For someone claiming not to be a superhero, you're pretty good at it. Want a job?Once upon a time that guy lived on the wrong side of the law. Whether a thief, a highway robber, or other outlaw, he had a Heel–Face Turn and through various circumstances, decided to reform his ways. Or perhaps he was a Justified Criminal and didn't even need to have a Heel–Face Turn, only a chance to be accepted. Now he puts his experience as a former criminal to the service of the law. Compare Recruiting the Criminal, when the character works for the law while still remaining a criminal, and Boxed Crook, when he's coerced or blackmailed into cooperating with the law. It may even become The Atoner in some cases. Compare and contrast Retired Outlaw, who may never have reformed and may have simply stopped. Falsely Reformed Villain is a subversion, when they pretend to reform but are just using it as a ruse to commit more crimes.
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Anime & Manga
- Though they weren't particularly hardened criminals, Fate and every member of the Wolkenritter (Except for Rein, who didn't exist at that point in the storyline) of the Lyrical Nanoha series started out as villains who were arrested by the TSAB, sentenced to work for the TSAB for a period of time as their punishment, and then decided to continue working for them full time once their sentence ended.
- In fact, it emerged in StrikerS that Hayate still sometimes gets flak from being at the heart of the incident, despite it having taken place a decade in the past. She works as hard as she does in a bid to shake off the stigma.
- Kotobuki, of Tsubasa Those With Wings, at the very beginning.
- Kurama and Hiei of YuYu Hakusho started out as criminals before they each had a Heel–Face Turn.
- Levi from Attack on Titan is rumored to be a famous criminal until Erwin recruited him into the military. Supplemental materials confirmed this. He even intended to kill Erwin at one point!
- A side chapter of Fairy Tail reveals Bisca Moulin to be one of these.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, Anteiku employs several reformed criminals that now manage the 20th Ward as peacekeepers and a pseudo-food bank. Among the staff are several delinquents, a hit man, and two gang leaders that all eventually made a Heel–Face Turn and work to atone for their pasts. However, eventually CCG learns about the cafe and organizes an Extermination operation to deal with the high-level targets working there.
- In Pokémon, the Squirtle Squad started out as a gang of delinquent Pokémon that would perennially wreak havoc in a nearby town. However, when the Squirtle Squad help put out a forest fire, they are hailed as heroes and are officially ordained as the town's firefighters, with the local Officer Jenny supervising them. (The Squad's leader, however, would run off and join Ash's team.)
- There are many in the Marvel universe:
- Scott Lang, who becomes the second Ant-Man, is a former burglar.
- The Thunderbolts started out as a group of villains only pretending to be superheroes... until they decided they liked being heroes more and became actual heroes.
- Hawkeye started out as a circus performer-turned-professional criminal.
- Black Widow first appeared as a KGB spy and Ironman villain before she defected to the USA and The Avengers.
- The Vision was originally created by Ultron to destroy the Avengers but came to admire them instead and turned on his "father".
- Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch began their careers as (reluctant) henchmen for Magneto.
- Magneto himself on several occasions.
- Magneto's long-time lackey Toad.
- Rogue of the X-Men used to be on of the teams enemies due to her being raised by Mystique.
- Emma Frost was once the leader of the Hellfire Society before joining the X-men.
- Loki has had a fresh start and is trying to turn his life around and reform
- Kaine, one of Spider-Man's clones, was originally a Flawed Prototype with a terminal fault in his genes who murdered many of the other clones. Since being cured and the death of fellow clone Ben Reilly, he has reformed and taken on Reilly's legacy as Scarlet Spider.
- Namor the Submariner was originally a villain who hated the surface world and twice tried to invade New York. He then teamed up with the Invaders to help stop the Nazis out of mutual hatred and has been constantly switching between Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain ever since.
- The Sandman (no, not that one) tried to be a good guy for awhile. It didn't take.
- Most of The Flash's villains, the Rogues, have reformed over the course of years; only Trickster (before his death) and Pied Piper have remained.
- Steeljack from Astro City.
- The Garth Ennis mini-series Pride and Joy is about a reformed criminal trying to leave his past behind him, even though he got away with murder.
- Max Damage from Incorruptible.
- Dwight McCarthy in Sin City makes frequent reference his wild and dangerous past, but we never get the exact details. All we know is that he could drink and fight with the best of them (According to other characters) and he refers to his urge to resume that life as "the monster." When he is introduced to the series he is making a legal (Although unpleasant) living as photographer for a private detective (Divorces, mostly) and lives a life of strict abstinence, not even smoking, so as not to give "the monster" any chance of coming back.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe: The Beagle Boys actually tried to genuinely reform their criminal ways at least once, when they were offered parole in exchange for getting into an honest-job program. The problems only start when one of them begins an Office Romance, except the girl turns out to be a crazy All Girls Want Bad Boys-type who pressures him to help her commit a bank robbery to get out of her boring life.
Films — Live-Action
- Gan Xing from Red Cliff (based on Gan Ning from Romance of the Three Kingdoms) started out as a pirate, but he and his men ended up joining the regular army.
- In the Spaghetti Western They Call Me Trinity Trinity's brother, who is/was a criminial, is working as the sheriff of the town.
- Carlito of Carlito's Way.
- Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop, who regularly notes that he "wasn't always a cop".
- Robert Ford from I Shot Jesse James. He betrays Jesse James in order to be pardoned and marry his girlfriend.
- The sidekicks of Judge Dee tend to be reformed highway robbers and con men. Knowing the criminal underworld from the inside makes them quite useful to the magistrate's investigations.
- In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kheim, the admiral of the Ming fleet that discovers America, is a former pirate.
- In the Discworld novels Going Postal and Making Money, the main character is con-artist Moist Lipwig. In Going Postal, he still harbors dreams of escape, but by the end he has become this trope. He still wants to hide from his past since his swindling past made him more than a few enemies.
- In one or two of the Monsieur Lecoq books by Emile Gaboriau, the great detective Lecoq (to some degree based on Vidocq) is said to be an ex-criminal.
- In the 1632 universe, the Grantville Gazette short stories written about the downtime NCIS (the stories are explicit homages to the TV show of the same name) have more than a few reformed criminals in the service, including the main male protagonist.
- In the Warrior Cats series, Blackstar. After doing things against the warrior code (stealing kits from another Clan, killing other cats needlessly), he lived as a rogue for a while, but eventually rejoined the Clan, became its leader, and hasn't done anything like that since.
- In the Resident Evil novelizations by S.D. Perry, Jill Valentine is said to have been a thief, following on the footsteps of her father Dick Valentine, but eventually gave up and joined the S.T.A.R.S. police unit (which incidentally explains her mastery of lockpicks).
- Molly, of the Dresden Files, is this. Breaking the Laws of Magic is a biiiig no-no.
- Harry himself is considered this by most of the Wizard population. (He was innocent; DuMorne shot first.) Now he's the regional commander of the Wardens. Go figure.
- In both those examples, being taken under the wing of a more senior wizard can reduce the sentence from immediate execution to one-chance probation before the same. For both the accused and the wizard who takes them in. The thought is, if they can invoke this trope, both of them are eventually free of the probation, but if not, Black Magic (which actually does corrupt) must be stifled.
- Sanya used to be the host of a Denarian. Now he's a Knight of the Cross. In fact, it's the job of the Knights to invoke this for the Denarians' hosts.
- Lash, the shadow of a Fallen Angel when she performs a Heroic Sacrifice and Redemption Equals Death. Doubles as a Tear Jerker.
- Bob, actually. But this has more to do with who his owner is at any time. When Harry picked him up, he got modeled after Harry's teenage self. Before? Warden Du Morne. Before him? Freaking arch-necromancer Heinrich Kemmler.
- Thomas has shades of this, by trying to not hurt humans with his Demon.
- Harry himself is considered this by most of the Wizard population. (He was innocent; DuMorne shot first.) Now he's the regional commander of the Wardens. Go figure.
- In Codex Alera, Fade is this. Actually, he's Araris Valerian guarding Tavi and Isana. Tavi later causes this in Fidelias Ex Cursori.
- In the Sword of Truth, Richard causes this in just about everyone he meets. The Sisters of the Light, Nicci, the Mord-Sith, D'Hara in general, the people of Altur'Rang, the list goes on and on. The D'Haran commanders lampshade this.
- Denna, oh so much.
- John Wesley Weasel from The Book of the Dun Cow was once a selfish rogue and egg thief, but a beating from Chautecleer induced a Heel–Face Turn, and he spends the entirety of the book as a loyal ally to the good guys.
- In Father Brown stories Flambeau from the greatest thief eventually turns into a detective, though not for very long, because soon he settles down as a family man.
- In The Witchlands, it eventually turns out that Cam/Camilla used to be a gang member before joining the Navy to escape a life of crime.
- In Worm, the villain Madcap is allowed to join the Protectorate as hero Assault. Judging from the context, this might even be a standard deal in the universe.
- Later, Skitter attempts a similar tactic, becoming the hero Weaver.
- Kaz, about a petty thief who became a lawyer while serving a prison sentence.
- In White Collar, Neal Caffrey, the show's main character, was formerly a con artist before he became a consultant for the FBI in order to keep out of prison. However, if presented with a big enough temptation, he will slip back into his criminal ways because he loves the trill too much. It becomes a constant question on the show if Neal can ever fully reform or if he and his supporters are only fooling themselves.
- In Power Rangers S.P.D., Jack and Z were Just Like Robin Hood thieves until the Space Police caught them, and the commander offered them the chance to serve as policemen (and Power Rangers) as an alternate to a prison term. Z takes to it immediately; Jack is more reserved but stays legit even after leaving the force.
- Neelix of Star Trek: Voyager used to be a smuggler. This gets him into some trouble when he meets his old partner, but he's able to fix it by setting a trap for the criminals they got entangled with.
- On Barney Miller Harris says that he used to be a thief when he was a kid, but he stole books.
- On The Unusuals Cole was a hardened criminal in Texas, but he found religion and moved to New York to become a cop.
- The Mentalist: Cho was in a street gang in his youth, which gives him insight into criminals' pshychology now that he's a cop.
- Kate Austen on Lost. She was a fugitive being taken back to the U.S. by a Marshal, but became a good guy immediately after the crash.
- Cade Foster in First Wave used to be a thief. After meeting his wife, he went legit and started working as a security consultant, using his criminal knowledge to help companies plug holes in their security. In one episode, he runs into his old crew, and his former partner/girlfriend resents him leaving them for "that slut".
- At the end of the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, former Gentleman Thief Ron DeLite, aka Mask DeMasque says that he's starting a security company to help businesses defend themselves against thieves. And also that he's going to sell the security plans to crooks. At least he's not stealing anymore?
- Before his appearance in the StarCraft games, James Raynor used to be a bandit, until he nearly got caught (his partner took all the blame, and was sentenced to prison), then he settled down and became a sheriff of Mar Sara colony.
- After the gang left him in Red Dead Redemption, John Marston gives up the criminal life and chooses to spend time with his family and work on his ranch. Unfortunately, Edgar Ross doesn't see it that way.
- Vi, from League of Legends, was a life-long criminal in Piltover who went from stealing to survive, to being a member of a guild of thieves, to beating up thieves to steal their loot. Caitlyn, Piltover's sheriff, recruited Vi into the police force as a means to make up for her crimes, giving her the chance to continue pounding ne'er-do-wells without fear of reprisal.
- Dino Attack RPG has this role filled by Silencia Venemosa, previously a ruthless bounty hunter before she began trying to redeem herself and became involved with the Dino Attack Team. Montoya could also be considered an example due to his background as a small-time criminal, though he never actually joined the team.
- Ultra Fast Pony turns into a Cop Show parody for the episode "Stay Tuned". Pinkie Pie fills the role of "a former criminal trying to make up for what I did in the past by joining the force."
- No Boys Dorm has this in the main character Lara No, who moved away from Toronto to escape her criminal past but returns when her apartment burns down, and her best friend Alba Armada. Additionally, Cyrus, a member of the Shadow Order, seems to be reconsidering his job choice.
- Kevin Levin, once a troubled (but still deadly) kid turned arms dealer, is convinced as a teenager to fight for good after a Plumber (meaning a member of the secret alien police) saves his life at the cost of his own.
- This is the main plot in Despicable Me 2.
- Tohru used to be a part of the Dark Hand before his Heel–Face Turn during the first season finale of Jackie Chan Adventures.
- In Megamind, Megamind becomes a superhero at the end of the movie.
- Rubberband Man in Static Shock.
- Parodied in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Hall Monitor", where Hall Monitor SpongeBob tries arresting Patrick for the sole offense of littering ice cream. When he hears of a maniac on the loose in Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob decides he needs the help of a criminal, and convinces Patrick to use his "criminal knowledge" to aid the law... by getting more ice cream.
- Terry in Batman Beyond was, by his own admission, a real bad kid and even ended up in Juvie for a while before he became the new Batman. The tricks he didn't get from Bruce he picked up in the course of his bad behaviour. Being Batman, as he explains in Return Of The Joker is his way of trying to undo the damage he did.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Princess Celestia stresses she wants Discord reformed of his own free will so he will become this and be willing to use his God-Tier powers for good rather than just being a dick. Other than one major snag, it ultimately works.
- Starlight Glimmer in season five also follows this route.
- Suyin Beifong of The Legend of Korra is a former Getaway Driver and pirate. 30-odd years of Character Development later, she's a staunch ally of the heroes and the leader/founder of Zaofu.
- Zootopia: While never officially arrested, Nick Wilde is definitely a successful ConArtist and Hustler. The end of the movie shows that he's graduated from the police academy and is now Judy's patrol partner. .
- A famous Real Life example is Vidocq, a French thief who ended up chief of police, and later became the first private detective ever.
- Frank Abagnale Jr, both in real life and in the film Catch Me If You Can, went from passing millions of dollars worth of fraudulent checks to working as a fraud and security consultant for the FBI.
- Several hackers (convicted and otherwise) have found gainful employment in the computer security field.
- One former Canadian marijuana smuggler advertised the fact that he'd started up and ran a successful smuggling business before eventually being caught as qualification for why legitimate companies should consider hiring him due to his demonstrated organizational and management skills. It worked, thus neatly avoiding the trap that many former criminals face (a criminal record prevents you from getting a legitimate job).
- Plenty of Pirates fall under this trope.
- Zhou Tai, and Gan Ning who are featured in Dynasty Warriors. Both were former pirates before they joined Wu. Although Gan Ning was still a killer deep down.
- Danny Trejo used to be a criminal when he was younger. Nowadays, he's an actor who said that him playing bad guys is meant to show that Being Evil Sucks, and that he's apparently quite nice despite his background.
- Robert Piche, a Canadian private pilot, was imprisoned for sixteen months for smuggling marijuana into the US from Jamaica. Despite his criminal record, he was hired by the Canadian airline Air Transat - which turned out to be a good thing for 305 passengers and crew when he skilfully glided an Airbus A330 that ran out of fuel on a transatlantic flight to a safe landing in the Azores.