To make your mark as a comic book supervillain, you need to be fully committed to your nefarious career. Or do you? Over the years, many of the biggest names in evildoing have jumped ship, trying their hand at superheroics… at least, for a while.
Inevitably, these former baddies find themselves drawn back to a life of crime, but sometimes, not even that sticks! Indeed, as this list shows, some supervillains can’t seem to make up their mind whether they want to battle the forces of good or fight alongside them, and constantly switch their allegiances as a result.
The poster child for swapping sides, Magneto’s sympathetic motivations – his actions are fuelled by his horrific experiences at Auschwitz – have led to him teaming up with the X-Men numerous times. Indeed, the Master of Magnetism and X-Men founder Charles Xavier were once BFFs, who bonded over their mutual desire to ensure the survival of the mutant subspecies.
Magneto and Xavier famously fell out over the former’s more militant, less inclusive stance on mutant rights, but both remain champions for mutant rights. As such, Magneto has never been afraid to lend Xavier’s students a hand when their immediate goals align with his, and he’s even officially joined the team on occasion (although he tends to split before too long).
When Catwoman debuted way back in 1940, she was unequivocally a supervillain – albeit one with an obvious (and very much reciprocated) attraction for Batman. Over the years, this world-class jewel thief has evolved into more of an anti-hero than outright evildoer, often committing crimes in order to further her altruistic agenda.
Catwoman and the Dark Knight have also grown progressively closer, with their civilian alter-egos Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle very nearly tying the knot last year. Nevertheless, Catwoman’s nearly eight-decade history has been characterized by regularly alternating between lawbreaker and vigilante, depending on the circumstances.
When we talk about Venom, it’s important to separate the alien symbiote from the human hosts it’s bonded with since it first arrived on the scene in 1984. As several different individuals have adopted the Venom mantle since then, the character has been associated with behaviour both noble and depraved as a result.
The first Venom, Eddie Brock, started out as a menace fixated on destroying his nemesis, Spider-Man, before mellowing out and devoting himself to protecting innocents. Next up, Mac Gargan traded in his Scorpion outfit for symbiote spandex, transforming into a monstrous, malicious incarnation of Venom. Spider-Man ally Flash Thompson subsequently enjoyed a successful black ops career wearing the symbiote suit, and there have been many other hosts who’ve utilized the alien lifeform’s amazing powers to valiant or vile ends since then.
7 Black Adam
Black Adam received his magical powers from the wizard Shazam, who intended him to become an unstoppable force for good. Unfortunately, this plan majorly backfired, and Black Adam soon morphed into a ruthless tyrant. Yet while he’s mostly served as a prominent (and decidedly vicious) villain in the DC Universe, Black Adam has also pulled anti-hero duties, too. In the early and mid-2000s, Adam’s more admirable traits were showcased, first as a member of the JSA and then as ruler of Middle Eastern nation Kahndaq.
As if founding her own iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants wasn’t a clear enough indicator, Mystique has been a card-carrying supervillain for more than 40 years. But it seems that her moral alignment is almost as mutable as her shapeshifting physique, as she’s provided her services to the X-Men and X-Factor in the past, too.
Then there’s Mystique’s cinematic counterpart, who appears in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. Like the comic book version, the Raven Darkhölme seen on the big screen initially appears as an unrepentant femme fatale, only to show her more heroic side in the series’ most recent installments.
5 The Joker
A cackling criminal mastermind who considers the day wasted if he hasn’t embarked on a homicidal spree before lunch, the Joker is the last person you’d ever expect to turn over a new leaf. Yet the Clown Prince of Crime has renounced his wicked ways several times.
Admittedly, almost every time Joker has ostensibly reformed, he’s only done so to further a wider diabolical scheme – such as when he masqueraded as enigmatic crimefighter Oberon Sexton, or Akham Asylum orderly Eric Border. That said, Joker has legitimately reformed at least once, when erroneous reports of Batman’s demise briefly restored his sanity.
Wolverine’s archenemy Sabretooth is just as happy using his bestial mutant powers to kill for sport as he is for money – so not exactly an obvious candidate for a “villain to hero” morality shift. Nevertheless, this bloodthirsty mercenary has fought on the side of the angels, forming part of the X-Men and X-Factor rosters at different times.
What’s more, Victor Creed’s emotional journey in recent years has been defined by the desire to atone for his many sins. To this end, he’s even joined one of the many Avengers’ line-ups – drafted in by none other than Captain America himself!
3 Lex Luthor
Don’t let Luthor’s staggering intellect and (depending on the continuity in question) “captain of industry” reputation fool you: this dude is just as evil as anyone on this list. Aside from his single-minded quest to destroy Superman, Luthor has shown himself willing to lie, cheat, steal and murder in pursuit of power – with rarely a qualm over the ethics of his actions.
That said, someone with Lex’s smarts can occasionally see the pragmatic benefits that come with fighting the good fight. That’s why this bald-headed baddie has fought against Darkseid’s minions in Final Crisis, the Crime Syndicate in Forever Evil, and even filled-in for the Man of Steel as Metropolis’ protector in recent years!
2 Doctor Doom
Doctor Victor Von Doom’s primary motivation in life is his petty (and largely one-sided) feud with The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards. To that end, Von Doom has committed some truly terrible acts – to the extent where true redemption doesn’t seem on the cards.
Yet Doom has been shown to be a benevolent monarch to the people of Latveria, and he’s sided with the likes of Prince Namor and Doctor Strange when needed (although he tends to be a treacherous ally). He even briefly claimed the Iron Man mantle while Tony Stark was out of action, before being coerced into re-embracing his dastardly roots.
What else would you expect from a trickster like Loki than for him to be perpetually switching his allegiances? Whether it’s in the comics or in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Asgard’s self-styled God of Mischief is just as often found fighting alongside his brother Thor and father Odin as he is leading the charge against them!
Funnily enough, arguably the most lasting outcome of Loki’s scheming – the formation of the Avengers – happened entirely by mistake. It just goes to show that even when Loki is bent on world domination, he can’t help doing at least a little good along the way (even if it is entirely by accident).