Villains Going Hero

Sabretooth from Marvel Comics

Sabretooth from Marvel Comics

It’s rather common for a villain to go hero during a series.  Sabretooth has been a member of the X-Men and X-Factor.  He even teamed up with Wolverine at the end of the Origins: Wolverine movie.  Let’s not forget Darth Vader killed Palpatine, Spike joined forces with Buffy, and Doctor Octopus sacrificed himself to save NYC.  That’s just what I casually saw on my DVD stand.  Makes one wonder how many villains stay evil for the duration of a series.

Now, this is typically done for a few reasons:

  1. Shock Value!  This villain is the not the true villain, so now he is betrayed by the true villain and wants revenge.  You thought he was the big baddie this whole time, but he was the lackey and now he’s been cast aside.  Revel in how he kinda, sorta causes conflict within the group of heroes.  Yeah, I’m not that big a fan of this one because most times the villain is only a hero to get revenge.
  2. Forced by magic or technology to work with the good guys.  A villain like this tends to be a henchman who never hit the level of big villain.  Now, Spike and Sabretooth had the microchip in head thing, so it does happen to big baddies.  Yet, we know how this always ends.  A change of heart when the chip is destroyed or they turn on the heroes to return to evil ways.
  3. Villain was being mind-controlled or manipulated the whole time.  A kidnapped family member falls into this one.  I like these only because they go for redemption after they’re free and I love redemption characters.  Not revenge, but the act of attempting to make up for horrible mistakes.  Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 is a good example even though it was brief.
  4. Change of heart can happen too if they’re shown that they’re doing something against their own moral code.  A villain who thinks he or she is helping humanity can change sides when they see that they’re causing harm.  Not sure I can think of an example for this one.
  5. Villain is still a villain and just playing the heroes for fools.  I don’t think I have to say any more about this.

I personally don’t mind it when a villain turns good as long as it’s done well.  There should be a reason and they should have challenges after the turn.  A sudden ‘I want to be a good guy’ and ‘I am forced to be a good guy’ don’t appeal to me.  I like it when it’s part of a character growth.  Again, Darth Vader is a great example of what I look for.  He was evil and then he was forced to make a choice that is typically reserved for heroes.  That’s the kind of character development I like to see.

What do you think of villains turning into heroes?  Any personal favorites?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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20 Responses to Villains Going Hero

  1. Arphaxad says:

    It’s easy to stick to the world of comics on this one. Magneto and Venom both worked as heroes at different points. What about Khan in the new Star Trek movie, I thought that was well done.

    I think I am with you as far as I don’t mind villains working as a hero, it just needs to be done well and with a purpose.


    • Magneto seems to switch sides every few years. Poor guy is always doing it after getting mind-wiped too. It’s hard to think of many villains that switch sides in novels though. I’m drawing a blank on it right now.

      That purpose is always the sticking point. A friend of mine in college write a story where the villain switched sides halfway through. No reason given beyond the author not wanting to kill him off.


  2. tjtherien says:

    my favorite would have to be Gollum… he was the one that destroyed the ring in the end… at present in my NaNo story I just finished working on a side plot that has the Drow master of spies beginning to question his allegiances after abducting an Elven princess…


    • I was going to mention Gollum, but I’m never sure on him. While he destroyed the ring in the end, he wasn’t acting as a hero. He tried to get it for himself and was so blinded by obsession that he failed to realize his own peril. Maybe an unintentional hero?


      • tjtherien says:

        Gollum’s intentions may have been questionable but he did serve as the sword that slayed Sauron and Gollum did have moments of redemption as he struggled with the oppressive control the ring had upon him… It was Gollum not Sam that saved Frodo in the swamps… which was another of his heroic actions… even if he did try to have Frodo killed by a big ass spider I would still maintain Gollum in his own way was one of the heroes of the story.


      • In that view, I would agree. He slips back and forth throughout the story. I’m trying to remember if he was that conflicted in the books. Think he would count as an anti-hero?


  3. MishaBurnett says:

    There’s also the bit where the heroes are wrong about who the villain is–a lot of mysteries take that path. Usually it’s because the real villain has been working behind the scenes to frame someone.

    Personally, I tend to write characters who don’t really fit on the hero/villain axis well, everyone does good and bad by turns.


    • Those are always fun to read. The video game series ‘Final Fantasy’ does that a lot. The initial villain tends to fade away by the middle of the game after the true villain appears. The first one either dies or runs away. I can’t think of any of them joining the good guys though.


  4. I like the idea of villains turned hero. It has been done many times, but if it is done right it works. You can find this even in television today. The show The Blacklist comes immediately to mind. The main character is a psychopath, but for reasons he has yet to reveal, he helps the good guys specifically Liz Keen who he has a very personal interest in. He is not perfect by any means and even carries on criminal activities with impunity because of his assistance. This to me makes him a very compelling character. Nice post Charles, I enjoyed it very much.


  5. Jack Flacco says:

    Villains turning hero have always appealed to me. For instance, Gru from Despicable Me is the perfect example of bad gone good. Throughout the film we get his POV as the sinister genius behind wanting to take over the world. But then there are the kids that melt his heart. He’s helpless with them. I think it’s also a great way of manipulating the audience to believe one thing all the while something else happens. Yes, it is a ploy to introduce shock value, but, hey, it works!


    • Gru is one of my favorites. Another animated villains turned hero that worked out really well was Megamind. That movie doesn’t get enough mention.


      • Jerry B. says:

        Both of these examples, Gru and Megamind are very fitting for your piece. They were bad, they saw the moral delimia or someone changed their hearts, and they tried to change the perception from the outside world.

        What are your thoughts when “good guys” choose to go bad and foresake their morals?



      • That seems to be easier to do, but not as common. A lot of authors seem to do that with the immediate intention to bring the good guy back to the moral path. So, I enjoy it more when the good guy turns bad and stays bad. Especially since it seems so much easier to disrupt a moral code than an immoral one.


  6. I love it. It’s a very cool surprise. I often wonder how they became so evil, and so really enjoy it when they switch back. (But sometimes they return to their evil ways, or it was just a farce.)


  7. lackofharmony says:

    Villain redemption is something I tend to enjoy, but I also like a villain that does a good thing if only because it will further their own needs. “I’m going to join you, because this will help me achieve my goals, but this does not mean we’re friends.” Sometimes it allows the hero to sympathize with why the villain is a villain or it allows the villain to try to gain the hero’s trust in order to use it against them later.

    I hate to use DS9 again, bit since I’ve been so deep into it, it’s all I’ve got right now. I absolutely love and hate Gul Dukat. He is so slimy, but you can’t help loving him. He gains the viewer’s trust when he does good things and then just stabs you in the back before you ever see it. I guess I just like to be thrown off guard by the villain. I don’t want to see their motives coming until you’re forced to actually address them for the plot.


    • The ‘enemy of my enemy’ or ‘partners for notorious reasons’ are fun to read and watch. They aren’t always done well either. I’ve seen a few where it’s too obvious that a betrayal is going to happen. I think the whole trick here is to keep the reader guessing as to if the villain will stay good or turn again.


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