavier could imagine.
During Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s acclaimed story arc, The Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey becomes consumed by the primordial Phoenix Force, an entity described as a child of the universe and a hub of all psionic energy in the multiverse – and assumes the identity of the Dark Phoenix. In doing so, however, she loses herself and all sense of reality.
As the Dark Phoenix, Jean essentially harvests the energy of stars across the galaxy – which causes the destruction of other nearby stars, as well as other lifeforms – and commits an act of genocide, as well as destroying almost all of the X-Men. When she utilizes the Phoenix Force, she is virtually unstoppable. Perhaps this is something we’ll see in a future X-Men movie.
14. Hal Jordan
Similar to Jean Grey in Marvel Comics, DC Comics’ Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern (the first human Lantern) once became consumed by an ancient force — in this case, an entity that embodies the yellow light of fear, known as Parallax.
Hal was once the best of the Green Lanterns, but when his home, Coast City, was destroyed by the alien Mongul, Hal goes mad and uses his ring to recreate the city as well as manifestations of his family and friends. Eventually, he is reprimanded by the Corps and taken to Oa to face judgment. It’s there, during the controversial 1994 story arc Emerald Twilight, that Hal assumes the name Parallax (later revealed to be a separate entity) and attacks the Corps, killing virtually all the Lanterns.
Hal redeems himself during the Final Night story arc, when he attempts to revive the Sun, but it’s not until Geoff Johns’ highly acclaimed Green Lantern: Rebirth arc that Hal once again becomes a Green Lantern.
13. Scarlet Witch
Just as in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, in the comics, Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff was introduced as a villain. It was later revealed that she and her brother, Quicksilver, were simply paying back a debt and were not inherently evil, despite being the children of Magento. Not long after leaving the Brotherhood of Mutants, Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers, where she became one of their most powerful members.
During the massive crossover event Avengers Disassembled, Wanda loses all concept of reality, a direct result of realizing that her two sons – who were manifestations of Wanda’s hex powers – are, in fact, parts of the devil’s soul. This realization enrages her, and she directs several attacks against the Avengers (especially Iron Man), who she blames for the death of her children. Her attacks eventually result in the deaths of three major members: Hawkeye, Vision, and Scott Lang.
While the Disassembled story arc was the catalyst writer Brian Bendis needed to effectively relaunch the Avengers, splitting them up into two teams, the House of M storyline continued Wanda’s villainy by creating an alternate reality and de-powering 90 percent of the mutant population.
Superman may be one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe, but he’s not a Green Lantern, which makes him susceptible to corruption just as much as the rest of us. The Man of Steel, who is the archetype for any and all superheroes, has dabbled in villainy before – notably, when he was under the control of Darkseid – and likely will do so again.
But there is one story arc that seems primed for a future Justice League movie. Judging by the Knightmare sequence and subsequent message from The Flash in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there may be a chance we’ll see an Injustice: Gods Among Us adaptation on the big screen soon. For the uninitiated, the Injustice story arc depicts a reality where the Joker destroys Metropolis with a nuclear bomb and tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and their unborn child. Driven mad by the loss of his family and home, Superman murders Joker and establishes a new world order. Batman, of course, isn’t on board with that and forms an insurgency, and so begins a world war.
The fact is, Superman has turned evil multiple times; sometimes of his own free will and sometimes because he was forced to. So if you’re looking for an evil Superman story arc, take your pick; they’re not far or few.
11. Superboy Prime
One of the Earths in DC Comics’ multiverse is Earth-Prime (our Earth), a world where superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman exist only in comic books. There, in that world, existed Superboy-Prime, a young man with the powers of Superman, who later, in a series of rather complex events during the acclaimed crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths, ended up in the paradise dimension along with the Golden Age Superman, Earth-Two Lois Lane, and Earth-Three Lex Luthor.
While in the paradise dimension, Superboy-Prime had grown frustrated with being able to view Earth-One (the new primary Earth) without being allowed to be a part of it. One day, he began punching the barrier of reality, trying to break through the wall. Eventually, he was successful, and with the help of Alexander Luthor, the two launched the crossover event Infinite Crisis (a sequel the previous Crisis). During this event, Superboy-Prime either wounds or kills several members of the Teen Titans, Doom Patrol, and Justice Society and America.
Unfortunately, Infinite Crisis was only the beginning of his life as a supervillain. And even though he was eventually imprisoned by the Guardians of the Universe, Superboy-Prime managed to continue wreaking havoc.
People who have seen X-Men: Apocalypse will recognize Warren Worthington III aka Angel as one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, who is known in the movie as Archangel. But the thing is, the way he was recruited in the movie is (shocker!) not precisely the same way he was recruited in the comics.
Following the death of several Defenders, Angel briefly considered retiring, but instead, he and four other members of the X-Men – Jean Grey, Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman – formed the mutant team X-Factor. During the crossover event Mutant Massacre, Angel’s wings are mutilated, and he is left unable to fly. As Angel takes off in his private jet, the plane explodes, and the rest of the X-Factor presumes he died, but, in fact, Apocalypse rescues him just in time.
Just as in the movie, Apocalypse recruits Angel, retrofits him with metal wings, and conditions him to obey his commands – no matter what they may be. Although he eventually returns to being Angel, Warren falters several times, succumbing to his dual identity Archangel, especially during the famed Dark Angel Saga.
People in the Marvel Universe may view the Hulk as a villain, an irradiated creature to be feared, but really, he simply can’t always control himself. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, because inherently, Bruce Banner is good. But the question is, what if the green guy takes over and Banner loses control; what happens then? We’re stretching the rules here with the Hulk, because while he hasn’t turned evil yet, we know that, eventually, he will, thanks to an alternate reality and a future nuclear apocalypse.
In the ’90s, writer Peter David and artist George Perez created the character Maestro, a future counterpart of the Hulk – who, as a result of a nuclear war one hundred years in the future (dubbed Earth-9200), absorbed too much radiation, which not only enhanced his strength, but also drove him mad, while allowing him to maintain his intelligence. With his newfound might, Maestro gained control of the future and ruled over all those who survived as a dictator, with virtually no one left to oppose him. After all, the Earth’s superheroes had all perished during the war.
We’re slightly breaking the rule with Terra, who was perceived to be a hero while she was, in fact, all along a villain. Terra, along with Nightwing, Kid Flash, and Red Arrow was a member of the Teen Titans, who, for many years, fought the good fight. She befriended members of the team and, more or less, became one of them. Which only increased the shock value of her betrayal.
Throughout her tenure with the team, Terra – who was initially recruited by Beast Boy into the New Teen Titans – fed information to Deathstroke the Terminator, including the secret identities of all the Titans. It’s this act that ultimately results in the Titans (and the audience) discovering that Terra was, in fact, a traitor – or, more accurately, a mole.
One of the characters’ co-creators, George Perez, has previously stated that their intention was for Terra was to betray the team the entire time, but that is something the audience didn’t find out until it actually happened.
Although Sinestro was never exactly a “superhero,” he was still a prominent member of the Green Lantern Corps, who eventually became Hal Jordan’s instructor when Jordan joined the Corps. Unfortunately, due to his dictatorial methods, and the fact that he chose to conquer his home planet in order to preserve order, Sinestro ultimately shifted from being one of the Corps’ greatest Lanterns to its most enduring foe – which makes him a viable candidate for this list.
Using his ring to instill fear rather than hope turned Sinestro down a dark path, one which conclusively led him to be exiled by the Guardians of the Universe into the negative matter universe (a counterpart to our positive matter universe). It’s there that he met the race of scientists and warriors, known as the Weaponers of Qward, who fueled his hatred for the Green Lantern Corps. They vowed to help Sinestro achieve his vengeance and returned him to our universe, but not without creating a yellow power ring to counteract the Lanterns’ green rings. And so began decades of battles and villainy.
Sure, Scott Summers aka Cyclops has always been somewhat of a jerk but he was never villainous. But in the Marvel Universe, heroes can’t always control their actions. Similar to what happened with Jean Grey, Cyclops once became consumed by the Phoenix Force and subsequently turned evil, destroying virtually all of the X-Men (that tends to happen a lot).
In the story arc Avengers vs. X-Men, the Phoenix Force returns to Earth, presumably looking to take Hope Summers as its next host, which Cyclops believes could be beneficial to propelling the mutant population forward. The Avengers disagree with Cyclops and want to destroy the Phoenix. Needless to say, the Avengers and X-Men – the latter led by Cyclops – become embroiled in a conflict over whether or not to terminate the Phoenix. After a series of battles, Iron Man uses his Phoenix-Killer suit to destroy the Phoenix, but fails to do so, and instead fractures it, forcing the Phoenix to inhabit five nearby X-Men, including Cyclops. As you can surmise, Cyclops and the rest of the appropriately-named Phoenix Five go on a killing spree.
At one point, Cyclops becomes the new Dark Phoenix, but thanks to the combined effort of the Avengers and the X-Men, the Dark Phoenix is defeated. They don’t manage to do it before the Phoenix Force infects thousands of people around the world, turning them into mutants.
5. Reed Richards
Reed Richards aka Mister Fantastic, founder of the Fantastic Four, and his archnemesis Victor von Doom aka Doctor Doom were once friends and classmates. In fact, Richards, who is one of the most intelligent characters in all of comic books, believes Doom is the only person who can rival him intellectually. With an intellect like that, it’s not difficult to stray from the beaten path. While in the main Marvel Universe, Reed Richards has remained vigilant, the Ultimate Marvel Universe’s version of Reed was tested and broken.
Taking the identifier of a mad scientist (who had increased intelligence due to his expanding head), Reed Richards became the main villain in the The Ultimates, in which, after returning from the Negative Zone, he became the Maker. He created The City as well as a race of supermen known as the Children of Tomorrow, who went on to conquer not only Asgard but also the world. He then ruled over Earth, presuming that he could make it a better place.
4. Maxwell Lord
Maxwell Lord, thanks to The CW’s Supergirl TV series, can be viewed as Supergirl’s version of Lex Luthor. He is not entirely villainous; he once was tasked with forming the new Justice League International team following the events of the universe-altering story arc Crisis on Infinite Earths. Depicted as an amoral businessman with seemingly no restraint, Maxwell Lord has hopped between good and evil a number of times. But thanks to the laws of retconning, he’s now seen as somewhat of a villain who stops short of becoming an actual supervillain.
Even though he was never a superhero, per se, Maxwell Lord was infected with superpowers thanks to a Gene Bomb during the Invasion! crossover event. Later, during the Infinite Crisis story arc, Lord betrays the Justice League International and murders Blue Beetle, which effectively marks Lord’s transition from borderline-hero to borderline-supervillain until he is killed by Wonder Woman. Of course, we’re talking about comics here, and Lord is no exception to the age-old custom that no one stays dead in comics.
Like Jean Grey, Wolverine is one of the most recognized characters in the Marvel Universe, And like Superman, he’s a character who has turned evil numerous times (which is understandable considering how long he’s been around), though he was always either influenced or under the control of a third-party.
For instance, in the acclaimed Old Man Logan story arc (which fans are hoping is adapted in James Mangold’s The Wolverine 3), Wolverine kills a group of supervillains who attacked the X-Mansion, but as it turns out, he was tricked by Mysterio into killing his fellow X-Men.
Then there was the time Logan was killed by a trifecta of enemies: Hydra, the Hand, and Gorgon. But instead of leaving him dead, the Hand resurrected Logan as a weapon and used him to slaughter the X-Men. And finally, during the X-Men: Forever storyline, Wolverine was killed by Storm, who suspected Wolverine of turning evil.
2. Captain Marvel/Shazam
Billy Batson aka Captain Marvel (who has been renamed Shazam, thanks to a trademark complaint from Marvel Comics) is one of the few superheroes in the DC Universe who can rival Superman. By exclaiming the word Shazam, the young Billy Batson transforms into the superhero Shazam, who channels the powers of seven Greco-Roman deities. Even though Shazam is pure of heart at his core, there was a time he tried to kill Superman and destroy the world.
In Mark Waid’s graphic novel Kingdom Come, an adult Billy Batson (who is now indistinguishable from his superhero persona) falls under the control of one Lex Luthor, who uses Shazam to fight Superman’s Justice League and Batman’s Outsiders rebellion. Since Shazam’s powers are equal to that of Superman, when the Man of Steel arrives at the Gulag, Shazam nearly kills him, scorching his body. But ultimately, Shazam breaks free from Luthor’s control and sacrifices himself by prematurely detonating a bomb that was meant to kill all of Earth’s metahumans.
1. Jason Todd
After Dick Grayson had upgraded from being the boy wonder Robin to full-fledged superhero Nightwing, Batman needed another sidekick to act as somewhat of a sounding board. Enter Jason Todd, the second Robin. Although he was initially well-received by fans, the character began to grow dull at the hands of a few writers — which eventually led to him famously being killed by the Joker (first beaten with a crowbar, then left to die in an explosion) in the acclaimed story arc, Batman: A Death in the Family.
Years later, after a series of complex events, Jason Todd was revived and left comatose. But thanks to Talia al Ghul, she submerged Todd in the Lazarus Pit and let the Pit’s healing properties restore his body and memories — but the Pit left Todd in a state of mental instability, to say the least. To cope, Todd assumed the identity of the new Red Hood and became a type of antihero. While he never entirely succumbed to villainy, Todd had let go of all restraint Batman trained him to have. And despite being reestablished as a superhero in The New 52 universe, Jason Todd is still a far cry away from the boy wonder he once was.