The concept of heroes turned villains has been around in fiction since long before Breaking Bad mastered the trope, and nowhere has it appeared more frequently than the pages of DC and Marvel Comics. The list of superheroes who became villains - whether or not they stayed that way - is surprising both for its length and the number of fan-favorites that appear on it. It seems to happen even more frequently than villains turning hero.
The serial nature of comic book storytelling requires endless plot twists, and that’s resulted in most caped crusaders having at least one face-heel turn in their published history. Even those who most exude the values of truth, justice, and the American way - even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes - are prone to going rogue every now and then, if only for variety’s sake.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
The events of The Crossing - an Avengers crossover from 1995 - are so convoluted that they could only really occur in a superhero comic book. Essentially, it is revealed that time-traveling baddie Kang the Conqueror has been secretly entering the timestream to manipulate Tony Stark at various points throughout his life, turning a founding member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into a retroactive mole for one of their worst enemies.
Once Kang’s interference becomes apparent, Iron Man goes completely off the deep end, slaying a handful of tertiary Avengers and going up against his former teammates. In order to combat this, the Avengers go back in time themselves and bring a teenaged Stark to the present so that he can fight his evil future self. Original Tony eventually comes to his senses and sacrifices his life to stop Kang, resulting in him being officially replaced by “Teen Tony” for a fashion before Marvel Comics wisely retconned the real Iron Man back into existence.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
When Captain America says “Hail Hydra,” it’s typically a sign that something has gone catastrophically wrong. Such is the case for the events leading up to 2017’s Secret Empire crossover, in which the Red Skull uses to Cosmic Cube to rewrite history so that Steve Rogers was a Hydra sleeper agent throughout the entirety of his career as Captain America.
Taking on the title of Supreme Leader, “Stevil” and his Hydra forces conquer the United States of America in short order, enacting the sort of dictatorship that would make the original Rogers cringe. Fortunately, the real Cap is still out there somewhere - and he returns to existence with enough time left over to pick up Mjolnir and use it to lay a beatdown on his duplicitous doppelganger.
- Photo: DC Comics
Initially, the Injustice: God Among Us line of comics were meant to be nothing more than a tie-in to the popular video game franchise of the same name, but they soon grew in popularity and took on a life of their own. The basic premise of the plot is the same as that of the game: Superman goes dark following the slaying of Lois Lane and their unborn child, punches a hole in the Joker, and then enacts a vicious and bloody dictatorship over the entire populace of Earth.
Ostensibly, Kal-El starts his totalitarian regime with altruistic goals in mind, but he quickly loses track of himself and starts slaying anyone who speaks out against him. Hawkman, Shazam, and Green Arrow all perish directly at the hands of Clark Kent himself - and that’s only the beginning. Batman leads a resistance force against Superman that ultimately succeeds in bringing him to justice, but only after several more years of bloodshed.
- Photo: DC Comics
Hal Jordan is the most famous of DC’s Green Lanterns, and he’s also the first major superhero to break bad in a significant way. The events of 1994’s Emerald Twilight storyline see Jordan driven to madness by the destruction of his hometown at the hands of Cyborg Superman, and he goes to some rather extreme lengths in an attempt to rectify the tragedy.
Jordan flies to Oa and demands access to the entirety of the Main Power Battery’s energy, which results in a fight that sees him slay several Guardians and fellow Green Lanterns, including his best pal Kilowog. He succeeds it siphoning the energy, but not in resurrecting Coast City, leaving him as an ultra-powerful supervillain known as Parallax. That remains Jordan’s status quo for a number of years before he face-turns again, perishes, and then is brought back to life - along with an additional retcon stating that “Parallax” was the name of a fear-based entity controlling Jordan’s actions, assuaging him of any guilt for his sinister stint.