For every superhero in comic books, there’s usually a super villain working against them. From your run-of-the-mill villains all the way to archnemeses, heroes are defined by their villains. Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. Captain America has the Red Skull.
Comics are nearly as famous for their super villains as they are for their heroes, and they range from the slightly annoying to the truly horrifying. While a Darkseid or a Mephisto might actually be pure evil, some super villains aren’t actually all bad — at least when you really think about it. Some of these villains possess qualities we can empathize with. Others have a measure of kindness it’s hard to see when they’re busy getting punched in the face by a hero. Others are misunderstood, and some of them are even pretty nice guys. If we take a look at the history of a few super villains, you might be surprised to find they’ve had moments of greatness. Here are 11 super villains who are actually nice people at the end of the day.
Magneto is the most famous and well-known enemy of the X-Men. As a super villain, he’s evolved from his first dastardly appearance in 1963’s “Uncanny X-Men” #1 to become an anti-hero. As a young man, Max Eisenhardt was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, where he watched his mother and father murdered by the Nazis. But he also discovered he was a mutant, capable of controlling metal with his mind. When the world began to turn against mutantkind, Eisenhardt was inspired by the horrific consequences of the Nazi racism to become the super villain Magneto. He formed the Brotherhood of Mutants to wage war against humanity, and has launched schemes to murder all Homo Sapiens. Magneto believes that mutants are superior to humans, and plans to replace humans as the dominant species.
But Magneto isn’t really evil. He’s seen atrocities committed in the name of prejudice, and wants to protect mutantkind from humans committing genocide against them. In 2008’s “Marvel Spotlight: Uncanny X-Men 500 Issues Celebration,” co-creator Stan Lee said that he never saw Magneto as a villain; he saw Magneto more as a variation on Malcolm X, someone who believed in using violence for his causes.
More than that, Magneto’s shown compassion in the past. In a battle with the X-Men in “Uncanny X-Men” #150 (1981), Magneto stopped himself from killing the young mutant Kitty Pryde. He couldn’t bring himself to kill a child, and the incident caused him to rethink his actions. During 1984’s “Secret Wars,” the Beyonder put Magneto on the side of the heroes, instead of the villains. That surprised many of the heroes, but confirmed he had become a better person. Over time, Magneto started working with the X-Men, and mentored the New Mutants on several occasions. He currently serves as the leader of Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men, teaming with some of the toughest X-Men around (as well as several former villains) with the goal of preventing any more mutant deaths. Over the years he’s proven himself capable of great kindness, even occasionally working with humans instead of against them.
10. The Lizard
“Amazing Spider-Man” #6 (1963) introduced the deadly super villain, the Lizard. When scientist Curt Connors lost his arm in a war zone, he became obsessed with trying to regrow limbs like a lizard. In his experiments, Connors tried an experimental drug on himself that managed to grow a new arm — but also turned him into a half-human, half-reptile monster in the process. As the Lizard, he wants to purge Earth of humans and replace them with reptiles.
But the Lizard is really more of a Jekyll and Hyde character who has two distinct personalities. As a lizard, Connors hates humanity, and wants to turn everyone into reptiles like himself. But as a human, Connors has helped Spider-Man countless times. In “The Amazing Spider-Man” #32–33 (1966), Connors developed a formula to save Spider-Man’s Aunt May from poisoning. He also helped Spider-Man to fight the Rhino, and helped cure Spider-Man when his spider powers mutated him. Connors has also struggled to find ways to stop his lizard persona from returning, and tried to cure himself dozens of times. He truly regrets the harm he’s caused and wants to make amends. But he’s not above using the Lizard to his own advantage. In “Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man” #127 (1987), Connors turned himself into the Lizard to save his wife and son from the Owl.
SPOILER WARNING: The following entry contains spoilers for “Watchmen.”
In the 1986 graphic novel “Watchmen,” Adrian Veidt is a retired superhero nicknamed Ozymandias, beloved by the world. Known as the world’s smartest man, he fought crime using his amazing physical and mental skills. When he retired, he used merchandising to make himself wealthy. But Ozymandias turned out to have a twisted sense of heroism. He launched an insidious plot to teleport a genetically engineered monster into New York to simulate an alien invasion. The resulting chaos slaughtered millions, and caused the world to unite against the imaginary threat. It’s horrific, but also a somehow noble gesture.
Ozymandias’ goal isn’t want to kill people. He was driven by a desire to save lives, not destroy them while living in the Cold War era complete with the threat of nuclear war looming over everyone. He decided the only way to stop World War III was to bring the world together by a common danger.
In sections of the graphic novel, readers discover Ozymandias’ optimistic belief in Mankind. He contributes to charity, gives speeches about the power of the human spirit, and is a vegetarian. He loves humanity, and really believes his actions are the only way to save the world. Ozymandias wanted to achieve world peace by any means. To him, the deaths of millions is a small price to save billions. The fact that his former teammates allow his actions to go unexposed shows he might have had a pretty good point.
Created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, Venom’s first full appearance came in 1986’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #300. When Spider-Man got a black costume from the Beyonder in 1984’s “Secret Wars” miniseries, it seemed like a dream come true. The costume could change shape to take on the appearance of normal clothes, and also produced its own webbing instead of Peter Parker having to synthesize it. But the costume turned out to be an alien parasite called a symbiote that took over his life. Parker managed to remove it after a hard fight, but it bonded to a new host, Eddie Brock. Brock was a rival photographer for the Daily Bugle, and his hatred of Peter Parker caused him to be the perfect companion for the symbiote. Together, they became Venom. As Venom, he’s violent and twisted, capable of murder in his pursuit of revenge over Spider-Man.
But just like the Lizard, taking a step back shows there are two parts to Venom. One is the alien symbiote, and the other is Eddie Brock. While the symbiote is mostly evil, Brock is actually more of a nice guy. At times, Brock resisted the violent urges of the symbiote, like when he refused to kill Aunt May in “Sensational Spider-Man” #38 (2007). Often when Venom did terrible things, Brock was being manipulated by the parasite within him. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #568 (2008), Brock won a court case because Matt Murdock successfully argued he wasn’t responsible for his actions while bonded to the symbiote. We can make the same argument.
But even the symbiote could be a good person. In the “Venom: Lethal Protector” series, Brock and the symbiote made a pact with Spider-Man to stay on the right side of the law. He moved to San Francisco, and briefly worked as a vigilante to protect a group of homeless people as a vigilante. Venom proved he could be a hero if he really tried.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in “Fantastic Four” #48 (1966), Galactus is literally a force of nature. Nothing less than a fear-inspiring demi-god, Galactus existed in a previous universe before the Big Bang, making him older than the 616 Marvel Universe itself. He’s an enormous being who travels the galaxy in search of planets he can drain of energy, destroying anything on the world. As a titan who consumes entire planets for food, Galactus has caused the deaths of billions of sentient beings. The entire universe is his prey, and fears his arrival wherever he goes.
But Galactus doesn’t kill for the sake of killing. He has compassion for other beings, even while driven to destroy them by his endless hunger. To avoid unnecessary death, Galactus sends heralds like the Silver Surfer to find uninhabited worlds he can feed on. Galactus only feeds on inhabited worlds if he has no other option.
There’s also the fact that Galactus is part of the natural order of the universe. In “Galactus the Devourer” (1999-2000), Silver Surfer succeeded in killing Galactus, but it wasn’t without a steep price. If Galactus dies, the universe dies with him. After his death, Abraxas (destruction personified) was freed from his eternal prison and began destroying alternate universes. In “Fantastic Four” #49 (2002), superheroes like Franklin Richards and Mister Fantastic all had to work together to bring Galactus back to life, proving the universe would be worse off without him.
6. Harley Quinn
This super villain actually started out as a minor character on “Batman: The Animated Series,” created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm in 1992. Once a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, Harleen Quinzel took a dark turn when she began working with the Joker and made a huge mistake: she fell in love with him. From then on, she dedicated herself to him, breaking him out of the asylum and becomes a super villain of her own. She became Harley Quinn. Quinn is the Joker’s sidekick and accomplice, often joining and assisting him in his insane crimes.
Harley joined the Joker on his murderous rampages, but she isn’t a psychopath. She’s a good woman who is manipulated and controlled by a master psychotic. In her 2001 “Harley Quinn” series, we saw her leave the Joker to go solo, joining up with Poison Ivy. She was caring and supportive to Ivy, showing she’s capable of human connection. At the end of the series Quinn turned herself into Arkham Asylum voluntarily, knowing she needed help. She regretted all the trouble she had caused.
In 2013’s New 52 revival of her solo series, Harley became a true anti-hero instead of a villain. In Issue #14, she even formed a team of crimefighters to improve her neighborhood. She went from maniacal sidekick to superhero, proving she’s actually a good person after all.
Sometimes he’s a clone of Superman. Other times he comes from an alternate Earth called Bizarro World, where everything is the opposite of Earth, and even has its own version of Superman. Either way, Bizarro is Superman’s evil exact opposite. He has freeze vision and heat breath, talks backward and carries out crimes instead of fighting them. He’s driven to destroy for the same reason Superman is driven to help.
But Bizarro doesn’t mean to be a super villain. With his twisted logic, he sees himself as a hero. Superman has managed to talk him into ending his rampages more than once. In many of his appearances, the chaos and havoc Bizarro causes is accidental, the result of trying to mimic Superman. In “Superman” #88 (1994), Bizarro kidnapped Lois, took her to a warehouse with a dummy version of Metropolis inside, and put her in a variety of dangerous situations, just so he could save her. Of course, if he had failed, he would have killed Lois. He’s more clumsy than evil.
Bizarro is also as stupid as Superman is brilliant; he doesn’t understand the problems he causes. He just wants to be accepted and loved like Superman, but lacks the tools to do it. He has a conscience and is capable of regretting and trying to fix his mistakes. In the end, well-meaning and more clumsy than evil. In his own way, Bizarro is a hero in his own mind.
4. Doctor Octopus
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in “Amazing Spider-Man” #3 (1963), when scientist Otto Octavius was caught in a radioactive explosion, it fused four super-strong metallic arms to his body. With his new appendages, he became Doctor Octopus, one of Spider-Man’s deadliest enemies. Doc Ock has carried out tons of crimes, often to finance his scientific research. Not only is he a threat by himself, but he’s formed and led the Sinister Six, a group of Spider-Man rogues dedicated to his destruction. Doc became more and more sinister as he discovered he was dying as a result of his lifetime of crime. His evil reached its peak in 2012’s “Ends of the Earth” storyline, where Octavius plotted to raise the temperature of the Earth, leading to mass genocide, just so he would be remembered after his own death.
All terrible things, but Doctor Octopus has turned out to be more than just pure evil. The redemption of Doctor Octopus came with his most diabolical plan. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #698 (2012), Doc Ock switched his consciousness from his dying body into the body of Peter Parker, and vice versa. In Doc Ock’s body, Peter Parker died, while Doctor Octopus became Spider-Man. One would think having a devious super villain in the body of one of the world’s greatest superheroes would lead to a disaster. In the body of Spider-Man, he would use his newfound powers to ruin Spider-Man’s reputation, destroy the superhero community from within, and ultimately rule the world. But quite the opposite happened.
With a little help from Parker’s lingering consciousness, Doc Ock gave up his life of crime and vowed to become a better superhero than Spidey had ever been, becoming the Superior Spider-Man. Although he was far more violent and narrow-minded to truly be Spider-Man, he showed that he had real emotions and wanted to be a good person. In the end, he allowed Peter Parker’s consciousness to return while deleting himself, a final act of self-sacrifice. He showed himself to be capable of good after all.
3. Poison Ivy
Created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff in 1966’s “Batman” #181, when botanist Pamela Isley survived poisoning by chemical experiments, she developed an immunity to all poisons, as well as a toxic kiss. Isley became Poison Ivy, a villainess seductress without equal. Criminally insane with a belief that plants should be the dominant life form, Isley is dedicated to “purifying” the world of humanity. She can grow and control plants, and also uses mind control pheromones in various schemes to purge Earth of Mankind.
While her early appearances made her more of a plant-themed super villain, over the years she’s evolved into a more complex character. She doesn’t just rob banks or steal money like other super villains. Poison Ivy is an eco-terrorist. In the same way that some environmentalists sabotage tractors and burn housing developments, Poison Ivy uses violence to try to save the environment. Lots of people around the world would sympathize with her goal if not her methods.
But she’s not entirely disconnected from her humanity. The best example of this came in 1998’s “Batman: No Man’s Land Secret Files and Origins” #1. The comic referenced the long-running “No Man’s Land” storyline, where Gotham City was destroyed in a massive earthquake that left the city isolated, quarantined and overrun with super villains. Poison Ivy took control of Robinson Park, turning it into a wildlife sanctuary. When she discovered a group of 16 children orphaned during the quake, instead of killing them, she actually felt sympathy for them. She began to care for and protect the children from the gangs roaming the city. When Batman found out, he allowed her to continue to care for the children as long as she grew and provided food to hungry survivors of the quake. She did, adding another notch on her belt.
Poison Ivy has also said her only goal in life is to find somewhere to get away from humanity, completely alone with her plants. In 1997’s “Batman: Poison Ivy,” she finally achieved her goal, settling on a desert island near Nicaragua. She was worshiped as a goddess for bringing life to the barren wasteland, and was content to be alone. She might have stayed there and been out of Batman’s life for good if a corporation hadn’t bombed her island, thinking it was abandoned. If Poison Ivy ever achieved her goal, she might never hurt anyone again.
Created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan, Bane is one of the most powerful super villains in comic books, but also surprisingly human. He first appeared in 1993’s “Knightfall” storyline, where he almost succeeded in destroying Batman.
Little is known about the man who grew up to be Bane, except for the fact that he endured a horrific childhood. As punishment for the crimes of his father, Bane’s mother gave birth in a maximum security prison on Santa Prisca, and he was raised behind the walls. Yet Bane thrived in the prison, eventually killing and gaining control until the prison subjected him to an experimental drug called Venom. The Venom gave him enhanced strength to match his already brilliant mind. After escaping the prison, Bane went to Gotham City to take on Batman. Bane proved himself a formidable and ruthless opponent, freeing criminals from Arkham Asylum, and breaking Batman’s back. He was eventually defeated, but returned to attempt to take control of Gotham time and again.
Over the years, Bane has made some big changes. In 1998’s “Batman: Bane of the Demon,” Bane came to believe he was Bruce Wayne’s stepbrother. While searching for proof, Bane actually became a superhero and fought crime alongside Batman. While it later turned out they weren’t related and Bane returned to villainy, it showed he could fight for justice if he made the choice.
In 2004’s “Batman: Gotham Knights #49,” Bane discovered his father is the mercenary King Snake. While Batman was battling King Snake, Bane actually saved the Dark Knight’s life, taking a bullet intended for Batman. Batman could have let Bane die, but instead he placed Bane in a Lazarus Pit, returning him to life. Even Batman saw how Bane had redeemed himself.
If there’s any villain on this list who seems truly irredeemable, it would be Doomsday. In his first appearance in “Superman: The Man of Steel” #17 in 1992, Doomsday was a rampaging alien monster determined to destroy any and all life. He created a trail of destruction across Earth until he beat Superman to death. And he laughed while he did it. Later issues show Doomsday massacred the population of entire worlds before arriving on Earth.
But in 1994’s “Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey,” it was revealed that Doomsday has a tragic origin. Doomsday was originally known as the Ultimate, a being created in prehistoric Krypton by a mad scientist. The scientist took an infant he had cloned and threw it into the harsh and toxic environment of Krypton to be killed. The scientist gathered the shredded remains, cloned it, and shot it into the Kryptonian wilderness again. Repeating the process for decades evolved the baby into a creature that could adapt to any injury. The cycle of death also caused the creature to become purged of all emotion except blind rage and hatred for all life. The creature eventually escaped Krypton to wreak havoc across the galaxy. He’s acting out from rage over the pain and death he suffered.
But over time, Doomsday began to evolve. In a 2001 Superman story called “Doomsday Rex,” Martian Manhunter discovered that Doomsday had gained intelligence and sentience, along with a fear of death and pain. Later, while lost on the planet Apokalips, Doomsday developed emotions such as love and kindness. When he returned to Earth, he found Superman fighting the super villain Gog in 2005’s “Action Comics” #825. Doomsday actually tried to help Superman. In order to save Superman, Doomsday agreed to be sent back in time at the cost of his newfound intelligence. For a brief time, Doomsday actually became a hero.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the nicest villain of them all?
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