The dichotomy of hero and villain has been the life blood not just of comics, but media as a whole. Comic book culture has leaned so heavily into these two-sided battles, that “bad guy,” and “good guy,” are quick descriptors of their characters. Batman needs his Joker and the two can’t exist without each other. But the labels of “villain,” and “hero,” are in more flux than they appear. The most interesting characters can toe the line between good and evil, and even more interesting, be in confusing ethical situations of what is truly right and wrong. Ethical dilemmas aside, the cores of villains and heroes are often in flux and sometimes, they switch sides. For better or for worse, what’s that they say? You either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain? Well some villains have bigger ideas, and sometimes they decide to do some good.
Villains throughout our favorite stories have made attempts at changing teams. Sometimes the switch sticks, and we earn new team members for old hero gangs, and sometimes the switches don’t quite take. Sometimes, they manage to do a lot of good in their times with the good guys, and sometimes the villains don’t quite achieve what they set out to. Here, we have rounded up 10 times where the villains tried the good guy thing and managed to get some good things done, and 10 more where the move was a bit short sighted.
20 WORKED: VENOM
Notorious symbiote villain Venom has been a pain in Spidey’s behind since falling to Earth and merging with Eddie Brock. But after many exhausting encounters, Venom and Spider-man made a deal, Spidey would leave him alone if he swore not to commit any more crimes. Agreeing to the terms, Venom moved from New York to San Francisco and took up a role helping, not harming. And it worked, too.
After some time, Spidey, not trusting Venom had really changed his ways, went to San Francisco, and to his surprise, Venom had really cleaned up his act. The duo even worked together to fight Agony, Phage, Riot, Scream, and Lasher, who are more symbiote incarnations.
19 DIDN'T: DOCTOR OCTOPUS AS THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN
Otto Octavius, or Doc Ock, took a good few beatings throughout the year from his wily foe, Spider-man. Eventually, the hits caught up to him and his body began to give out. Not ready to check out just yet, Otto swapped bodies with Spider-man, trapping Spidey in almost lifeless body, and taking over the mantle of Spider-man for himself.
Being Spider-man comes with a lot of opportunities to do good, and Otto took them, even once joining The New Avengers, and even earning a doctorate degree as Peter Parker to start Parker Industries. But, ultimately, after giving Parker his body back so he could defeat the Green Goblin, Otto turned back to his old ways and joined the Secret Empire.
18 WORKED: DEADPOOL
While he often toes the line, the original incarnation of Deadpool was a hitman for hire, usually one who was taxed with slaying X-Men. But, perhaps unexpectedly, Deadpool ended up being a really popular character. He was initially a parody of fellow hitman, Deathstroke, and that came with a persona as a wise cracking meta character.
Fans loved this, and Deadpool got popular enough to get his own series some time in 1997. As he grew in popularity, the wise cracking anti-hero started going after the bad guys instead. As he became and remained a staple character in popular culture, we would say this transition to ‘good’ worked.
17 DIDN'T: LEX LUTHOR
Lex Luthor’s name is so synonymous with “bad guy,” that he is often the go-to nickname given to seemingly evil business tycoons. In Forever Evil, however, Luthor had to assemble a squad of villains to go after the common enemy, the Secret Crime Syndicate. It seemed like Luthor had maybe turned to benevolent ways for good, and he even joined The Justice League.
During Rebirth, Luthor was seen flying around in armor and a cape very reminiscent of something that Superman would wear. Overall, good guy Luthor doesn't really strike the same chord as the villainous corporate one does.
16 WORKED: VOYAGER
Voyager, daughter of the Grandmaster, started as a plant in an evil plot. The Grandmaster wanted the upper hand on The Avengers, and sent his offspring to rewrite their histories by infiltrating their minds, thereby giving the Grandmaster the upper hand.
But being with everyone’s favourite gaggle of good guys can eventually lead to a change in allegiance, which it did. Influenced by what she saw when undercover with The Avengers, Voyager changed teams, and assisted the hero squad in defeating her father. Her change of heart helped save the team and save the day, and now she lays in wait in the cosmos, watching her team do good from afar.
15 DIDN'T: DR. DOOM AS THE INFAMOUS IRON MAN
Doom’s status as a villain was a bit questionable, as he was respected by the people of Latveria, where he ruled. But it wasn’t until Reed Richards fixed his deformation, allowing him to live outside of his metal shell, that he considered a change of heart away from full villainy. After Tony Stark was presumed gone, Doom stepped into his role, naming himself the Infamous Iron Man.
But the gang at S.H.I.E.L.D. weren’t convinced, and Doom has continued to try to prove himself. With Tony back at it as Iron Man, Doom isn’t needed in the mantle, and without the trust of his allies, it seems like his streak of good deeds will come to a close.
14 WORKED: BLACK WIDOW
Natasha Romanoff, or Black Widow as she is more commonly known, is a Russian spy. Trained to deceive and attack, Romanoff is a particularly cliché bad guy. There are a couple iterations of Romanoff as a bad girl gone good, all with a pretty solid success rate. In comics, she is betrayed by her Russian spy pals and falls in love with a good guy, ultimately weaselling her way into the Avenger to fight for good.
But MCU fans will also know Widow as the reformed Russian spy who starts the game assisting Tony Stark before becoming an indispensable member of the team. For lots of us, we can’t imagine the team without her.
13 DIDN'T: RED HULK
Red Hulk had a confusing entry, coming in ending the annoyance to Hulk that was General Thaddeus and fighting in an exhausting and never-ending battle with Hulk. Red Hulk couldn’t defeat Hulk per se, but he seemed more powerful, being able to best Thor in a fight.
Things got more confusing when it turned out that Red Hulk hadn’t actually ended the General, but was General Thaddeus. Banner believed he could be redeemed and recommended him to The Avengers where he did some good. But Doc Green, another Banner persona, had different ideas, revealing his identity, sabotaging him, and leaving him in government custody.
12 WORKED: EMMA FROST
Emma Frost, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, was as revered a villain as any. Similar to her somewhat reverse counterpart, she is a powerful telepath with an affinity for recruiting and training young and wayward mutants. Ultimately, Emma Frost, after years of being a feared enemy, would join the X-Men and spend years rebuilding her reputation as a good one.
She eventually fell for Jean Grey’s husband, Scott Summers, and the pair ultimately grew to lead the X-Men after Jean’s demise. Frost had a blip or two after exposure to Terrigen Mist, but she ultimately ended up aiding a time displaced Jean Grey with a view to helping the X-Men.
11 DIDN'T: HARVEY DENT
Harvey Dent, or Two-Face, has always been an antagonist for Gotham’s favorite bat in black. A notorious villain for falling from Gotham's good graces, Dent left his good guy self behind when he became Two-Face. The famous "Hush" storyline saw a lot of plays on favorite characters, like a perhaps sympathetic Joker and a Harvey Dent who had been relieved of his ailment with an opportunity to do good.
Harvey began to shed the Two-Face persona and became the hero Gotham knew. But this didn’t go super well, as he employed some pretty brutal methods and wasn’t exactly ethical in his approach to the law.
10 WORKED: TOMORROW WOMAN
Tomorrow Woman started as a bomb -- a straight up device set for detonation. Tomorrow Woman came at a time after The Justice League had fought a tough battle with the vicious white Martians. She seemed like a great fit until it turned out she was actually an android created by Professor Ivo and T.O. Morrow.
But it turns out that the super intelligent android was even better than expected, and was capable of learning. She learned from The Justice League and ultimately rebelled against her core programming and sacrificed herself to save the world. She is forever immortalized as a member of The Justice League, and her sacrifice does not go unnoticed.
9 DIDN'T: POISON IVY
Arguably, the desire to save the planet and grow as much green as possible is a noble pursuit, but not in the hands of quirky villain, Poison Ivy. While notoriously a villain, Pam Isley has actually been one of the good guys a few times throughout her comics iteration, at one point being a “botanical hero.”
Ivy even joins the Birds of Prey with fellow hero, Batgirl. Though she has some noble ideas and an affinity for good, Ivy just can’t help steering to the dark side. Ultimately, the villainess is taken into the Sanctuary, a metahuman rehabilitation facility for her wicked ways.
8 WORKED: TASKMASTER
Taskmaster, or Tony Masters, has the ability to mirror observed combat skills of any subject, and traditionally used that ability for his evil biddings. But when Civil War happened, Taskmaster had a change of heart. He was given amnesty during the war to take down the Secret Avengers, but after a few battles with Sue Storm, and a run in with Deadpool, he goes on a path to changing allegiances.
He eventually went on to assist the Secret Avengers, acting as a drill sergeant helping them to train for battle. His abilities made him instrumental in the success of the Secret Avengers and worked out pretty well.
7 DIDN'T: CAPTAIN COLD & BLACK ADAM
In another iteration of Lex Luthor trying out being a good guy, Lex Luthor, Captain Cold and Black Adam formed The Injustice League. In one facet of the oft convoluted multiverse, The Justice League was corrupted, and humanity was dependent on Lex Luthor of all people to help do some good.
Luthor, Captain Cold and Black Adam decided to form their rag tag gang with kind of a confusing name. Are they a league looking for Injustice? Sure, whatever. Anyway, the project had good intentions and was ultimately short lived, as a lot of multiverse messes tend to be.
6 WORKED: CLAYFACE
There really isn’t much of which Batman isn’t capable. Being a shapeshifter, Clayface naturally turned to a life of crime, as he had the ability to appear to be anyone, giving him a certain level of invincibility. While he is most often portrayed as a villain, in one storyline, Bats convinces him to go straight.
In his Rebirth origin, Clayface is found in a theater, mourning his humanity and appearance. Batman finds him, and as one who can do the impossible does, he convinces Clayface to use his new abilities for good. The dude has a bit of a knack for it and gets in pretty close with the Bat Family.
5 DIDN'T: DEATHSTROKE
Deathstroke, much like Deadpool who parodied him, started as a hitman. He was one of the better formed villains in terms of skills and abilities, and fans immediately took to his bad boy ways. Again, like his parody, someone noticed that he had good rapport with the fans, and gave Slade Wilson some of his own stories.
In doing so, he danced with the idea of being the hero. But he never got over his grudges with the Titans, and couldn’t turn all the way away from his life as a hitman, so while he often toes the line, Deathstroke’s role as a hero isn’t all that successful.
4 WORKED: MAGNETO
From comics to film, Magneto’s overlapping desires with those of the heroes have often seen him stepping into the role of a hero. Of his more popular changes of heart, there is the time Magneto almost takes out Kitty Pryde in battle and seemingly rethinks his prime directive. With Professor X incapacitated, Magneto stepped into the role as the leader of the X-Men, though still toeing the line of motivations that could be considered good or bad.
Magneto ultimately wants to protect mutants, though his methods clash with the X-Men, making him a common antagonist. But as their goal of protecting mutants is in common, Magneto is very effective when he steps in to help the good guys and even once sacrificed himself to save humanity.
3 DIDN'T: THE JOKER
It’s impossible to imagine any version of the most notorious villain being a hero, but The Joker is full of surprises. In the Batman mini series, White Knight, The Joker is cured and becomes a Gotham hero. Batman is painted in a darker light and, Joker, now going by Jack Napier, becomes a political hero, putting pressure on the G.C.P.D. to hold Batman to a higher level of accountability to protect those more affected in lower income areas.
The Bat family caves to Napier’s pressure, seeing the benefits, while growing increasingly worried about and wary of Batman’s decent into proving this new “good guy,” is still bad. We don’t want to spoil it for new series fans, but Joker is gonna Joker.
2 WORKED: SABRETOOTH
Sabretooth has a long history of tormenting and battling similarly built member of the X-Men, Wolverine. In a battle with Red Skull, The Avengers and the X-Men were up against an inversion bomb, one that would alter the genes of anyone within range, which would invert their core personalities.
Doctor Doom and Scarlet Witch did everything they could to prevent the affects of the gene changing device, but it didn’t save everyone, as Iron Man, shielding himself, also shielded Sabretooth. Going from bad to good, Sabretooth repented for his crimes and joined The Avengers Unity Division to do some good.
1 DIDN'T: CATWOMAN
Like other villains before her, Catwoman toes the line between good and evil, ultimately having a moral compass, but never giving up her life as a thief. She danced back and forth with good and bad, falling for Batman but never turning off her dedication to the score.
But as time goes on, Catwoman slips more and more into the good. She is often considered a part of the Bat family, and has a close relationship with many of them. Though it didn’t ultimately pan out, Catwoman and Batman planned to get married, which might have had her give up her villainous ways for good. With the wedding called off, it remains to be seen where she will align.