Despite what last year’s grim “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” had to say about heroism, superheroes are meant to represent the good in all of us. They inspire the citizens they protect. Most importantly, they are the best humanity has to offer, leading by example, making the tough choices, and fighting the temptation to succumb to the darkness. But being a hero isn’t always easy and sometimes our protectors give in to baser instincts.
Sometimes villains push heroes over the edge, sending them on murderous rampages that destroy whole cities — or planets! Of course, there are just some superheroes who are pretty awful to begin with, bestowed with great power but unable to accept the responsibility that comes with it. CBR has collected a list of 15 superheroes at their very worst who eventually got what they deserved.
While it’s true that he’s killed by the Joker, Jason Todd, the second Robin, really died by the will of the readers, who voted to kill off the Boy Wonder. Things weren’t always so grim for Jason. When the character was first introduced in “Batman” #357 by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, Jason was a chipper Dick Grayson clone, a good kid who delivered on his predecessor’s “aw shucks” attitude.
But then, much of his story was rewritten following 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Gone was the wholesome Jason, replaced by a kid who first met Batman while trying to steal the wheels off the Batmobile. Bruce took Jason under his wing and trained him to become the second Robin. Unfortunately, the readers didn’t have as much faith in this petulant, reckless, and rage-filled version of the Boy Wonder. This was DC’s attempt to go a bit darker with Robin and it failed. So how did DC solve the problem? By setting up a 1-900 number and letting fans call in and vote on whether Robin should meet his end in the “A Death in the Family” arc by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo. Jason never stood a chance.
Batman has done plenty of questionable things throughout his career, but his actions as a bloodthirsty vampire might take the cake. Elseworlds story “Batman & Dracula: Red Rain” by Doug Moench and Kelley Johnson features a confrontation for the ages. When Dracula comes to Gotham, it’s Batman’s job to take the legendary vampire and his brood down. And in an epic battle between good and evil, Batman succeeds in taking down Dracula (by impaling him on a tree!), but not before being drained of all his blood by the vampire. Let’s just say Batman’s war on crime went just a bit differently after that.
In the remaining two instalments of the Batman & Dracula Trilogy — “Bloodstorm” and “Crimson Mist” – the Dark Knight has a hard time controlling his thirst, eventually drinking all of the Joker’s blood. Then Batman’s reign of terror truly begins, as he drains and decapitates all of the remaining members of his rogues gallery. A final confrontation between Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Two-Face, and Killer Croc takes place in the Batcave, where none are left alive. After Alfred sacrifices himself and Gordon destroys the cave with explosives, Batman is burned to death by the light of the sun.
Superman has been cast as a villain before, notably in the “Red Son” Elseworlds story by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett, but his “Injustice” video game incarnation is the Man of Steel at his worst. Tragedy befalls Superman when the Joker tricks him into murdering Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis with a nuclear weapon. Devastated by his loss, Superman impales the Joker with his hand. It all goes downhill from there.
Five years later, the Man of Steel has become a ruthless dictator, ruling the world under a single, oppressive government known as the One Earth Regime. A small band of rebels, led by Batman, are fighting Superman’s regime when they discover a parallel universe where the Justice League is still intact and good. Eventually, evil Superman comes face to face with parallel universe Superman and the two duke it out in the Fortress of Solitude. The good Superman comes out victorious and tyrant Superman is locked up in a prison that emits red sun radiation, rendering him powerless.
Remember that time Superman crash landed in Nazi-occupied Sudetenland and became Adolf Hitler’s top minion? That’s exactly what happened in a series of tales by Grant Morrison. The fact that the Man of Steel helped the Axis Powers take over the world is bad enough, but the real tragedy of the story is that things could have turned out very differently for Overman (as he is known on Earth 10) had he just landed in Smallville instead. First introduced in the weekly DC event “52” #52, Kal-L is the leader of the New Reichsmen — think the Justice League but way more Nazi — and has delivered Washington D.C. to Hitler on a silver platter.
Even Overman couldn’t have imagined that this would lead to the horrors of the Holocaust, though. By the time he decides to speak up, it’s too late. Karma comes down on the Overman’s head, as his world crumbles around him: Overgirl, a clone created from his stem cells, is killed; his marriage to Lena has deteriorated; a superhero resistance group known as the Freedom Fighters is beating back the Nazis; and Metropolis is destroyed. Overman ends up with nothing and is overthrown.
11. DARK PHOENIX
Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was too powerful for her own good. As Marvel Girl, she showed great potential with her telepathic and telekinetic powers, but no one could have prepared the Marvel universe for her transformation into Phoenix — and later, the uncontrollable Dark Phoenix. During a rescue mission on a space shuttle crashing to Earth, Jean calls out to the Phoenix Force, an energy of great cosmic power, and fuses with it to save the day, becoming an entity known as Phoenix. While Jean can feel her powers growing as Phoenix, she ultimately decides to restrain them in order to stay in control.
But when the villain Mastermind and the Hellfire Club hatch a plan to manipulate Jean into becoming their Black Queen, the Dark Phoenix is unleashed, the ultimate manifestation of both Jean and the Phoenix Force’s power. As the Dark Phoenix, Jean takes down the X-Men and devours a star, causing it to go supernova and kill an entire planet. Jean meets her fate in a brief moment of clarity when she sacrifices herself with an ancient Kree weapon in order to protect her friends from the Dark Phoenix.
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man ain’t always so friendly, especially when under the influence of the symbiote suit. While “Spider-Man 3” isn’t necessarily remembered as a classic these days, it does show the fascinating fall from grace of Peter Parker, who’s become a New York City celebrity as the webslinger. Much to the chagrin of Mary Jane Watson, the fame’s gone to Peter’s head. After kissing Gwen Stacy during a public appearance as Spider-Man and discovering that the Sandman was Uncle Ben’s real killer, Peter spirals downward, fueled by vengeance. That’s when the parasitic symbiote decides to take hold of the Spidey suit and push the hero to the dark side.
What proceeds is an hour of Spider-Man on a villainous bender. He breaks up with MJ and starts dating Gwen to make her jealous, he seemingly kills the Sandman, and disfigures his former best friend Harry Osborn. While the film’s campier moments prevent it from being a great tragedy, Peter does lose quite a bit by the end, including Harry, who dies helping Spider-Man. Peter’s plans to marry MJ are off and their reconciliation is left hanging.
9. GREEN LANTERN
When people think of Green Lantern, the Hal Jordan version of the character is usually who comes to mind, not the original 1940s Alan Scott incarnation. Despite the lack of popularity, it’s doubtful that the latter would have suffered as tragic a fall from grace as the former. Hal spent a part of the ’70s tackling social issues, including a story about Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy being addicted to heroin, and the ’80s exiled from Earth and replaced by John Stewart. By the time the ’90s came around, Hal had become a villain known as Parallax!
After Coast City is destroyed by a villain named Mongul in 1993’s “Reign of the Supermen” crossover event, Hal loses his mind, attacks Oa, destroys the Green Lanterns and the Guardians, and attempts to rewrite time. He even kills Kilowog! In the limited series “The Final Night” by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen, Hal finally sees the error of his ways and sacrifices himself to reignite the sun, putting an end to the terror of Parallax… for a while.
It’s a story told throughout the history of Batman, most famously in the “Knightfall” storyline from the 90s: even if Bruce Wayne can no longer don the cowl, there must always be a Batman to protect Gotham City. After Bane breaks Bruce’s back in “Batman” #497 by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo, the cowl goes to Jean Paul Valley, also known as the trained assassin Azrael. While Bruce leaves the country on a mission to find Dr. Shondra Kinsolving, who has agreed to heal his back, Azrael assumes the role of Dark Knight, challenging Bane and defeating him in a new, very ’90s mechanical Batsuit.
During his tenure as Batman, Azrael becomes more and more unstable, his programming as an assassin driving him further into insanity. At one point, he even thinks the ghost of his father is guiding his war on crime. Azrael’s methods become so ruthless that even Robin ditches him. When he lets a villain named Abattoir die in a torture chamber, Azrael has finally gone too far. Healed of his wounds, Bruce eventually returns and is forced to put his mad successor down.
7. ALEX WILDER
Created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona for the Marvel series “Runaways,” Alex Wilder was a bad apple from the start. While he vows to lead a group of kids known as the Runaways against their parents, who are secretly part of a criminal organization known as the Pride, Alex is actually a mole for the bad guys.
Alex is a child prodigy and is able to easily manipulate the rest of his team into the clutches of the Pride, who need to make a ritual sacrifice in order to tame three mythical giants known as the Gibborim, which have the power to destroy humanity. Once the Runaways have been sacrificed, Alex, along with the Pride, will be able to rebuild the planet as a paradise. Everything almost goes according to plan until the Gibborim quickly kill Alex during the final confrontation with the Pride. No paradise for traitors.
Mark Waid’s “Irredeemable” asks a terrifying question: what if Superman snapped and decided to take over the world? That’s the story of the Plutonian, who goes from the world’s greatest hero to its most feared supervillain, after he accidentally unleashes a virus that kills many children. The guilt makes Plutonian snap and he goes on a rampage of epic proportions, killing friends and foes, destroying an entire city, and… SINKING SINGAPORE. How evil do you have to be to sink an entire country?
The Paradigm, the Plutonian’s former superhero team, spend most of the series figuring out a way to defeat him. It’s ultimately a meeting with two interdimensional aliens known as the Eleos that makes Plutonian feel remorse for his actions. Plutonian witnesses the result of his war on Earth, which has been ravaged by radiation. In order to save the planet and redeem himself, Plutonian absorbs all of the radiation, sacrificing himself for humanity.
5. THE COMEDIAN
Eddie Blake walks a very fine line between hero and villain as the vigilante The Comedian in “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Fueled by violence and a dark sense of humor, Comedian is easily the most unlikeable character in the book. Even Ozymandias, the main villain who blows up part of New York City, is a more sympathetic character. Comedian believes humans are savage and that the idea of civilization is the ultimate joke — thus his name — which makes him pretty bad at protecting people.
While he began his career as part of the Minutemen superhero team, he barely resembled a hero in the years prior to his fateful death at the hands of Ozymandias. After quitting superheroics altogether, Comedian served as Richard Nixon’s assassin, and it’s strongly implied that he’s the man who killed John F. Kennedy. That wasn’t the worst of it, though. Comedian’s attempted rape of Silk Spectre is easily one of the most shocking things a “hero” has ever done on the page. There’s nothing funny about that. The dude deserved to get pushed out of that skyscraper window.
Sinestro was never that likable to begin with. Ever since his introduction in “Green Lantern” Vol. 2 #7 by John Broome and Gil Kane, he’s sort of been a tormenter to Hal Jordan, whom he was assigned to train in the ways of the Green Lantern Corps. But Hal wasn’t Sinestro’s only victim. This very scummy Green Lantern decided to make himself the dictator of his homeworld, Korugar, and rule it with an iron fist in order to instill peace and order over his people. What resulted were an oppressed people and a corrupt ruler.
A Korugaran resistance, led by Katma Tui, eventually rises up against Sinestro and the tyrant’s crimes are exposed to the Guardians of the Universe, who punish him by sending him to the antimatter universe. Good riddance. This exile, of course, proves to be an even worse idea. The Weaponers of the antimatter world Qward end up recruiting Sinestro and giving him his infamous yellow ring. Today, Sinestro is the sworn enemy of the Green Lantern Corps.
3. CAPTAIN AMERICA (JOHN WALKER)
The man who would become U.S. Agent first debuted in “Captain America” #323 by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary as Super-Patriot after acquiring superhuman abilities from the Power Broker. From the start, John Walker wants to replace Steve Rogers as Captain America. As Super-Patriot, Walker challenges Rogers to a fight and bests him in hand-to-hand combat, proving that he would be a better Captain America. Walker finally replaces Rogers, who steps down in “Captain America” #332 by Gruenwald and Tom Morgan because he doesn’t want to report to the Commission on Superhuman Activities.
Walker becomes the new, U.S. sanctioned Captain America in #333. Walker proves to be a less stable Captain America. He’s ruthless and violent, and at one point beats the villain Professor Power to death. Later, Walker’s parents are murdered when his real name and place of birth are leaked to the public. This drives Walker over the edge, as he sets on a path to maim or murder all of those responsible for his parents’ deaths. Needless to say, the Commission chooses to reinstate Rogers and wipe Walker’s memory.
2. SUPERBOY PRIME
Superboy-Prime comes from a parallel Earth where there aren’t any superheroes. All of the main DC superheroes exist only in comic books, but little does this Earth know that young Clark Kent is destined to be Earth Prime’s first superhero. That is, until the light of the Anti-Monitor destroys his universe and sends his life spiraling. After helping Superman and the rest of the heroes stop the Anti-Monitor in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Superboy-Prime retreats to a “paradise dimension.” While in seclusion, his mind becomes twisted by the memory of Earth Prime. Superboy-Prime decides that he’s the only hero worthy of being Superboy and that his destiny is to become Superman.
During the “Infinite Crisis” event by Geoff Johns, the hero turned villain escapes the paradise dimension through a portal and decides that he must restore Earth Prime as the only existing Earth. Many of Superboy-Prime’s actions rocked the DC Universe, and he’s even responsible for some of the changes to continuity, such as the return of Jason Todd. After years of fighting, Superboy-Prime is finally imprisoned in the Source Wall at the edge of the multiverse.
The Elseworlds story “Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross brings the worst out of the traditionally babyfaced Shazam. The world of “Kingdom Come” is in turmoil, as the older generation of superheroes is challenged by a newer, less moral group of young heroes, and Shazam falls victim to the machinations of Lex Luthor.
Luthor hasn’t given up on his life’s mission: kill Superman. Luthor brainwashes Shazam because the villain believes the hero is the only metahuman that can go head-to-head with the Man of Steel. While Batman and his Outsiders fight the Justice League, Superman and Shazam face off in a thunderous bout that puts an end to one of the heroes. Superman is overpowered at first, but eventually helps Shazam shake Luthor’s mind control. As an act of redemption, Shazam flies away from the fight and sacrifices himself while trying to save the world from a nuclear warhead armed to kill all of the metahumans on Earth.
Which other superhero garbage fires deserved to be put out? Let us know in the comments!