Although they are now facing stronger competition from outside sources, Marvel and DC are the pioneers of the comic book industry. For almost 80 years now the two comic giants have been competitors, countering each other's success with similar characters and fighting for domination of the print, television, film, and merchandise sectors of the comic book industry. They’ve given us hundreds of iconic characters in their decades-long history; they have also crushed readers by turning them evil.
In the words of Norman Osborn: “The one thing [people] love more than a hero is to see a hero fall, fail, die trying.” This has stayed true throughout the years, as both Marvel and DC have used the chaos of major comic arcs as an excuse to turn their greatest heroes into some of their greatest villains. Why wouldn’t they? It works! These villainous turns get people talking, which in turn gets people more invested in the brand. Whether the turn was temporary or permanent, here are 17 Marvel and DC stories that turned good guys bad!
17 17. Injustice: Gods Among Us
Leave it to the Joker to drive Superman off the deep end. In the 2013 comic Injustice: Gods Among Us (made as a tie-in to the video game), Superman gets some good news-- after years of trying, Lois is finally pregnant. Refusing to give up her job as a reporter, she accompanies Jimmy Olsen to investigate a tip at the Metropolis docks, where she is kidnapped by the Joker. When Superman finally finds them, Harley Quinn sprays him with kryptonite-laced fear toxin. Superman appears to see Doomsday and tackles him into space. This was all a hallucination; the figure Clark was seeing as Doomsday was really Lois. As Lois dies, Joker reveals that he had attached the detonator for a nuclear bomb to her heart. The nuke goes off, destroying Metropolis.
Superman doesn’t let Joker gloat. Instead, he rips the clown’s heart right out of his chest. The Kryptonian then began killing every dangerous villain on the face of the earth, from everyday murderers to iconic villains like Solomon Grundy. Superman issues an ultimatum to the entire world: they will stop killing each other, or they will face the consequences. This doesn’t sit well with Batman and many of the other DC superheroes, who vow to bring an end to his violence. By the time the Injustice video game rolled around, Superman had become the ruler of the entire earth, killing all who opposed him. Luckily for DC characters, this is an alternate, albeit terrifying, universe.
16 Armageddon 2001
Back in 1991, DC came up with the story of Armageddon 2001. The tale takes place in the near-dystopian future, where an evil figure known as the Monarch ruled over the world with an iron fist. The Monarch’s identity was a mystery. All that was known was that he was once one of the heroes in the DC Universe, before he turned evil and killed all of his comrades. A scientist, donning the name of Waverider (paid tribute to by Legends of Tomorrow’s time-traveling spaceship), traveled back in time in order to destroy the dictator before he could turn evil.
The main issues of the series focused on Waverider using his powers to look into the potential futures of each DC hero: West placed into witness protection, Guy Gardner starting his own cult, and Superman being elected President of the United States are all destinies suggested by Waverider. In the end, the identity of the Monarch is revealed to be B-list superhero Hawk. This wasn’t the original case, from the beginning DC had intended the Monarch to be Captain Atom. This plan was aborted after the ending got leaked. Fans were furious at the last-minute change. It would have been shocking to turn one of their more popular characters into a villain, but the company instead wussed out. DC realized its mistake and later retconned the Monarch’s origin into being one and the same as Captain Adam’s fall from grace in the Battle for Bludhaven story.
15 Dark Angel Saga
Warren Worthington III has been around the X-Men since the beginning. He was one of the founding members of the team and has been a reoccurring character of the franchise ever since. Naturally, the famous X-man has had his run-ins with major Marvel baddie Apocalypse. When it looked like Warren had been killed in a fiery plane crash, Apocalypse appeared before him, offering offered him power beyond his wildest imagination if he simply fought alongside the villain. At that point in time, Angel was suffering depression due to the loss of his wings. He quickly agreed, was given blue skin and metal wings, and Archangel was born. Worthington has teetered between hero and villain ever since.
Angel went full villain in the Dark Angel Saga of the X-Force comics. Although in his right state of mind, Warren could never fully squash the darkness inside him. The X-Force enlist the help of Dark Beast (an alternate-universe version of Hank McCoy). Dark Beast exclaims that the “life seed” is the only thing that can counteract the “dark seed” that controls Warren. All the while, Warren is completely overcome by the Archangel. Wanting to reset evolution, he plans to wipe out every single human on the planet and use the life seed to start over. He is finally defeated when Psylocke is able to stab the life seed into him, destroying the Archangel for good. The power of the seed had dire consequences; Angel was alive, but he was now just an empty shell of himself.
Back in 2011, DC Comics decided that it was time for a reboot. The company decided to end all of its existing titles and launch fifty-two new titles from the beginning of their respective heroes' stories. Simply entitled The New 52, the new series was sure to be a hit and a great starting point for any new fans to jump in to the lore. DC wanted to end the titles with a bang, and Flashpoint was the solution.
The story begins with Barry Allen waking up to a world that isn’t his. In this world, Batman is not Bruce Wayne, but rather his father Thomas. Cyborg is hailed as the greatest hero in the universe and Superman is imprisoned by the United States government. Perhaps the biggest difference in this new universe is that two of the core members of the Justice League, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, are now ruthless warlords who lead their people (the Amazons and the Atlanteans) in a conquest of the globe. The war eventually comes to the US, where Batman, Cyborg, and Flash lead the charge to release Superman and stop the incoming invaders. Honestly, we can’t do the complex story of Flashpoint justice in just two paragraphs. Just know that, in the end, Barry is able to reunite the alternate timelines, thus creating a singular DC Universe that is the basis for the New 52. Sadly, readers won’t get to see any more of the awesomeness that is the Atlantean-Amazon War.
13 Ultimate Fantastic Four/Ultimatum
Marvel’s Ultimate Universe offered readers a fresh take on their favorite superheroes when it debuted in the early 2000s. Some of its creations were hailed as incredible new interpretations, while others were seen as bastardizations of iconic characters. Still others strayed so far from their originals that fans didn’t know what to think. One of those was Ultimate Fantastic Four. This wasn’t the first family everyone knew and loved: Reed Richards was a jerk, Doctor Doom was a descendant of Dracula, Ben Grimm was unintelligent, and Sue Storm was the leader. It wasn’t bad per se, it was just different.
The story took a huge turn during the events of Ultimatum. Here, Reed Richards has his marriage proposal rejected by Sue Storm and witnesses unspeakable atrocities committed by Magneto. This leads him down a dark path; he fakes his own death by blowing up his house with his parents still inside. Richards then decides to take revenge by sending a small faction of aliens to kill his former teammates, the operatives of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Spider-Man. Although he was defeated and deformed in the process, Reed escaped and took on the identity of The Maker. He would go on to antagonize the Ultimate Universe several times, including incidents where he joined the Dark Ultimates (AKA the Dark Avengers) and performed brain surgery on Tony Stark while he was still conscious. The Maker is currently alive, residing in the main 616 Marvel Universe as a result of 2016’s Secret Wars.
When you want to talk about good guys going bad, the Axis story line is the first place to look. The Red Skull, in true Nazi form, had been capturing various mutants and Inhumans and placing them in a concentration camp. When the combined efforts of the Avengers and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants track him down, Magneto kills Red Skull. Instead of simply dying, the Skull morphed into the more powerful Red Onslaught and rampaged across the country. The Avengers were only able to stop him by having Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch cast an inversion spell that reverted Red Onslaught’s mind to that of Charles Xavier’s (It’s a long, long, LONG story). Even though it worked, the spell had unforeseen consequences.
It caused several Marvel characters to change sides. Carnage, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Sabretooth, and Loki become the new Avengers while Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Medusa, and Scarlet Witch all become villains. Jean Grey and all of her students also decide that the only way to live in peace is to wipe out all non-mutants. The students created a chemical bomb that would kill anyone without the X-gene in their body and the new villains swore to help them. In the end, the bomb is stopped when Carnage uses his Symbiote to wrap around the bomb, sacrificing himself. Doctor Doom and Scarlet Witch recast the inversion spell, which brings almost everyone back to their normal selves. This was a weird, long, complicated story!
11 Avengers vs. X-Men
As with most of the best X-Men tales, the story starts with a time-traveling mutant delivering an ominous warning. Cable arrives on the scene to inform the world that the Phoenix has returned inside of Hope Summers (his adopted daughter), and that the ensuing war between the X-Men and the Avengers would lead to a future dystopian wasteland. After a second messenger delivers the same message about the returning Phoenix Force, Captain America asks Cyclops to hand over Hope so that she can be placed into protective custody. Scott Summers refuses, kick-starting a war between the two teams. As the Phoenix Force approaches earth, Tony Stark and Hank Pym attempt to shoot it down with a powerful weapon. Instead it shatters into five pieces, bonding with Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik.
At first, the “Phoenix Five” try to use their omnipotent powers for good. However, they underestimate its influence and begin to slip more and more into villainous deeds. Eventually, Cyclops steals the powers of the other four team members and becomes the Dark Phoenix. He kills Professor X at the story’s climax before being defeated by Hope and Scarlet Witch. Although the Phoenix Force is driven from his body, Cyclops’ mind is forever tainted.
10 Avengers Disassembled
The Avengers Disassembled storyline was used by Marvel to regain interest in its flagship title and boost sales. Long before the massive success of its cinematic universe, the comic publisher was struggling to sell issues; readers were growing bored of the escapades of its then-B list characters and wanted something new. Marvel thought that by killing off a bunch of the main Avengers and replacing them with A-listers like Spider-Man and relaunching the series as the “New Avengers”, it could bring people back to the title.
The Avengers are perplexed when the reanimated corpse of their old enemy Jack of Hearts inexplicably shows up at their mansion. He suddenly explodes, killing Scott Lang. After this incident, several more horrific events happen: Vision is killed by She-Hulk and Hawkeye sacrifices himself to stop an invading Kree warship. Come to find out, it wasn’t a Kree invasion or an attack by Ultron that caused this-- the Avengers were betrayed by their teammate Scarlet Witch!
Wanda Maximoff was in a very bad place at the start of this event. Ever the opportunist, Doctor Doom offers to bring Wanda’s dead children back if she allows herself to become possessed by an entity of extreme power. Of course, her possession causes her to turn evil and kill her old comrades. In the end, Scarlet Witch and the demon possessing her are defeated by Doctor Strange, but the damage was done. Half of the Avengers are dead and everyone now sees Wanda as a villain.
9 World War Hulk
After a heated debate, the Illuminati decided to send the Hulk into exile. However, the ship he was on ended up on the war-torn planet of Sakaar, where he was taken into slavery and forced to fight to the death in a gladiator-like setting. The ensuing Planet Hulk storyline sees him leading a rebellion to take down Sakaar’s emperor, being elected King, and taking a local warrior as his bride. Then, everything goes to hell; the nuclear engines on the spacecraft that brought Hulk to the planet explodes, destroying the planet’s capital and killing his wife.
This is where World War Hulk begins. Enraged, Hulk takes a small war party and heads toward Earth. He lays the smack-down on Black Bolt, the X-Men, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, the New Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. He then forces them to fight to the death in Madison Square Garden. The Sentry appears and is able to do enough damage to revert Hulk back to Bruce Banner. Hulk’s war party is shocked when they see this. They didn’t realize their king was really a puny human. One member of his party then reveals the truth: the explosion was an assassination plot by loyalists to Sakaar’s old emperor. Enraged, Banner becomes the Hulk and beats all of the members of the war party into submission. S.H.I.E.L.D. takes Dr. Banner into custody and locks him in a concrete vault thousands of feet underground.
8 Captain America (Steve Rogers)
Bear with us on this one, as the story is still ongoing and thus we don’t know how it will end. Earlier this year, Marvel brought back Steve Rogers to the role of Captain America (a role currently being held by his protégé Sam Wilson) with the new series Captain America: Steve Rogers. Fans were excited to see Rogers take up the mantle once again after the short hiatus, and what better time than now? Captain America: Civil War was dominating the box office and people couldn’t get enough of Marvel’s first Avenger. Then, they gasped in horror as the infamous words rolled off of Cap’s lips: “Hail Hydra.”
The internet blew up with rage at the revelation that Cap had been a sleeper agent of Hydra. Some even went as far as to make death threats against the writer! In the next issue, it is revealed that Cap isn’t really a sleeper agent, he just thinks he is. Let us explain: Red Skull is currently using Korbik, a young girl with the power of a cosmic cube, to manipulate Steve Rogers’ past. Now Steve remembers that he and his mother were taken care of by Hydra when he was just a poor boy from Brooklyn with an abusive father. Since the major reveal, Cap has gone on to kill two different villains in cold blood and more are sure to follow. No matter its conclusion, we’re sure this story’s going to be a doozy.
7 The Age of Apocalypse
The Age of Apocalypse kicks off when Legion, the deranged son of Charles Xavier, travels back in time in order to kill Magneto. Instead, he accidentally kills his father, erasing himself from existence and altering the Marvel timeline. Magneto becomes the leader of the X-Men as a tribute to his fallen friend, and the evil mutant Apocalypse decides to attack the world ten years earlier than he did in the original timeline. With the X-Men much more inexperienced, his plan easily succeeds. Apocalypse and his minions establish mutants as the “ruling class” of the new world order and attempts to eliminate all humans.
The only thing standing in his way was Magneto and his rag-tag group of mutant rebels. Cyclops, Beast, Deadpool, Havoc, Daredevil, and Bruce Banner all fall to the side of evil in this story arc, serving in various henchmen roles to Apocalypse. Many of these fallen heroes are killed throughout the course of the story (including Wolverine finally getting his ultimate revenge on Scott Summers). In their final battle, Magneto is able to muster up enough power to rip Apocalypse in half. Bishop is also able to go back and stop Legion’s assassination attempt on Xavier, returning the timeline to its rightful place.
6 Superman: Red Son
This story finally answers the question often posed by the current DC films: what would happen if Superman wasn’t our ally? In Superman: Red Son, Kal-el’s spacecraft doesn’t land in Smallville, Kansas. Instead it lands in the heart of the Soviet Union. No longer is Superman an All-American hero. He fights for “the common worker, Stalin, and socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw pact.”
In the late '70s, the Soviets have used the Man of Steel to spread their influence throughout the world. Superman acts like an enforcer to the Soviets with an army of brainwashed soldiers. The United States, on the other hand, is on the brink of collapse. In a last ditch effort to save his country, Lex Luthor teams up with Brainiac, Batman (now a murderous vigilante), and the Green Lantern to kill Superman. They all fail, and Batman ends up killing himself rather than becoming one of Superman’s lobotomized drones, while Brainiac is disassembled and reprogrammed to be Superman’s aide. Wonder Woman betrays Superman, allying herself with now-President Luthor. Superman looks to Brainiac for help, and the alien uses his forces to betray the Man of Steel and invade the earth himself. Lex Luthor is able to sabotage the mothership, and Superman flies it into space, where it explodes, killing him in the process. President Luthor then ushers in 1,000 years of peace and prosperity. At Luthor’s funeral, it is revealed that Superman had not really died.
5 Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe
Wade Wilson has skyrocketed in popularity in the last ten years. The character who started off as a ruthless assassin has now been morphed into a sarcastic “Merc with a Mouth” who gets himself into zany adventures. Some love this change and some absolutely hate it. We find that the best Deadpool stories tend to find a middle ground between the two. Wade Wilson has always been on the more psychotic side, but the story Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe takes it to a whole other level.
The X-Men, fearing for Deadpool’s health, admit him to the Ravencroft institute in order to cure his insanity. Little do they know that the doctor treating him was the villain Psycho-Man, who instead tries to brainwash Wilson into doing his bidding. This brainwashing backfires and instead starts giving Deadpool voices in his head that tell him to kill everyone. He escapes and goes on a killing spree, taking out the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Watcher, the Avengers, and most of the X-Men. As a final Hail Mary, Charles Xavier tries to use his telepathic powers to shut down Deadpool’s mind. Once inside the Merc’s head, the Professor is horrified by what he sees and dies on the spot. In typical fourth-wall breaking fashion, Wade Wilson enters the real world and kills the comic’s writers. It is later revealed that this version of Deadpool (or “Dreadpool”) is living in an alternate timeline, and our own 616 Deadpool sets out on a mission to stop him.
4 Kingdom Come
Unlike most entries on this list, this story turns the whole concept of the Superhero into something “bad.” Similar to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Kingdom Come’s entire premise focuses on the dark and “gritty” turn of the comic book industry in the ‘80s and asks “does the world still need heroes?” In the story, all of the major DC heroes (minus Batman, of course) have gone into retirement. Years ago, a wave of violent vigilantes appeared on the scene-.These new “heroes” had no qualms about murdering their enemies in cold blood. The general public embraced these new superheroes, claiming that they were more successful than the Silver Age heroes ever were.
After one of the escapades of these new heroes goes awry and causes a major crisis across the American Midwest, Wonder Woman coaxes Superman into coming out of retirement to recreate the Justice League. At the same time Lex Luthor and his “Mankind Liberation Front” wish to rid the worlds of superheroes all together. He kidnaps Captain Marvel, brainwashes him, and sends him off to wreak havoc. Although Batman comes around in the end, it takes a beatdown by the Man of Steel himself to bring Captain Marvel back to his senses. We won’t spoil the rest, as Kingdom Come is a must read for anyone who loves comics.
3 Emerald Twilight
Set in the aftermath of the infamous Death of Superman arc, Emerald Twilight saw the villain Mongul team up with Cyborg Superman in order to summon a powerful alien warship and conquer earth. To do this, the duo needed four large, desolate way-stations. The position of one of these was to be Coast City, Hal Jordan’s home town. A rain of bombs were launched at the city, reducing it to nothing but rubble. Completely distraught and in a state of depression, Green Lantern uses all the power of his ring to create a living simulation of his beloved city. A Lantern is not allowed to use his powers for personal gain, and Jordan is informed that there will be repercussions.
In a fit of rage, he defies the Guardians and vows to steal the Main Power Battery (the source of all Lanterns’ powers) and rebuild his city for good. Hal Jordan travels through space and defeats Lantern after Lantern, stealing their rings and using them to make himself more powerful. In the process he kills his arch enemy Sinestro and fan-favorite character Kilowog. When he finally reaches the battery, he absorbs all its energy and reemerges as the villain Parallax. The last Green Lantern ring was bestowed upon Kyle Rayner, who Jordan would antagonize as a villain until his return to the light ten years later in Green Lantern: Rebirth.
2 Batman: Under the Red Hood/Batman: Under the Hood
In 2005, DC decided to bring long-dead Batman sidekick Jason Todd back. During the Death in the Family story, the Joker beat Jason with a crowbar and then left him to die in an explosion. In Under the Red Hood it is revealed that Ra’s al Ghul, who played a big part in the Death of the Family story line, felt responsible for the boy's death. He secretly stole the boy’s body from the grave and placed it in a Lazarus Pit in order to resurrect him.
The plan worked, but Jason came back more violent and crazy than he originally was. After a few years of laying low, Jason Todd resurfaced as the anti-hero Red Hood (a taunt at the Joker’s early crime career). As the Red Hood, he did what Batman refused to do: he killed all the criminals that he went up against, believing that it was what was best for the world. Obviously this put him and Batman at odds.
What really sets Jason off is the fact that the Joker is still alive. Why did Batman let the man who killed his beloved sidekick live? He kidnaps the Joker, hands Batman a gun, and tells him to make a decision. Either kill Jason, or Jason was going to kill the Joker. Batman is able to disarm Red Hood without killing him, but both he and the Joker escape. Jason Todd is still the Red Hood in the current DC continuity.
1 Dark Phoenix Saga
The Dark Phoenix Saga has been the gold standard for "good guys gone bad" story lines since its creation in 1980. The story was alluded to in X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, and more recently X-Men: Apocalypse. Rumor has it that the next film in the franchise will tackle the story head on and feature Jean Grey struggling with her enhanced Phoenix Force powers.
During an earlier story arc, X-Men member Jean Grey is exposed to a powerful supernova that heightens her psychic powers and turns her into the most powerful telepath in the universe. After Cyclops appears to be killed, all of Jean’s psychic barriers are broken. She allows herself to be taken over by the full power of the Phoenix Force.
Now the Dark Phoenix, she defeats all of the X-Men and flies off into the cosmos. While in space, the Dark Phoenix absorbs an entire star, destroying every single planet within its solar system and causing genocide. Phoenix returns to earth and Charles Xavier is able to subdue the entity. However, a race of aliens called the Shi’ar abduct the team and assert that Jean must be executed for her crimes. As the X-Men fight the aliens, Jean realizes what she must do. She activates a Kree weapon, killing herself and the Phoenix once and for all. Jean Grey’s fall and death is easily one of the most important moments in comic book history, and the ultimate tale of a good person who went dark.
What do you think of our list? Did we miss any major good guys turned bad? Let us know in the comments!