10 Villains Who Changed Sides (But Stayed Cool) –
Superhero comics can be identified through an array of pretty obvious signs: bright costumes, secret identities, ominous narration – but one element that will always be present is the dichotomy between hero and villain; those that operate on the side of good, with or without powers, and those who work on the opposite, sewing chaos and destruction wherever they go.
They’re a constant in the genre, but there are times where supervillains have briefly dabbled in superheroics, divesting from the dark arts and joining forces with their nemeses in search of a common goal. Some, in rare occasions, even make the switch permanent, so much so that their time as a supervillain has actually been forgotten by the general public.
It’s not as though these switches have been limited to one publisher solely either. Both DC and Marvel have exercised this trope in the past to varying degrees of success, but when done properly, it’s hard to think of a better one present in the superhero genre.
So, with double-crosses, changes of heart and romantic entanglements aplenty, here are the times supervillains proved that being a hero is worth the trouble – briefly, or in the long-run.
10. Doctor Octopus – The Superior Spider-Man
Dan Slott finally drew his stint on The Amazing Spider-Man to a close last year, ending a decade’s long association with the character to pursue a new challenge in the Fantastic Four. Whatever your thoughts on the writer’s run, it’s probably fair to say that its transformation into the Superior Spider-Man – a storyline that saw Dock Ock take control of the wall-crawler’s body – made for a refreshing take on the character.
Doctor Octopus became the new, ‘superior’ Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man #700, having recently acquired Peter’s body for nefarious purposes. The original Peter has his mind placed in Octavius’ original, failing body, but is able to transfer all his memories to Ock before passing away. With this knowledge in hand Ock reaches an epiphany, seeing the value in his old enemy’s heroics and then deciding to not only continue Peter’s identity, but to innovate it in every way possible.
With this being comics a return to the status-quo was always inevitable, but Ock still managed to make one heck of an impression as the new Spider-Man. He had a cracking red and black costume, a set of mechanical arms that harkened back to the Iron-Spider design from Civil War and a ruthless edge absent from other versions of the web-slinger.
After Peter reclaimed his own mind, Ock began a cycle of death and rebirth before once again assuming the identity in December 2018, vowing to outdo his past tenure as the friendly neighbourhood arachnid.
9. Venom – Lethal Protector
2018’s Venom movie went to great lengths to claim that Venom – to many a longtime adversary of Spider-Man and the perfect visual embodiment of an evil-looking villain – was actually an anti-hero. Shocking, yes, but it was true; for the last two decades, Venom has primarily been depicted as an anti-hero.
Or, at least Brock himself has. Recent alterations made to the history of the symbiote have repositioned the alien species as inherently good creatures corrupted by an external force, but back when that wasn’t the case, a little storyline called ‘Lethal Protector’ depicted a version of Eddie attempting to do some good. He packs his bags and leaves for San Francisco, attempting to get his feud with Peter Parker out of his head, but ends up uncovering an evil conspiracy from the villainous Life Foundation to weaponise and clone his symbiote.
Brock disagrees in no uncertain terms, and proceeds to take them down. Years later he would also return as a symbiote hunter as Anti-Venom, before once again bonding with Venom to take on Knull, the self-professed ‘god’ of all Klyntar.
Other than Brock, Venom has been considered as a proper hero during a period spent with Flash Thompson. They even joined the Guardians of the Galaxy!
8. Deathstroke – DC Rebirth
Deathstroke – a man literally known as ‘The Terminator’ – probably isn’t the first villain you’d think of to have switched allegiances in the past. After all, he was the key tormentor of the Teen Titans, and a man so proficient in combat that, give or take, he could go toe-to-toe with the best the DCU has to offer.
Even so, with such a capacity for evil – spurred on primarily by a sense of greed and a constant thirst for challenge – it was always the case that Slade Wilson could use his talents for good. He’d dabbled in the past, but it was only in Christopher Priest’s criminally overlooked Deathstroke comic that the Terminator devoted the majority of his time to super-heroics.
The reason for his change of heart? Well, Slade has – to put things mildly – seen a lot of crap. He’s been to the helly-est of hell-holes in the DC Universe, and has killed dozens, some of whom probably didn’t deserve it. So, in an effort to atone for his past sins, Slade creates a team of his own, comprised of his children, and even Kid Flash.
Without spoiling anything, the team – named Defiance – experienced somewhat… mixed, fortunes. But still, there’s no getting away from how enjoyable Slade’s good side was to see, or how brilliant Priest’s comic has been since its debut.
7. Rogue – Uncanny X-Men
A longtime member of the Avengers and the X-Men, Rogue – daughter of Mystique and the captor of Carol Danvers’ powers of flight and super-strength – is perhaps one of the most popular members of Marvel’s mutants. However, she wasn’t always on the side of good, and even made her debut as a villain against the Avengers in 1981.
Given that her mother is Mystique, the fact Rogue started out as a villain should probably be more obvious. She works alongside Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and when the rest of the group are captured, her mother decides that she should steal Ms. Marvel’s powers to break them out. Carol’s Kree genetics complicate the process however, and Rogue is left permanently changed by the encounter, adopting elements of Danvers’ personality and her powers too.
This encounter isn’t enough to convince Rogue to switch allegiances, however. She continues fighting alongside Mystique until she encounters Rom, whose nobility convinces Rogue to change her ways.
The rest is history: Rogue joins the X-Men, becomes a pivotal member, and rises so high that she then becomes a member of the Avengers too, making this turn absolutely one of Marvel’s best.
6. Joker – Dark Nights Metal
Given just how sick, twisted and demented the Joker is it was always going to take a lot for Batman to contemplate an alliance. Fortunately for readers this ‘a lot’ occurred in 2018’s Dark Nights Metal, a comic written by the formidable creative duo of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who’d previously marshalled the Dark Knight during the New 52.
For the uninitiated, Metal is pretty much a love-letter to the concept of DC’s multiverse. Multiple universes had long been a staple of the publisher’s superhero comics, dating all the way back to the Silver Age, but Snyder and Capullo added a whole new wrinkle with the idea of the ‘Dark Multiverse’, a series of realities hidden beneath the map of known DC continuity.
This mythos hides the worst versions of DC’s characters, but Batman in particular suffers the most. The reality spawns multiple horrifying versions of Batman, each with their own tragic backstory and powers, but the most horrifying is the Batman Who Laughs, a version of the character corrupted by Joker determined to bring the universe under his boot.
The main problem for Batman, here, is that he’s literally fighting himself. He knows every move he can make before he does, and the only way to retaliate is to introduce a little anarchy: the Joker himself.
5. Emma Frost – New X-Men
Now while Emma Frost herself may have struggled to make a permanent switch from evil to good, when she has been on the X-Men, she’s added some much needed bite to the X-Men’s bark, providing a pragmatic perspective to counteract Professor Xavier’s ideological blustering.
Is she liked by her teammates? Not in the slightest (save for Cyclops), but she is an effective hero and has always worked best when operating with the best intentions, even if her approach can sometimes be as chilly as her codename, the White Queen, implies.
Frost became a pivotal member of the team back during New X-Men, and goes on to become headmistress in the wake of Jean Grey’s death. This lasts for a while, but Frost ended up being one of the more unfortunate victims of Marvel’s decision to wind down their commitments to the X-Men. She was the principle architect of the X-Men’s war with the Inhumans, ended up leaving the team, and is now the leader of the Hellfire Club, deeming it the best way to help mutant-kind.
4. Black Widow – The Avengers
As opposed to Rogue, whose criminal past has been somewhat forgotten in recent years, Black Widow’s time as an enemy to the Avengers and as an agent of the USSR continues to inform the character in a pretty massive way. Most of her solo series’ have drawn inspiration from her time as an assassin, and though the world has deemed her past crimes to be nothing but more water underneath the bridge – owing to the fact she’s become a major asset for the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. – there was a time where she even fought against Iron Man.
Natasha Romanoff first went to US soil in Tales of Suspense #52, and even recruits Hawkeye to fight alongside her. Though both would later become two of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, they each got up to their fair share of misdeeds, culminating in Romanova receiving her own high-tech costume before defecting to the United States officially.
The rest, as they say, is history. Clint Barton would become an Avenger, and so too would Romanoff. The latter would go on to star in a recurring role in Marvel’s Daredevil, before adopting a greater synonymy with the Avengers and becoming an integral member of the team.
3. Lex Luthor – Final Crisis
Lex Luthor hates Superman. It’s just a fact of life. So why would he, in Final Crisis, decide to team up with the Man of Steel?
The answer is relatively simple. In the long tradition of DC crises, Final Crisis – Grant Morrison’s discombobulating epic that involved Darkseid acquiring the Ant-Life Equation and cosmic vampires – threatened to destroy the entire universe, and Lex Luthor, obviously fond of having a universe to exploit, and not particularly willing to take orders from others, was not overly fond of the concept, and so decides to become a mole within the Secret Society in order to thwart Darkseid once and for all.
He takes on Libra – Darkseid’s prophet – stops the Anti-Life Equation from being spread and then joins Superman in battle against Darkseid’s hoards. This earns him a nice little PR boost, before he goes along with the plot to recreate the universe without Darkseid by using the Miracle Machine.
Lex has of course dabbled with heroics afterwards, but you won’t find a better example of him using his powers for good than Final Crisis.
2. Doctor Doom – Iron Man
Again, sort of like Lex Luthor, you wouldn’t really expect Doctor Doom to turn good. Everything about him just screams pure villainy, and yet, for all the theatrics and third-person posturing, Doctor Doom does have a soft spot.
He’s teamed up with Doctor Strange to save his mother’s soul from Mephisto in Hell, and collaborated with the Fantastic Four to avert the dastardly advances of the Council of Reeds. However, his most recent act of heroism came in the wake of 2016’s Civil War II, where Tony Stark was defeated by Captain Marvel. Sensing a void, Victor decides to become a brand-new version of Iron Man, combining magic and science to prove to the world that he’s a changed man.
The series, written by Brian Bendis with art by Alex Maleev, was just the new direction Doctor Doom needed, but the best thing about it was that it felt genuine. This wasn’t just a sudden out-of-character switch for Marvel’s master of the dark arts, but instead a fully-developed change that had been bubbling beneath the surface for some time.
Needless to say, we’re counting down the days until Doom takes on Iron Man’s armour again.
1. Catwoman – Batman
Although Catwoman certainly started out life as a Batman villain, to call her a ‘rogue’ in this day and age would just be silly. Today, Selina Kyle is synonymous with the Bat-Family, and even though a failed wedding typified her relationship with Batman in 2018, it’s pretty obvious at this stage that the pair are made for each other.
Whether she’s looking out for Bruce Wayne or foiling a criminal conspiracy of her own, Selina is very much a hero and one who has a hard time of hiding it. Sure, she may get up to a sneaky bit of theft every now and then, but she’s still ingrained into the Caped Crusader’s network of allies. So highly does Bruce value her companionship that, in 2008’s Heart of Hush, he put everything on the line to save her life, confessing his love at the end as the duo prepared to put an end to the flirtatious back-and-forth that had defined their relationship since the mid sixties.
But of course, Catwoman is so much more than just her relationship with Batman. She’s been a member of the Gotham City Sirens, starred in multiple solo books and has managed to eclipse many of Batman’s allies in more ways than one. Point being, she’s earned being a superhero, and given how she’s perceived in this day and age, it’s fair to say this switching of sides has been the medium’s most successful.