What constitutes a supervillain and a superhero often boils down to motivation, empathy, and morality. Villains rarely perceive themselves as the villains. In fact, they may see themselves the hero based on their perspective of a situation, a person, or a series of events. As The Joker once told Batman in The Killing Joke, we’re all “one bad day away” from becoming the villain of our own story. He wasn’t wrong, as the circumstances that led to Batman becoming a famous crime-fighter could have easily resulted in him turning to a life of crime instead.
Comic book writers capitalize on the fact that any change in circumstances could alter a person’s mindset. A traumatic event could drive a supervillain to dedicate themselves to justice, or a superhero to descend into vengeance. This can either be done as part of a huge storyline buildup, or to the shock of readers everywhere in a random occurrence. One thing is for sure — the changes always keep things interesting. Over the course of years, a long running comic series can grow stale if the main character doesn’t shift perspective. Notable examples include Captain America briefly being a Hydra agent in Secret Empire. Some shifting of allegiances work better than others. Character history and development should be considered to make them believable, otherwise there is the risk that readers won’t believe a character’s choice of logic. Sometimes incredible storylines come from villains becoming heroes and heroes becoming villains, and sometimes in the end, they should stay true to their roots. We let you decide!
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: MAGNETO
Magneto stands above the motivations of ordinary supervillains as a villain with a moral objective. His commitment to ensure that mutants are treated fairly has resulted in his warped desire for mutants to rule over the humans that persecuted them. A champion for civil rights, he is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and complex supervillains in comics, even if his methods are evil and sadistic.
There have been many times, however, when Magneto has played the hero. He has stepped in to lead the X-Men, and run Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Problems arise when the actions of the X-Men continue to conflict with Magneto’s sense of justice, which should appropriately make him revert to his supervillain ways.
BETTER OFF AS A HERO: DEADPOOL
When he first appeared in The New Mutants #98, the Merc with a Mouth was very much a supervillain out for himself. A highly disturbed mercenary and assassin, he made pithy commentary while he sliced and diced his way through Cable and The New Mutants as well as the X-Men.
Having Deadpool become more of an anti-hero over time, and occasionally team up with super teams like the Avengers or the X-Men, brings a thematic complexity to what it means to be heroic and showcases diverse character development for the good guys. He has the humor of Peter Parker but is as dangerous as Wolverine, and isn’t afraid to look ridiculous, which is refreshing alongside his more serious peers like Steve Rogers.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: SCARLET WITCH
Unlike her brother, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch was far more effective as a villain. Both the children of Magneto, they had a head start being baddies, but she took to it so much that even after they decided to join the Avengers, she couldn’t shake her evil ways. If it wasn’t for her love of Vision, she probably wouldn’t have stayed good.
Scarlet Witch is a woman that, even when good, managed to successfully strip every mutant on Earth of their superpowers. With Hela being the MCU’s most compelling female villain thanks to Thor: Ragnarok, it stands to reason that Scarlet Witch could have been just as effectively charismatic and malevolent if she weren’t confined to the good guys team.
BETTER OFF AS A HERO: ROGUE
Before Rogue became one of the most celebrated superheroes as part of the X-Men, she was a supervillain that frequently pummeled Captain America and the Avengers. She was extremely powerful, with the ability to absorb someone’s life force, memories, and superpowers simply through skin contact.
A confused teenager who was horrified by her abilities after they put her first love in a coma, Rogue is far more interesting as a tortured hero than a supervillain. It was during her attack on Ms. Marvel in Avengers Annual #10 that Professor X determined she was more misguided than truly evil, and offered her guidance and a place among the X-Men.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: EMMA FROST
Emma Frost was once known as the White Queen, and as such was the leader of the infamous Hellfire Club, featuring the most sophisticated cadre of supervillains in various forms of questionable wear. Early on, Emma Frost was responsible for much of the disasters that befell the X-Men, which makes it all the more complicated when she became their de facto leader.
Emma Frost went on to teach at Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters which, while an interesting choice for character development, is a bit neutering of her power. Besides, Jean Grey already has epic telepathic abilities, and Emma Frost is much more charismatic as a villainess.
BETTER OFF AS A HERO: VENOM
With this year’s Venom film coming out, Eddie Brock will no longer be depicted solely as Spider-Man’s number one nemesis. In this version, Venom will follow an anti-hero’s journey much like Spawn, leaving his allegiance very much ambiguous. It will allow for fans to get inside the mind of a character that will be more complex than a two-dimensional enemy often is.
The Venom symbiote feeds off of hatred of Spider-Man, granting its host amazing alien powers as a side effect of their hatred of the web-slinger. However, having a villain like Venom be depicted heroically turns many of the thematic elements of villainy on its head, and posits a new driving force behind one of Marvel’s most dangerous characters.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: CATWOMAN
While everyone’s been busy celebrating the (almost) marriage of Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50, few are remembering her villainous past. Part of what made Catwoman an intriguing character was the fact that she was a cat burglar who often associated herself with supervillains, and that Batman was attracted to her despite that.
The moral ambiguity of Catwoman is much more effective when she’s a villain as opposed to a hero. Trying to make her play the hero forces her into a role that is already inhabited by do gooders that fit it well. Her character is much more at home as a femme fatale unrestricted, and making her a hero is akin to declawing a cat — demoralizing and embarrassing.
BETTER OFF AS A HERO: QUICKSILVER
From the time of his first appearance, Quicksilver was never that committed as a villain. He didn’t have his father’s thirst for vengeance. Beginning in X-Men #4, he and his sister, Scarlet Witch, were both made reluctant members of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants but were eventually persuaded to join the Avengers.
Quicksilver may have began as a thorn in the side of the X-Men, but he wasn’t very effective, and he was always overshadowed by his father. When he became associated with the Avengers, he got to finally discover his own superhero identity, which was made stronger with his alliances with the X-Men and the Inhumans.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: ELEKTRA
Elektra has made a name for herself as one of the deadliest mercenaries and assassins in the Marvel Universe. Beginning as a villain of Daredevil’s, she has since been something of a turncoat and aligned herself with him on numerous occasions. She has gone from being his enemy to being his fighting partner as well as love interest.
The problem with making Elektra a good guy is that there are already a number of recovered covert operatives. Characters like Deadpool and Black Widow already excel at the assassin-turned-hero role, and forcing Elektra into it takes away the credibility she had leading the mysterious Hand ninja warrior cult.
BETTER OFF A HERO: GAMBIT
Gambit is a thief, a liar, and a rogue, but he’s no supervillain. Remy LeBeau may have began his life on the streets of New Orleans, abandoned at birth due to the strangeness of his glowing red eyes, but his time with the Guild of Thieves failed to carve a path of hatred and vengefulness.
Most superheroes fall into a few tropes, namely of stalwart, upstanding stewards of valiance and compassion. Gambit, much like Deadpool and Wolverine, is an anti-hero in the vein of charming and selfish, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a conscience. The bad things that have happened to Gambit haven’t hardened his lover’s heart, which would be wasted as a villain.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: LOBO
Initially thought of as a parody of edgy Marvel characters like Wolverine and The Punisher, DC’s Lobo was never meant to be a hardened anti-hero. Originally, the alien from the planet Czarnia was a bounty hunter, mercenary, and all around thug, but he wasn’t popular in that form, so in the ‘90s a gritty biker variant was conceived.
Though Lobo wasn’t popular as a villain, honing in on the territory of popular Marvel heroes does not a lasting character make. Lobo has only one rule as a bounty hunter: honor the contract no matter the cost, even if it means his life. Now imagine how epic an unstoppable violence machine he would make as a villain, especially if his contracts were famous superheroes.
BETTER OFF A HERO: BLACK WIDOW
Natasha Romanov has the distinction of being not only one of the greatest assassins in the Marvel Universe, but one of the prominent anti-heroes of the MCU, contributing a darker edge to the Avengers due to her sinister past and ambiguous allegiances.
Abandoned as a young orphan in war torn Eastern Europe and indoctrinated as a teenager into an elite all female school for assassins and spies, she has had to undergo serious mental and emotional handicaps to be a good guy, and there are times when she wavers. Her teammates are not always certain if she has their best intentions in mind, which makes her far more interesting as a hero than if she were a typical run-of-the-mill villain.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: THE THUNDERBOLTS
When people think of super teams, they often think of the Avengers. When the Avengers aren’t around (or written off, in the case of the “Onslaught” storyline), they may think of the Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts began as superheroes in The Incredible Hulk #449, but they were actually the Masters of Evil supervillain group in disguise, led by Baron Helmut Zemo.
Currently, the Thunderbolts are considered a group of reformed supervillains, similar to DC’s Suicide Squad. However, unlike the Squad (which tends to have members that could revert to their evil ways at any time), the Thunderbolts are all tamed now, including one of Marvel’s most long running villains, Baron Zemo, who has a family heritage of being bad.
BETTER OFF A HERO: FALCON
To fans of the MCU and Captain America, Falcon has always been the tried and true friend of Steve Rogers and a card-carrying member of the Avengers. However, he began in Captain America #69 as a mob-associated thug in Harlem, and a (albeit brief) collaborator with Red Skull’s exiled operatives.
Falcon was never destined to be a particularly interesting or memorable villain given his past, but his unique place in historical circumstances makes him a great hero. He was created during the civil rights movement as the first African-American superhero, and the first to not have “black” appear as part of his superhero alias. He’s even donned the Captain America mantle from time to time.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: HAWKEYE
Shocking no one, the most marginalized member of the MCU’s Avengers began his comic book career as a two-bit villain. Introduced in Tales of Suspense #57 back in the ‘60s, he was a foil to the Avengers until “recognizing his dexterity and abilities” Black Widow convinced him to join the team and fight on the side of good.
Hawkeye would shift around in the Avengers for some time, occasionally quitting to manage other teams (the West Coast Avengers, the Thunderbolts), and generally not fitting in. Perhaps he should have been explored more as a villain, rather than a supporting hero, to aid in his character development and make him more interesting.
BETTER OFF A HERO: VISION
Though he may appear as a hero in the MCU and a valued member of the Avengers, he began as a henchman for Ultron, created by him as a “synthezoid” to take on his creator, Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man). The Avengers convinced Vision to turn against Ultron and join their team, which he ultimately did, allowing him to fall in love with Scarlet Witch.
The most salient component of Vision’s heroism is his desire to be “human”, and that journey is at the forefront of everything he does as an android in Marvel comics. As a villain, he wouldn’t have been interested in any of that (especially if it led to empathy or compassion), and thus one of the most endearing members of the Avengers would have been missing.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: WONDER MAN
The greatest threat to a super team like the Avengers is a villain that doesn’t appear as a villain, but instead comes to join their ranks as a friend. Broad shouldered, square jawed and amiable, Wonder Man seemed the superhero type. Little did they know that he planned to destroy them from within.
Aided by Baron Zemo and the Enchantress, Wonder Man had been given a variety of superpowers thanks to Zemo’s ionic ray device. He was meant to lead the Avengers into a trap, but Wonder Man had a change of heart at the last minute and aided their escape. This robs comic readers of a diverse villain that doesn’t outwardly look like one, just so he can be another generic superhero.
BETTER OFF A HERO: MORBIUS
The result of an experiment gone wrong, Morbius is not your typical creature of the night. Though he may share the insatiable thirst for blood, superhuman strength, and fearsome appearance of a vampire, he truly loathes the beast he has become and constantly tries to let his human side show through.
Morbius may have started as a Spider-Man villain in the ‘70s, but he has become somewhat of a hero in his own right. His standalone series explores the many attempts of Dr. Michael Morbius to correct the experiment that ruined his life when he searched for the cure for his rare blood disease. He makes a fascinating tortured hero, and besides, Dracula already exists in both the Marvel Universe AND the DC Universe.
STOP TRYING TO BE A HERO: SABRETOOTH
One of the most savage characters in the Marvel Universe, Sabretooth has enjoyed a bitter rivalry with Wolverine for decades. Both born with the same mutant gene and possessing the same incredible strength and healing powers, Sabretooth represents Wolverine’s more bestial side, and often reminds Wolverine of the way he might have been had it not been for joining the X-Men.
Sabretooth has a startling change of heart when Red Skull uses the Onslaught entity to basically alter his personality. The results are permanent, and Sabretooth is essentially defanged, depriving fans of a truly glorious villain and Wolverine of further complex character development.
BETTER OFF A HERO: GALACTUS
Galactus is a gargantuan supervillain known by the awesome title, “The Destroyer of Worlds”. Introduced as a villain pitted up against the Fantastic Four, he literally feeds on the life force of entire planets. He is near god-like in his abilities, and lacked all empathy.
During the Secret Wars series, when multiple Marvel Universes merged into one, the Ultimates set out to change Galactus’ nature. Using a reality warping material and his own incubator, they were able to literally reverse his power so that he could restore life. Since Thanos already exists as a nihilistic and ultra-destructive supervillain, Galactus has emerged as a great foil and a champion for good.
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