My 6 Favorite Villains Turned Heroes

I talk a lot on here about one of my favorite tropes in fiction: the Heel-to-Face Turn. Or, to drop the wrestling parlance, when a bad guy becomes a good guy. I just dig it for some reason. I like the idea that these villains, albeit bad people who do bad things, are still reasonable people who are capable of more than just playing their villainous role. When the chips are down, or when doing the right thing is on the line, these baddies turn out to be alright folk.

Heel Face List 01

The granddaddy of them all!

For counter example, I don’t particularly like the Joker. I know he’s probably the most popular super-villain in all of comics, and people adore this guy, but I just don’t really like him. I don’t like his straight crazy villainy. There’s little complexity to the character. He’s just crazy and he does crazy things; clever crazy things, sure, but still just crazy things. Count me out.

Give me a morally complex figure who can recognize the error of their ways or recognize the need to do the right thing in a given situation. Join me after the jump for my favorite Heel-to-Face Turns in all of fiction!


6. Illyria (and Spike)

Heel Face List 02

Blue highlights make the whole outfit

This may surprise people considering my level of geekery, but I have actually watched very little of the overall Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. I’ve only sever seen the first season of Buffy. I just didn’t watch the show when it was on the air and never got into it via DVD afterwards. Even more surprising, the very first bit of Buffyverse I ever experienced was the fifth and final season of Angel, the spin-off show — and I loved it! The fifth season of Angel is probably one of my favorite TV seasons of all time!

The reason I randomly started watching the fifth season of Angel was because it came on after Smallville, and because I saw commercials that Spike, a character from Buffy, was going to appear. I didn’t really know much about Spike, but for some reason, that was a good enough reason to me. And I watched the show and I really liked it and I thought Spike was pretty cool. He was an evil vampire turned good guy, but who still had a rough edge and a tragic backstory. He was pretty great.

Heel Face List 03

Remember when this hair was a thing?

But my favorite part of Angel season five was Illyria. About halfway through the season, in typical Joss Whedon horror, they went and killed popular, long-standing character Fred Burkle, played by Amy Acker. Fred was pretty awesome. She was nerdy and cute and just cool all around. And her death, and the efforts her friends went to save her, made for some of the very best that season had to offer.

Then, in a pretty gnarly twist, completely befitting of the Buffyverse, Fred’s body was used to house an ancient, long-dead god called Illyria. She was an Old One monster that wanted to control the world, and our heroes had to stop her. But then, in another great storytelling twist, it turned out that everything Illyria expected to find upon her resurrection was gone. Her armies and temples were long destroyed. She was now a god trapped in a semi-human form trapped in the middle of modern day Los Angeles. With nowhere else to go and no one in her life, Illyria sort of just hung around with Angel and his friends, and they tolerated her because they were probably the best option for keeping her from resuming her efforts to destroy the world.

Heel Face List 04

She’s been in comics!

And over the course of the rest of the season, Illyria sort of warmed to the group and was considered a member of Team Angel! It was neat! She fought in the final battle of the series and even survived beyond that to appear in all those tie-in, spin-off comics.

So consider me one of the only Buffyverse fans out there who likes Illyria more than Fred.

5. Porcupine

Defenders Team List 04

Take that, Sandman!

Porcupine is a recent convert, but his journey from villain-for-hire to hero and romantic lead in the pages of Dennis Hopeless’ Spider-Woman is one of my favorite recent comic stories. Roger Gocking was a nobody. He was the second person to be the Porcupine in Marvel Comics, and he didn’t even inherit the title from a predecessor. He bought the rights to the costume and the equipment from another villain, just because he wanted to be a costumed villain, too. Guy was a total loser.

And that’s how Spider-Woman found him at the start of her recent solo comic. She helped him settle a matter involving his ex-wife and their kid, and then Roger hung around to help her out fighting crime. Slowly but surely, Roger came over to the good side of things and helped Spider-Woman out around the house when she had her own kid. And then even more slowly but surely, and one fake death later, Spider-Woman realizes that she shares feelings for each other with Roger! They get together, stop the bad guys and the series is cancelled. Sigh.

Heel Face List 11

Where’s his Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance?

Still, I love street-level costumed super-villains, and I love Heel-to-Face turns, so seeing Porcupine become a hero and get such an awesome girlfriend is pretty much the story I would want to tell if I ever get to write professional comics.

4. Abner Jenkins and the Thunderbolts

Heel Face List 06

Who needs Iron Man?

Speaking of street-level villains turned heroes, the Thunderbolts are one of the best examples in all of comics! And Abner Jenkins, the Beetle, a villain I already liked, was leading the charge.

The Thunderbolts arrived at Marvel Comics at a time before the Internet was all up in comics’ grill, spoiling every possible story secret at every opportunity. At a time when the Avengers and Fantastic Four were off doing something else, Marvel began advertising their new superhero team, the Thunderbolts. They were going to be an entirely new team with new characters and that classic superhero feel. Then everybody picked up the first issue and discovered that the Thunderbolts were actually the Masters of Evil in disguise! A group of long-time villains were posing as good guys in order to commit even bigger crimes! It is one of the greatest twists in all of comics!

Heel Face List 07

We could be heroes!

But as the story went on, a lot of those villains realized that they liked being heroes. Abe Jenkins, the former Beetle, was the first to really understand what their new lives were like. While Melissa Gold, formerly Screaming Mimi, would really come into her own as a fun and interesting character. And soon the Thunderbolts were heroes for real. It’s been a blast following their hero careers over the years, even if I don’t read every Thunderbolts comic. They’re still a great use of the trope.

3. Knuckles the Echidna

Heel Face List 08

Echidnas don’t really look like that

Oh man, if you think adult, blogging Sean is a dork, you know nothing about middle school Sean and his obsession with Knuckles the Echidna from Sonic the Hedgehog. I wasn’t allowed video game consoles as a kid, but I was nonetheless obsessed with them. I don’t think I’d ever even played a Sonic the Hedgehog video game, but I wanted to play so badly that I was reading video game magazines and following along with news as best I could. I loved Tails, Sonic’s sidekick, and when I found out there was going to be a new character, based off an animal I already liked due to my youthful interest in Australia, I was all about finding out everything I could about Knuckles. To this day, he remains one of my favorite video game characters of all time, largely because of his transition from villain to hero.

Knuckles started off as a villain, even if he was a good guy. He was tricked by the evil Dr. Robotnik (Eggman can suck a lemon) into facing off against Sonic in the Sonic 3 game. So while Knuckles himself was never actually evil, he was introduced as an adversary and antagonist before joining Sonic’s side, so I say he counts for this list! It helps that he’s got a cool look and had pretty nifty in-game powers like gliding and climbing. That guy could do it all!

2. Mimic

Heel Face List 09

He was worthy of trading cards!

The Mimic is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters thanks to the comics my dad let me read when I was a kid. He had a pretty big collection, but most of them were bagged, boarded and put away for safe-keeping. But there were a couple random issues of random comics that were dog-eared, coverless and faded that he let me get my grubby little hands on. Some of them were X-Men comics about the Mimic and how he started off as a villain attacking the team, but later returned and joined the X-Men (even though he was still a jerk). Because of his cool orange costume, his neat powers and personality, and the fact that I could actually read about him, the Mimic became a quick favorite of mine. It helped that he then made his return to comics in the 90s, when I was just getting into them on my own. I can still vaguely remember being at a bookstore when my dad spotted a spinner rack of comics and pointed out that the Mimic was on the cover of an issue of X-Force.

Since then, Mimic has bounced back and forth from misguided bad guy to hero trying to make amends. He’s currently in the hero camp, so I’m quite pleased. But he’ll always have his origins as an arrogant jerkass. And, fun comic book trivia, did you know that out of all the dozens of new mutant characters over the years who ever joined the X-Men, Mimic was the first new member ever? That’s pretty neat!

1. Green Power Ranger

Heel Face List 10

The hero we need

Here he is, the granddaddy of them all! The Green Power Ranger was one of the coolest characters of my childhood, of all our childhoods. I already loved the Power Rangers when they introduced the badass evil Ranger, controlled by the villain Rita Repulsa. Tommy Oliver was all manner of cool and wicked, and he wrecked the Rangers like they’d never been wrecked before! I think this was one of my first real experiences with the dark mirror villain, and the idea of an extra, evil Ranger was just plain awe-inspiring.

Granted, Tommy wasn’t really evil, in the end. And he joined the Rangers pretty quickly once they broke Rita’s spell. But he was still a bad guy, and a great one at that. And in the show, they followed up a little with the idea that Tommy might still be tempted by evil. Fortunately, we also have the current comic book run by writer Kyle Higgins at BOOM! Studios, which is further exploring the pull of the Dark Side on Tommy.

Green Ranger Movie Helmet 01

The sequel we need!

And, hopefully, we’ll get a big movie sequel to this year’s Power Rangers flick, which remains one of my favorite movies of the Summer. I’m holding out hope that merchandise sales warrant a sequel because I want to see the Green Ranger in this movieverse.

Come on, universe! You didn’t give me that Warcraft sequel! Give me a Power Rangers movie sequel!


About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on August 2, 2017, in Comics, Lists of Six!, Television, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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