At the core of superhero morality is the principle that killing is wrong, no matter the circumstances. It's what sets the heroes apart from the villains they fight; it's the line they never cross. It's also why superheroes who killed innocents or even villains are lightning rods for controversy, both within their fictional universes and in the real world.
Sure, there are dozens of "grim and gritty" superheroes and antiheroes who have no problem slaying their enemies - we're looking at you, Punisher, Deadpool, Lobo, and Midnighter! - but the reason so many of us admire, even idolize, the virtuous heroes is because they represent what we would aspire to be, rather than what we might actually be like if we had superpowers ourselves. They use their incredible abilities, often anonymously, to fight evil and help the downtrodden, with no expectation of reward.
Still, whether superhuman, cybernetic, alien, or demigod, superheroes are just people... and people make mistakes, often horrible ones. There are those superheroes who were careless with lives as they battled their enemies in populated areas. There are those superheroes who were reckless with their powers or unable to control them. There are those superheroes whose powers alone are dangerous or even deadly to those around them. And then there are those superheroes who willingly set aside their principles to take lives. However it happened, all of the seemingly virtuous superheroes on this list have blood on their hands - and the burden of their actions has taken a toll on them.
- Photo: DC Comics
John Stewart is considered to be one of the greatest Green Lanterns of all time. A former architect and soldier, Stewart is disciplined and meticulous, a natural leader, and a member of the Green Lantern Corps' elite Honor Guard. But early in his career as a Green Lantern, Stewart was filled with bravado and was so overconfident in his abilities that his actions caused the destruction of an entire planet filled with millions of sentient lifeforms.
On a quest to prevent the Anti-Life Entity from devouring the entire universe in the classic Cosmic Odyssey miniseries, Stewart ignored Martian Manhunter and charged headlong at the problem of destroying a Doomsday Bomb on the planet Xanshi. His recklessness caused the destruction of the one device capable of rendering the detonation device inert. Figuring he could simply recreate the device using his Power Ring, Stewart soared down to the surface of Xanshi with his makeshift device, leaving Martian Manhunter behind in a protective bubble. Stewart hadn't counted on the entity figuring out that his original device was broken, or that his Power Ring had an imperfection that rendered it useless against the color yellow. With every inch covered in yellow paint, Stewart stood dumbfounded as the Doomsday Bomb counted down to zero and blew up the entire planet.
Grief-stricken by his mistake, Stewart sent his Power Ring far away so that it would not stop him from shooting himself in the head with a yellow gun. After being goaded to do it by Martian Manhunter, John lowered the gun and called back his ring. He continued on as a Green Lantern, then a Guardian of the Mosaic planet, a Darkstar, and finally, a Green Lantern once again, but his failure at Xanshi is always in the back of his mind. It has helped temper his actions and made him a better person and hero.487Guilty conscience?
- Photo: DC Comics
Even the greatest Green Lantern of them all has limitations, as Hal Jordan learned when his hometown of Coast City was wiped out by Mongul and Cyborg Superman. Grief-stricken, Hal attempted to use his Power Ring to recreate the city and its inhabitants. When his ring ran dry, he demanded more energy, but the Guardians of the Universe refused, reprimanding him for violating the Green Lantern Corps rules. Enraged, Hal headed for Oa with the intent of draining the Central Power Battery in order to have the power he needed to bring Coast City and his loved ones back.
The Guardians sent a squad of Lanterns to stop Hal, and he defeated them and took their Power Rings, stranding them in the void of space to perish. Desperate to stop him, the Guardians next resurrected the Corps' greatest enemy, Sinestro, but Hal snapped his neck. With no one left to stop him, Hal drained the Central Power Battery, leaving the rest of the Corps powerless and stranded in space or on whatever alien planet they were on at the time.
Hal's descent into megalomaniacal madness didn't end with the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps. Parallax - his new identity - returned to Earth and attempted to recruit an army to help him recreate the universe, coming into conflict with new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and many of his former friends and colleagues. He set in motion an entropy of the timestream that would wipe out the multiverse and allow him to recreate it to his design. He was ultimately stopped by Earth's heroes but still managed to survive.
When a Sun-Eater arrived to consume the sun in The Final Night, Hal used his Parallax powers to prevent the sun from going supernova, sacrificing himself. After time spent as the Spectre, Hal was restored to life as a Green Lantern and a member of the Justice League. Despite his efforts to atone for his past as Parallax, many Lanterns still hated and distrusted him, as did Batman.388Guilty conscience?
- Photo: Marvel Comics
During a deep-space mission with the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, Jean Grey was scanned by the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force and found to be a suitable host. On a subsequent space mission, Jean was transporting the X-Men back to Earth when their space shuttle was hit by a solar flare and collided into Jamaica Bay. As her end loomed before her, Jean sent out a psychic distress message that reached the Phoenix Force. It offered Jean her "heart's desire" in exchange for bonding with her. She agreed, and the Phoenix Force fulfilled her wish by saving the X-Men. She emerged from the waters of the bay reborn as Phoenix. (Later retconning would change the being who emerged as solely the Phoenix Force in Jean's form, but for years, it really was Jean who emerged.)
Initially, Jean continued to do good as the Phoenix. She rejoined the X-Men and even saved the entire universe by healing the M'Kraan Crystal. But members of the X-Men began to worry about her seemingly reckless use of her powers during a confrontation with Emma Frost, then the White Queen of the Hellfire Club. Jean fell victim to Mastermind, who unleashed her suppressed, darker tendencies, and she joined the Hellfire Club as their Black Queen. Jean shook off Mastermind's influence, but her inner darkness had been awakened, and she became Dark Phoenix. Seeking to enter the M'Kraan Crystal, she flew into space. To recharge herself, Dark Phoenix feasted on the star of the D'Bari system, causing it to go nova and wipe out 5 billion sentient creatures on one of its orbiting planets.
A galactic council was formed to discuss the threat Dark Phoenix posed to the universe, while the X-Men devised a plan to deprive her of her Phoenix powers - or terminate her, if need be. Professor Xavier was able to force the Phoenix Force deep into the recesses of Jean's mind and restore her to sanity. The X-Men found themselves teleported onto a Shi'ar starship, where Empress Lilandra declared that Jean must perish for the Phoenix's transgressions. After an extended engagement against alien forces, the Phoenix Force was awakened once again, and the X-Men turned to battle Jean. In a moment of lucidity, Jean realized she was unable to control the Phoenix Force and would go on destroying and consuming unless she was stopped. She turned a Kree cannon on herself, ending her own life so that her friends - and the universe - would be spared from the power of the Phoenix.4212Guilty conscience?
- Photo: Marvel Comics
After creating an alternate reality in which she had a family with Vision and mutants ruled the world, Scarlet Witch attempted to eradicate the mutant gene. Casting a final spell, she uttered to her father Magneto, "Daddy... No more mutants." Her Chaos Magic spread out throughout the world, depowering 99% of all living mutants. In total, 986,618 mutants were depowered and/or finished off by the event, which came to be known as the Decimation. Many expired immediately when their powers disappeared, as they had been using them to fly or breathe underwater. Others were hunted down and slain, and some even took their own lives when their "gifts" were taken from them.
The official total of remaining mutants was often cited to be 198, but as many as 300 were eventually discovered, and as many as a thousand more retained their powers but kept them hidden. It was believed that no new mutants would be born and, for a time, that was true. Wanda herself disappeared and was seemingly deceased, only to be discovered living in a small village near Wundagore Mountain with no memory of her life as the Scarlet Witch. Many others attempted to find her, but most were happy that she was gone and wanted her to stay gone. When discovered by the Avengers living in Latveria with Viktor von Doom, Wolverine tried to eliminate Wanda rather than risk her using her Chaos Magic again.
After recovering her memories, Captain America offered her a spot on the Avengers, which she declined. The X-Men, on the other hand, treated her like a pariah. Nevertheless, she continued to use her powers for good whenever possible, even attempting to eradicate the threat of the Phoenix Force once and for all by uttering, "No more Phoenix." Still, Wanda was wary of the chaotic nature of her abilities and refused to engage in several conflicts, such as the Civil War, for fear she would lose control again. Wanda continued to be haunted by her genocidal past and attempted to make up for the Decimation by resurrecting the mutant population of Genosha wiped out by Cassandra Nova. Her spell only partially worked, bringing the deceased mutants back as mutant zombies instead.4217Guilty conscience?