Love is in the air in comics right now. As Batman and Catwoman’s long-running will they/won’t they relationship culminates in an engagement, fans have a tendency to look at other long-running superhero couples. From Superman and Lois Lane to Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, comic book characters falling in love has long been a consistent trope throughout the medium. But naturally, there’s the other side of the coin. No, we’re not talking about villains finding love -- though there are more than a few examples of truly evil monsters finding love. We’re talking about villains who loved the heroes they were supposed to be fighting.
It stands to reason that such affairs of the heart would take place. Superheroism and alternately supervillainy are both emotionally draining affairs and have long been pegged as life choices which don’t lend themselves to healthy, stable relationships. So you see a lot of fishing off the company pier, so to speak. But every so often, a hero and villain cross that line and find themselves pining over each other. It’s not always romantic, though; on many occasions, it’s an emotional bond formed out of mutual respect. We’ve compiled our favorites for you, so here are 15 villains who are actually in love with their rivals.
15 THE JOKER AND BATMAN
Easily the most obvious choice for this list. Batman and The Joker have been at odds for decades now, and it all comes back to a single belief: neither could exist without the other. This is a relatively common trope that writers love to point out, and it’s come to a head on multiple occasions over the years.
This symbiotic relationship is a highlight of some of Batman’s most important stories over the years, such as 1988’s The Killing Joke, which saw Batman coming to terms with the fact that he and Joker may be battling each other forever. There’s even 2012’s Death of the Family, in which Joker implies Batman’s reliance on family makes him too weak. Here Batman even notes that Joker seems to have a hint of love in his eyes.
14 VENOM'S BOND WITH SPIDER-MAN
It’s easy to forget why the original Venom and Spider-Man are rivals. For Spidey, it’s about stopping the violent, murderous rampage of the Symbiote and its host, Eddie Brock. But for the Symbiote, it’s more of a spurned love affair. The Symbiote views Peter as a host that abandoned it and feels rejected, ultimately wanting revenge.
There have been a number of hosts for Venom since then -- Mac Gargan, Flash Thompson, and recently Lee Price -- but when Lee lost the Symbiote, it made a bid to re-bond with Spider-Man. Having been cured of its insanity while under Flash Thompson’s bond, the Symbiote viewed Spidey as someone who could do good and wanted to reforge that bond, proving it still had a bit of affection for the wall-crawler. Unfortunately, Spidey rejected the Symbiote again, leading it to bond with Eddie Brock once more and seemingly restoring the Symbiote’s insanity.
13 LOKI AND HIS ADOPTIVE FAMILY
It’s more readily apparent in the MCU, but over the years in the comics, Loki has proven to love his adoptive family considerably more than he lets on. Loki’s initial bitterness doesn’t stem from hating his family necessarily; it’s to do with his inability to claim Asgard’s throne, which he views as his birthright. As such, the Trickster God has feuded with his family on more than one occasion.
This was likely the most obvious during the phase where Loki was resurrected as a child. Having been brought back with limited powers and only the faintest memories of his past deeds, this Loki was still a trickster but trying to be a good person. He and Thor demonstrated a mutual adoration for each other during this time, with Thor even justifying Loki’s revival to Odin and the other Asgardians.
12 MAD ABOUT THE HULK
Philip Sterns was a genius scientist who was obsessed with Bruce Banner. This obsession especially amplified when Banner became The Hulk, and Sterns began replicating experiments to become just like Banner. The result was Madman, a psychotic bruiser with strength and intellect to rival the Hulk’s. Suffering a psychological breakdown, Madman’s personality was so terrifying that even his brother, Hulk foe The Leader, came to Banner’s aid against him.
This culminated in a battle several years later in the pages of The Incredible Hulk, where Hulk and Madman found themselves slugging it off on top of the London Bridge. There a felled Madman finally outright confessed his love for The Hulk in a moment of clarity. Hulk seemed to shrug it off but didn’t get much chance to respond as the bridge exploded. Madman wasn’t seen again for several years but eventually died as a result of actions taken by his brother.
11 EMMA FROST CATCHES CYCLOPS' EYE
As the White Queen of the infamous Hellfire Club, Emma Frost butted heads with the X-Men on numerous occasions. This, of course, included Scott Summers, the X-Men leader known as Cyclops and his long-suffering lover, Jean Grey. Emma offered psychic counseling to Scott, which turned into an affair but ultimately turned into real love.
Emma has never really been trusted by her fellow X-Men. Despite her close relationship with Cyclops and the countless times helping the team, she’s always been regarded as duplicitous and villainous, perhaps with good cause. Emma has always been secretive and primarily concerned with her own personal agenda. Her love for Scott was even ultimately twisted as seen in the pages of Death of X, where she used her telepathic powers to make the world think Scott was murdered at the hands of Black Bolt long after he’d succumbed to M-Pox.
10 LEX RESPECTS SUPERMAN
Before The New 52, Lex Luthor and Superman had a pretty stable rivalry. Superman wanted people to be good, Lex wanted Superman to be dead. Fairly straightforward, but still an underlying tone of respect was present. However, by the time of New 52, Luthor seemed to adopt a degree of love for his Kryptonian rival.
This is perhaps none more apparent than in the Rebirth era of Action Comics. Following the death of the New 52 Superman, Luthor took it upon himself to adopt that Superman’s role in the universe. Donning a suit of armor and going so far as to buy the Daily Planet to get his cape, Luthor took affection to a new level by attempting to fill the void left by the Man of Steel.
9 LEX LOVED SUPERGIRL
Lex probably took loving his rival a little too far with this one. After years of wearing a ring made of Kryptonite, Luthor died when the radiation the ring emitted (then believed to be safe to humans) caused cancer to quickly spread throughout his body. But Luthor had a master plan, and it honestly got super creepy very fast.
Faking his death, Luthor had a new body cloned around his brain. He presented himself as a 21-year-old son who was previously unknown, Lex Luthor II. With long red hair and an Australian accent, Lex eventually found himself seducing Supergirl. Having come from an alternate Earth, Supergirl was taken aback by his resemblance to the same Lex that had created her. The two formed a strange relationship for a time, but Lex’s body would eventually deteriorate to its proper age.
8 HARLEQUIN COMMITS CRIME FOR LOVE
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who Molly Mayne was. As The Harlequin, she was a pretty harmless supervillain, committing crimes that were more practical jokes than anything. See, Molly wasn’t actually a villain, but she had a deeply unrequited crush on Green Lantern. Desperate to catch his attention, she turned to a life of crime.
Alan’s got a bit of a history with this, to be fair. His first wife, Rose Canton, also had a villainous alter ego, Thorn. Alan didn’t realize this until it was too late, and Rose took her own life to keep Alan and their children safe. Sometime later, in a rare happy ending, Alan realizes his own affections for Molly, and the two were married. The two had their share of tribulations but remained happily married until that universe was rewritten with Flashpoint.
7 REVERSE FLASH RACES FOR THE FLASH'S ADORATION
Hailing from the 31st Century, Eobard Thawne was a scientist who went back in time to became the greatest villain in history. Under the moniker of Reverse Flash, Thawne menaced Barry Allen for years before Barry accidentally killed him. Though he felt the immediate ramifications of the act, Barry had no idea the long term problems Thawne’s death would cause.
In the updated origin in the classic The Flash story “The Return of Barry Allen,” Thawne’s original trip to the past was because he idolized Barry to the point that he had plastic surgery to resemble him. But the trip to the past went awry, and upon learning that he would die as Flash’s greatest rival, the unstable Thawne tried to replace him. Wally West eventually tricked Thawne into returning to the 31st Century, but the resentment he harbored for Barry resulted in him ultimately becoming Reverse Flash.
6 OMNI-MAN FIGHTS A FATHER'S LOVE
Omni-Man was the greatest hero Earth had ever seen. His son, Mark, inherited those powers as part of his Viltrumite heritage. 2003’s Invincible was a breath of fresh air in comics, a self-aware comic book that wasn’t afraid to poke fun at its own legacy. But like all so many other things, it was too good to last, and Omni-Man betrayed the planet.
Invincible and Omni-Man butted heads at the conclusion of Invincible’s first year, and it seemed like Omni-Man was content carrying out his original plan: preparing the Earth for a Viltrumite invasion. But his love for his son proved to be his undoing, as the beaten, broken and profusely bleeding Mark’s pleas finally broke his father down, and Omni-Man fled. He’s calmed down in recent years, thanks to his undeniable love for his family.
5 JEAN LORING'S LOVE COSTS THREE LIVES
Jean Loring has a pretty spectacular fall from grace. An Ivy Town lawyer, she was the long-time girlfriend of The Atom, Ray Palmer, even refusing his initial marriage proposals because of her steadfast insistence to make it on her own. Though the two eventually wed, the marriage ended in scandal when Ray found Jean with another man.
For a while, that was that. Ray continued his adventuring life and Jean remarried. But then Sue Dibny died. A string of superhero spouses were then threatened, sending heroes running to the arms of loved ones. Ray would eventually discover Jean, suffering a mental breakdown, had killed Sue and orchestrated the presence of a serial killer in the hopes of getting back together, even going so far as to fake an attack on herself. Jean acted out of love, but a distraught Ray committed her to Arkham Asylum and disappeared.
4 BAD GIRLS LOVE THE SPIRIT
Will Eisner’s classic creation, The Spirit is known for his supporting cast as well as he is for his classically styled adventure. The archetypal comic book blend of noir and crime fiction, The Spirit has been setting the bar for over 70 years, with the character's rich blend of colorful Femme Fatales chasing him.
It was any number of villainous women who lusted after The Spirit in each issue, be it he black widow, P’Gell. The spy, Sand Saref, or the adventure seeking Silk Satin. While all fell into some sort of pitfall as a stereotype of the 1940s, each still had a rich backstory and their own motivations. The Spirit was never one to settle down, but he was constantly chased by his rivals.
3 DAREDEVIL, TYPHOID MARY AND COMMITMENT
You probably expected us to make the case for Elektra on this list. And you certainly could, but we feel Typhoid Mary is the more interesting one to look at here. Mary’s multiple personalities have confounded Daredevil on more than a few occasions. Subtle changes to her body chemistry and how she carries herself means Matt’s radar sense can’t tell it’s not a different person.
The two have a strange relationship that culminates in them sleeping together in the story "Last Rites." Matt has Mary committed the next morning in an effort to save her, but she eventually breaks out and has a stretch with Deadpool, which leads to her remembering Matt is the reason for her multiple personality disorder -- he accidentally kicked her out a window while investigating a brothel she worked in. Since then the two have been more rivals than lovers.
2 DIAMONDBACK RENOUNCED EVIL FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA
Rachel Leighton was a member of the Serpent Society, a band of snake-themed villains who came across many of Marvel’s heroes. Most notable of all these was the Living Legend himself, Captain America. It was in these encounters that Leighton would sway her allegiance, helping Cap before ultimately defecting. Giving up her villainous ways, she sided with Captain America on many occasions.
Against Steve’s better judgment, Rachel did eventually talk Steve into a date, and the two slowly entered into a relationship. Tumultuous as it may have been, Rachel was Cap’s girlfriend for a large chunk of the '80s and '90s. Things eventually fell apart, with Diamondback toeing the line yet again between hero and villain. She most recently joined a reformed Serpent Society but betrayed them to help the then-current Captain America, Sam Wilson.
1 SHADO WILL KILL FOR THE GREEN ARROW
Mike Grell’s "The Longbow Hunters" redefined Green Arrow in an era where the character was regarded as kind of a joke. Swapping out the bright green attire and trick quiver for a sleek, hooded costume and real arrows, Ollie went from Robin Hood pastiche to urban vigilante. We also were introduced to Shado, who would become an important figure in his life.
Initially, an adversary, the mysterious and violent Shado found herself working alongside Ollie on a number of occasions. During one such encounter, a wounded and delirious Ollie is sexually assaulted by Shado, resulting in a son, Robert. Robert only turned up a few times, with Ollie not being in his life often, and was last seen having been aged from 8 to 17 years old by Dr. Sivana, who had been trying to cure Robert’s leukemia.
Can you think of any other villain who loved their heroic counterpart? Let us know in the comments!