The phrase "heel turn" originated in professional wrestling and signifies the moment when a good wrestler - also known as a "face" - turns against his public perception in the ring to reveal the true villain, often with a single dastardly act. It has become a tried and true method of reinvigorating the wrestling characters storylines, while also giving the performers a chance to play against type. The same is true for comics, which have seen a number of heroic characters experience their own heel turns over the years. A heel turn can come in many different forms: through hidden evil that is finally revealed, or a break that causes the change in perspective, or through the manipulations of others that causes the turn.
We've seen a number of face turns over the years as well, with the 2014 Marvel AXIS event focusing on that particular character trope by inverting a number of their characters from good to bad or vice versa. Most of these reversals were temporary, though a few managed to retain their inversions for a while. Sabretooth had become a functioning member of the superhero community, having worked alongside both the Uncanny Avengers and X-Force before recently shedding the last vestiges of his heroic inversion in Weapon X #27. Creed's heel turn continues the ongoing cycle of bad to good to bad and back again, something we've seen from Sabretooth over and over again. This is not an uncommon cycle among comic book characters and can make for great stories, though it doesn't always achieve the desired results, which we'll take a look at today.
20 BEST: TERRA
Tara Markov first appeared in New Teen Titans #26 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and she began to warm readers hearts almost instantly as she was welcomed onto the Teen Titans. Terra had just joined the team and began developing a close relationship with Garfield Logan, AKA Beast Boy, though she did injure him during a training exercise, raising suspicions. It was soon revealed in "The Judas Contract" that Terra was actually a spy for Deathstroke the Terminator, and had gathered information about the Titans for Deathstroke to fulfill a contract on their heads. Terra's betrayal - and subsequent passing - has haunted the team for years and remains an iconic superhero heel turn.
19 WORST: PROFESSOR X
Professor Charles Xavier was the founder of the X-Men and the leading proponent of mutant rights, so it was inevitable that his shining star would eventually fall. Of course, Prof. X has had a number of moments where his darker actions have been revealed, but his biggest heel turn is without a doubt his transformation into the evil entity known as Onslaught. Following Xavier's fateful decision to mindwipe his long-time enemy, some of Magneto's darkness merged with Xavier and became the X-Men's latest problem. Unfortunately, a bunch of poorly wrapped up plot threads and a mismanaged crossover event tainted Xavier's heel turn and kicked off the disliked Heroes Reborn line.
18 BEST: SCARLET WITCH
Wanda Maximoff had a number of dark turns in her career, though none were as impactful as her role in Avengers: Disassembled. She operated in secret for the majority of the event that saw her fellow Avengers torn apart by personal attacks, subtle manipulations and all-out war with some of the Avengers biggest threats. When the dust settled after a number of Avengers had passed, it was soon revealed that Scarlet Witch had been driven mad by the remembered loss of her children and increase in powers that left her unstable. Wanda did more damage to the Avengers (and the rest of mutantkind in the House of M event) than any of the Avengers villains over the years, yet remains a member of the team after a successful face turn.
17 WORST: MAXWELL LORD
Prior to DC's Infinite Crisis event, a number of storylines built up a secret adversary who was operating behind the scenes against the Justice League. it was soon revealed that the man behind the takeover of the Brother Eye satellite that set a number of Infinite Crisis events in motion was none other than Maxwell Lord, who had long been associated with the League. Lord's big heel turn moment came when he took out Ted Kord. AKA Blue Beetle, his former teammate in the celebrated Justice League International. The problem with the Max Lord heel turn was the fact that Lord was never really that good of a guy to begin with, so his villainous reveal wasn't as surprising as his eventual fate at the hands of Wonder Woman.
16 BEST: SUPERBOY PRIME
Lord's heel turn before Infinite Crisis also pales in comparison to the later reveal of Superboy Prime's turn to evil, alongside other Crisis on Infinite Earths refugees like Alexander Luthor of Earth-Three and Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-Two. While the whole group was revealed to be the surprise architects of the Infinite Crisis, it was Superboy Prime's extreme dedication to his new role as a villain that really stole the spotlight. He not only takes out a number of Titans during the event, but has continued to be a constant threat to the heroes of the DC Universe over his many reappearances. Superboy Prime is a far cry from his original heroic debut thanks to his epic and lasting heel turn.
15 WORST: WOLVERINE
A character as popular as Wolverine has switched between hero and villain numerous times, usually due to some form of mind control. We've seen the manipulations of HYDRA, who forced the mutant to become an assassin during the "Enemy of the State" storyline. We've seen Logan fall under the sway of Apocalypse when he became the Horseman known as Death during "The Twelve" storyline and even watched Old Man Logan tear through the X-Men thinking they were his greatest enemies thanks to the illusions of Mysterio. The heel turn starts to lose the desired effect when they happen too often and/or are reversed too quickly, as is the case with Wolverine's numerous forays into evil.
14 BEST: RED HOOD
Reversing an iconic character's passing is always a tricky act in the comics. Turning that resurrection into a villainous heel turn is even more difficult, but Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke's "Under the Red Hood" managed to do just that. The storyline played upon an earlier fakeout that teased the return of Jason Todd, as Batman attempted to solve the mystery of a new vigilante known as the Red Hood. Todd was soon revealed to have returned from the great beyond and taken on the former moniker of the Joker, the man who had taken him out in the infamous "Death in the Family" storyline. Red Hood's heel turn struck at the core of Bruce Wayne, though Todd would later return to his heroic ways.
13 WORST: HAVOK
We mentioned the heroic inversions that occurred during Marvel's AXIS event previously and Alex Summers, AKA Havok, was one of the heroes affected in that storyline. Unfortunately, much like the issue with Wolverine, Alex has spent years flip-flopping back and forth between hero and villain when it best suits the current event. Havok's forced heel turn in AXIS led to even worse deeds in Cullen Bunn and Marcus To's "Mothervine" storyline in X-Men Blue, effectively undoing years of excellent character growth during his time with the Uncanny Avengers. And to add insult to injury, Alex's return to heroism acts like his time as a villain never happened, lessening its overall impact even more.
12 BEST: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN
While this entry doesn't quite fit with the heel turn theme, the Superior Spider-Man is such a great example of hero turned villain that he had to be included. In a nutshell, Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus, had taken over the body of Peter Parker and became a new, more ruthless Spider-Man. Otto kept the masquerade up and settled into his new lives as Parker and Spider-Man, consumed with being the superior version of both. And in some sense, he really was superior and achieved some pretty impressive accomplishments, despite his less than altruistic ulterior motives. Of course, Otto's face turn was soon to come, but Spidey's "secret" heel turn is one for the highlight reel.
11 WORST: SUPERIOR IRON MAN
AXIS rears its ugly head again here, as another inverted hero explored his darker side after the Marvel event. Iron Man's inversion was more about the darker aspects of Tony's personality, like his unmatched ego, vanity, and irresponsibility. His alcoholism returned and he upgraded his armor with symbiote technology, crossing a line of scientific endeavor the former Tony never had. He also became a complete and total jerk. extorting citizens for his Extremis 3.0 app, which made them "beautiful" for a short period of time if they had enough money. The inversion thankfully didn't last long and it likely didn't hit as strongly due to the fact that Iron Man's heel turn was really just a bad phase of normal Tony Stark.
10 BEST: WINTER SOLDIER
Winter Soldier is another character who doesn't quite fit the rules of a heel turn, but c'mon, the return of the Captain America's WWII sidekick Bucky Barnes as a brainwashed Russian assassin needs to be mentioned. Bucky Barnes served alongside Cap in the war and as a member of the Invaders and the Young Allies. His passing at the hands of Baron Zemo occurred in flashback in 1968's Avengers #56 but was later retconned by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting for their now iconic "Winter Soldier" storyline. The former US hero had been twisted through mental brainwashing and experiments, so he wasn't responsible for or even aware of his heel turn, but it stands among the best in the business.
9 WORST: CYCLOPS
Cyclops was equally not responsible for his heel turn, though there are quite a few who feel differently. During the Avengers vs X-Men storyline, a divide between the two teams of heroes over how to deal with the threat of the Phoenix led to five mutants serving as new hosts of the cosmic entity. These five were soon whittled down to one as Cyclops became the new Dark Phoenix, which sounds like an amazing progression of events for the character, who was so affected by the debut of the first Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey. The problem was Cyclops was already building towards his own self-motivated heel turn that the Dark Phoenix angle felt forced, rushed, and ruined.
8 BEST: SUPERMAN
The Injustice universe began as a fighting video game from the creators of the Mortal Kombat games but soon expanded into the comics with a fantastic digital series from Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato. The game and comics introduced readers to the High Councilor, a tyrannical version of Superman of an alternate reality. In this world, Superman was drugged and tricked into taking out not only Lois and his unborn child, but also the entire city of Metropolis. Superman snaps and eliminates Joker, changing his perspective on fighting crime and he soon becomes the despotic ruler of Earth. His heel turn manages to hit a few definitions of the term, as he is both manipulated into evil deeds and snaps in a huge event that forever alters his moral compass.
7 WORST: DAREDEVIL
During the Shadowland event from Andy Diggle and Billy Tan, Matt Murdock returned to Hell's Kitchen from Japan in a new black costume, which is always a clear indication of a pending heel turn. This new Daredevil has taken over the Hand and built a temple/prison in the middle of Hell's Kitchen, where he soon takes things even further by eliminating Bullseye and declaring any hero who doesn't join to be enemies of the Hand. The reveal that Daredevil was in fact possessed by the demon known as the Beast was predictable, and the effects of the event incredibly short-lived, with only a few other Marvel titles even referencing the attempted heel turn.
6 BEST: OMNI-MAN
While the majority of the list has come from the Big Two of comic publishers, Image Comics' Invincible featured a memorable heel turn. Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley introduced new hero Mark Grayson, AKA Invincible, after he developed powers inherited from his father, the alien known as Omni-Man. Mark always thought his father was sent to Earth to protect the planet from extra-terrestrial threats, but it was soon revealed that Omni-Man was from a race of powerful conquerors and Earth was the next target. The ensuing battle between Omni-Man and his son Invincible was a fight that fully revealed Omni-Man's true nature, and left his son physically and emotionally broken.
5 WORST: JEAN LORING
Jean Loring may not be a recognizable name to some, but she factored heavily into Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales' Identity Crisis, which featured a number of passings and revelations about the original Justice League. When Justice League member Elongated Man's wife Sue Dibny perished in her home, it kicked off a series of events that led to the breakdown of trust between members of the League and eventually revealed that Ray Palmer's estranged wife Jean Loring was the mysterious villain. This heel turn was the least surprising moment in the entire series and fell flat after the buildup of the previous events that spoke to a more personal story among the League, but also brought them down to a level that fans found controversial.
4 BEST: HAL JORDAN
No list of superhero heel turns is complete without mentioning Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who famously became the villain known as Parallax in the "Emerald Twilight" storyline from Ron Marz, Bill Willingham, Fred Haynes, and Darryl Banks. After the destruction of Hal's hometown of Coast City, he attempts to seize the power of the Green Lantern Corps to rebuild his home. To do this he takes out most of the GLC and steals their rings, eliminats long-time foe Sinestro, and drains the power battery, decimating the galaxies police force. While it was later retconned to be the manipulations of the yellow entity known as Parallax, at the time it was an impressive heel turn for Hal Jordan that affected the entire DC timeline after his role in Zero Hour.
3 WORST: MONARCH
Speaking of Zero Hour, the character of Extant was introduced to the event alongside Jordan's Parallax. Extant had a confusing history as the future tyrant of a bleak Earth from the Armageddon 2001 storyline known as Monarch. The whole mystery of the Armageddon event was focused on the secret identity of Monarch, who was teased as a former DC hero. It was soon leaked that Monarch was actually the hero Captain Atom, who had migrated to the DC Universe from Charlton Comics. Unfortunately, DC Comics changed the reveal at the last minute in response to the leak, and it was confusingly revealed that Hank Hall, AKA Hawk (of Hawk & Dove), was the man behind the Monarch, despite the stories clues pointing elsewhere.
2 BEST: OZYMANDIAS
The all-time best, most surprising, most detailed heel turn in comics comes from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 1985 maxi-series Watchmen. In an alternate reality with a different history affected by superhumans, a massive alien attack is unleashed on a world nearing a third World War. That attack is investigated by former heroes like Night Owl and Rorschach after their former allies were being attacked. It was soon revealed that Adrian Veidt, a former hero known as Ozymandias, who had gone public and used his intellect and abilities as a businessman was the true architect behind the attacks. The reveal of the heel turn came only after the attack occurred and left the lingering moral question over whether his villainous turn was justified.
1 WORST: CAPTAIN AMERICA
While there are definite defenders of the Secret Empire storyline, on a whole the beginnings of the series fell flat for most fans. The Marvel event was kicked off by the revelation that the long-time defender of good Steve Rogers was actually a secret member of the violent extremist organization known as HYDRA. Throughout the event, he became increasingly more dangerous and take out a number of heroes, and even ordered the destruction of Las Vegas. This complete butchering of everything that Captain America stood for completely divided fans, even though it was eventually revealed to be an altered version of Steve Rogers due to the manipulation of the sentient Cosmic Cube known as Kobik by the Red Skull.