Your average, everyday supervillain is cold-hearted, selfish and rotten through and through. They're the kind of people who would steal candy from a baby or trip their own grandparents over to fulfill their nefarious aims. But the most memorable villains are more than just the sum of their evil deeds. True, many of them just lust for power, status and fame, but the highest-caliber antagonists have nobler motivations, even though they may be the only ones who might understand them or benefit from them.
And sometimes, when the chips are down, when all seems lost or when it looks like everything is about to end, even a bad guy might find that spark of goodness within and find it in his heart to do the right thing -- even if it is the last thing he will ever do. For some, it's the end of a long journey of redemption. For others, it's a snap decision made in the heat of the moment when there's no time to consider other options -- and a chance to atone for a wrong or to serve the greater good. Here are 20 occasions when a villain made the ultimate sacrifice when it counted the most and went out like a hero.
The trickster god Loki has a long trail of bad deeds through several Marvel Cinematic Universe movies -- usurping the throne of Asgard in Thor (2011), making an alliance with the Chitauri and attacking Earth in The Avengers (2012) and faking his death and impersonating Odin in Thor: The Dark World (2013). But in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Loki joins with Thor to fight the greater threat of Hela, Goddess of Death, and the looming danger of Ragnarok, the end of Asgard. As Hela grows in power, Thor determines that the only way to defeat her is to trigger Ragnarok, and Loki participates after first pushing Thor to abandon the fight. Loki also attempts some minor deceptions along the way, which Thor fully expected. Loki also filches the Tesseract from Odin's vault when nobody's looking.
But in Avengers: Infinity War, Loki runs out of tricks. The film opens with Thanos attacking a frigate full of refugees from Asgard, which was destroyed when Ragnarok was triggered. Thanos seeks the Tesseract that no one knows Loki has and pretty handily clobbers the Hulk. After the super-strong Avenger is spirited away to Earth by Heimdall, Thanos retaliates by killing the all-seeing Asgardian. Loki makes a desperate attempt to appease Thanos, pledging his loyalty on the one hand while concealing a dagger in the other. He tries to slash Thanos, who calmly grabs Loki by the throat and stabs him with the dagger, while a bound and helpless Thor watches.
The Asgardian warrior Skurge replaced Heimdall as the guardian of Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge after the events of 2013's Thor: The Dark World. When Hela escapes from the prison Odin put her in and comes to Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok, she names Skurge her Executioner. Skurge is at first loyal to Hela, but as she becomes more destructive, his loyalty to Asgard wins out. As Ragnarok begins, Skurge joins the people of Asgard who are escaping on a frigate. Hela's undead warriors start to swarm the ship, and Skurge stops hiding and fights them off with M-16 rifles. He jumps from the frigate to the bridge, shouting "For Asgard!" and covers the frigate's escape. On the bridge, Skurge battles more of Hela's minions but runs out of ammunition. Then, Hela tosses a sword into his chest, killing him.
In both comics and film, Skurge made a heroic sacrifice to save innocent lives.
Skurge's death scene in Thor: Ragnarok mirrored his last stand in Thor (Volume 1) #362 (December 1985) during the classic Walt Simonson run. Skurge, feeling jilted by Amora the Enchantress, joins Thor, Balder and the Einherjar on a rescue mission to save souls wrongfully taken into Hel. Hela tries to trick Skurge into joining her with a vision of the Enchantress, but Skurge sees through the ruse. Hela unleashes a horde of undead warriors, and Skurge makes a last stand, covering the escape of the rescued souls, Thor and Balder.
Starro the Conqueror is the first menace the Justice League of America faced, in The Brave and the Bold (Vol. 1) #28 (February-March 1960). It is a space alien resembling a giant starfish that takes control of host bodies by sending out thousands of spores that resemble smaller starfish that cling to their hosts and attach to their nervous systems. With these, Starro absorbs their power and knowledge and has conquered numerous worlds. In Justice League: No Justice, Brainiac kidnaps Starro along with several other heroes and villains to save his homeworld, Colu, from an onslaught of Omega Titans, although they soon see that they are facing a universe-spanning threat.
The captives split into four groups -- Team Wonder, Team Energy, Team Mystery, and Team Entropy, which includes both Starro and the Martian Manhunter. The Manhunter posits to Starro that he could become "something greater" than a tyrant and that he doesn't have to be the villain that Brainiac was expecting of him. Starro seemingly takes that to heart. In Justice League: No Justice #3 (May 2018), Starro uses the Atom's size-changing tech to grow even larger to take on an Omega Titan. While the other teams escaped, Starro got torn apart.
The third season of the CW's Supergirl has had the title hero struggle to defeat Reign, a superpowerful Kryptonian who is genetically altered. Reign grew up on Earth as Samantha Arias and did not learn of her identity as one of Krypton's Worldkillers until she reached adulthood, living in National City as a single mom with her daughter Ruby. Reign has a mission to mete out justice, which she defines as killing anyone who opposes her and her cohorts, Purity and Pestilence.
When Reign attacked Supergirl, Livewire made the ultimate sacrifice to save her former enemy's life.
In the Season 3 episode "Fort Rozz," Supergirl and the D.E.O. learn that a Kryptonian priestess is jailed in Fort Rozz who might know how to defeat Reign. Unfortunately, the space prison is in orbit near a blue sun, meaning Supergirl would lose her powers in that environment, and its location is also poisonous to males. So Supergirl recruits time traveler Imra Ardeen from the Legion of Super-Heroes and past antagonists Livewire and Psi. Livewire, a human with electrical powers, is uninterested in joining the mission, but Supergirl entreats her to do good and save other friends from being murdered by Reign. While searching for the Kryptonian priestess on Fort Rozz, Reign fights Livewire and gets the upper hand. Supergirl pleads to Reign to stop, but Reign starts to blast Supergirl with laser vision -- and Livewire leaps into the way and takes the hit instead.
The first Clayface debuted in Detective Comics (Volume 1) #40 (June 1940). He is washed-up actor Basil Karlo, who kills off the cast members of the remake of one of his movies. He had no special powers, unlike the next three Clayfaces: Matt Hagen, Preston Payne and Sondra Fuller. They were shape-shifters, although each gained their powers by different means. Fuller united Karlo and Payne -- Hagen was dead -- into a team called the Mud Pack to defeat Batman in Detective Comics (Volume 1) #604-607 (September-November 1989). With DNA samples from Fuller and Payne, Karlo gained their powers, making himself a powerful shape-shifter.
Post-DC Rebirth, Basil Karlo is retconned into being a young actor who gains shape-shifting abilities after he is doused with industrial-strength makeup. In Detective Comics #934 (August 2016), Batman recruits Clayface to be one of Gotham's defenders, a charge he takes seriously. But his redemption is cut short because of one of his bad deeds, disfiguring his girlfriend Glory. Glory exposes Clayface as a Batman ally, which turns the public against Batman and his team. Clayface later goes rapidly out of control, growing into a monster. In Detective Comics #974 (April 2018), Cassandra Cain talks Clayface down, and he briefly reverts to his Basil Karlo persona -- and then Batwoman shoots him in the head with a special rifle that negates his molecular cohesion, turning his corpse into mud and clay.
15 EL DIABLO
El Diablo was a member of the ragtag band of misfits, goons and supercrooks who was recruited against his will to serve the government in black-ops missions in 2016's Suicide Squad. He is Chato Santana, a petty criminal and gang member who, in the film, was a metahuman who had pyrokinetic powers from birth. This differed from his origin in the comics, where the power to wield flame was handed down to him from the original El Diablo, Lazarus Lane. The on-screen Santana became ever more deeply involved in criminality but was ultimately confronted by his wife Grace. During an argument, Santana lost control of his temper and burned down their home, killing Grace, their son and their daughter. Grieving and remorseful, Santana surrendered.
Although he was initially reluctant to use his powers, El Diablo was pivotal to the Squad's victory.
While in prison, he fought off attackers during a riot and started another large fire, which led to his transfer to the Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary, which handles metahumans. As a reluctant member of the Suicide Squad, he joined them on their first mission which quickly went sideways and turned into an effort to destroy the rogue witch Enchantress and her brother Incubus. At the end, El Diablo turns on his flame full power to stop Incubus while the others plant a bomb. Incubus reverts El Diablo back to his human form, but Santana demands the Squad trip the bomb, killing Incubus and himself.
14 CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
Speaking of Suicide Squad, a mainstay of the team is Captain Boomerang, who got his start tormenting the Flash as one of his Rogues Gallery. On screen and in comics, Boomerang is a conniving creep: He tells Squad member Slipknot that the warning that bombs have been attached to their bodies to keep members obedient during missions is a lie. Slipknot tries to escape and finds out the hard way the bombs are real. In Suicide Squad (Vol. 1) #9 (January 1988), Slipknot loses his arm, but in the movie, he loses his head.
Boomerang is an effective member on missions when he wants to be, but he still is a criminal at heart. Post-Rebirth, Boomerang is with the Squad on a mission to retrieve a mysterious "cosmic object" in Suicide Squad (2016 series) #2 (November 2016) from an undersea Russian installation. Since it's the Suicide Squad, things go sideways pretty quickly, and team leader Rick Flag gives the order to abort the mission right as Boomerang finds the object, known as the Black Vault. Ignoring the order to get away, Boomerang is fried by a blast of heat vision from General Zod, who was trapped within the Black Vault, which was a portal to the Phantom Zone.
In the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu Udonta was the leader of a band of space pirates called the Ravagers, who kidnapped young Peter Quill from Earth in 1988. Quill grew to adulthood with the Ravagers as kind of an adopted son. At the start of the film, Quill goes freelance by stealing a mysterious orb that the Ravagers wished to sell, which causes Yondu to put a bounty on him. As the orb is really an Infinity Stone, Quill's theft places him in the middle of a power struggle between the Nova Corps and Ronan the Accuser of the Kree.
After Quill learns that his father is an alien, the viewers learn that Yondu didn't fulfill his contract to bring Quill to his father.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) reveals that Quill's father is a Celestial -- Ego, the Living Planet -- and that Quill has the powers of a Celestial. Ego has been populating multiple worlds with his children to make the planets over in his image, destroying their existing life. Quill learns that Ego killed his mother, and he and the Guardians battle to take him down. But as Ego explodes and everything collapses, Quill and Yondu are trapped in space, with only one space suit between them. Yondu gives it to Quill, sacrificing his life.
12 HARRY OSBORN
Peter Parker's best friend, Harry Osborn, became increasingly estranged from him over the course of the Spider-Man film trilogy. In 2002's Spider-Man, Osborn's father Norman becomes disgusted at Harry's irresponsible ways and favors Parker. Neither Harry nor Parker know that Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin, and after the Goblin dies in an accident, Harry Osborn concludes Spider-Man killed him and seeks revenge. In Spider-Man 2 (2004), Osborn, now head of Oscorp, makes a deal with Doctor Octopus to capture Spider-Man and unmasks him, learning that he is his friend Peter. After Harry accidentally uncovers the Goblin's hidden lair, he uses what he finds to become the New Goblin.
As the New Goblin in Spider-Man 3 (2007), Harry attacks Peter but is knocked unconscious and gets amnesia. However, a vision of his father spurs him to seek revenge again. Meanwhile, Parker gets possessed by the alien symbiote Venom, which alters his mind. His bizarre conduct strains his relationship with Mary Jane Watson, and Osborn exploits the division, which leads to another fight. After Parker forces Venom out of his body, it possesses Eddie Brock and forms an alliance with the Sandman. Venom kidnaps Watson and sets a trap at a construction site. Spider-Man asks Osborn for help rescuing Watson, but he refuses, so Spider-Man goes it alone, and gets captured. Osborn shows up as the Goblin and fights Venom, who grabs his glider and moves to impale Spider-Man with it. Osborn gets in the way, and Venom impales him instead.
Deadshot was a gimmicky one-time villain who first appeared in Batman (Volume 1) #59 (June 1950), as Floyd Lawton, a friend of Bruce Wayne who led a double life as a master marksman in evening wear and a domino mask. He was reintroduced to comics more than 25 years later, in Detective Comics #474 (December 1977), in an upgraded high-tech battle suit.
Since then, Deadshot has been a mainstay of the Suicide Squad in comics, TV and film.
Deadshot was added to the CW's Arrow in its second season, reinvented as an assassin suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who has alienated his family. He joins a Suicide Squad mission with John Diggle, Lyla and Cupid to rescue Senator Cray from a kidnapping. Deadshot takes a sniper position as the other three break into the hospital in Kasnia where Cray is being held -- only to learn Cray hired the mercenaries who kidnapped him because the whole thing is a stunt to boost Cray's image in a bid for the presidency. Cray has a detonator and Deadshot shoots it out of his hand, but the explosives in the building are still primed to blow. Deadshot covers everyone's escape but dies in the building collapse when the bombs go off.
10 THE THING IMPOSTOR
"This Man ... This Monster!" in Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #51 (June 1966) is among one of the most renowned stories in Marvel history. This one-off story appeared immediately after the Galactus Trilogy (#48-#50, March-May 1966), and features a menace that isn't cosmic in scale. Instead, the villain is all too human, with a human-scale motivation: jealousy. Ricardo Jones is a scientist who's nearly as brilliant as Reed Richards, but he's hardly as well-known and seethes over that fact. Jones entices the Thing to enter his home for a cup of coffee one rainy night, but the drink is drugged.
Jones uses a "duplication apparatus" to siphon the Thing's power and appearance into his own body, planning to infiltrate the FF and destroy Reed Richards. He goes to the Baxter Building, passing himself off as the Thing. The Thing, now back in his human form as Ben Grimm, also goes to the Baxter Building, but the rest of the FF, oddly, won't listen to him and turn him away. Richards plans to explore the Negative Zone and has the Thing impostor hold a safety tether, but it breaks while Richards is being drawn in. Jones jumps into the portal and has a change of heart when he sees that Richards is upset that his old friend will die alongside him. Impressed by Richards' selflessness, the impostor tosses Richards back through the Negative Zone portal and drifts toward certain death.
In 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, viewers got the full story of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, after the brief glimpse of them in the previous year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The Maximoff siblings grew up in the war-torn nation of Sokovia in Eastern Europe. They developed a hatred of America and Tony Stark after an explosion killed their parents, and they were trapped in the rubble of their home next to an unexploded mortar shell bearing a Stark Industries tag. The two were recruited into Hydra and experimented on under the direction of Baron Strucker. From the experiments, Wanda gained the power to alter reality and Pietro gained superspeed.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Maximoffs are recruited by Ultron, enticed by his pledge to destroy the Avengers.
However, they turn against Ultron as the scale of his plans becomes apparent. Ultron uses Chitauri technology and vibranium to levitate the Sokovia capital, Novi Grad, out of the ground. Ultron intends to drop it to duplicate the world-ending effects of a massive meteor strike. Quicksilver and Wanda help the Avengers move to evacuate the city, guiding civilians to S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers. As Hawkeye tries to rescue a boy, Ultron fires on him from an aircraft -- but Quicksilver races over to get them out of the way and takes the fatal shot instead.
8 RIP HUNTER
Although Rip Hunter brought together the Legends of Tomorrow and was their original leader, he's been more of an antagonist than an ally throughout their association. Even when he first recruited his team -- White Canary, the Atom, Heatwave, Captain Cold, Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl -- he showed his contempt for his mates, saying he chose them because history would not notice if something bad happened to any of them. And he didn't reveal his secret agenda: that he'd gone rogue from the Time Masters. Worse, Hunter became an outright villain in the second season. He was captured and brainwashed by the Legion of Doom -- Reverse-Flash, Damien Darhk and Malcolm Merlyn -- and served them with cold, cruel efficiency.
Even after Hunter was freed from the Legion of Doom's thrall and left the Legends alone, he founded a new organization, the Time Bureau, which treated the Legends like dirt. Yet again, Hunter had a secret agenda. He hoped that the Legends would be cannon fodder against the threat of the demon Mallus. But in the season three finale, Hunter sacrificed himself. As Mallus closed in on the Legends, Hunter removed and destroyed their spaceship's time drive. The explosion sent Mallus through time, buying the team moments to regroup at the cost of Hunter's life.
7 DOCTOR OCTOPUS
In 2004, Spider-Man 2 brought the hero's archnemesis, Otto Octavius, to the big screen. Octavius first appeared in comics in Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963), written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko. Octavius is an atomic physicist who invented a set of mechanical limbs, controlled by his thoughts, that allowed him to safely handle radioactive chemicals at a distance. This device earns him the derisive nickname "Doctor Octopus." An accident in the lab fuses the device to his body and unhinges his mind. Thereafter, Doctor Octopus goes on a criminal rampage.
In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock's robotic arms are managed by an artificial intelligence.
He even has a device with an inhibitor chip that keeps the arms separate from his body's nervous system. A failed experiment to create sustainable fusion kills his wife Rosie and damages the inhibitor chip, causing the newly sentient device to take control of his actions. The arms lead him to rob a bank to fund a second fusion experiment, which proves to be just as unstable as the first. Octopus stays his hand only after Spider-Man unmasks and talks him down. In a moment of lucidity, Octavius shuts down the fusion reactor and sacrifices his life rather than allow the destruction of New York.
6 LIONEL LUTHOR
Lex Luthor has bedeviled Superman for decades, but it was the 2001-2011 WB/CW series Smallville series that explored the idea that Luthor was bad because he had a bad dad. Lionel Luthor was introduced in the series pilot, cast as a shadowy business mogul with a hidden agenda. He moves to Smallville to buy a local plant, shortly ahead of the Kryptonite meteor shower that covers the town. Lionel Luthor manipulates his son Lex and formed the secret society Veritas to find an alien visitor known as the Traveler -- initially not knowing the Traveler is young Clark Kent.
In season five, Lionel Luthor becomes a vessel for Jor-El, a Kryptonian artificial intelligence which possesses him momentarily to converse with Kent. Gradually, over the course of the show, Lionel Luthor shifts from being Kent's antagonist to being a protector and helper who kept the secret of the Traveler. But Lex also sought the Traveler's identity, and in the Season seven episode "Descent," Lex goes to Lionel's offices at LuthorCorp to confront Lionel about his knowledge. Lex pulls a gun on Lionel and takes a key from him that opens a strongbox in Zurich -- and then shoots Lionel, who plummets to his death.
5 WONDER MAN
Simon Williams was a business rival of Tony Stark whose brother Eric tricked him into embezzling money from their company to cover for Eric's gambling debts. In The Avengers #9 (October 1964), Williams was convicted of fraud, but the Masters of Evil -- the Enchantress, the Executioner and Baron Zemo -- saw him as a useful pawn to strike at the Avengers. They pay Williams' bond and spirit him away to a hidden lair in South America, where they zap him with ion rays that turn him into a powerhouse. They give Williams a costume and the name Wonder Man, but let him know that he will die unless Zemo gives him regular doses of a special serum.
In between his resurrections, Wonder Man has been an Avengers mainstay, but he didn't start out that way.
The Masters of Evil stage a robbery just to fight the Avengers and let Wonder Man earn the heroes' confidence. He is recruited into the team, but Zemo kidnaps the Wasp to trap the Avengers. When the Avengers come to the rescue, Wonder Man fights them but becomes increasingly upset at being used to betray the heroes. In the end, Wonder Man helps the Avengers defeat the Masters, knowing that he will die without Zemo's serum.
4 BOLIVAR TRASK
Motivated by fear, the anthropologist Bolivar Trask spearheaded the creation of the Sentinel robots to capture and kill mutants. Trask was introduced in X-Men #14 (November 1965). Trask's son Larry developed the mutant ability to see the future, and his daughter Tanya could move through time, although Trask suppressed Larry's abilities with an amulet. Trask ultimately became a high-profile advocate against mutants, writing and lecturing on his belief that they would subjugate and destroy humanity, most notably during a televised debate with Charles Xavier.
In secret, Trask led a team of scientists to build the mutant-hunting Sentinels. However, the Master Mold Sentinel, which built the other robots, rejected human control. To Trask's horror, the Sentinels declared their intention to enslave humans. This led to a battle with the X-Men, who lost and were captured by the Sentinels. Lacking the knowledge to build more robots, the Sentinels captured Trask and pressed him to operate the robot-building machinery. But Trask learned that instead of being menaces, the X-Men were humanity's defenders. Realizing that the Sentinels may use their equipment to make more of their kind again and again, a terrified and remorseful Trask ultimately breaks the Sentinel-building equipment. This triggers an explosion that destroys the Sentinels and kills him in X-Men #16 (January 1966).
3 THE GARGOYLE
Way back in the coldest days of the Cold War, atomic scientist Yuri Topolov toiled in the service of Communist Russia. Topolov was known and feared as the Gargoyle, because he was deformed -- he was bald and short of stature, with an oversized head, supergenius intellect and nasty disposition. These physical changes developed thanks to his long-term exposure to radiation while working to build missiles, and his knowledge gained him power and authority. He is the first supervillain to battle the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). Soviet spy Igor Drenkov, who was embedded in the ill-fated gamma bomb test that created the Hulk, reports back to the Gargoyle about the Hulk's existence.
The Gargoyle immediately flies to America to capture the Hulk and build an army of Hulks to rule the Earth.
But on the way to the Gargoyle's lair, the Hulk reverts to Bruce Banner, and a baffled Gargoyle cannot understand why Banner leads a double life. "It- it's the most horrible thing in the world to be a freak -- a gargoyle! Like me!" His plea, "I'd give anything to be normal! Anything!" inspires Banner to cure him. Despite Banner's warning that the cure would remove the Gargoyle's intellect, he gratefully accepts. Transformed, the Gargoyle sends Banner and Rick Jones back to America. As soldiers break into his offices, the Gargoyle, now restored to his humanity, triggers an explosion that destroys his home base.
2 BARON MORDO
Baron Mordo has been Doctor Strange's number one antagonist from the second story featuring the Master of the Mystic Arts, in Strange Tales #111 (August 1963). Mordo was a disciple of the Ancient One at his palace in the Himalayas before Strange came there seeking a cure for the nerve damage that ended his career as a surgeon. Mordo admits to Strange that he is plotting to kill and depose the Ancient One and puts spells on Strange to stop him from warning his master. To get around the spells, Strange accepts the Ancient One's offer to tutor him. Fully aware of Mordo's plot, the Ancient One cancels the spells.
Over the years, Mordo has fought Strange numerous times. But his ultimate plot to defeat Strange backfired: Mordo sold his soul to both Satannish and Mephisto, expecting that he could easily defeat Strange, who would be worn out trying to stop their battle. But Mordo was didn't have the strength to prevail over Strange and later learned he had cancer from his use of black magic. Mordo's daughter Astrid, acting out of revenge, transferred the cancer into Strange without his knowledge. Mordo repented his foul past in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #87 (March 1996), reabsorbing the cancer and killing his daughter to stop her schemes of domination before the cancer ended his life.
1 THE CRIME SYNDICATE OF AMERICA
The Crime Syndicate of America is a band of ruffians -- Ultraman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Owlman and Power Ring -- who are evil mirror images of heroes Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Batman and Green Lantern. They were introduced in Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #29 (August 1964) as denizens of Earth-Three, a world where all the beings with superpowers were rotten through and through. Ultraman, the Superman analogue, learns of Earth-One and Earth-Two and their heroes, and the team goes there because they want a challenge.
Since then, different iterations of the Crime Syndicate have been thorns in the side of the Justice League and the Justice Society of America.
But in Crisis On Infinite Earths #1 (April 1985), the Crime Syndicate comes upon a foe it cannot defeat: a wave of antimatter energy that sweeps across the multiverse, wiping out everything in its path. Ultraman is furious that his super-strength is useless. "We've spent a lifetime terrorizing this world, yet our last moments alive are spent trying to save it." He dives into the antimatter wave as Power Ring questions what he is doing. "What I have done all my life. I fight to the very end!", Ultraman answers. The antimatter wave engulfs him, Superwoman and Earth-Three.