It used to be that good guys and bad guys were pretty much stuck that way in comics. True, the Golden Age had some heroes committing brutal acts but they mostly kept to their heroic life. The villains, meanwhile, were pretty much cliché from low-level crooks to would-be world conquerors. Marvel changed that in the 1960s by giving heroes flaws while also showing villains with human traits. That included the idea that some villains really weren’t bad people but had just made some mistakes which led them to the criminal life. Some heroes decided that saving everyone wasn't worth it and ended up switching sides, while others who were on the bad side figured that human life was worth saving.
True, some folks can straddle both sides (see several members of the Suicide Squad), but more than once, a comic book company fires up fans by showing a hero turning into a major bad guy. They have been very particular and careful about which heroes they choose to turn bad, but it has happened that some choices left fans completely shell-shocked. It happens more often than one would think, which is why fans are often wondering which version of their hero turned villain, or villain turned hero that they like best. Even though some fans wish some of these entries would have never been written in comic books at all, it still is a nice trip down memory lane for those of us who need a refresher on the topic. Here is, Identity Crisis: 12 Heroes Who Went From Good To Bad (And 12 Who Went The Other Way).
24 BAD TO GOOD: NAMOR
He’s bounced back and forth a bit but Namor does seem to side with the good guys more these days. That’s a far cry from his first appearances in the 1940s. The ruler of Atlantis, Namor was outraged by how the surface world treated his home as a garbage dump and fought against them. He even flooded New York City in one attack. He did work with other heroes to fight in World War II but that was just to protect his home.
Numerous times, Namor would attack with his armies and undersea creatures, determined to rule the entire planet. He would even work with Doctor Doom and others to make that happen. Eventually, Namor softened his attitude and joined the Avengers. He can still be hot-headed and make some very bad moves (like flooding Wakanda) yet the Avenging Son is more a hero than the one-time conqueror he once was.
23 GOOD TO BAD: THE PLUTONIAN
Mark Waid’s Irredeemable has a fantastic hook. One day, with no warning whatsoever, the world’s greatest champion goes mad. The Plutonian had been revered for his fantastic job as a hero, always helping anyone in need and the kind of guy who will pause during a fight to save a dog. But his fellow heroes realize too late there was a lot about their ally they never knew. He had a dark past as an alien and the pressure of being a hero bore down on him. When he failed to save a town from being destroyed, it was the last straw.
The Plutonian then begins a rampage, wiping out fellow heroes, cities and even entire countries. It’s chilling to watch as he plays sadistic games as he decides who to keep and who to take out. The book ends on a surprisingly hopeful note to offset a very dark main character.
22 BAD TO GOOD: MAX DAMAGE
Incorruptible is the flip side and companion book to Irredeemable. Max Damage was a crook who had super-strength, bullet-proof skin and a very harsh attitude. The only thing he cared about was making money. When the Plutonian went on his rampage, Max was shocked to see his long-time enemy turning into a bigger monster than Max could be. As if to maintain some cosmic balance, Max decided that if the Plutonian was now a villain, then Max had to become a hero.
It was a tough road as Max had no idea how to be a good guy. He made a lot of mistakes and quite often got innocent people hurt. But he proved himself by fighting off the Plutonian to protect his home city. He followed it up by defeating its major gangs and was welcomed as a hero. The series ends with this former bad-to-the-bone villain chatting with civilians to show there can be redemption in anyone.
21 GOOD TO BAD: THE HULK
Everyone knows that when the Hulk is enraged, almost nothing in existence can stop him. The only thing holding him back from total madness is the mind of Bruce Banner. But imagine a Hulk far more powerful, far more intelligent and lacking any morals whatsoever. In the classic “Future Imperfect” storyline, the present Hulk is sent a century into the future. Earth is mostly in ruins after a nuclear war with pretty much every other hero dead. The only survivor was the Hulk, who became stronger thanks to all the radiation from the war.
Now calling himself the Maestro, this elder Hulk rules what’s left of humanity with a green iron fist. He is brutal and merciless and has no qualms wiping out innocents to get his way. The Hulk himself is horrified by this future self as they do battle. While the Maestro was defeated, the Hulk is always secretly afraid of how he might end up becoming this twisted figure.
20 BAD TO GOOD: SABRETOOTH
Victor Creed had long been Wolverine’s dark mirror. He had the same feral abilities, mutant healing factor, and claws but none of Logan’s honor or morals. He was a savage beast who would end people just for the thrill of it and he was a total sociopath to boot. The idea of him ever becoming a good guy was ridiculous. But in the Axis event, a blast of energy causes the moral compasses of various heroes and villains to be shifted. For the first time in his life, Sabretooth was rendered sane and he was overcome with remorse for his numerous crimes.
Unlike other characters, Victor wasn’t changed back when the event ended. He ended up taking Wolverine’s place in the X-Men and X-Force, helping the team and trying to atone for his past. While he still has his animal side, the current Sabretooth is far nobler than the monster he’d once been.
19 GOOD TO BAD: OZYMANDIAS
In Alan Moore’s masterpiece Watchmen, Adrian Veidt was the smartest man on his 1985 Earth. That intelligence led him to become a costumed hero before the government banned them all. A multi-billionaire, Adrian came to the conclusion that humanity was on a road to nuclear war and something had to be done. His solution was to pull off “the greatest practical joke in history.” He would teleport a created “alien” into New York City that would set off an explosion to take out millions. Faced with a supposed invasion, the nations of the world would unite against this threat.
He actually pulled it off and for a time it worked. The recent Doomsday Clock series reveals that his scam was exposed and the world naturally turned on him fast. He’ll still argue that he was in the right but it’s hard to call a man willing to end millions anything but the bad guy.
18 BAD TO GOOD: BLACK WIDOW
Created at the height of the 1960s Cold War, Natasha Romanoff had been a master spy for the KGB. An expert seductress, she was sent out to steal technology from Tony Stark. This included trying to seduce him and later Hawkeye. She was a capable fighter and was quick to become a fan favorite.
Natasha was soon won over by Hawkeye to realize the American hero life wasn’t so bad. After defecting, Natasha took on a sleek new costume to go about as an adventuring heroine. She’s even led the Avengers although she prefers being a black ops agent. Either way, the Russian-born spy has shed her older allegiances.
17 GOOD TO BAD: PHOENIX
The backstory has since become quite complex, to say the least. For a long time, the Phoenix was a display on how power could easily corrupt. As one of the first X-Men, Jean Grey had been a powerful telepath who also had telekinetic abilities who was a hero. She used those powers to land a crashing shuttlecraft through a cosmic storm. It gave Jean enhanced powers as Phoenix that she actually used to save the entire universe. However, the twisted Mastermind soon began corrupting Jean into a dark place.
Mastermind had no idea what he was unleashing. Freed of any morals, Dark Phoenix attacked the X-Men and went on a rampage. That included eating a star which destroyed a planet of billions. Eventually, Jean controlled herself enough to sacrifice her life and destroy Phoenix. It would turn out Phoenix was a separate entity and Jean back alive yet it still has to count for how dark a heroine can get.
16 BAD TO GOOD: ROGUE
Today, Rogue is known as a bright and chipper lady who’s one of the most dependable X-Men. That’s amazing considering she started out as a brutal villain. A member of Mystique’s Brotherhood, Rogue used her power to absorb the life force of others to her full advantage. She would fight the Avengers, Dazzler, and others and was drawn with pretty evil smiles. When she fought Carol Danvers, Rogue ended up absorbing too much of her power, giving her super-strength and flight. She also got Carol’s memories which caused some major psychological problems.
In desperation, Rogue went to the X-Men for help. While suspicious, they did give her a chance and before long Rogue had proven herself as a loyal member of the team. She’s been with them ever since, and continues proving that just because someone starts out as a villain, it doesn't mean they can't become a hero.
15 GOOD TO BAD: ARCHANGEL
Warren Worthington III had been one of the original X-Men. The high-flying Angel was more open about his identity and used his wealth helping the team out. He reunited the original X-Men into X-Factor which he backed with his millions. In a dark storyline, Warren was horribly injured fighting the Marauders. It was so severe that the doctors had no choice but to amputate his wings. Warren was devastated by that loss and seemingly perished in an explosion.
It turned out Warren was captured by Apocalypse, who brainwashed him into becoming his Horseman Death. Warren’s wings were now metallic and capable of firing out shards as weapons. He fought his teammates before they managed to break Apocalypse’s hold on Warren. However, Warren has bounced to the evil side a couple of times. He was never able to quite shake the darkness.
14 BAD TO GOOD: QUICKSILVER AND SCARLET WITCH
Introduced quite early in X-Men lore, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff were twins who were being hunted by a mob for being mutants. Magneto saved them and recruited them into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The two helped him against the X-Men but decided they didn’t like Magneto’s “wipe out humans” mantra and ended up fighting against him. When the Avengers put out a call for new members, the twins decided to try out and prove themselves. They were accepted and both became top members.
True, each has sunk into darkness. Quicksilver spent time as a madman while Wanda’s powers got out of control and nearly wiped out mutants. But they’re both back on the side of good now, and between the Avengers and the X-Men they have proved their worth as heroes many times.
13 GOOD TO BAD: CAPTAIN AMERICA
This has been one of the most controversial moves Marvel has made in years. Fans were stunned when a new Captain America series ended with Steve Rogers declaring “Hail Hydra.” It turned out the Red Skull had used a living Cosmic Cube to rewrite Steve’s memories. Steve now believed he had been a life-long secret operative for a noble HYDRA. This led to him making moves in secret before taking control of HYDRA himself.
This led to the Secret Empire storyline as Steve led HYDRA in taking over the United States. The sight of the Sentinel of Liberty leading an army of fascists rocked fans majorly. The story ended with the Cube bringing back the pure and noble Steve who beat down his doppelganger. However, this Hydra Cap remains in jail while Steve has to deal with the damage done in his name.
12 BAD TO GOOD: WONDER MAN
Simon Williams was an inventor and businessman who always felt overshadowed by Tony Stark. When he was caught embezzling from his own company, Simon’s life was ruined. Baron Zemo stepped in to give him enhanced strength as a plan to join the Avengers and destroy them.
It seemed to work but at the last minute, Simon turned on Zemo. He seemed to perish but later was restored to life. It was revealed Simon was now an iconic energy being and joined the Avengers as Wonder Man. He’s been through ups and downs (including seemingly written off a few times) but comes back and has overcome his hard past to be a true Avenger.
11 GOOD TO BAD: JASON TODD
When Dick Grayson grew up and became Nightwing, Batman was left without a partner. Enter Jason Todd, a street kid who was trying to rip off the Batmobile’s tires. Thinking he could help out, Batman took him under his wing and trained him to be a new Robin. Jason was good at first but his hot-headed attitude and cocky manner caused problems. It reached its height when he was beaten down by the Joker and then apparently was ended from a bomb.
Through circumstances too complex to get into, Jason was restored to life. His pasing had rocked him, convincing him Batman was far too lenient on crime. Taking on the identity of the Red Hood, Jason was soon gunning down criminals and even tried to take out the Joker. He’s clashed with Batman and Robin a few times since while running them down as weak. Today, Jason has an uneasy truce with Batman but shows how he can be even darker than the Dark Knight.
10 BAD TO GOOD: MAGENTO
From his debut, the X-Men’s greatest enemy had boasted of wanting to conquer the world. It seemed he was doing it just for the power and didn't care about others. But Chris Claremont deepened Magneto by revealing he had been a survivor of the Holocaust. He knew first-hand what it was like for a race of people to be wiped out and was determined not to let it happen to mutants. This led to Magneto eventually joining with the X-Men to try a different path to help the world.
It didn’t last long at first as Magneto felt the X-Men were too soft and took militant actions to aid mutants. However, he would end up joining with them again and even took on a leadership role. True, he can be driven to dark actions but Magneto is still determined to protect his race by any means necessary which at least makes him the hero of his own story.
9 GOOD TO BAD: ULTIMATE REED RICHARDS
For most of the Ultimate universe, this Reed Richards was much like the one main MU fans knew. However, it took a turn when Magneto unleashed massive destruction on the planet. The experience shook Reed badly, to the point that he decided to experiment on his intellect. It increased his brain power but also removed his moral compass. Reed was convinced his home dimension was broken beyond repair and sought a new universe to experiment with.
Calling himself the Maker, Reed became aware of the main Marvel Universe and soon embarked on a plot to create chaos that he could “fix.” His incredible genius and stretching powers make him a huge threat that even the Avengers have been hard-pressed to stop. The Maker is basically the dark mirror to what Mr. Fantastic could be.
8 BAD TO GOOD: DOCTOR OCTOPUS
After years of conflict with Spider-Man, Otto Octavius found himself dying at last. In a desperate move, Otto managed to swap minds with Peter Parker, making Otto Spider-Man. Peter staged a desperate escape to do battle but Otto’s body couldn’t handle it. He did show Otto all his memories, making Otto realize what a good person Spider-Man was. Before Peter died in his body, Otto promised he would honor his memory by becoming a “Superior” Spider-Man.
For a time, Otto did do well, far more effective than Peter in the field and his genius backing him up. However, Otto’s arrogance soon led to serious issues as he was far too brutal with enemies and lacking the responsibility Peter had. Otto himself realized it and managed to restore Peter’s personality so he had his body back. Otto has popped up alive again in a younger body as a “Superior Octopus” to try and give the hero game another try.
7 GOOD TO BAD: SINESTRO
Sinestro had once been considered the greatest of Green Lanterns. He was a top-notch fighter and it was known how his sector was the most orderly in the universe. When Hal Jordan joined the Corps, Sinestro was his trainer and Hal looked up to the man. But on a visit to Sinestro’s sector, Hal discovered that Sinestro’s “order” was because he had turned himself into the absolute dictator of his homeworld.
Hal reported this to the Guardians who stripped Sinestro of his ring. Outraged, Sinestro crafted his own yellow power ring to fight Hal. Sinestro would eventually form his own Sinestro Corps and still believes he knows how best to save the universe. Whenever they battle, Hal can only remember the good man Sinestro once was.
6 BAD TO GOOD: EMMA FROST
It didn’t last but it still has to count. The White Queen was a long-time foe of the X-Men, a powerful telepath and member of the Hellfire Club. A master manipulator, Emma enjoyed playing games and scheming for power. After being put in a coma during an attack, Emma recovered at the X-Men’s mansion. She then helped them against the threat of the Phalanx. Always ready to see the best in people, the X-Men allowed Emma to be a teacher for Generation X.
Emma’s life took a turn when she barely survived the destruction of Genosha. She joined the X-Men full-time and eventually became involved with Cyclops. But Emma’s desire for power and control has turned her to the bad side once more and an enemy of the team. Still, for a long time, it looked like this bad girl was willing to join the other side.
5 GOOD TO BAD: HAL JORDAN
For years, Hal Jordan had been considered a true hero. The first Earthling to join the Green Lantern Corps, a founding member of the Justice League, a hero through and through, Hal was an icon. However, when his home of Coast City was destroyed, Hal was destroyed by grief. In his anger, he basically wiped out the Corps and took their power for himself. Now calling himself Parallax, Hal set about trying to “fix” the universe in his own way, not caring about the damage he was doing.
Eventually, Hal sacrificed himself to restore Earth’s sun and died a hero. In a huge mini-series, it was revealed that Parallax was an entity that had infected Hal and he wasn’t responsible for his actions. Hal returned to life and a Green Lantern but is still haunted by what was done using his face.
4 BAD TO GOOD: THE THUNDERBOLTS
Baron Zemo had been organizing a new incarnation of the Masters of Evil when the Avengers appeared to “die” fighting Onslaught. Zemo hit upon the genius idea of having the Masters pose as heroes, to win public and government trust to aid Zemo’s plans for world conquest. So, Beatle, Fixer, Screaming Mimi, Goliath, and Moonstone became MACH-1, Techno, Songbird, Atlas and Meteorite. It worked with the public welcoming them with open arms and trusting them totally.
But there was one thing Zemo never counted on: Most of the T-Bolts realized they liked being heroes more than they ever liked being crooks. With the exception of Techno, they turned on Zemo to stop his plans. Eventually, Hawkeye took up leadership to help them be true heroes. While Moonstone has gone back to her wicked ways, the rest of the team are still dependable heroes and show how even veteran bad guys can turn a new leaf.
3 GOOD TO BAD: SUPERBOY PRIME
In the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths event, Superman found himself in a “Prime” earth where DC heroes only existed as comic book characters. This world’s young Clark Kent did find himself with powers and became a Superboy. He appeared to perish in the final pages of the story. In 2005’s Infinite Crisis, he was revealed to be alive and had spent years in a pocket dimension. However, Prime was jarred to see how dark the DCU had become and manipulated by Alexander Luthor to “fix” it.
This led to Prime soon getting out of control, taking out several heroes and became driven by the idea he could make things right. He’s been defeated but he tends to come back stronger than ever more than once, and has destroyed planets upon his arrival. His whiny attitude would be funny if he wasn’t an incredibly powerful psychopath. Prime shows a dark side to what Superman could be.
2 BAD TO GOOD: HAWKEYE
It’s almost forgotten today but yes, Clint Barton started out on the wrong side of the law. He’d been tricked by his mentor, the Swordsman, into becoming a thief and then was forced on the run. He was then seduced by the Black Widow and took up a costume to aid her. That led to a clash with Iron Man and he ended up being hunted by the law.
However, Clint decided he wanted to turn over a new leaf. He broke into Avengers Mansion to prove himself and asked to join. The team took a chance on him and it paid off as Hawkeye has become one of the best Avengers ever. He’s fully aware of his tough past but has proven himself one of the best heroes in the Marvel Universe.
1 GOOD TO BAD: SUPERMAN INJUSTICE
Superman himself has long feared he could be corrupted somehow. In the smash hit video game and comic book adaptation, his fear comes true. In an alternate universe, the Joker tricks Superman into ending Lois Lane which sets off a nuclear bomb that wipes out Metropolis. Superman snaps and brutally takes out the Joker in a rage. He then decides the only way to ensure such a tragedy never happens again is to basically take over the planet.
The comic shows Superman’s slow but steady fall as his noble intentions are soon overruled by anger and hate. Numerous heroes fall to him and it’s clear most of his allies are following simply out of fear. That Superman sees himself in the right through it all makes it even worse. It’s a stunning story to show what happens when Earth’s greatest hero becomes its greatest threat.