Last week, Marvel Comics turned Steve Rogers bad. The first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 linked the star-spangled Avenger to the ruthless post-Nazi organization known as Hydra, and the Internet exploded in fury. Not least because the first issue also heavily implied that Steve's been a Hydra agent all along!
In reality, this is nothing new for comics. It's a standard superhero trope — the good guy turns bad. The only thing that differs is the mechanism, whether it be cosmic corruption, Red Kryptonite, or an Inversion. The real interest is what the superhero does while he's bad, and how the comic book puts matters aright. So without further ado, here are ten times superheroes turned bad.
Comic book fans won't find it surprising that we'll be looking at a lot of X-Men! For the Angel, his time as a member of X-Factor turned to tragedy. As part of a brutal battle known as the "Mutant Massacre," Angel was pinned to a wall by his wings, which were damaged beyond repair. Unable to live with the loss of such a core part of his identity, Angel attempted suicide, but was rescued by the deadly Apocalypse. New techno-organic wings were grafted onto his back, and his personality was transformed into that of Archangel, Apocalypse's Horseman of Death!
Ever since that time, Archangel's struggled with a sort of "dual personality." This culminated in another powerful arc, the "Dark Angel Saga," in which Archangel became the dominant personality and claimed himself as Apocalypse's heir. In a shocking twist, the arc ended with his lover Psylocke killing him. Although Archangel was reborn, his mind and body were cleansed by a Death Seed, and as a result he was left tabula rasa. The repercussions of that story are even now being explored over in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.
In the aftermath of "House of M," the vast majority of Marvel's mutants were left powerless (more on that later). Now was the time for Cyclops to stand tall, rally the remaining mutants, and lead the mutant race in a desperate bid for survival! Unfortunately, as time passed Cyclops's actions became increasingly questionable, and the X-Men schismed. Matters came to a head in the "Avengers V X-Men" event, where the Phoenix Force returned to Earth, and five X-Men — led by Cyclops — were empowered by it.
The main series ended with Cyclops absorbing the full power of the Phoenix, and succumbing to the darkness. His global rampage began with him killing Charles Xavier.
Although Brian Bendis wrote Cyclops on a path to redemption, post-"Secret Wars," he's become a villain once again. The details are unclear, but he seems to have led mutants in a failed war against the Inhumans, and is currently believed dead. It won't last.
3. Green Lantern
In 1994, tragedy struck Hal Jordan. The destruction of his hometown of Coast City sent Hal mad, and in "Emerald Twilight" he took the name "Parallax" and launched a brutal attack on the Green Lantern Corps. Fans were shaken to see one of their superheroes fall so far, and watched in horror as Hal even attempted to rewrite history during "Zero Hour." DC had essentially left one of their most famous characters beyond salvation.
It was only in 2004 that writer Geoff Johns came up with a solution. He revealed that the Parallax entity was a corrupting being that had possessed Hal, and the being had been manipulating Hal the whole time. It was a smart solution, with more than a few similarities to Marvel's absolution of Jean Grey for the "Dark Phoenix Saga" (more on that later).
4. Iron Man
Head back to the '90s, long before Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark a big name, and he was pretty much a second-stringer (of course, back then the Avengers didn't sell half as well as the X-Men, so that didn't help). Consequently, Marvel decided to turn Tony Stark bad! In "The Crossing," it was revealed that Tony had been working with the time-travelling villain Kang the Conqueror for quite some time. The arc didn't really make a lot of sense, and the resolution was even wackier; the Avengers travelled back in time to pick up a teenage Tony Stark, who helped them against his future self. Even weirder, Teen Tony stuck around, at least until the events of "Onslaught."
When the Avengers were rebooted in the "Heroes Return" arc, Tony Stark was restored to adult form, and the whole betrayal — not to mention Teen Tony — was forgotten. It's never been touched on again.
5. Jean Grey
There are few plots as iconic as the "Dark Phoenix Saga," the inspiration of one X-Men film (X-Men: The Last Stand), and most likely inspiration for the next few X-Men movies! Writer Chris Claremont had already given X-Men stalwart Jean Grey a major power-boost, transforming her into the cosmic Phoenix, but in the "Dark Phoenix Saga" he pushed her to the limits. Manipulated by a villain called Mastermind, Jean succumbed to her own inner darkness, and became Dark Phoenix. Giving a sense of the scale of it all, she consumed an entire star system, committing genocide in the process. Editor Jim Shooter felt there was no redemption from that, and ultimately she wound up dead. It's one of the most famous arcs in comic book history, and is a rare example of creative conflict leading to the best possible plot.
Ultimately, Kurt Busiek was the one who came up with a way of bringing Jean back. It turned out that the Phoenix Force was a separate entity, and had replaced Jean. The act of genocide was committed by a cosmic force running unchecked, not by Jean at all. What's more, she'd never died in the first place: She was in suspended animation. The retcon was hardly the original intent, but somehow it manages to coexist with the original deeply emotional arc. Most poignant is Cyclops's grief, which stands out as one of the defining moments in his history.
6. Professor X
In the '90s, the X-Men books constantly talked about a "traitor," a member of the team who — according to the time-traveller Bishop — would kill them all. When the plot was first teased, Marvel's own writers didn't quite know who the traitor would turn out to be; they heavily hinted at Gambit.
Ultimately, though, the "traitor" turned out to be none other than Charles Xavier! During the "Fatal Attractions" arc, Xavier wiped Magneto's mind. It turned out that a shard of Magneto had taken root in Xavier, and a whole new mind had been born — a twisted amalgamation of everything dark about Xavier and Magneto both. This psychic entity began to take over Xavier and make its mark on the Marvel Universe, dubbing itself "Onslaught."
It all ended (as it had to), with a massive confrontation involving almost all of Marvel's top-tier superheroes going head-to-head against the world's most dangerous psychic entity. Xavier and Onslaught were successfully separated, and the psychic being was finally defeated — by the sacrifice of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. No surprise, they came back. So did Onslaught, of course.
7. Reed Richards
Over in the mainstream Marvel Universe, Reed Richards has dabbled with darkness many times. His genius is only an inch away from arrogance, and he's constantly done unheroic things to get his own way (usually coming close to sacrificing his family ties in the process, only to have said family redeem him).
Over in the Ultimate Universe, though, things took a different direction. The Ultimate version of Reed became the Ultimate Universe's greatest enemy, responsible for a devastating swathe of death and destruction. Ironically, he became the last and greatest protector of his dimension, as realities collided in the buildup to "Secret Wars." He's successfully made the transition over to the mainstream Marvel Universe, and is now the main villain of Al Ewing's New Avengers.
8. Scarlet Witch
One of the most important — and most powerful — Avengers, the Scarlet Witch grew ever-more-powerful. Until, that is, Brian Bendis took over the franchise. Wanda was his tool to relaunch the books, and in "Avengers Disassembled" we learned that her grasp on reality had broken. Although she was restrained, she was also too powerful to trust, and the Avengers and the X-Men combined tried to work out what to do with her. They were veering towards considering her too dangerous to live (!), when her brother Quicksilver rescued her, and Wanda's powers created the alternate reality "House of M." In the wake of all this, Wanda launched one last, powerful curse — "No more mutants" — that depowered the X-gene and left the mutant race on the brink of extinction.
It was almost a decade before Marvel could find a way to redeem the character, and again the mechanism was to find another entity to hold responsible for Wanda's misdeeds. In this case, Avengers: Children's Crusade revealed that Wanda had been possessed by a demonic being that had enhanced her powers. She returned to active duty, and now has her own ongoing title.
Ironically enough, given both Superman and Supergirl are iconic symbols of goodness, they're both really easy to turn bad. You just need to expose them to Red Kryptonite. This was the plot of Superman III and the excellent Supergirl episode "Falling" (which included some entertaining homages to Superman III).
When Mark Millar took over Wolverine, the first thing he did was kill the title character. Confronted by the Gorgon, a mutant whose presence cancelled other mutants' powers, Wolverine was killed. He was then resurrected as an agent of the Hand, and so began a fun story in which the Hand turned him against the world's superheroes. It culminated (as it always had to) with Wolverine breaking into the X-Mansion, but he was finally beaten by Captain America.
Freed from the Hand's control by S.H.I.E.L.D., Wolverine's next course of action would surprise no one. He launched a brutal campaign of revenge against the Hand, no doubt making them wish they'd never pulled this stunt in the first place!
So there you have it — ten stories in which superheroes turned bad! In almost all cases, the characters have ultimately been redeemed. When the writers didn't have an exit strategy in mind, they eventually found one (often involving cosmic entities or possession). That said, many of these are iconic and unforgettable stories, and among the best in comic book history!