10 Comic Book Villains Who Became Heroes
There’s nothing more interesting in comics than seeing big changes in characters. Be it a costume change, a personality change, or a new backstory – any shift in the status quo is sure to get people talking.
None of these changes do this sort of thing better than villains shifting their allegiances to the side of justice. It’s an age-old story, but one that gets no less compelling, however many times it’s told. The element of unpredictability plays a fair role in this, as the one thing that’s almost impossible to predict is when and how a villain will become a hero, and how long this will last.
More importantly, not only does seeing do-gooding villains make us believe that anyone is capable of good, it also reminds us that anyone can do good – and that as much of a cynical jerk you consider yourself to be, there’s still the ability to be kind and helpful tucked away in you.
If there’s one thing you can take away from this, it’s that if Lex Luthor can do good things, you can too.
10. Plastic Man
As a staple member of the Justice League, and an all-around friendly seeming guy, it’s surreal to know that Plastic Man started out his comic book career as a bad guy.
However, that’s exactly how his life starts out, as Patrick O’Brian and his gang attempt to rob a chemical plant, only for him to be covered in an unusual acid that results in him gaining his elastic superpowers.
The writers were clearly aware of the well-travelled line they were going down with this back story, as it quickly goes off the rail, namely because the thing that convinces O’Brian to become Plastic Man is a team of monks who rescue him after the acid causes him to faint.
Exactly how these monks managed to find him in what appears to be the middle of nowhere isn’t answered, but they do refuse to let the police have O’Brian – which would have been super awkward if he had left still intending to do crimes.
The decision to make M.O.D.O.K. a hero in the 2014 run of Secret Avengers is one of the more unusual – although fantastic – ones, especially as at this point the floating head had been a major villain for roughly 50 years. This is the exact reason his presence works so well in the comic, as it is continually unclear whether M.O.D.O.K. is working for the heroes, or if he’s pretending to do so to hide his own motives.
In spite of continually being called out for his past, M.O.D.O.K. ends up being arguably the most heroic member of the team, as ultimately without his help the entire world would have come to an end – which is a pretty good claim to heroic fame when you only stopped being a bad guy, like, two weeks beforehand.
Weirder still, not only is M.O.D.O.K. a hero in the comic, he’s a hero with a heroic love interest – or, well, as heroic as you can call Maria Hill.
When you think of Spider-Man’s enemies, Venom is likely one of the first to pop into your head. Yet – due to the Venom symbiotic being heavily affected by the person it has bonded with – he’s also the villain who’s had considerable time as a hero.
In fact, Venom was initially a heroic character during his time bonded to Peter Parker. While this is remembered by most fans, it is somewhat overshadowed by some of the terrible things Venom would go onto do whilst bonded to ex-journalist Eddie Brock, making the unfortunate symbiote known mainly as a villain.
That said, Venom’s status as of late appears to be lodged firmly in the realms of the anti-hero, meaning that we can – for now – consider him a hero.
That said, it’s likely not permanent, as Venom’s hero status basically revolves around who is co-piloting around in his head with him, making it arguably the most intense roommate situation ever.
Exactly when Magneto became a hero is kind of a loaded question in the comic community.
He was one of the first villains the X-Men faced, yet it’s clear even from then that his ruthless nature is more a product of his incredibly tough upbringing than any genuine desire to do evil. As time has gone on, exactly what to call Magneto has grown more and more difficult – as he’s put as much effort into helping the X-Men as he has trying to destroy them.
However, there are various series and issues were Magneto cannot be considered anything other than a legitimate superhero. A prime example of this comes at the very end of the Magneto comic, where he puts aside his dislike of humanity to give his life to save it.
Does it make up for killing thousands and torturing innocents? Not at all. Is it a heroic move though? Absolutely.
In theory, it shouldn’t be that surprising that Catwoman has of late completely converted to being a comic hero. She’s not usually made out to be especially evil – a thief yes, but in Gotham thievery is about as serious as music piracy.
No, the thing that makes this shocking is that Catwoman had existed as a villain for so many years prior. Sure, a villain who seldom did very bad crimes and often actively helped the heroes out if they needed a hand – but still a villain. It seemed written in the stars that the Catwoman would stay a villain in order to keep Batman’s love interests an open matter – as the romance between him and the burglar would always prove a perfect blockade to them becoming anything permanent.
There are reasons this is an important change outside of her relationship status, of course, but seeing serious – and seeming permanent- changes made in the status quo of a major comic is always something worth noting.
Anyone who’s seen Deadpool for more than three seconds knows he used to be a supervillain. His design alone makes this pretty clear – after all, folks who wear that many belts are either in Final Fantasy, or edgy comic characters. It’s almost impossible to be a wholesome hero who wears enough swords, guns and belts to arm a small country.
And the pre-redemption assassin was categorically not wholesome, possessing even less morals than his modern anti-hero equivalent. Deadpool’s character was considered so morally bleak that one of his writers, Mark Waid, would later state he regretted working on the character, saying ‘someone who hasn’t paid for their crimes presents a problem for me.’ Deadpool has slowly improved over time, and as of now can be considered a well-meaning if naturally immoral anti-hero.
He may be one of the most immoral anti-heroes of the age, but given where he started at, that’s still a pretty big change.
1. Lex Luthor
Seeing the smug billionare face of Lex Luthor as he deals with superheroes is a permanently interesting affair. This is only amplified when Luthor is a good guy, because literally nobody ever seems to believe he has good intentions – which is admittedly pretty fair, when you look at his track record.
While he’s unlikely to have many of the Justice League over to his birthday parties, upon becoming a hero Luthor does some legitimately good work. He builds an entirely new watchtower, and recruits the incredibly powerful Shazam – which, when added to his genuinely good intentions, is a pretty substantial superhero resume in of itself. The JLU allow him in with all the excitement of a kid who has had to bring his dorky younger brother to a party, but the fact he gets in serves as proof for how hard Luthor is trying.
Although he’s inhuman levels of smug about it, Lex Luthor actually is a pretty incredibly effective superhero, when it comes down to it – and much to the suffering of Superman.