12 Clean Cut Superheroes Who Turned Out To Be Kind Of Evil

List Rules
Vote up the characters who make superheroes look bad.

In the medium of superhero comic books, where shocking plot twists are a weekly occurrence by necessity, there’s no shortage of heroes who became villains on a temporary basis - and vice versa. Usually, said hero eventually returns to their status quo. Less frequent are those times when a hero breaks bad permanently, becoming a full-time supervillain and never looking back. But the rarest occurrence of all? That’s when it turns out that the character readers thought was a hero was actually a really bad person all along, and that they’d merely been fooling everybody with their caped crusading as part of some other, darker scheme.

It’s the characters in that latter category that really stick out, both for the impacts they have in their own fictional worlds and for the feeling of betrayal they induce in their audiences. Nobody likes to be tricked, and least of all by a supervillain.

  • At the outset of Invincible, Nolan Grayson is a selfless hero in the eyes of his adopted planet of Earth and in the eyes of his family, but by the end of the story’s first arc, everyone has a significantly different opinion of the Omni-Man. Initially presenting himself to be an alien immigrant now sworn to protect Earth, Omni-Man turned out to be a forerunner of an intergalactic race of colonizers, sent to bring Earth to heel so that it could be absorbed into the Viltrumite Empire. 

    Even after starting a family, Omni-Man remained dedicated to his original cause, and when the time came for him to act, he started the conquering of Earth by slaughtering his teammates in the Guardians of the Globe. Before that week was out, he’d beaten his own son Mark nearly to death on live television and then departed for the stars, going from the world’s foremost superhero to public enemy No. 1 in the blink of an eye.

    There would be some redemption to be had for Omni-Man before his tale was fully told, but it only came after a lot of personal work - and it never changed the fact that he was always a Viltrumite at heart.

  • Terra - ‘Teen Titans’
    Photo: DC Comics

    Tara Markov grew up as the illegitimate daughter of the king of Markovia, and as the possessor of earth-bending abilities, both of which left her with a bit of a power complex. Yet, when she first hit the scene with the Teen Titans, she did so by rescuing the entire team from the clutches of Deathstroke, their greatest enemy - so she was welcomed onto the squad with open arms as “Terra.”

    But the entire thing soon proved to be a clever ruse. Not only was Terra working for Slade Wilson the entire time, infiltrating the Titans in order to destroy them from within, but she was also in the midst of a passionate affair with Deathstroke, despite their uncomfortable and problematic age difference. 

    Despite getting to see what heroes her teammates were on a regular basis, Terra eventually lured them into a Deathstroke death trap with no moral compunctions, though they were rescued by Nightwing and Jericho, son of Deathstroke, at the last minute. In her furious attempt to finish the job, Terra brought down an entire complex on top of herself, ending her own life in a fit of rage.

    The Teen Titans, however, chose to preserve her heroic public image, building a statue in her honor and protecting the secret of her betrayal for years, until it inevitably came out anyway.

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    The Plutonian - ‘Irredeemable’

    The result of an alien experiment sent to Earth to observe its people, the Plutonian of Irredeemable started out his story as another in a long line of Superman-esque figures, but then his story took a decidedly darker turn. Despite being all-powerful - strong enough to break mountains, fast enough to outrun radio waves - the Plutonian suffered from an extreme need for praise and love from the public he was sworn to protect. And when he didn’t get it, the Plutonian turned wrathful.

    Though the vast majority of the world worshipped him for keeping them safe, the Plutonian’s super-ears picked up the words of everyone who didn’t - every flippant remark, every bit of trash talk, every joke at his expense. When he finally snapped, he did so in a big way, slaughtering his former teammates, destroying cities, sinking islands, and conquering the entire United Nations. 

    Until enough of a resistance built up to oppose him, the Plutonian effectively ruled his Earth with an iron fist, committing great acts of evil on a near-daily basis along the way. In time, his threat would be removed, but not before he left lasting scars all over the planet - and not before he truly lived up to the title of his book. 

  • Following the events of Onslaught, the majority of the non-mutant superheroes of the Marvel Universe were thought to be lost for good - though, in reality, they were just hiding out in a pocket dimension created by Franklin Richards. In the meantime, however, Earth needed heroes, so the public was overjoyed when the Thunderbolts, a brand-new team of costumed crusaders, hit the scene. By all outward appearances, they were a squad on par with the Avengers or the Fantastic Four... but all was not as it seemed.

    By the end of their first issue, the truth was revealed to readers: These Thunderbolts weren’t heroes at all, but a group of supervillains in disguise, using this rare opportunity to consolidate power and public influence. Atlas was really the size-changer known alternately as Goliath and Power Man. Mach I-IV was the Beetle. Meteorite was Moonstone. Songbird was Screaming Mimi. Techno was the Fixer. And the Thunderbolts' brave leader, Citizen V, was actually Baron Helmut Zemo, son of a Nazi, in disguise. 

    In time, several of the Thunderbolts would decide that they liked the heroic life and attempt to break good, but the rest stayed true to their evil mission. Thankfully, the real heroes of Earth would return before the Thunderbolts could grab too much power, and the Thunderbolt trademark has subsequently been turned into a supervillain rehab program of sorts - though that hasn’t always worked out as well as one would hope. 

  • Whether it be in the original The Boys comic series or its television adaptation, Homelander is presented as the greatest member of “The Seven,” an all-powerful and all-patriotic blend of Superman and Captain America. Of course, that’s just his public persona. The real Homelander is the result of horrific experimentation by the Vought Corporation. That may not have been his fault, but it definitely left Homelander with a personality that is decidedly less than altruistic.

    Although he proclaims to have the best interests of the public at heart, Homelander has consistently shown that he is both narcissistic and sociopathic, and that he only commits acts of heroism for the praise and adoration that follow. And, when he doesn’t receive said praise, Homelander is easily moved to acts of mass and wanton violence, demonstrating how little he cares about protecting the people of his country in the first place. While he may not be guilty of every crime he’s accused of, Homelander has taken countless innocent lives, committed acts of terror, and even taken over the US government at one point. 

    Eventually, Homelander comes to the conclusion that, because of his power, he can and should do whatever he wants. Unfortunately, “whatever he wants” proves to be quite the nasty proposition.

  • Whether the series and its characters are called variations of Marvelman or Miracleman (depending on the status of various lawsuits at the time), the story of one of comics’ darkest tales remains equally tragic and disturbing. 

    In short, Marvelman is a close analogue of Shazam, complete with a magic phrase (Kitoma!) that transforms him into a buff superhero, and a series of sidekicks like Kid Marvelman. Whereas Michael Moran stayed mostly on the straight and narrow as Marvelman, Kid Marvelman’s alter ego of Johnny Bates proved to be a dangerous sociopath, corrupted by his wondrous powers into committing heinous acts.

    For a time, Kid Marvelman was left catatonic, and everything was thought to be fine. But then he awoke and regained his power, heading out on a vicious rampage through London that left thousands not just deceased, but literally twisted into a horrific display of flesh and gore. In the end, Marvelman had no choice but to end the life of his broken sidekick, as there was no coming back from what Kid Marvelman had done.