Comic book readers have witnessed Batman and the Joker team up - or Daredevil and the Kingpin fighting back-to-back - more than enough times to recognize the temporary villain-turned-hero trope when they see it. Usually, such superpowered shifts of heart are short-lived and plot-driven, but there is a sizable collection of villains who turned good and made it stick - so much so that still calling them supervillains is a misnomer.
Every superhero breaks bad at one point or another and, like clockwork, they eventually return to their altruistic ways. But evil-doers generally have a more compelling reason to cross over to the other side of the moral divide, and that makes it all the more possible for them to fully transition from villain to hero, as a select handful of classic antagonists have already done.
- Photo: Batman/DC Comics
Catwoman is an interesting case study in comic book criminality. While she’s always been a villain who can’t resist a good heist, Selina Kyle has only rarely delved into true supervillainy or acts of outright evil - which has allowed her to maintain an on-and-off romance with the Batman over the years without drastically offending his delicate sensibilities.
Even when she’s in the role of a Gotham City kingpin, Catwoman has always operated semi-altruistically, especially when it comes to protecting children and cats. Of late, however, she’s left even that behind, throwing herself fully into her relationship with Bruce Wayne and the heroic responsibilities that come with it. Though they never went through with their planned marriage, the Cat and the Bat are very much a permanent item, with her taking up residency in Wayne Manor and carrying Wayne’s child.
That means that she is now officially a member of the Bat-Family in more ways than one - though she still hasn’t given up burgling entirely.35835Hardly a villain?
- Photo: Thor/Marvel Comics
Few comic book characters have as complicated a backstory as Loki, god of mischief, and his personal tale has taken countless twists and turns over the decades. Lately, however, they all seem to be shifting him in one singular direction: altruism (or, at the very least, begrudging non-antagonism).
The current iteration of the character has perished and been reborn multiple times, all with the goal of escaping his mythological status quo and gaining the ability to write his own story. Since then, Loki has joined the Young Avengers, wielded Mjolnir, and manipulated Stephen Strange into becoming a better Sorcerer Supreme. He’s also taken up responsibility for the Infinity Stones and slain his biological father, Laufey, taking up the throne of Jotunheim and promising to lead the Frost Giants to a societal revolution.
In fact, every time it looks like Loki might be back to his evil ways, it turns out to be another “trick” he’s pulled to help save the world. Not bad for a supposed supervillain.32540Hardly a villain?
- Photo: Harley Quinn/DC Comics
Harleen Quinzel got her start in the cartoon world of Batman: The Animated Series before being ported over to DC Comics in the same role as the Joker’s sidekick and love interest. Over the years, she’s freed herself from Mr. J’s shadow to become her own distinct kind of antagonist - but, true to her origin, other forms of media keep pulling her in a different direction.
Even before she landed starring roles in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn was dipping her toes into protagonism via her time with the aforementioned Task Force X. Since her Hollywood debut, however, she’s gone full hero. Of late, Quinn has become loosely affiliated with the Justice League and even ingratiated herself with the Bat-Family, joining them to take down her ex in Joker War and even saving the life of the Dark Knight himself.29758Hardly a villain?
- Photo: X-Men/Marvel Comics
As a character, Magneto has always straddled the line between terrorist and freedom fighter - as many real-world figures do. Several decades of anti-mutant hysteria, however, have contributed to the Master of Magnetism’s supposedly extremist views starting to look more and more reasonable, to the point that he’s now practically indistinguishable from any other X-Men that the public might label a menace.
In co-founding the mutant nation of Krakoa with Charles Xavier, Magneto completed his redemptive arc. As one of the fledgling country’s primary leaders and its fiercest defender, Magneto still gets to fight for mutant rights and survival on a daily basis - but now he does it under the label of “national hero” instead of “evil supervillain.” The fact that he’s amended both his ways and the ways of his people with an edict of “kill no humans” only helps the perception.23838Hardly a villain?