In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent says “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Perhaps Harvey was aware he was a comic book character? There’s an ongoing trope of betrayal among superheroes in comics, be it by upholding their own moral code against their own peers or by outright turning to villainous ways. The fall of a hero has been a classic story for generations and has been a major focus of several comic book events over the years, most recently in Marvel’s Secret Empire.
For this list, we’ve assembled the most heartbreaking of the bunch; the characters you grew to love and believe in who then turned to the dark side and ripped out your heart on the way. It would be a lie to say these gut-wrenching, backstabbing betrayals didn’t make you feel anything, but it’s okay. We all did. That’s what made them so memorable. Whether it’s an American icon betraying his flag or something as simple as a teenager siding with his parents, betrayals hurt. Here are 15 comic book superheroes who betrayed EVERYONE, including the readers.
Beware of spoilers as you proceed!
15. WOLVERINE (ENEMY OF THE STATE, OLD MAN LOGAN)
If you want to have one X-Man you can trust, it’s almost certainly Wolverine. With his questionable nature and proclivity for doing dirty jobs (a habit which eventually netted him a spot on The Avengers), he’s also fiercely loyal and dictated by a code of honor. Still, it didn’t stop a betrayal or two from happening, though extenuating circumstances led to them.
Perhaps the most notable is Old Man Logan where Wolverine was tricked by Mysterio, of all people. Influenced by his illusions, Wolverine killed all of the X-Men. This is similar to an earlier story, Enemy of the State, where a mind-controlled Wolverine lashed out against super humans to attack the President. These were unusual instances to the typically mind-control-resistant Logan, but in both instances, the betrayals shook him to the core.
14. OMNI-MAN (INVINCIBLE)
Invincible was a revelation of superhero comics when it hit stands in 2003. Tongue in cheek and playing with the tropes that defined the medium, the series packed action and humor with emotionally grounded characters. Despite this, those first 11 issues still felt like they were somewhat standard fare as Mark Grayson, son of the heroic Omni-Man, became the new hero Invincible.
What a gut punch it was for readers nearly a year in when Omni-Man killed the Guardians of the Globe. Having been in hiding, he was actually on Earth to prepare it for invasion. Mark didn’t manage to fight off his father so much as he just kept getting punched until he gave up. These days Omni-Man has reformed, but the betrayal that defined the early years of Invincible is one that stuck with readers.
13. IRON MAN (CIVIL WAR)
Following the tragedy of Stamford, which saw a New Warriors battle with the villain Nitro destroy the entire town, the US Government enacted the Superhuman Registration Act. The SRA was incredibly controversial, with Captain America staunchly refusing to publicly unmask. However, it was supported by Tony Stark, who informed the government he was yet again Iron Man and set about apprehending those who refused to register.
Was Tony right in supporting the SRA? It’s in a weird place when you look back at it. Tony is undoubtedly presented as the villain for a large portion of Civil War, and the pseudo-death of Captain America afterward certainly didn’t help. This one is ultimately up to fans, but when you rack up the body count and the number of superheroes detained indefinitely in the Negative Zone, Iron Man certainly betrayed everyone who cared about him.
12. TERRA (TEEN TITANS)
There is perhaps no betrayal more famous as that of Terra Markov. Debuting in New Teen Titans #26, Terra Markov was a young, precocious girl who joined the team. It was learned later that Terra infiltrated the team at the behest of Deathstroke, dismantling the team from the inside. They were eventually foiled by intervention from Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, and Dick Grayson in his first outing as Nightwing.
Terra dies at the story’s conclusion, having brought down a building around herself in a blind rampage. Despite her duplicitous nature, Terra traditionally had a Titans statue erected in her honor, and two other heroes have used the name. The Judas Contract remains the most popular and definitive New Teen Titans story to date, having been adapted for 2003’s Teen Titans animated series and receiving 2017 animated adaptation with Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.
11. BISHOP (MESSIAH COMPLEX)
Bishop was a stalwart X-Man for years, hailing from the far flung future and serving as personal bodyguard to Professor X. He’s served on a number of teams off and on over the years and was incredibly popular. Hell, he even made the jump to the animated series, subbing in for Kitty Pryde in the series’ attempt at adapting Days of Future Past.
But with 2007’s Messiah Complex, Bishop turned traitor. It was revealed that his future was one where the Messiah Child had led to mutants being enslaved. In the present, Bishop took the opportunity to attempt to kill the child but failed. When he tried to kill Cable before he could escape, he accidentally shot Professor X. Bishop showed up in Uncanny X-Force a few years back and had seemingly calmed down, but hasn’t been seen since.
10. GAMBIT (MUTANT MASSACRE)
It stands to reason that popular X-Man Gambit can’t be trusted. After all, he’s not just a silver tongued Cajun, he’s a notorious thief with a reputation for stealing the most impossible of objects. But he’s betrayed the X-Men in notorious ways, dating back to his first appearance.
Though he wasn’t yet a member of the team, Gambit aided the evil Mr. Sinister in exchange for having a piece of his brain removed to allow him better control over his powers. Gambit formed the Marauders and led them to the Morlock tunnels, resulting in the event Mutant Massacre. Gambit’s sins were finally laid to bare in the early 2000’s, and all seems largely forgiven but it’s worth remembering that Gambit’s first canonical act was betraying the X-Men.
9. GREEN LANTERN (EMERALD TWILIGHT)
Hal Jordan was the greatest Green Lantern of them all, or at least that’s what the marketing blurb said. But in the early ’90s, DC was concerned their line was being perceived as old. Following the success of Wally West’s ascension to Flash after Barry’s death, something similar was attempted with Green Lantern.
Following Reign of The Supermen, Coast City is destroyed. A distraught Hal tries to revive the city with his power ring, but the Guardians insist he stops. Rather than submit, Hal goes on a rampage, killing every Green Lantern and snapping Sinestro’s neck. Hal becomes Parallax and tortures the DC Universe for nearly a decade before sacrificing himself. Hal was brought back in 2004’s Green Lantern: Rebirth, where Parallax is retconned into the Fear entity trapped in the Central Power Battery, but the shadow of Parallax has loomed over the character ever since.
8. THE FLASH (OUT OF TIME/END OF THE ROAD)
Barry Allen has been a pretty straight and narrow guy all his life. In all his adventures as The Flash, he’s been portrayed as selfless and human, and notably gave his life to save the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths. So it might be a hell of a surprise that Barry is on this list.
But in the stories Out of Time and End of the Road, a future version of Barry made his way to the present day. With the Speed Force ripped asunder by years of time travel, his goal was to travel to the source of the anomaly and kill himself at that juncture in order to keep Wally West from dying. Barry killed numerous Rogues along the way before learning the error of his ways with help from his past girlfriend Patty Spivot and gave his life to save the present Barry’s.
7. CYCLOPS (AVENGERS VS. X-MEN)
Much like Iron Man in Civil War, there’s a lot of factors that make it up to the readers if Cyclops truly betrayed his fellow mutants. And in fact, this division is what made the X-Men books after Avengers vs X-Men so compelling. Fighting against the Avengers to defend fellow X-Man Hope as the Phoenix loomed, Cyclops became possessed himself and led the Phoenix Five.
Possessed by the Phoenix, Cyclops killed Professor Xavier and led many attacks against human and mutant alike. Afterward, he adopted a more revolutionary attitude, leading a rebellious team of X-Men and coming into conflict with other superheroes and his former friend Wolverine on more than one occasion. Cyclops was briefly viewed as a martyr, believed to have been killed by Black Bolt in Death of X before it was revealed he had succumbed to M-Pox days before.
6. JEAN LORING (IDENTITY CRISIS)
Identity Crisis was a turning point for a lot of DC Comics fans, both good and bad. Opening up with the brutal murder of Sue Dibny, the story unraveled to reveal the dark secrets of the Justice League’s past, including the mental assault of the villain Doctor Light. But where the series hung its hat was the reveal of Jean Loring’s betrayal.
Loring had used her ex-husband Ray Palmer’s Atom technology to attack Sue, intending to scare her, but accidentally killed her. Events spiraled out of control, leading to more attacks and more deaths. Jean revealed to Ray this was all done to reforge their connection, as she still loved him, but a heartbroken Ray committed Jean to Arkham Asylum before disappearing from the DC Universe for several years.
5. SUPERMAN (INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US)
Superman has long refused to kill. The alternate universe of Netherrealm Studios and WB Entertainment’s Injustice: Gods Among Us created a reality where it wasn’t just a possibility, but a way of life. Manipulated by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and his unborn son, resulting in the destruction of Metropolis, Superman finally drops the Boy Scout gimmick and snaps.
It starts with a fist through Joker’s stomach, but from there it only gets worse. Joined by numerous other heroes who believe he’s doing the right thing, Superman’s Regime finally creates world peace by forcibly enacting it. One has to wonder, though, why a team who believed they were the good guys would call themselves the Regime! The body count notably includes Green Arrow and Shazam, and Batman has to actually summon a Superman from another world to stop his.
4. REED RICHARDS (ULTIMATE COMICS: DOOMSDAY)
Of all the things to go differently in the Ultimate Universe, Reed Richards is simultaneously the most interesting and the most tragic. The Reed of the Ultimate Universe was mistreated terribly by his parents and is astoundingly socially awkward. He found some semblance of belonging with Susan Storm but was gutted when she called an end to their relationship.
Under all the pressure, Reed snaps. He fakes his death and begins attacking scientific minds, blaming them for the waves of tragedy and attacks. Reed adopts the moniker of Maker and spends the last few years of the Ultimate Universe as a major antagonist. Following Secret Wars, The Maker survived as Molecule Man places slivers of himseslf in each new universe. Currently, Maker is acting very Doctor Doom-like in Infamous Iron Man, where Doctor Doom is acting very Iron Man-like.
3. ALEX WILDER (RUNAWAYS)
Runaways has long been a cult favorite Marvel property, with new runs being launched on more than one occasion thanks to fan support. The tale of six kids who find out their parents are members of the manipulative Pride captured readers quickly, and while initial sales weren’t spectacular the book was revived thanks to high trade sales.
The book’s selling point is its strongly written characters and grounded plots, but it all ends in betrayal. The son of the Pride’s de facto leaders, Alex Wilder maintained unwavering loyalty to his parents, betraying his fellow Runaways but ultimately dying in the ensuing events. Wilder’s betrayal shaped the Runaways as a group and a title. Multiple attempts to resurrect him failed, though eventually he made his way out of hell and turned up in the pages of Power Man And Iron Fist.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA (SECRET EMPIRE)
Perhaps the most obvious selection for this list, as it’s the most recent and the most talked about. Secret Empire shows that Steve Rogers, the Living Legend of World War II, had his history rewritten with a cosmic cube. Was it rewritten from the original timeline? Was the Cube’s work actually undoing a previous alteration? Does it really matter? Probably not.
The point remains, Steve Rogers has revealed himself as a Hydra defector. Allying himself with a new Madame Hydra, Rogers took advantage of a global catastrophe to seize control of the world’s governments. Once in power, Hydra made its move. S.H.I.E.L.D., infiltrated by Hydra thoroughly, began assuming control of key locations and executing any who stand in his way. Perhaps no more finality could be attributed to this betrayal than the execution of Rick Jones, a shot that left fans and characters alike reeling and shocked.
1. BATMAN (JLA: TOWER OF BABEL)
How does Batman win? Batman cheats. Really, it’s an insane level of preparation, planning, and training for any eventuality. The one thing he’s the most prepared for? A Justice League member going bad. Batman prepared some truly brutal plans, including blinding Green Lantern and turning Superman’s skin invisible so he’d go insane from yellow sun overexposure.
In the classic JLA storyline Tower of Babel, those plans are stolen by Ra’s al Ghul and used to distract the League. Ra’s was eventually stopped, but the distrust in Batman created a rift for some time, and Batman even took leave of the team. This isn’t a forgotten idea though; a recent issue of Justice League had Batman confide in the League that in New 52, such plans still existed, though this time Superman was able to convince the League not to hold it against Batman.
Which superhero betrayed YOU the most? Let us know in the comments!