Known for rich storytelling and impressive character building, Marvel Comics is full to the brim with engaging superheroes and villains. These characters’ ability to remain relevant for well over half a century is a testament to their intriguing and captivating nature. Heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers have come to define Marvel; they’ve become an aspect of modern day pop culture. Part of the reason we love these heroes is because of the challenges they face and overcome. Superheroes have a never-say-die attitude, but they wouldn’t have said challenges without someone to challenge them. Enter the villains. What is a superhero story without an enthralling antagonist? The answer is that it’s a lot poorer and uninteresting.
While beings like Ultron and Thanos are known for their brand of evil and in bringing terror to the cosmos and the planet Earth, there are plenty of equally depraved villains who define what it is to be evil. So what happens when a malevolent and vicious destroyer of worlds is turned into a benevolent and caring individual? Well, odds are it ruins the character and has readers wanting them to go back to their heinous ways. Today at CBR we’re examining 15 villains that Marvel practically ruined by turning into heroes.
Known as the Devourer of Worlds, Galactus is driven by an insatiable hunger that can only be satisfied by the consumption of planets. While his actions might come across as cruel or evil to many, Galactus is beyond reproach. He serves the natural order and is a primal force that cannot be stopped. Wielding the Power Cosmic, Galactus’ name causes entire star systems to wriggle in fear at the threat of his arrival.
Galactus has been a villain for literal decades and it worked. In the recent comic book The Ultimates, Galactus no longer serves as an ambassador for destruction, but instead has become the Lifebringer, restoring dead planets to their former glory. It was a sudden and dramatic shift to one of the most consistent Marvel characters. This new Galactus, although interesting in his own right, has only served to remind fans why they loved the old Galactus.
One of Spider-Man’s deadliest foes, Venom hides in the darkness, waiting to strike at the web-slinger when the hero is most vulnerable. A terrifying and monstrous entity, Venom’s developed a huge fanbase over the years; readers had never seen anything like him before in comics. A living symbiote, once the creature happened upon disgraced reporter Eddie Brock, the two merged and sought out the destruction of Spider-Man.
Even in events like "Maximum Carnage", where Venom and Spider-Man were forced to team-up, Venom’s lethality keeps Spider-Man awake at night. Nobody wanted Venom to change, but he did. The symbiote bonded with Flash Thompson and they joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, becoming heroes. Readers didn’t want a hero; they missed the drooling, muscle-bound, psychopathic villain. The GOTG Venom nearly ruined the character completely, but Marvel realized their mistake and made him nasty again.
The first and most famous X-Men villain, Magneto is also Professor Charles Xavier’s philosophical rival. Believing there were no method too extreme to make the world suitable for mutants, Magneto served as the primary antagonist in X-Men comics for years. However, he experienced a change of heart after he nearly killed Kitty Pryde in battle.
Repenting for his sins, he joined the good guys; Professor X was out of action for a while and he attempted to fill the void. This stint lasted longer than anyone expected; Magneto has forever flirted with heroism and villainy. These days, he’s leading the time-displaced original five X-Men. While having Magneto portrayed as a hero might bring about nifty stories, his rightful place is that of a misguided villain. Anything else just feels like an unenthusiastic attempt to mislead fans into thinking the Master of Magnetism has changed; we all know he hasn’t.
Thomas Fireheart was born to the heir of mystical Native American powers that would transform him into a powerful Werecat. Spending time as a mercenary for hire, when the Rose enlisted Puma to kill Spider-Man, Thomas happily agreed. Hunting down the web-slinger, Puma nearly killed Spider-Man, proving more than a match for the hero. Somewhere along the way however, Puma had a change of heart when he saw Spider-Man save a group of innocent bystanders.
The two would trade blows every so often, and while it worked to have Puma as an antagonist, Marvel changed him into a hero in the early ‘90s and even had him buy the Daily Bugle, to fulfill some bizarre debt of honor to help Spider-Man so as to make the city like the hero. It was a rather weird dynamic; even Peter Parker felt uneasy with Fireheart as a good guy.
First appearing in New Mutants #98, Deadpool was a hit from the very beginning. Originally, Wade Wilson was not the friendly, albeit homicidal, Merc With The Mouth. He first tried killing Cable, along with several heroes, before other writers turned the character into more of an anti-hero and good guy. Deadpool’s always been a bizarre dichotomy, what with being considered a hero, yet murdering entire trainloads of people. It’s always been something of a weird choice on Marvel’s part to celebrate such a character.
As a result, Deadpool’s acquired a rabid fanbase and quickly become overexposed, appearing in far too many comic books to count. The Deadpool of old slowly was replaced by the Deadpool brand, which mandated he become more people friendly. Only in the last month or two Deadpool has returned to his villainous ways in Gerry Duggan’s Despicable Deadpool.
Flint Marko is probably one of Spider-Man’s most infamous and longest-running foes. For years, starting back in the early days of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Sandman, while not the bane of Spider-Man’s existence, clearly demonstrated to not have a compassionate bone in his sandy body. Constantly joining up with the Sinister Six and the Frightful Four, the Sandman made it a habit of not only trying to kill Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, but to try and commit as many robberies as possible.
All things considered, Sandman was, and is, an exceptionally unique villain. Then he became a hero. Joining up with the heroine Silver Sable, Sandman served as her muscle. He even joined the Avengers, trying to atone for his past transgressions. It was a bizarre change of heart for the character. It didn’t work, so eventually Sandman went back to his villainous ways.
Jacques DuQuesne, who like all D-list villains. originated from the circus, is known for training Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, when he was a kid. It was the traditional story of the student realizing his mentor was garbage and trying to break free. A moustache-twirling bad guy if ever there was one, Swordsman became a mercenary and lived a life of crime. While he tried to join the Avengers, it was all a ruse and he betrayed them. Jacques would then join various villainous teams, until he joined the Avengers yet again, for real this time.
Swordsman constantly struggled to decide what side of the law he wanted to be on. He’d constantly change allegiances, though he’d ultimately be more recognized as an Avenger rather than a bad guy. Still, it undermines Hawkeye’s origin, taking the hero’s motivating factor to become good and turning his nemesis into a hero too.
Mystique’s lived a long and callous life, doing whatever she pleased, whenever she wanted. With her shapeshifting powers, Mystique chose to use her abilities for evil and all things considered, it suited her rather perfectly. A temptress and a monster, Mystique never belonged on a superhero team; it’s rather delightful to watch as she generates chaos wherever she goes. For the longest time, she cared little about anyone other than herself.
There were some half-hearted attempts to turn her good, but readers knew they wouldn’t stick. Fans were a little less uncertain once Mystique joined a clandestine mutant response unit, run by Psylocke of the X-Men. Bringing Mystique into the fold, hoping she could do some good for the world, fans were perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop. Don’t worry, it did.
Possessing the skill to instantly replicate the combat skills of anyone he observes, Tony Masters, or Taskmaster, obviously used his abilities to nefarious ends. First appearing in The Avengers #195, he single-handedly took on the entire Avengers team, despite having no powers. While he’d continue fighting heroes like Spider-Man and Captain America, Taskmaster would also use his abilities to train other supervillains and henchmen.
Incredibly deadly, he made for a captivating villain. That was until Marvel’s "Civil War" hit and Taskmaster joined the superhero Initiative, becoming the new drill instructor for young superheroes in training. It was a complete 180 from everything we’d seen of Taskmaster. Having Taskmaster train heroes was fun, but he was never meant to be a good guy. Forcibly putting him on the Avengers team felt cheap and unnecessary.
6 EMMA FROST
Beginning her career as the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost was solely dedicated to villainy. However, after her Hellions were killed in a Sentinel attack, Emma experienced a change of heart. She joined the X-Men, added a new wing to Professor Xavier’s school and served as an instructor for the first Generation X team.
Despite becoming acting as an advocate for good, Emma was still a royal pain in the butt to everyone in her vicinity. Few people genuinely liked her and she steadily became more and more loyal to Cyclops to the point of obsession. Regardless, Emma Frost wasn’t meant to lead a superhero life; it wasn’t in her genes. Someone at Marvel realized this and made her evil again before the character could be forever ruined. Amidst Inhumans vs. X-Men, Emma orchestrates a war and nearly kills all her (former) teammates.
One of the longest-running characters in all of comics, Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is the ruler of Atlantis. His allegiances shifting like sand in the undertow, Namor has been both a villain and hero. Truth be told, he excels at both. No matter the situation or the cost, Namor’s first priority will always be to his people and Atlantis. Oftentimes, this makes him come across like a jerk and even a fiend. He’ll do anything, no matter how compromising or evil it might be, to ensure his kingdom’s survival.
Originally a villain, Namor embraced heroism for a time, becoming an Avenger, Defender, and Invader. Despite his heroic feats, Namor’s best stories are arguably when he’s serving himself. It took a while, but Marvel acknowledged this too. Stripping his heroism away, Namor’s become an absolute monster, and we love him for it.
4 ROCKET RACER
Born in Brooklyn, Robert Farrell was a genius, and would use his intellect to assume the identity of the Rocket Racer. After realizing he couldn’t support his family, Robert developed a rocket-propelled skateboard and other rocket-propelled gadgets, started going by the name Rocket Racer, and wholeheartedly embraced a life of skateboarding and crime.
Even though he wasn’t very good at it and would get caught by Spider-Man multiple times, Robert never lost his drive. That is until he did, realizing crime might not be for him and decided to use his skateboarding abilities for good. Teaming up with Silver Sable and Spider-Man, Rocket Racer served justice for a bit. The stories weren’t interesting however, as there was no longer anything captivating about Rocket Racer. And so he went back to being a criminal before eventually getting lost to obscurity.
The archrival and perpetual tormentor to the X-Men’s Wolverine, Sabretooth was a ruthless killing machine. Cold, calculating, and downright merciless, the list of men and women he’s murdered goes back over a century. Sabertooth is Wolverine’s dark reflection, demonstrating what it looks like to let the inner beast run wild. Laughing in the blood of his victims, Sabertooth is as monstrous as they come, which made the decision to turn him into a good guy all the more perplexing.
During the event "Axis", Sabretooth was hit by a spell that turned him good, making him strive to atone for all the horrible acts he’s committed. From there, Sabretooth was practically neutered. It was weird to see him flinch at the idea of killing. Sabretooth belongs in a field of battle and gore. Gentrifying Sabretooth is the complete antithesis of what the character represents.
In Marvel Comics, vampires are rather villainous, and that included the Spider-Man baddie, Morbius, the Living Vampire. Michael Morbius was just your regular world-renowned biochemist who was dying from a rare blood disease. After he took an experimental cure gone awry, he turned in a blood-sucking vampire. Feasting on the blood of his victims, despite not being an actual vampire, he was one of Spider-Man’s most frightening enemies.
He could hardly control his bloodlust and kept trying to drink Spider-Man’s blood in hopes of making another cure. He left plenty of victims in his wake, but then he became a good guy. What was once a scary creature of the night, now became a meek, albeit hideous, hero who took a job as a scientist at Horizon Labs. To no one’s surprise, a neutered down Morbius was a boring Morbius.
Elektra and Daredevil are the shining example of what it means to have a dysfunctional relationship. One second they’re fighting to the death, the next they’re swooning over each other in the pale moonlight. Elektra knew Matt Murdock back in their college years, but her proclivity to violence distanced him from her.
Years later she would return, only this time as the Kingpin’s assassin. Completely ruthless, despite her history with Daredevil, she didn’t hold back in trying to beat him senseless. Round and round the two went, and even though Elektra would get killed by Bullseye, she’d return, deadlier than ever. Elektra works best when she’s a femme fatale or even a stone-cold killer. It’s the suggestion that maybe she could change that makes her and Daredevil’s relationship captivating. Making her a straight up hero, like Marvel’s done recently, is just doomed to fail.
Which of these villains was most worthy? Let us know in the comments!