Bad guys, crooks, thieves, villains, foes...whatever you want to call them, the one thing we know about comic book criminals is that they are no good scum that will never be of merit to society. Though they may occasionally win the day, ultimately these baddies are irredeemable schemers who will eventually have to face justice.
But you know, sometimes villains can shock everyone and actually join the forces of good. Oh sure, sometimes it's just because they were beaten up so many times that they eventually discovered that there has to be a better way (or maybe it's because they just weren't that great at being villains in the first place), but every now and then, a former comic book wrongdoer decides to turn over a new leaf and stop the same crimes that once drove them.
Here are 15 Comic Book Villains That Became Heroes.
15 Plastic Man
Plastic Man occupies an odd space in the DC Universe. While many writers find it easy to ignore this bizarre relic of a different age, some (like Grant Morrison) are inexplicably drawn to this hero with the power to stretch. He’s a cameo player that has captured the hearts of certain creators.
What’s even more bizarre about his current DC status is that Plastic Man actually started as a villain. According to the origin issues of the character, Plastic Man was once a small-time crook named Patrick O’Brian. After being shot in the shoulder, O’Brian fell into a vat of mysterious liquid that granted him superpowers (as you do). Fortunately, he would eventually fall under the care of a monk who helped convince him to change his evil ways and join the forces of good.
Another take on O'Brian's original depicted the future Justice Leaguer literally flipping a coin to decide between using his newfound powers to be a good guy or a bad guy, interestingly enough.
14 Emma Frost
It sometimes feels like the X-Men writers are determined to prove that characters with a spot of evil in them make for the best heroes. Many of the greatest X-Men have a bit of a darker side that gives them an edge, and many of the X-Men’s former villains would later go on to join the group in their fight.
Perhaps the most interesting instance of the latter example is the story of Emma Frost. The White Queen of the Hellfire Club was once one of the X-Men’s greatest foes. She was not only a powerful telepath in her own right, but also had a knack for attracting and mentoring other wayward mutants as well. So much so, in fact, that she would eventually come to join the X-Men following the murder of her sister and rise to the lofty position of group leader. Of course, many of the group's members still wouldn’t trust her for years to come.
13 Namor the Sub-Mariner
Way back in 1939, Namor the Sub-Mariner made his comic debut as an enemy of the United States. He was a merciless, powerful and vindictive foe who would regularly threaten to sink major cities or just throw a beatdown to the biggest hero of the day. You could say he was a bit of a jerk, in that way.
Despite his overt evilness, however, fans latched on to the interesting look, powers and motivations of the character. He was a fully-fledged villainous creation in a much simpler time, and audiences loved to hate him because of that. Seeing the opportunity to capitalize off of Namor’s popularity, his writers decided to turn him into a Nazi beating superhero when the U.S. entered World War II. Namor would only continue to rise in the Marvel hierarchy of heroes from there.
Though he regularly occupies a pretty gray moral area, Deadpool was a bonafide black hat villain when he first made his debut. As a play on the Deathstroke character (even Deadpool’s real name of Wade Wilson is derived from Deathstroke’s Slade Wilson), the Merc with a Mouth was an assassin for hire who typically hunted down the X-Men.
A funny thing happened in 1997, though, as Deadpool became popular enough to receive his own series. Because writer Joe Kelly wasn’t sure how long he would be allowed to continue to write these books, his team had a little fun with the development of Deadpool by having him become a sort of pop-culture fueled, self-aware antihero. The persona stuck, and it wasn’t long before Deadpool started beating up on the bad guys as well.
Though his character would later develop into a kind of complicated creation that flirts between good and evil, when Magneto first started appearing in X-Men comics, he was still much closer to a pure supervillain. It’s natural, then, to expect that the son of Magneto would have spent quite a bit of time as a supervillain himself.
While Quicksilver did give the X-Men fits for a few issues, it actually wasn’t long before he and his sister left Magneto following Magneto’s abduction by The Stranger and eventually were recruited by Iron Man to join The Avengers, and the speedster has also joined up with the Professor Xavier's mutant squad on several occasions over the years.
It’s a good thing Xavier and Stark take in these wayward souls, as we otherwise may have never gotten those great individual scenes of Quicksilver saving the day in Fox's latest X-Men films. Oh, and Hawkeye would probably be dead.
10 Lex Luthor, Black Adam and Captain Cold (The Injustice League)
What’s better than a supervillain renouncing their evil ways and joining the fight for truth and justice? Well, puppies and the season six finale of Game of Thrones, of course, but the specific answer we’re looking for here is “three villains renouncing their evil ways.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened in the New 52, when Lex Luthor, Black Adam and Captain Cold joined forces to form a new Justice League.
Well, sort of. As you may expect when you’re dealing with multiverse-related shenanigans, the whole thing is rather complicated, but the basic gist of this turn is that the Justice League had been corrupted and these three took it upon themselves to step up in their place. The good-natured pursuits of the “Injustice League” may not have lasted long, but it was nothing if not memorable.
Luthor's even more recent protagonistic turn is turning heads as well.
Aside from that memorable portrayal of the character by Tommy Lee Jones, Two-Face has been a tragic member of the Batman rogues gallery since his origin was re-written in the late ‘80s. Torn between good and evil, many fans have long desired to see something good happen to the tortured former District Attorney.
That something did finally occur in the Batman: Hush series when Two-Face receives plastic surgery and begins to revert back to the Harvey Dent that Gotham knew and loved. In fact, not long after, he even takes Batman’s place as the city’s protector for a brief period. Oh sure, he also employed brutal tactics and wasn’t above worming his way out of a tricky legal situation or two, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Oh, Elektra. Of all of Matt Murdock’s misguided love interests (and there are quite a few to consider) you remain the one that we just can’t get out of our heads. Maybe it's those twin sai that she keep at her side, or her rather fascinating backstory, but she's always been an interesting companion to the man without fear.
Elektra’s rise from villain to hero is actually a fairly organic one. Though she first appeared as a simple villain in the Daredevil comics, it soon became apparent to the series’ writers that fans wanted more of the character, even after she died in issue #181. From there, Elektra would play up her tweener role a bit more by helping Daredevil as well as fighting him. These days, however, it’s rare that the famous warrior isn’t shown a full-fledged hero -- except on the small screen that is.
Count us in for more morally ambiguous Elektra action in season 3.
In all fairness to Clayface, finding out you have the ability to shapeshift does seem like it would inspire someone to engage in a spot of evilness from time to time. Though the character has actually been portrayed by a few different people over the years, Clayface’s origin as an actor with the ability to transform who turned to a life of crime has remained fairly consistent.
It is that exact origin, however, that Batman was able to play off of in the Rebirth series to get Clayface to renounce his wicked ways. After finding Clayface in a theater lamenting his lost human looks and life, Batman was able to persuade Clayface to turn his life around and start engaging in a heroic act or two. As it turns out, the guy is pretty good at the whole hero thing, and he could even be on the verge of becoming a full-fledged member of the Bat family.
Truth be told though, if he were to make his way to the big screen, we'd prefer to see him as an antagonist.
Falcon has been portrayed as a pure hero for so long, it’s easy to forget that his roots lie in evil. As an angry young man who watched his parents murdered by injustice, the Falcon (aka Samuel Wilson) decides that the world has given up on him and turns to a life of crime under the name of “Snap” Wilson. His exact crimes are hotly debated, but for a time, he was a villain in no uncertain terms.
Before long, however, a crash on Exile Island and an encounter with the Red Skull causes Wilson to forget his troubled past (literally, it was wiped from his memory) and join forces with his new best friend Captain America. Even when Wilson later learns of his true origins, he decides that the whole “being good” thing is going pretty well and sticks with the Captain, and he even eventually goes on to take up Steve Rogers' shield (and his mantle).
Gambit’s history as a villain is a fascinating one if for no other reason than the character has always exhibited certain villainous traits even when he was clearly a fighter for good. As that classic country song goes, you can “blame it all on his roots.”
Much of Gambit’s villain history has been revealed slowly over time, but we do know that the boy who would become Gambit started life as a sort of criminal chosen one. As a member of the Thieves Guild, Gambit quickly established a reputation as the man you call when your dirty deeds absolutely must be accomplished. In fact, it was really only an instance in which Gambit was conned into assisting with the killing of a group of Morlocks that forced him to finally stop his life of serious crime.
Expect his live-action turn (should it ever get off the ground) to be just as complicated.
When Slade Wilson first appeared as Deathstroke the Terminator in the early ‘80s, DC Comics knew exactly what they had in him. As a rough and tough no-nonsense villain in a comic book world still full of over-the-top antics, fans quickly came to identify Deathstroke as the one bad guy that was arguably cooler than the heroes he faced.
That being the case, it wasn’t long before someone realized that this Deathstroke fellow could probably move some comics of his own. Though Deathstroke flirted with the assassin life for some time (and he’s long carried a grudge towards the Teen Titans) a series of ill-advised betrayals by fellow antagonists caused Deathstroke to split time between life as a hero and life as a villain. Depending on the universe, he still serves in something of a “tweener” role today, and we can't wait to see that badass-ery make its way into DC's film universe at some point.
3 Black Widow
If you really think about it, then it’s kind of surprising to think that Black Widow is a hero at all. As a Russian-born spy with a fondness for deception, Black Widow seems to fit the classic comic book villain mold rather nicely.
What caused her to turn over a new leaf, then? Well, after falling in love with a gentleman that is soon to appear on this list, Black Widow was betrayed by her KGB friends (bad move, fellas) and eventually talked her way into becoming a member of the Avengers. Of course, if you really want to dig into comic book history, there was another Black Widow character that regularly sold the souls of her enemies to her lord Satan. She did not make a turn for good, and Marvel goes out of their way to emphasize that the two Black Widows are unrelated.
The MCU Black Widow is a bit less complex, though her dark past has been strongly hinted at on several occasions. It's been six full years since she was first introduced to Marvel's shared universe though, so we're starting to wonder if we're ever going to get the Natasha Romanoff solo movie fans have been calling for.
We’ve all had misunderstandings in our life, but it’s doubtful that any of us have had to endure one as drastic as what happened to Hawkeye early in his comic book days. See, after Hawkeye decided to use his archery skills to fight evil, he hit a bit of a snag his first night out and was quickly labeled as a villain. From that point, he is running for his life before he even has the chance to explain his story.
Not long thereafter, he met Black Widow and decided that the whole “continue being a villain on the run” bit in order to spend more time with Black Widow was not a bad deal at all. Though Hawkeye actually rose up the criminal ladder quite a bit, an injury to Black Widow forced him to re-examine his priorities and join the Avengers.
In a way, it’s easy to forget Rogue’s time as an X-Men villain. She has become such an integral part of the X-Men mythology (and a fan favorite to boot) that her earliest days tend to be buried under the weight of accolades she has acquired as a member of the world’s greatest superhero team.
On the other hand, it’s quite easy to imagine that a character with the ability to cause such significant harm to others with her very touch would attract some evil suitors, which is exactly what happened when Mystique adopted Rogue as a daughter of sorts early on in her career. Rogue spent some a good deal of time giving Ms. Marvel and the X-Men the fight of their lives before an encounter with a being known as Hybrid in a fight against Rom the Spaceknight caused Rogue to change her outlook on life.
Which other villains-turned-heroes are you a big fan of? Which versions of these characters do you prefer, the heroic or the sinister? Sound off in the comments.