Heroes have a really tough gig. First, they need to have an origin story that involves a certain amount of physical or emotional pain. Secondly, they generally need to give up any hope for normal relationships. Finally, except for a few guys who just won’t get with the program, heroes do not kill.
As a hero, you put your faith in your fellow man and society as a whole to deliver judgement and the appropriate punishment on villains you defeat week in and week out. Of course, every so often there comes a villain that really should have been put in the grave. In these situations, the death of that villain would have saved anywhere from dozens to trillions of lives, but, for some reason, and often against the advice of others around them, heroes have gone out of their way to spare (or even save) the villain.
Here are 15 Villains That Heroes Should Not Have Spared:
15. Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins)
If you are being trained by a group of assassin ninjas and, at the end of your time together, they all try to kill you, do not save one of their main men. It seems like this would be a pretty good rule of thumb for most people, but for Bruce Wayne, it was not. Maybe he was feeling a sense of gratitude to Henri Ducard (who we all know was really Ra’s al Ghul) for giving his life purpose and direction, but… the man did just try to have you killed, Bats.
It really shouldn’t matter that he was actually Ra’s al Ghul in disguise, Bruce should have left him in the building to die. Saving him led to a large chuck of Gotham city being overrun by escaped mental patients and a horde of people exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Were you a poor family living in the narrows only to have your life ruined during the events of Batman Begins? Good news! You have Bruce Wayne to blame for the terrible turn your life has taken. If only people knew the true identity of Batman; imagine the lawsuit they could serve him with.
14. Megatron (Transformers: The Movie)
Never interrupt a fight between the leaders of two opposing armies; it only ends bad for the hero. In Transformers: The Movie, Optimus Prime and Megatron are locked in fierce combat in the opening moments of the film. Being a hero of the highest moral fiber, Optimus Prime hesitates before taking the final blow against Megatron. During that moment, he is distracted by Hot Rod; a distraction that proves fatal as Megatron takes advantage and hits Prime with a fatal shot.
Optimus Prime should have known that there was no convincing Megatron of the error of his ways and just ended the fight and his nemesis. Instead, he allowed himself to get distracted and that led to one of the worst disasters in the Transformers universe: Rodimus Prime. The whole thing was an attempt by Hasbro to sell more toys but history will see it as a moment that would scar kids for generations. It did, however, teach everyone two things: always finish the fight with a mortal enemy, and Hot Rod is just the worst.
13. Sabretooth (Iron Fist #14)
In issue #14 of Iron Fist, the world was introduced to Victor Creed, AKA Sabretooth. He would become one of Marvel’s biggest sociopaths. In the issue, Sabretooth is stealing from Danny Rand’s, AKA Iron Fist, company, and is willing to kill pretty much everyone in his way. During the final showdown, Danny manages to defeat Sabretooth – but only because the villain was untrained. Had Sabretooth had any sort of training, everyone there would have died.
Being the good hero that he is, Iron Fist only knocked Sabretooth out instead of finishing the job. This oversight on his part would lead to the death of dozens, not to mention the annual brutal beat down he would inflict on Wolverine for his birthday every year. Yes, heroes don’t kill, but Feral, Silverfox, and Wolverine all would have appreciated it if Iron Fist had made an exception here. Of course, Sabretooth has gone on to redeem himself and join Magneto’s X-men, so that makes up for all his years of murder, right?
12. Uncle Ben’s Killer (Amazing Fantasy #15)
“With power comes great responsibility.” Everyone knows those words because we’ve heard them in every single Spider-Man movie and cartoon. They were the last bit of wisdom Peter’s Uncle Ben passed on to Peter before his death– a death that Peter could have prevented if it were not for his immaturity. In this case, Peter spared a thief from being arrested, rather than sparing him from death, but it is such an important moment it still belongs on this list. Even if the police had simply had the thief in custody for questioning, fate would have changed – Uncle Ben would have lived. The fact that this became Peter’s greatest regret in life adds weight to the argument.
Imagine how much different Peter would be if Uncle Ben had been around to constantly help guide him. One piece of advice became Peter’s guiding principle, so imagine a lifetime of such advice. It is realistic to speculate that he could have become an even greater Spider-Man than he is.
11. Saruman (The Lord of the Rings)
In The Lord of the Rings books, Saruman is spared after the battle of Isengard by the Ents. He pleads with the giant tree people for mercy and to be let go. Foolishly, the Ents agree and Saruman and his servant Wormtongue travel north where they will set up the final challenge for the Hobbits in the third book, The Return of the King. Saruman, with the help of his agents, takes over the Shire and begin rebuilding his power there. Even though the scouring of the Shire was left out of the films, it was an important part of the series because it delivered one of Tolkien’s most powerful messages: evil can find you, even in the safety of your home.
Of course, had Treebeard and the rest of the Ents delivered the just punishment that Saruman deserved, the Shire would have remained the untouched haven that the movie version of the Hobbits returned to. The foolish decision of the Ents lead to the enslavement of the Hobbits and the near-destruction of their home. For all their anger at Saruman for destroying their home and killing their fellow trees, Treebeard essentially empowered Saruman to do the exact same thing to the Hobbits.
10. Kingpin (Daredevil #170-172)
Sometimes you have to wonder what it would take for a superhero to cross the line and kill a villain. Try and have your best friend murdered by your ex-girlfriend? Nope. Get your ex-girlfriend murdered by a psycho assassin? Nope. Destroy your personal and professional life? Nope. Brutalize all the people in your life? Nope. Send another psychopath into your community resulting in the death of dozens of people? Nope.
In case you haven’t figured out, Kingpin did all of this to Daredevil and Daredevil, bless him, stuck to his no killing values. Oddly enough, no one else in Daredevil’s life seemed to bother suggesting it either. Kingpin had a way of getting out of trouble, but Daredevil knew what he had done and was simply unwilling to do what was necessary to really protect the people around him. Even if Daredevil couldn’t bear to take another person’s life – this is Hell’s Kitchen and the Punisher is just a gang fight away. He would have dropped everything to take out the Kingpin– and in fact tried to, on many occasions.
9. Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek: TOS “Space Seed”)
Remember that time Kirk barely managed to defeat a far superior enemy, then spared him from the punishment that he deserved and that the law of the time allowed? Khan Noonien Singh (no, not the Benedict Cumberbatch version), was, from the moment Kirk met him, the most dangerous man alive. Not just physically or mentally dangerous, although both of those were true; Khan was also dangerously manipulative. Not only did he manipulate Marla McGivers, the historian of Kirk’s crew, to help take over the ship, he also got Kirk to set him free afterwards.
Keeping in mind there was no way of knowing the fate of Ceti Alpha V and VI, Kirk left Khan, who was arguably the most dangerous man in the universe, unmonitored and unguarded on a planet. Of course, this is a problem that would come back to bite Kirk in the butt, with the death of Spock and many more on his ship in a movie literally called The Wrath of Khan. At the end of the episode “Space Seed”, Spock wonders just what this particular seed that Kirk planted would bear. The answer, of course, was his cold dead body being shot out of the enterprise in a torpedo. Nicely done Kirk, nicely done.
8. Reed Richards (Ultimate Doom #4)
Many people take issue with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, because, let’s face it, it destroys the integrity of pretty much every beloved character there is. At the core of the universe’s problems are a bunch of heroes making really poor choices. The biggest one has to do with the rise of the biggest villain that universe had ever seen: Reed Richards.
That’s right, in the Ultimate Universe, Reed Richards is about as mature as a 6 year old who doesn’t get his way; so he proceeds to wreck everything. When all the Ultimate Universe’s heroes track him to his secret base in the Negative Zone to try and stop him, instead of putting this would-be genocidal maniac down for good, they leave him to meet his end in his exploding fortress. Has any villain ever met their doom in their own exploding base?
What is the result of the heroes’ poor choice? Reed makes his way back to Earth, destroys and kills almost everything in Europe. Then sets up his own future city, killing anything and everything that comes near him. The Ultimate Universe is a place inhabited by plenty of characters willing to make the tough choices, including killing people for the greater good (even Captain America will do it!). Except the one time when it really mattered, none of them finished the job and they were all mightily surprised when their mercy project returned to cause more trouble.
7. Joker (Batman: Devil’s Advocate)
The Joker is arguably one of the deadliest villains Batman has ever faced. No life is more sacred to the Joker than a joke (or his ego). In the one shot Batman story Devil’s Advocate, Joker is set to die by the electric chair. But, ironically, in this one case, the Joker happens to be innocent of the murders he has been convicted of. Batman, believing in justice at all costs, proceeds to track down the real killer in order to prove the Joker’s innocence and prevent his execution.
It is important to understand that this takes place after events like The Killing Joke. There’s no shortage of people that the Joker has brutalized and murdered here. And despite all that, Batman cannot let him be killed under false charges. The story ends with Batman confronting Joker back in Arkham, explaining that, from this point on, every breath the Joker takes he owes to Batman. What Batman doesn’t acknowledge though, is the other side of that self-righteous coin– which is that every murder committed by the Joker from that point on is also blood on Batman’s hands.
6. Norman Osborn (Amazing Spider-Man #39-40)
Early on in Spider-Man’s endless battle against evil (and more specifically Norman Osborn), Peter had a chance to drastically change the way the war played out. After Norman originally learned Peter was Spider-Man, he captured him and revealed his own identity as the Green Goblin to him. After the ensuing climactic battle between Norman and Peter, Norman loses his memory after being knocked into live electrical wires. In a move to spare Harry any suffering or embarrassment about his dad, Peter tells the police that Norman helped him defeat the Green Goblin before being hurt.
This moment of sympathy for Harry has led to countless deaths, including what is probably the most infamous comic book death in the Marvel universe: Gwen Stacy. The chain reaction of events that could have been avoided had Peter not spared Norman Osborn is long but includes such things as: taking over SHIELD and making all the Avengers outlaws, faking Aunt May’s death, killing Peter and Mary Jane’s baby daughter, the One More Day/Brand New Day storylines, murdered Gwen Stacy, and sleeping with Gwen Stacy, leading to the birth of twins that would rapidly age and come try and murder Peter seeking revenge.
5. Peter Pettigrew (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
It wasn’t easy for Harry Potter growing up; never getting to know his murdered parents, being treated like a plague by the only family he had, and being marked for death at birth tend to make life rough. So, when the truth of what happened to his parents is revealed, you would think he might take the opportunity to set the cosmic scales back into balance by killing the man responsible. Peter Pettigrew, the old friend to James and Lily Potter, betrayed them to the Dark Lord (getting them killed) and then framed Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, for murder (who surely would have raised him more lovingly than the Dursleys, had he not been stuck in Azkaban prison).
The way the story plays out, Harry didn’t even have to kill Peter – he just had to do nothing. If Harry had just stopped, done nothing, and listened, then he would have not only allowed Sirius to get revenge for everything Peter had done, but he also would have prevented the return of Voldemort. Sadly, Harry’s interference in the situation would lead to the death of countless innocents.
4. Carnage (Amazing Spider-Man #344)
It shouldn’t be too controversial of a statement that confessed serial killer Cletus Kasady should have been given the death penalty and been sitting on death row, as opposed to in a cell with Eddie Brock, AKA Venom. This foolish move on the part of the state would lead to this dangerous average person gaining incredible powers and becoming nearly invincible. After going on a bloody rampage through the city, Cletus was finally defeated by the combined forces of long time rivals Spider-Man and Venom. Sadly, they too failed to finish him off – instead they repeated the same mistake as New York by deciding imprisonment was enough of a punishment for the sadistic killer.
Like all villains in the comic universe, he would escape prison often. And very time he did, he would, also like all villains, return to what he loves. For most villains, that’s usually just your average, run-of-the-mill crime. For Kasady, what he loves is copious amounts of murder, mayhem, and carnage (get it?). The worst part of all of this was what came soon after Carnage’s introduction: the Spider-Man storyline that is almost as bad as the clone saga, Maximum Carnage. If only to spare readers from that travesty of a story, the writers should have killed Carnage after his first outing and let well enough alone.
3. Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith)
During the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan is constantly trying to talk reason to the mind of his friend, and former student. Whether it is a last ditch effort at saving a friend, or an unwillingness to come to terms with what he’s done, Obi-Wan was definitely pulling his punches in this fight. By the time this fight took place, not only has Anakin sided with the Emperor and betrayed the Jedi and the Republic, he has also straight up murdered a room full of children. That isn’t exactly the kind of thing you do by accident or because you are confused.
By not finishing the job, Obi-Wan is responsible for all the Jedi that Anakin would go on to kill, and the worlds that he would help the Empire subjugate. An entire galaxy of suffering and slavery because you couldn’t finish the job is quite the legacy. Of course Obi-Wan didn’t spare Anakin particularly gently – leaving him alive to slowly burn to death instead of finishing him quickly… so maybe Obi-Wan was so mad that he just wanted Anakin to suffer.
2. Thanos (Thanos Rising #1)
There is no greater gift in the world than children… unless you give birth to the Avatar of Death, that is. When Thanos was born, everyone in the room thought he was just different, except his mother Sui-san. Upon seeing Thanos for what he truly was, Sui-san tried to kill him when he was barely a day old. So maybe they didn’t have the best relationship, or maybe his mother just saw how successful he would be in life. Before she was stopped from killing Thanos, Sui-san screamed “If we don’t kill it now, we are all going to die!” It may be a hard thing to hear a mother to say, but it’s also 100% true.
Thanos would grow up to become an infamous space pirate only to return to his home, the Saturn moon of Titan, and nuke it from space. He would then continue in life doing everything he could to find favor with the love of his life, Mistress Death (literally the physical embodiment of Death). Sadly, nothing he ever did was good enough; not even destroying half of all life in the Universe (which was, of course undone… comics everybody!). Of course, if it wasn’t for the intervention of the doctor and others in Sui-san’s hospital room, billions of lives would have been spared.
1. Galactus (Fantastic Four #243-244)
When it comes to villains that Heroes should not have spared, you will be hard pressed to find a villain with a higher body count than that of Galactus. The Devourer of Worlds has killed and displaced trillions of beings across the galaxy. So when he was on death’s door, about to starve to death – what response would be the most inappropriate for Reed Richards? Feed him and return him to full strength? Ding, ding, ding!
Galactus had threatened the Earth more than once making this act unimaginably stupid and irresponsible (a view that the rest of the galaxy also shared). When word of what Reed had done spread across the universe, it resulted in Reed Richards being put on trial by the Shi’ar and the survivors of the countless worlds that Galactus had destroyed. Reed survives due to the testimony of Eternity (the cosmic being that is the embodiment of the universe), but only on what seems like a strange technicality. Despite the verdict that saving Galactus was not an evil thing, Reed still is to blame for every life lost from that point on.