Villains rarely perceive themselves to be in the wrong about anything. Some see their awful actions as necessary evils, others feel that the ends justify the means, and many others simply believe their might makes them right. Arguably the biggest difference between being a villain and being a hero is in whether their choices are being made for selfish gains or in service to the greater good.
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Villains are often motivated by selfish desires, but sometimes, a villain can understand that helping others is better than merely going after what they want, when they want it. That understanding can put villains on the road to changing their ways – sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. Here, then, are 15 comic book supervillains who reformed, or at least joined the side of the good guys.
From the moment Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced him in “Uncanny X-Men” #1, Magneto has been their main adversary. However, his characterization has evolved as more secrets about his background were revealed. Magneto is a Holocaust survivor, whose parents and sister were killed before he himself was incarcerated in Auschwitz. His experiences there hardened his resolve to ensure mutants would never be persecuted by humans, by having mutants be the rulers of humanity. This view is significantly harsher than that of X-Men founder Charles Xavier, who strives for mutants to co-exist with humans.
After many battles against the X-Men, including in “Uncanny X-Men” #150 in which he nearly killed Kitty Pryde, Magneto’s views altered and he turned himself in to the World Court in 1987’s “The X-Men vs. The Avengers,” written by Roger Stern and drawn by Marc Silvestri (issue #4 by Tom DeFalco and Keith Pollard). But an attack during the trial injured Xavier, leading him to ask Magneto to take charge of the X-Men and the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters while he recovered. This was the first of several times Magneto was in charge of X-Men teams, although acceptance of him as a leader was slow in coming. More recently, he was the leader of a team of X-Men willing to do whatever it takes to protect mutants from harm.
William Baker had a rough upbringing, abandoned by his father and raised by his mother. He was bullied and became a bully himself, eventually turning to a life of crime. Jailed on Ryker’s Island, he escaped and fled to Savannah, Ga. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #4 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, a day at the beach went awry for Baker. The beach was near a nuclear reactor whose steam system exploded, dousing Baker in radiation. Afterward, Baker discovered he had bonded with the sand, and could alter his shape and density.
Taking the name Sandman, Baker clashed with Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four over the years, and also joined the Sinister Six and the Frightful Four. A partnership with Hydro-Man in “Amazing Spider-Man” #217-218, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Jim Mooney, accidentally results in their merging into a mud monster. After they separate forms months later, Baker considers changing his ways. When The Thing came to capture him in “Marvel Two-in-One” #86, Baker declines to fight and the Thing lets him go. This leads to the Sandman becoming a freelance operative for mercenary Silver Sable and her Wild Pack, becoming a member of the Outlaws, a team of reformed Spider-Man villains, and even becoming a reserve Avenger.
13. WONDER MAN
The hero Wonder Man began his career with the Avengers with a mission to destroy them from within. First appearing in “Avengers” #9, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby and Chic Stone, Simon Williams inherited the family company, Williams Innovations, after his father’s death, and managed it — poorly — after his brother Eric refused to do so. The company soon failed against rivals such as Stark Industries. Williams, on Eric’s advice, embezzled money from the firm and invested it in shady businesses linked to the Maggia. He got caught and was convicted, and blamed Stark for his woes.
However, Baron Zemo and the Enchantress secured his release, offering Williams the chance to get revenge on Stark. Zemo experimented on Williams with an ionic ray device, giving him strength, durability and other powers. While up against the Avengers, Williams has a last-minute change of heart after luring the team into a trap, choosing to fight Zemo and the Enchantress, even risking death by going without Zemo’s treatments. Wonder Man was later revived and has served with the Avengers, the West Coast Avengers, Iron Man’s Force Works team and the Uncanny Avengers.
12. SUPER PATRIOT / U.S. AGENT
First seen in “Captain America” #323, written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Paul Neary and John Beatty, John Walker grew up idolizing notions of patriotism, glory and the Vietnam War sacrifice of his brother Mike, a helicopter pilot. Walker enlisted in the U.S. Army himself, but the war ended before he ever saw combat, frustrating his desire to become a hero. Afterward, he underwent the Power Broker’s strength augmentation process and opted to join the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation to pay for the treatments.
However, promoter Ethan Thurm steered him in another direction: becoming a motivational speaker. As the Super-Patriot, Walker spoke before rallies around the country, claiming to represent America’s “true ideals” and disparaging Captain America as dated and out of touch. Without Walker’s knowledge, Thurm staged an attack on Walker at a New York rally to bolster his image, leading to him confronting Captain America himself. Later, after Steve Rogers resigned as Captain America rather than follow orders from the Commission on Superhuman Activities in “Captain America” #332, Walker was recruited to be the new Captain America. After a rocky tenure, Walker was fired and became U.S. Agent.
11. MAX DAMAGE
In “Irredeemable” and its companion series “Incorruptible,” writer Mark Waid explored heroism and villainy by having the world’s foremost superhero and supervillain change outlooks. “Irredeemable” followed the dark path taken by the Plutonian after his mind snaps and he unleashes his destructive powers on millions of people, his friends and teammates on the slightest whim.
In “Incorruptible” #3 and #4, drawn by Jean Diaz and Berlardino Brabo, Plutonian’s No. 1 opponent, Max Damage, has an epiphany when he attempts his own worst feat of mayhem. Damage attempts to unleash a plague that would have killed billions of people, out of jealousy that they can feel the physical world while he cannot. Damage is super-strong and impervious to harm, with his abilities increasing the longer he stays awake and resetting when he succumbs to sleep deprivation. Damage is surprised that Plutonian doesn’t stop him from opening the plague container, instead incinerating all witnesses and dismissing Damage with a glance. With that, Damage chooses to be the hero and defender that Plutonian had stopped being.
10. THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN
Otto Octavius, the arrogant and perpetually bitter scientist, is one of Spider-Man’s fiercest enemies. As Dr. Octopus, he’s perpetrated countless foul deeds such as kidnapping, theft, property destruction and trying to marry Peter Parker’s dear Aunt May to get property she inherited — and leaving her at the altar!
But after years of battles, Octavius found his body failing. He engineered a mindswap in which his consciousness was placed in Parker’s body, and Parker’s mind in his dying form, shown in the “Dying Wish” storyline that culminated in “Amazing Spider-Man” #700, written by Dan Slott and drawn by Humberto Ramos, Richard Elson and Victor Olazaba. Parker’s efforts to undo the swap fail, but he manages to make Octavius tap into his memories, letting him see what caused him to have such a strong sense of responsibility.
Overwhelmed, Octavius pledged to be a superior Spider-Man than Parker ever was, in the aptly named series “Superior Spider-Man.” Honoring the pledge didn’t change Octavius’ brutal nature, but Parker’s consciousness still inhabited their body and fought for control. In “Superior Spider-Man” #3o, written by Slott and Christos Gage and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli and John Dell, Octavius sacrificed himself and restored Parker after realizing Parker truly was the better hero.
9. QUICKSILVER AND THE SCARLET WITCH
Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have had a tortured history from the start, when they were introduced as less-than-committed members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in “X-Men” #4, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They are there only because they feel they owe Magneto for rescuing them from a mob and, at the time, believe themselves to be mutants. After several skirmishes with the X-Men and the disappearance of Magneto, the duo is recruited into the Avengers in issue #16, forming half of “Cap’s Kooky Quartet.”
The Scarlet Witch has been strongly associated with the Avengers ever since, finding love with the Vision and even having children, although they were removed from existence, causing her to go mad. Quicksilver has been linked to the Avengers, the X-Men, X-Factor and the Inhumans, sometimes as a member, frequently as an antagonist. Their lineage as mutants, however, was undone in “Uncanny Avengers” #4, by writer Rick Remender and Gerry Duggan and artist Daniel Acuña, when the High Evolutionary revealed they gained their powers as a result of his experiments.
Battered by his alcoholic father and orphaned when both parents were killed in a car crash, Clint Barton and his brother Barney grew up with a traveling circus. They were tutored in archery and other skills by the Swordsman and another carnie named Trick Shot. Hawkeye struck out on his own after he learned the Swordsman was stealing from the circus and beating Hawkeye up for not agreeing to keep quiet about it.
Inspired by Iron Man, Hawkeye resolved to be a hero himself. But on his first effort, he was mistaken for a thief and found himself on the run from the police. Soon after, he encountered the Black Widow, then a Soviet spy, in “Tales of Suspense” #57, by Stan Lee and Don Heck. The Black Widow enticed Hawkeye to become her partner, and they engaged in espionage against Stark Industries. After the Black Widow was injured in a fight against Iron Man, Hawkeye resolved to go straight, boldly breaking into Avengers Mansion and tying up Jarvis to prove his skills to the team. Hawkeye was part of the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” Avengers lineup, and has been a leader of the West Coast Avengers and the Thunderbolts.
Rogue was a teenager confused and terrified by her powers (the ability to absorb someone else’s life energy, memories, personality and abilities through skin-to-skin contact for a limited duration). It surfaced when she kissed her young love, Cody, inadvertently putting him into coma, as revealed in “Uncanny X-Men” #185, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Dan Green. Her fear and frustration made her an easy target for Mystique and Destiny, who recruited her for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
In “Avengers Annual” #10, written by Claremont and drawn by Michael Golden and Amando Gil, Rogue’s first mission was an attack against the team. She fought Ms. Marvel, but the extended battle made the transfer of abilities permanent. After more fights, Rogue was overwhelmed by Ms. Marvel’s memories, and sought help from Charles Xavier. Xavier’s psychic scan of Rogue showed him she was more misguided than evil. In “Uncanny X-Men” #171, written by Claremont and drawn by Walt Simonson and Bob Wiacek, Xavier brought Rogue on as a member of the X-Men, ignoring the strong objections from most of the team. Rogue has since been a mainstay of the X-Men, later developing control over her power-absorbing abilities, losing Ms. Marvel’s powers and gaining the abilities of Wonder Man.
6. THE BLACK WIDOW
Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow, first appeared in “Tales of Suspense” #52, written by Stan Lee and Don Rico, drawn by Don Heck. Back then, she was a Communist spy on a mission to assassinate Soviet defector Anton Vanko, which put her up against Iron Man. Her costume and equipment were upgraded in subsequent appearances, and she was brainwashed by the Soviets and sent to battle the Avengers. The effort failed, and she shook off her programming and defected to the West.
In “Amazing Spider-Man” #86, her look was changed by John Romita Sr. from short black hair, fishnet stockings and a cat’s eye mask to the familiar long red hair and black bodysuit, which came with the addition of wrist gauntlets that fire her “Widow’s Bite” and suction cups that allow her to scale walls. Since defecting, the Black Widow has frequently worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. and had multiple adventures with the Avengers before joining the team and even becoming its leader. She has also been a member of the Champions, the Defenders and the Thunderbolts, as well as a partner to Daredevil.
For most of his existence throughout the Marvel Universe, Galactus has been known as the Destroyer of Worlds. Introduced in “Fantastic Four” #48 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with Joe Sinott on the inks, Galactus has come to Earth in his perpetual quest to feed (which he does by draining the life force from entire planets). The Fantastic Four, with the aid of Galactus’ herald, the Silver Surfer, drive him off. Since then, Galactus has devoured the Skrull Throneworld, has been reduced from god-like stature to human form and has been both killed and resurrected. However, an adventure with the superhero team the Ultimates led to his greatest transformation.
After “Secret Wars,” the crossover that merged the various Marvel universes into one, the Ultimates sought out Galactus with the goal of changing his nature in “Ultimates” #2, by Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort. By having him return to his incubator and using the reality-warping material Iso-8, Galactus emerged with the power to restore life to dead planets, starting with the first planet he destroyed.
The Venom symbiote was thought of as a mere costume for Spider-Man when first seen in “Amazing Spider-Man” #252, written by Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco, and drawn by Ron Frenz and Brett Breeding. However, the “costume” was later revealed to be a living parasitic being in need of a host body. After Spider-Man learned from the Fantastic Four that it was beginning to permanently bond to him, he rejected the symbiote and they captured it. Ultimately it escaped and latched onto disgraced Daily Bugle reporter Eddie Brock, becoming Venom, one of Spider-Man’s fiercest enemies.
Venom later bonded with several other humans, including Peter Parker’s high-school frenemy Flash Thompson. Thompson had lost both legs during his Army service in the Iraq War, but the U.S. government captured Venom after it bonded to Mac Gargan, the Scorpion, and sought to use it under its control. Thompson was offered the opportunity to bond with Venom and go on covert missions, with Venom’s bio-mass substituting for Thompson’s missing legs, as shown in “Amazing Spider-Man” #654, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Tony Moore. To stave off permanent bonding, the symbiote was plied with drugs and Thompson was limited to 48 hours of use each time out.
3. PLASTIC MAN
Introduced in 1941 in Quality’s “Police Comics,” Plastic Man put a zany spin on superhero adventuring, thanks to the inventive humor of his creator, writer/artist Jack Cole. Before becoming a costumed hero, Plastic Man was Patrick “Eel” O’Brian, an orphan who grew up to become small-time thief and safecracker. A job at the Crawford Chemical Works went awry when he and his crew were confronted by a security guard who shot at them.
O’Brian was hit in the shoulder and fell into a drum of experimental acid. O’Brian’s three cohorts abandoned him, and he wandered until he was taken in by a monk at a mountain retreat who nursed him back to health. O’Brian soon discovered his body had become pliable and malleable. The kindness of the monk coupled with the betrayal of his crew, led him to renounce crime and become a superhero, adopting the red and black leotard and goggles of Plastic Man. At first, he kept up the Eel O’Brian guise in order to trick crooks, but ultimately switched to being Plastic Man full-time, becoming an FBI agent and a member of the Justice League of America.
The murderous mutant known as Sabretooth has had an ongoing, bitter rivalry with Wolverine spanning decades, even separate from his frequent battles with the X-Men. Sabretooth has been a vicious, unrepentant killer, but had a change of heart and mind imposed on him during the “AXIS” crossover.
In “AXIS,” written by Rick Remender, the Avengers and X-Men unite to defeat a clone of the Red Skull, who has acquired the power of the Onslaught entity. The effort called for the detonation of a gene bomb that had the “Inversion” effect: It altered the personalities of beings in its range, causing villains to turn heroic and vice versa. In “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS” #9, written by Remender and drawn by Jim Cheung and others, Doctor Doom and the Scarlet Witch cast a spell to undo the Inversion. However, Iron Man used his technology to shield himself from the spell and Sabretooth was shielded as well, making his personality change permanent. Sabretooth turned himself in for his crimes and later was added to the Avengers Unity Division roster.
1. LEX LUTHOR
Lex Luthor has been an enduring antagonist for Superman for more than 75 years, ever since the story “Europe at War” by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1940’s “Action Comics” #23. Introduced as a criminal scientist, Luthor was retconned as being a childhood friend of Clark Kent, making him a thorn in Superboy’s side as well. Since the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Luthor has posed as a respectable captain of industry while only performing nefarious deeds behind the scenes. Also, more emphasis was placed on Luthor’s xenophobia. Luthor hates Superman because he’s an alien and despises that the world doesn’t care enough about human accomplishments, particularly Luthor’s.
Luthor learns Batman’s secret identity in “Forever Evil” #7, and in “Justice League” #33 muscles his way onto the team. After the “New 52” Superman died in “Superman” #52, Luthor adopted his mantle in “Action Comics” #957, wearing a high-tech suit of armor emblazoned with the “S” shield. He also buys The Daily Planet to boot, just to acquire the fallen Superman’s cape that they owned and refused to sell to anyone. He’s declared his intentions are to protect Metropolis, but he is still opposed by Superman, the pre-“Flashpoint” version who had returned following the multiverse-warping events of “Convergence.”
Be sure to let us know in the comments if there are any other supervillains who became superheroes that we forgot to mention!