What does a superhero look like to you? If you had to imagine a superhero, there’s a good chance they’d have a bright costume, a cape, a square jaw, a perfect physique, and be impossibly handsome. And you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Ever since Superman set the standard, there have been plenty of superheroes that have followed in his bright red footsteps.
But, there’s the other kind of hero. The ones that look like freaks and monsters, but who are no less heroic. And there are the ones who deliberately dress in an imposing manner to strike fear into the criminal element. Some of these walk the fine line between hero and villain at times, others like The Punisher are out and out anti-heroes.
Imposing fear on a bad guy is certainly an effective weapon. Batman certainly scares the heck out of the criminals of Gotham by looking mean. But, what of the guys that can’t help it? What about those with heroic souls, trapped in the form of monsters?
Here’s 16 Superheroes That Look Like Villains.
Created by the legendary Jack Kirby, Etrigan walks the fine line between hero and anti-hero. He’s a demon from Hell, but despite his tendency to use more violence than necessary, he often finds himself working with the heroes of the DC universe due to an alliance between the Justice League and Jason Blood, his human host. Initially based in Gotham City, he and Batman were a fearsome pair.
Etrigan is the son of the demon, Belial, and was summoned to Earth by the sorcerer Merlin. Merlin bonds Etrigan to the soul of the knight of Camelot, Jason Blood, which renders Jason immortal. It is when Jason, in the modern day, is working as a demonologist in Gotham that he encounters Batman. Batman trusted both Etrigan and Jason, and when the Justice League were presumed dead, Jason was one of those selected by Batman’s contingency plan to join the league as its resident magic expert.
15 Cassandra Cain (Batgirl/Orphan)
Cassandra Cain is one of the few people Batman has worked with that can truly be considered an equal when it comes to the martial arts. The daughter of David Cain and Lady Shiva, Cassandra was conditioned to be the ultimate assassin from childhood and was denied human contact and any form of comfort. Due to her conditioning, she was mute and had highly limited social skills.
Cassandra joined the Bat-family during the events of 1999’s No Man’s Land storyline and was one of the agents working for Oracle after Gotham was devastated by a massive earthquake. When Batman learns of Cassandra’s past as an assassin, he is hesitant to work with her. But when she took several bullets protecting another person, Batman accepted her devotion to preserving life and took her on as the new Batgirl.
Like Batman, Cassandra is a fearsome fighter, but also uses her appearance to strike fear into her enemies, giving her a further edge in combat. Unlike Batman, her Bat-Costume lacked an opening for her mouth as she remained mute for some time.
An anti-hero, for sure, but Spawn is certainly on the side of good… mostly. Born in Detroit, Al Simmons became a highly-trained Force Recon Marine with the rank of Lt Colonel. After saving the President from an assassination attempt, he was promoted to black ops unit in the CIA. While there, he began to question his actions, as he had killed people he knew to be innocent. Killed by his friend and partner, Bruce Stinson, his soul was sent to Hell for his actions.
Simmons made a deal with Malebolgia, in return for his soul, he would be reunited with his wife, Wanda. Arriving back on Earth, Al discovered five years had passed, and Wanda had remarried. Al was also transformed into a demonic form, with scattered memories of his former life.
His appearance isn’t purely that of a demon in a costume. In fact, the suit is a living symbiotic costume known as Leetha of the 7th house of K. The suit is bonded to Al’s nervous system and each part of it, including the protruding spikes and chains, as alive and will protect Al, even if he is unconscious.
The adopted daughter of the mad-titan Thanos, Gamora was trained as an assassin and enhanced to possess enhanced physical traits via Thanos’ advanced scientific skills. As such, the last of her race is considered to be “The most dangerous woman in the universe.” Gamora was an assassin for many years, and despite Thanos not showing her affection he did brutally murder a gang of thugs on Tartoonia 7 who brutalised her on a lone mission, showing a degree of paternal instinct.
Eventually, Gamora turned on Thanos after he proved to be a bigger threat to the universe than she realised. She aided Captain Marvel, Drax the Destroyer, and The Avengers in an effort to save the universe. Although she appeared to die, she was absorbed into Adam Warlock’s Soul Stone and was eventually revived.
Since then, she has become a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and is very much a hero. She remains a fearsome warrior with a reputation that stretches across the universe. Despite her still-frightening appearance, she remains committed to acts of heroism.
Prior to becoming the superhero, and Avenger, known as Hellcat, Patsy Walker was featured in Miss America Magazine as a teen-comedy character in the 1940s. After a cameo appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #3 established Patsy as being in the integrated Marvel Universe, Writer Steve Englehart re-invented Patsy as the superhero Hellcat. The costume and identity of Hellcat had been used previously by Greer Grant Nelson, who went on to become the hero Tigra.
Initially, her powers were due to the ability-enhancing costume she took from Greer. Later, and after a marriage to Daimon Hellstrom (The Son of Satan) she died as was resurrected, gaining occult powers as a result. She can now detect mystical phenomena or those beings touched by magic. She is also able to generate a magical forcefield which deflects mystical assaults.
Given the retractable claws she wears, along with the cat mask, Hellcat could easily be assumed to be a villain.
11 Blue Devil
Dan Cassidy was a special effects expert and stuntman and created a Blue Devil suit for a movie he was working on. While wearing the suit on location on a remote island, Dan was attacked by the demon Nebiros who mistook Dan for an actual demon. In attempting to drain his demonic power, Nebiros accidentally bonded Dan to the suit permanently. This fusion of magic and technology made Dan a “Weirdness Magnet” and odd events seemed to happen wherever he went.
Despite wanting to be rid of the suit, Dan became a reluctant superhero as he now had superhuman strength, durability, vision, and a healing factor. He could also detect demons and banish them to Hell. Eventually, Dan was transformed into an actual demon, after a deal with Neron. Despite regretting the deal, he remained a hero and dedicated himself to fighting demonic forces.
After his transformation into a true demon, Dan gained a mystical trident which replaced his mechanical one. He remains in the form of a monster, but is a true hero at heart.
10 Ghost Rider
There have been several Ghost Riders, Johnny Blaze, Dan Ketch, Robbie Reyes, even Zero Cochrane. But in each of these, it is a heroic individual who is bonded to a powerful demon and spirit of vengeance. While initially confused, Johnny Blaze (the first Ghost Rider, not counting the Phantom Rider) eventually discovers that his soul is grafted to that of the Demon Zarathos and it is Zarathos that is the source of his otherworldly power.
Most Ghost Riders appear as a large male, donned in leather biker gear, with a flaming skull in place of a face. Each generally rides a fearsome-looking enhanced motorcycle with flaming wheels. Robbie Reyes is an exception to this as he drives a muscle-car instead.
While Ghost Rider is a demonic entity, he is firmly a good-guy but is brutal towards his enemies. The Dan Ketch Ghost Rider was famous for using a “Penance Stare” which forced his victims to experience the pain they’ve caused on others.
Wichblade, Sara Pezzini, was an NYPD homicide detective who came into possession of the Witchblade, a sentient gauntlet of supernatural origin. It bonded to her and granted her a variety of superpowers to fight supernatural evils. Sara’s powers while in possession of the Witchblade are deliberately undefined, but it did possess the ability to heal her from mortal wounds inflicted on her by the criminal Ian Nottingham.
Sara gave the Witchblade to Dannielle Baptiste, who had a strong affinity to mystical energy, but Sara took it back after complications in her pregnancy meant she needed to be healed once more. For a time, Sara and Dani shared half of the witchblade’s power, but Sara eventually took he whole power once more.
Due to the strong manga influence on the character, indeed there was a Manga Witchblade series, Witchblade often appears as a scantily-clad figure. Between the costume and the gauntlet, itself, Witchblade certainly doesn’t look like a clear-cut hero.
8 Daimon Hellstrom - Son of Satan
After the success of other occult titles, Ghost Rider and The Tomb of Dracula, Stan Lee floated the idea of an on-going series starring Satan himself. Editor/Writer Roy Thomas felt Satan was a little too much, developed the idea of a series starring The Son of Satan instead. This series then focussed on Daimon Hellstrom, after a brief appearance in an issue of Ghost Rider and a brief run in the pages of Marvel Spotlight.
Daimon Hellstrom was born in Greentown Massachusetts and was the son of Satan (retconned to be the demon Marduk Kurios, the biblical Lucifer) and a mortal woman, Victoria Wingate. Trained by his father, alongside his sister Satana, Daimon learned to tap into dark magic granted to him due to his heritage. Daimon, unlike his sister, fought to retain his humanity and refused to succumb to the darkness within him and turned on the forces of darkness, using their own power against them.
As one of the most powerful mystical entities on the planet, Daimon’s power rivals that of Doctor Strange and he is capable of virtually any magical feat. Given his heritage, he looks human, although rarely dresses in a typical manner. He is often seen in leather jeans, sans a shirt, and is often adorned in demonic-style clothing.
7 Swamp Thing
There have been several incarnations of the creature known as Swamp Thing. The most notable of these is botanist Alec Holland who was working in the swamps of Louisiana on a formula which would, if successful, restore deserts to lush forests. Killed by an explosion caused by the mysterious Mister E, Alec’s soul was saved by magical forces in the swamp which caused him to become a gigantic plant-like creature.
Often described as a plant-elemental, Swamp Thing has the mystical ability to inhabit and control any and all vegetation on Earth, meaning he can be psychically present anywhere there is vegetation. If his prime body is destroyed, he can rebuild a new form anywhere there is plant-life. He even managed to form a body from John Constantine’s tobacco supply on one occasion.
In addition to his vast superhuman strength, Swamp Thing is one of the most powerful mystical entities in the DC universe and a member of Justice League Dark. Despite this, he appears in a monstrous form and is often thought to be a monster by casual observers.
6 Martian Manhunter
J'onn J'onzz is one of the most famous members of The Justice League and was a founder member. Considered by Superman himself to be “The most powerful being on the planet” The Martian Manhunter has saved the world many times over. Despite this, the last Martian often has to use his shapeshifting powers to assume a human form as his green-skinned appearance is deeply imposing. Even his typical form is not actually his true Martian form, but one he takes as a compromise and is more along the lines of a costume.
Should he wish to appear more villainous, J’onn could easily make himself scarier and take on a more demonic appearance or bulk himself to monstrous proportions. As it is, his typical form, with green skin and red eyes, is scary enough.
Despite his imposing form, J’onn is a gentle soul who loves nothing more than cookies and being at peace.
Boston Brand was a circus performer who delighted in using the trapeze without a safety net. Enjoying living dangerously in all aspects of his life, he often seduced married women for fun. During his act, we dressed in his red corpse costume and was murdered while performing a dangerous stunt. As such, his ghost still wears the clothes he was in at the moment of death. His spirit is given the ability to possess the living by the Hindu god, Rama Kushna.
As a disembodied spirit, Boston isn’t seen or heard by most living beings, although mystics such as Zatanna and John Constantine can perceive him. Like most ghosts, he can float through solid walls. While he can possess most beings, some, such as Batman are harder to possess due to the strength of their will.
Due to his form being stuck in the outfit he was wearing at the moment of his death, Boston looks especially villainous. The corpse makeup, and devil costume, make him look especially scary.
As mentioned, Batman’s costume is designed to strike fear into his enemies rather than to appear as a symbol of hope, in the way Superman’s is. As such, Batman could easily be mistaken for a villain. Bats are often associated with evil, such as vampires, in folklore and are one of the creatures with the most legends built around them.
Many of Batman’s foes are probably unaware that Batman doesn’t possess any superpowers. His strength, speed, and fighting skills are all at the peak of human conditioning so coupled with the psychological advantage he has in the costume, he doesn’t really need them to win the day.
At times, Batman has been mistaken for a vampire, and his fearsome reputation as a man you don’t want to get on the wrong side of means he’s one of the most feared men in the DC universe. Simply turning up in costume is enough to terrify most of Gotham’s criminal element.
Raven, Rachel Roth, is a half-human/half-demon and the daughter of the demon known as Trigon. Raised in another dimension, Rachel was trained to control her emotions and suppress her demon side. Sensing her father was coming for her, Rachel asked the Justice League for help but they refused as Zatanna sensed her demonic heritage and vowed it was too dangerous to ally with her. She instead turned to the Teen Titans. Fighting her father alongside the Titans, she came to think of her new allies as family.
Besides Raven’s empathic abilities, she has displayed the abilities to control and generate shadows. This power set would be typical of a villain, which makes her all the more a hero for using her powers for good.
Given her dark hood, demonic powers, and general demeanour, Raven wouldn’t look out of place as a villain. Truthfully, she’s one of the most important members of The Teen Titans and every-bit as heroic as Robin or Starfire.
Hellboy is the moniker taken by the demon Anung un Rama, who was summoned to Earth as an infant by Nazi occultists attempting to gain incredible power. Found by allied forces, and his adoptive father Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy developed a deep hatred of Nazi’s and went to work for the American Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD).
Hellboy aged far slower than a human would generally, but his aging seemed to accelerate and slow at different stages. In time grew to resemble a large red-skilled demon with horns, a tail, cloven hoofs for feet, and a giant right hand made from stone. He typically wears his horns down to stumps in order to “fit in”.
Despite being gruff, he has a wicked sense of humour thanks to his upbringing as a normal boy. He possesses none of the evil traits one would expect of a demon. Despite this, his tendency to carry an oversized gun makes him one hero you probably would put in the ‘cute and fuzzy’ category!
Believed to be a Mutant for many years, inheriting his mother Mystique’s inhuman features, Kurt Wagner was eventually revealed to be a half-mutant/half-demon as his father was, in fact, the demon Azazel whom Mystique had an affair with while married to the man Kurt had believed to have been his father.
Escaping a mob while Kurt was a baby, Mystique threw Kurt into a river and hid. The baby survived and was raised among circus-folk who accepted Kurt without hesitation. He grew into a top performer due to his incredible acrobatic abilities, with audiences believing his appearance to be due to a costume. Eventually, he was escaping another mob when he came across Professor Xavier who recruited him to be a member of the second team of X-Men.
Kurt has his mother’s blue-skin, albeit covered in a greater amount of indigo fur. He also has her yellow eyes. His prehensile tail, oddly shaped hands and feet, as well as his pointed ears and teeth, are inherited from his father. Like his father, he can teleport due to being able to slip into a demonic plane of existence, and slip back into our world in a new location. This is accompanied by a flash of light and a stench of brimstone and sulphur which comes with him from the demonic realm.