Look, not all bad guys stay bad. Some get bored or disenchanted with the life that surrounds them, and decide to come to terms with maybe adding a dash of heroism to their routine. Some stay good, some return to crime, but all change their ways from head bashing and bank robbing to fighting crime and saving the world.
10. Max Damage
(Incorruptible, Irredeemable, Boom Studios)
What happens when the world's greatest hero loses his mind and goes on a murderous, world-conquering rampage? But more importantly, what do his enemies do now?
That was the case made to Max Damage after his enemy, the all-powerful Plutonian, turned evil. And Max decided to use his powers and his mind toward the goal of defeating his former archnemesis and saving the world. One of the best recent comics, Irredeemable launched first, and told the story of Plutonian's fall. But it was the sister book, Incorruptible, that introduced us to Max Damage.
Max witnessed the annihilation of Sky City and was horrified by the carnage. He returned to his base and enlisted his former partner in crime, Jailbait, to accompany him on his journey. Jailbait, who WAS his underage girlfriend, until he had his change of heart and decided not to date her until she became legal.
I mean, he did date a legally underage girl for a long time, so feel free to TOTALLY judge him for that. It is still super friggin' creepy.
9. Lex Luthor
(Superman, DC Comics)
It's always the most evil villains who make the best reformed heroes. And Lex Luthor is no exception.
During the events of Forever Evil, the Crime Syndicate took over the world, trapping all three Justice Leagues deep in the Firestorm matrix and banding together all of the supervillains into a new Secret Society. But Lex Luthor wanted no part of that. So he banded together a few holdout villains – including Black Manta, Captain Cold, Black Adam, and Catwoman – and went toe-to-toe with the Syndicate.
After he won, Luthor was pardoned by the government and got himself a spot on the Justice League of America. The League initially mistrusted him, but he slowly earned their respect. After leaving the League, he witnessed Superman’s death, and adopted that identity in his absence. Now there's a new Superman in town, but Luthor's still wearing the sigil emblazoned on his chest.
Still a hero, miraculously.
8. Black Adam
(Shazam!, JSA, DC Comics)
Even scary murderous nation rulers can be reformed good guys, SOMETIMES.
Black Adam swore he’d renounced his evil ways after discovering he had a brain tumor. He joined the Justice Society of America, and served with the team for quite some time.
Unfortunately, he went astray when he disapproved of the way the team handled known terrorist Kobra. He formed his own coalition, and headed out to Khandaq to start some s**t. Years later, Adam tried to be a hero again and actually rule Khandaq, but that also ended with him ripping people in half.
What I'm saying is, Black Adam is bad at being a hero. But he still tried, and that earns him a place on this list.
7. Zack Overkill
(Incognito, Incognito: Bad Influences, Icon Comics)
Zack and Xander Overkill were dangerous and murderous mercenaries with enhanced strength and durability.
After their boss, The Black Death, was sent up the river to prison, they were caught in a trap, and Xander was killed. Zack was caught and turned state’s, becoming a valuable asset whose testimony put Black Death away for good. Zack was stuffed into witness protection and given drugs to suppress his powers.
But after ingesting a combination of governmental and recreational drugs, Zack figured out how to use his powers again to have fun. Bored and missing the violence, he also became a vigilante for funsies, stopping crime instead of committing it. When it was revealed that Zack and Xander were both clones and that a third, more vicious clone was on the loose, Zack teamed up with Xander's ex-girlfriend Zoe Zeppelin to stop it.
In the end, Zack resolved to kill his old boss Black Death and joined up with the SOS. Aaaaaaaand then Incognito: Bad Influences happened, and all of that went to hell, but that was a different story.
6. The Prowler
(Spider-Man, Marvel Comics)
Hobie Brown started off as a simple inventor but, inspired by Stilt-Man's suit, he decided to become a costumed robber.
And by some honest-to-God miracle, despite being inspired by one of the dumbest supervillains in history, he came out with a pretty cool costume and some neat gadgets.
After fighting with Spider-Man, Hobie decided he'd rather use his talents for good than for ill and reformed. He even pretended to be Spider-Man a couple of times to help protect Peter Parker's secret identity. He bounced around a ton and secured gainful employment with Silver Sable's crew, the Wild Pack, but kept getting held up by different people who stole his suit and committed crimes.
He was arrested for violating the Superhuman Registration Act, but cleared his name by working for the newly successful Parker Industries. Until he got burned and then cloned and then quit, and now he's doing God knows what.
5. Madder Red
(Bedlam, Image Comics)
Who says the scariest, most murderous, most vicious serial killer the city of Bedlam ever saw couldn't turn over a new leaf?
At the height of his murderous career, supervillain Madder Red disappeared. Although many were certain he died, some weren't so much. And they were correct, since it turned out that Madder was kidnapped and operated on to force him into wanting to help people.
Under the name Fillmore Press, Madder returned to Bedlam and became a valuable asset to the police, helping them figure out the motivations of other notorious killers. But Madder was truly evil. Like, skull sock puppets evil. PAPAL skull sock puppets evil. Reallllllllly evil. Could that really be undone? Or was it just biding its time until it resurfaced?
4. The Beetle
(Spider-Man, Thunderbolts, Marvel Comics)
There aren't that many great Human Torch villains. Did I say "many"? I meant "Any". There are none. Except for The Beetle.
Abner Jenkins was an aircraft mechanic who decided he'd rather be a criminal, so he built a flying suit and started calling himself The Beetle. He faced off with The Human Torch and the Thing a couple of times, as well as Spider-Man a bunch, and was even recruited by the Collector to fight The Avengers. This was a terrible idea for all parties involved. Like, really, Collector? You're gonna get THE BEETLE to help you? Was Frog-Man busy?
Eventually Beetle joined the Masters of Evil, where Zemo came up with a plan to reinvent themselves as The Thunderbolts, a new team of superheroes. Fortunately, Abner kinda forgot he was only pretending to be a hero, and just straight up became one.
And as Mach I (and later Mach 2, 3, 4…I think he's up to Mach X now, it's kinda crazy), he soared higher and flew farther than ever before.
3. The Riddler
(Batman, DC Comics)
Paul Dini is easily one of my favorite Batman writers of all time. And The Riddler is my favorite Batman Villain of all time. So, of course, when you put the two together you’ll get something I'll love with all my heart.
The Riddler always wanted one thing: to prove he was smarter than Batman. For years, this meant trying to come up with the perfect crime, one Bats could never solve. But eventually, Riddler realized there was another way to go about it: solve the crimes first. And, as a private detective, that was exactly what he aimed to do.
The best example of this was the one-shot issue in which Batman, Riddler, and Detective Chimp all hung out in an internet chatroom for amateur sleuths, trying to solve a vicious series of murders. They eventually solved the crimes, but Riddler was almost killed in the process.
Because he may have reformed, but he was still a total jerkhole.
(X-Men, Marvel Comics)
Oh, Magneto. Magneto, Magneto, Magneto. Such a character to have to discuss. One week he was helping the X-Men save the world, the next he was a literal genocidal fascist who wanted all humans dead. He struck a delicate balance.
He started as a dyed-in-the-wool supervillain, but he reformed after Secret Wars II, joined the X-Men, and went to work educating the New Mutants. After years of service with the X-Men, he decided that all he wanted was a little place to call his own and a sanctuary for mutants everywhere.
Since this was a much nobler goal than "genocide all the people who can't shoot lasers from their face or whatever", people helped him. Oh, he also went back to being a terrorist. That's true, as well. He eventually conquered the island of Genosha, turning it into a mutant haven ruled by him.
Buuuuuut Mega Sentinels wiped all of that off the face of the earth. And then Magneto died, came back, lost his powers, joined the X-Men, got his powers back, died again, and became a world renowned murderer again. See what I meant about him flip-flopping all the time?
(Iron Man, Avengers, Thunderbolts, Marvel Comics)
There's no better Number One for this list than the guy who turned into such a great hero that no one even remembers he started off as a villain.
Clint Barton was born into an abusive family, but he ran away with his brother Barney to join the circus. There, Clint learned archery and became the best of the best, able to hit anything without fail. Clint was inspired by Iron Man, and decided to be a hero. However, he soon ran into the Black Widow, who convinced him to adopt more villainous means. The duo faced off with Iron Man many times, but eventually Barton got sick of supervillainy and signed up with the Avengers.
He served with them for many years, even helping to kickstart their West Coast branch, but that wasn't the team that would define him. No, that would be the Thunderbolts. After the original Thunderbolts were unmasked as secretly being the Masters of Evil, much of the team wanted to reform for good. And who was brought in to help them with that? Hawkeye, the reformed villain reforming villains. It was brilliant, and it would go on to define Clint's personality for good thereafter.
And there you go, ten bad guys who went good. Maybe next time I'll look at the opposite side of the coin? Or something completely different. Who can say?