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Adaptational Heroism / Comic Books

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  • In general a popular comic trend in recent years has been to subject female villains to this as a way of compensating for the general scarcity of female superheroes. DC has been especially enthusiastic about revamping their back catalog of villainesses (Harley Quinn is a particularly notable example), but Marvel isn't too far behind the trend.
  • Whenever there's an Alternate Universe or Continuity Reboot, expect to see lots of this.

Marvel Universe

  • The Age of Apocalypse inverted the moral alignments of several long-running X-Men characters, and more than a few of them were villains:
    • First and foremost was Magneto, who in the comics has been the X-Men's oldest Arch-Enemy. In his universe, he is in fact the X-Men's founder, having organized and named them in memory of his fallen friend Charles Xavier. And in filling Xavier's shoes, he's the closest thing the heroes of this universe have to a Big Good. He also has a much healthier relationship with his children, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, whereas his Earth-616 counterpart is generally known to be a pretty terrible father.
    • Another very prominent X-villain to get a moral shift was Sabretooth, number one Arch-Enemy to Wolverine and one of the X-Men's most bloodthirsty foes. In this continuity Creed starts out similarly to his 616 counterpart, but quickly decides that Apocalypse's Omnicidal Maniac goals are Not What I Signed on For. This steers him towards Anti-Hero territory, but he acquires true heroism through his relationship with Blink, a teleporting mutant who comes to see him as a father figure. This version of Creed ended up being one of the most popular of the AoA characters, so much so that he was brought back (along with Blink) to be a main character in the Exiles title.
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    • Magneto's disciple Exodus also received an alignment switch as a direct result of his mentor's adaptational heroism. While the 616 Exodus was radicalized into being a Super Supremacist by Magneto, this Exodus is much more accepting of both humans and mutants, as well as being more kind and less prone to Kick the Son of a Bitch. Came with a Redemption Demotion in his case though, as this Magneto deliberately keeps Exodus from knowing his true potential as a Superpower Lottery winner and even affixed Power Limiter devices to him to keep him from being corrupted by his own powers.
    • Classic X-Men baddies Mastermind, Sauron, and Toad became heroic members of Forge's Outcasts, an independent La Résistance group that came across Nate Grey the X-Man and adopted him.
    • Receiving this must be In the Blood in the Age of Apocalypse, because Sabretooth's son Graydon Creed also got a taste of this. Rather than being a Fantastic Racist and aspiring President Evil, he's the deeply troubled but heroic resistance fighter Horror Show. He's so heroic, in fact, that he even becomes the lover of Jean Grey!
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    • Inverted with Abyss. Originally created as an Original Generation member of AoA Apocalypse's Four Horsemen, he proved popular enough to get adapted into the regular 616 continuity. But since 616 Earth isn't a Crapsack World, Abyss was reimagined as a hero.
  • The 2011 storyline Age of X accomplished this for 90's X-Men baddies Frenzy and Unuscione, with particular emphasis on the former. A pair of villainesses hailing from Magneto's Acolytes, these two ladies were about as evil as evil came — Unuscione Would Hurt a Child even if that child was a developmentally disabled member of her own race (and terrorized a school bus of human children while doing it), while Cargill was a true believer that Murder Is the Best Solution and remorselessly killed off X-Men supporting character Sharon Freidlander. But thanks to this storyline's giving them a chance to find out that Good Feels Good, the duo turned their backs on supervillainy afterward, with Frenzy even going so far as to join the X-Men (Unuscione has since relapsed into supervillainy, but spent a good few years trying to live a normal life before the inevitable reset button push).
  • The Eternals: One of the most prominent Eternals is the fashion model and occasional member of The Avengers Sersi, who is in Marvel continuity the same person as Circe (the evil sorceress who turned Odysseus' men into swine in The Odyssey). In her backstory, it was clear that Homer distorted the facts quite a bit; yeah, she turned them into pigs, but to make a long story short, they started it.)
  • Exiles:
    • One of the main characters of the team throughout the book's run is a version of Mimic, the original Sixth Ranger turned Sixth Ranger Traitor of the X-Men who in the original timeline spends his time in a decades-long Heel–Face Revolving Door. This Mimic never experienced any such moral lapses, and to highlight his heroism, he's even drawn more attractively than the 616 Mimic, having a very clean-cut all-American look while 616 Mimic often looks like nothing so much as a winged hobo.
    • Much later in the book a Rule 63 version of Mystique is introduced, dubbed Mystiq. This version lives as a man thanks to their shared Voluntary Shapeshifting and, as you might have guessed, is much less of a Manipulative Bitch than 616 Raven.
  • Ultimate X-Men:
    • While Professor X himself is a case of Adaptational Jerkass (being a Dirty Old Man who uses his powers to amuse himself and to manipulate others, lusts after his female students, and amounted his love for his son to an owner of a pet), his becoming Onslaught was the result of Cable (here the future counterpart of Wolverine) fixing his spine, giving him armor, and training him to prevent a Bad Future ruled by Apocalypse, as opposed to Magneto's dark side fusing with Xavier's repressed anger and becoming a split personality bent on taking over the world.
    • A straighter example is the UXM adaptation of Emma Frost. 616 Emma started out as a sadistic Rich Bitch whose evil deeds made her the X-Men's preeminent villainess before her Heel–Face Turn in the '90s and decades-long redemption arc (and thanks to her abusive relationship with Cyclops, even at the end her redemption is questionable). This Emma, on the other hand, is infinitely less sadistic, is in fact an Actual Pacifist, and never engages in any kind of mind games or intimate psychic tampering like 616 Emma did with/to Scott. The result is an unambiguously heroic Emma who, sadly, was among the hundreds of UXM characters pointlessly killed off in the shock-for-shocks-sake event Ultimatum.
    • UXM's adaptation of Pyro started out as one of these, being a much more sympathetic character who was a Minion with an F in Evil and even joined the X-Men after proving his new heroism by helping other mutants. Unfortunately, while Pyro survived the events of Ultimatum, a Fate Worse than Death at the hands of writers awaited him when during Ultimatum 3 he experienced steep Adaptational Jerkass and transformed from a decent guy into a leering wannabe-rapist, something 616 Pyro wasn't even at his worst. Mercifully, he was Killed Off for Real shortly after.
  • X Men 92:
    • Genocidal Social Darwinist Apocalypse is reinvented into a Well-Intentioned Extremist and outright Big Good who has been putting the X-Men through Training from Hell to prepare them for the threat of a cosmic Fantastic Racist Celestial on its way to Earth. While Apocalypse has occasionally been presented before as having Well-Intentioned Extremist leanings, this is the only interpretation of the character to date which has tipped over into outright heroism. Note that the series is a direct sequel to the 1992 X-Men animated series, where Apocalypse is even worse than his traditional depiction! Apparently, it was all an act for when the heroes had to face someone who really was everything Apocalypse was only pretending to be.
    • Cassandra Nova is also more idealistic and noble than her comic counterpart even being an ally to this version of Apocalypse.
    • Joseph is depicted in his original 90's characterization as a hero, while the mainstream version has since undergone a (rather forced) Face–Heel Turn.


  • Batman rogue Mr. Freeze was originally a very generic, pun-spouting villain in a green welder's suit. Then Paul Dini got ahold of the character and gave him a total overhaul for his appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, bestowing upon him his now-iconic name, look, and Tragic Villain backstory. Taking note of this, the comics revamped Freeze completely to hew to Dini's interpretation of him.
  • In the Batman '66 comics continuity, Harley Quinn is an idealistic psychiatrist who voluntarily sacrifices her sanity to sabotage a mind-bending ray that the Joker is using to drive Gotham City insane.
  • In Batman: Earth One, Killer Croc is a man who hid in the sewers after escaping the circus and ends up joining Batman's inner circle after helping stop the Riddler, a far cry from the Dumb Muscle of the mainstream comics. In a similar vein, Killer Croc was also portrayed as being much kinder than he usually is in Gotham Academy as a result of his contact with Sybil Silverlock, the protagonist's mother during his stay at Arkham. He even saves Olive from a burning building with her friends declaring him a hero. Unfortunately for him, he's committed several murders prior to this change of heart, leading Batman to hunt him relentlessly.
  • Batman: Thrillkiller:
    • Selina Kyle never becomes the jewel thief Catwoman, with her only criminal past being something in sex work.
    • Like in most adaptations, Harvey Bullock's dirty past isn't acknowledged here.
    • Edward Nygma is a kindly psychiatrist as opposed to criminal mastermind The Riddler. While he's implied to be a quack, he's not evil.
    • Harvey Dent gets this by way of Decomposite Character, being a straightforward heroic DA instead of the secret identity of Two-Face.
  • Dastardly & Muttley: Dastardly and Muttley are American heroes this time instead of villains with no specified nationality.
  • DC Rebirth:
    • Batman villain Basil Karlo, aka the first (and briefly 'Ultimate' Clayface) has for decades been by far the most reprehensible and villainous of the Clayfaces. Later Clayfaces Preston Payne (aka Clayface III) and especially Matt Hagen (Clayface II, but much better known for his sympathetic portrayal as the first Clayface of Batman: The Animated Series) were portrayed more sympathetically and laid the groundwork for the concept of Clayface as a Tragic Villain, which the comics took shameless advantage of to reboot Karlo's character. Instead of being an unrepentant narcissist and egomaniac, Karlo is now a Minion with an F in Evil who decides that Being Evil Sucks so much that he agrees to join the Batfamily and toe Batman's line 100% if it means maybe getting a cure for his Power Incontinence. While this new Karlo is a much more likable character, he doesn't jive at all with the Karlo readers have known for decades.
    • Kyodai Ken was created for Batman: The Animated Series as a villain with ties to Bruce, having trained with him until Ken was caught stealing and kicked out of the dojo and blaming Bruce for the consequences of his own actions. Detective Comics (Rebirth) sees him as a loyal bodyguard of one of Bruce's teacher.
    • Wonder Woman antagonist and occasional uneasy ally Hercules Unbound did occasionally attempt to be a hero in the more modern sense of the word but previously had always been a Nominal Hero at best due to his antiquated sense of morality. In this new reality he was better able to adapt with the times and was a true good guy.
    • Wonder Woman (Rebirth):
      • Veronica Cale is still a villain who's done some awful things, but whereas the original was motivated purely by envy, this one is motivated by her desire to have her daughter back, and is basically a Cosmic Plaything.
      • Queen Atomia started out as one of Wondy's few truly irredeemably evil villains; an arrogant Emperor Scientist who kidnapped humans and horrifically transformed them into her mindless mooks, this version of her is reimagined as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who only attacked the alternate dimension version of Themyscira because they invaded her world first.
  • DC Comics Bombshells:
    • Poison Ivy and Two-Face are completely heroic, and Harley Quinn and Killer Croc have disreputable backgrounds but are more sympathetic than their main-continuity versions.
    • Yuki and Yuri, the Katsura sisters, are a pair of Batgirl (2011) villains in the main continuity. Here, however, they're part of Donna Troy's group of rebels who fight against the unjust internment of Japanese-Americans.
    • Talia al Ghul fights alongside the heroes, and protects the Lazarus Pit from evildoers like Black Adam.
    • Amanda Waller is far less morally dubious in this continuity.
    • Cheetah still starts off as a villain, but eventually seeks redemption after realizing the horrors she's committed.
    • Trigon is depicted as a nature spirit who genuinely loved Raven's mother, instead of a demon who, Depending on the Writer, either callously seduced or brutally raped her. Subverted as he ends up on the side of evil in the end.
  • In Gotham City Garage, Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Silver Banshee are more heroic than their villainous canon counterparts, risking themselves to overthrow a tyrant.
  • In the classic Legion of Super-Heroes, Mano of the Fatal Five had a bit of a Freudian Excuse in that he was subjected to prejudice on his home planet, before he destroyed it. In the Reboot Legion, he destroys his planet after everyone on it was killed by weapons sold by MacCauley Industries, and then seeks revenge on Leyland MacCauley. When he realises the rest of the Five are a bunch of psychos who like destroying planets, he turns against them. He later rejoins the group, but still tries to avoid harming innocents.
  • New 52:
    • Batman Annual: Ironically enough, averted with Mr. Freeze, who experiences this trope's inverse instead for his New 52 interpretation.
    • Justice League of America: Arthur Light, better known as Dr. Light, was a third-string baddie and punching bag of the Teen Titans (who had a rape retconned into his backstory in an attempt to make him more evil) pre-New 52. Now he's a supporting member of the titular Justice League and he died a hero.
    • Following the general DC trend of making the character Lighter and Softer (and thus more accessible to her target audience), New 52's Harley Quinn is an Anti-Hero who means well rather than an Ax-Crazy Loony Fan.
    • The Ravagers: Terra, who had been previously a Sixth Ranger Traitor (and long since Killed Off for Real besides) was revamped into a heroine and founding member of the titular Ravagers.
    • Starfire's sister Komand'r (aka Blackfire) was cruel, sadistic and treacherous in the former continuities. Now, despite having had some questionable attitudes toward Kory, she's still a better person than her previous version, and eventually makes peace with her sister, as seen in Red Hood and the Outlaws, where Kom and Kory share a hug. To be fair, the New 52 wasn't solely responsible for this shift - Kom's redemption first started in the 2009 L.E.G.I.O.N. (DC Comics) sequel series R.E.B.E.L.S, where the previously one-note villainess was depicted as a more complex figure with positive as well as negative traits. The New 52 simply picked up where R.E.B.E.L.S. left off.
    • In the Supergirl (2011) stories, the villainess Silver Banshee was turned into a troubled but clearly heroic young woman, whose first appearance has her jumping in front of Kara to stop soldiers shooting her. Later issues have hinted that she's having trouble keeping her superpowers (inherited from her evil father) under control but even here the implication is she is heading towards being a Tragic Villain rather than the totally unsympathetic character she used to be.
    • Wonder Woman's oft nemesis Ares had traditionally been a straight villain, and even when he wasn't he was never a nice guy, he's powered by war and bloodshed after all. The New 25 version is probably the closest to being a hero out of the entire Greek pantheon and is painted as Diana's mentor and grandfather figure—amusing since he is her grandfather even if the writers ignore this in favor of his new status as her brother since this version of Wondy has a father, and that father is Zeus. note 
  • In Teen Titans: Earth One, Tara Markov is depicted as a normal (if slightly angsty) teenager before her powers awaken, compare that with the pre-Flashpoint Tara Markov of the main universe who was a Manipulative Sociopath and a contract killer.
  • In Wonder Woman (2006) Achilles is trying his hardest to be a hero in the modern sense of the word, and has little in common with the narcissistic Straw Nihilist of the original myths. It might have something to do with his new heart, which came from a selfless and compassionate god (whom Zeus murdered).
  • The original version of The Authority were Nineties Anti Heroes par excellence, Well Intentioned Extremists at best, and could slip into full-on Villain Protagonist territory at times. In The Wild Storm, they are the most straightforwardly heroic characters in the setting.
  • Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass:
    • The graphic novel depicts Harley Quinn as a straight up heroic figure fighting against an oppressive establishment. In a very notable departure, she ends up opposing The Joker and tries to stop him after he endangers innocent people, and the book ends with her preparing to hunt him down.
    • The book's version of Poison Ivy (renamed "Ivy Du-Barry") is still an environmentalist, but not a violently militant one. She also seems to care about a broad range of social justice topics instead of just the environment, as opposed to he classic comic counterpart, who would just as soon Kill All Humans if it meant protecting the Earth's plants.


  • The Archie Comics-published Mega Man comics do this with the Robot Masters from the original game, with Mega Man's attempts to talk them out of following Wily's orders convinces them to help him, and later join and serve his supporting cast when Wily's programming to them is undone, though this is more because they were already Dr. Light's robots to begin with. This trope rings truer when half of the Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 Robot Masters pull a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Also from Archie, Sonic X: As a result of the writer not fully grasping the characters' personalities, the title character had his Aloof Ally, Übermensch, and Brilliant, but Lazy traits dropped in the comic tie in, becoming a goody two-shoes. Of course, he was already a hero and (usually) a friendly guy in the Anime, so this a downplayed case.
  • Mad Madame Mim from Disney's The Sword in the Stone was a genuinely villainous character who tried to kill Arthur because, as she made no effort in hiding, she's evil. In the Disney comics that later featured her, she was more of a harmless witch or occasionally even a heroic one.
  • Dynamite Comics brings us Phaidor in their Warlord of Mars title. While in the John Carter series, she is a White Martian princess who possesses all her people's negative traits such as god delusion, racial superiority, jealousy and cannibalism—though admittedly she had been Obliviously Evil all her life over all these things —the comic downplays all those traits and makes her more sympathetic. Though she still attempts to kill Dejah Thoris in a fit of jealousy because she is married to the man Phaidor loves, she ends up regretting the attack and befriends the princess while they are both imprisoned inside a dungeon, ultimately coming to Dejah's defense when Phaidor's father assaults her and admits before John Carter that she will never earn his affection, in contrast to the book version, where she remains loyal to her father and gloats to Carter's face that he can't save his wife.
  • Hasbro Comic Universe has taken many villains and given them a more sympathetic bent.
    • The Decepticons downplay this, as they were formed as a protest group against the corrupt government, before devolving past He Who Fights Monsters and becoming even worse (even the government thugs got hired into their group).
    • Cyclonus, while usually a Noble Demon actually pulls a Heel–Face Turn in The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and becomes a hero.
    • Most of the Scavengers are villains outside of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, with the exceptions of Grimlock, who's an Autobot, and Fulcrum and Nickel, who are original to MTMTE. Even at the start of their career in the Hasbroverse, they're less "villains" and more "bums", and eventually they commit to doing good least when they can afford to.
    • In The Transformers: Robots in Disguise Swindle, Squawkbox and Tankor all pull Heel Face Turns, though only Swindle and Squawkbox count as Tankor/Octane befriended an autobot and became good in the original cartoon.
    • Megatron and his three main lieutenants underwent this. Megatron's reasoning for starting the war, over throwing the caste system, are more sympathetic and ultimately he pulls a Heel–Face Turn and becomes an Autobot. Shockwave was a senator who campaigned for a more equal society before the corrupt leaders reprogrammed his mind to lack empathy and even then he snapped out of that and performed a Heroic Sacrifice. Soundwave received a more sympathetic play as an outlier and in the present has made a Heel–Face Turn to become one of Optimus's main allies in his quest for peace. Starscream, while still played as the least ethical, ultimately does receive more of a sympathetic edge as he becomes a Byronic Hero who is at least trying to help Cybertron.
    • Knock Out and Breakdown were Decepticons in Transformers: Prime; Knock Out defected for pragmatic reasons, and Breakdown died a Decepticon. In The Transformers: Till All Are One, Knock Out and an unnamed bot with Breakdown's designnote  are instead a married couple who hail from the unaligned world of Velocitron, which has a speed obsession. Knock Out is still a vain jerk, but he's a vain jerk who's willing to relocate from his home to Cybertron because his less speedy husband is happier there, and "Breakdown" doesn't do anything villainous at all - a considerable improvement on the "Mad Doctor" and "murderous thug" characterisations they received in Prime, and ones that probably leave them higher up the Karma Meter than several fully-qualified Autobots, such as Prowl, Getaway and Whirl.
  • Jem and the Holograms:
    • Rio is no longer exceedingly jealous like he was in the cartoon. He's also firmly just dating Jerrica, and is pissed off when she forgets herself and kisses him as Jem.
    • Jetta lost a lot of her attitude towards her bandmates. In the cartoon she went as far as to try and scam Pizzazz out of millions, and she was always fighting with Roxy. In the comic Roxy and Jetta are friends and Jetta gets along better with the others.
    • The comics have tried to humanize Pizzazz more. While she still frequently throws fits over little things she has Hidden Depths and cares for business.
    • Overall The Misfits are portrayed more realistically. In the cartoon they casually would do stuff that would end them in jail or with restraining orders. In the comics they don't attempt to physically harm the titular band or crash random events.
  • Lady Death was originally conceived as a villain protagonist whose end goal was the complete destruction of mankind due to a curse placed on her by Satan that she could not return to Earth as long as humans walked on it. Subsequent re-imaginings and interpretations of the character made her more traditionally heroic or tried to. In the Avatar Press/Boundless continuity, she serves as guardian and protector of the Labyrinth even if she could be a nasty about it.
  • Muppet King Arthur gives this treatment to King Arthur's Evil Nephew Mordred (portrayed by Kermit's nephew Robin), who coerces his uncle into surrendering his kingdom solely to see if his uncle is truly worthy of the throne and commends his uncle for proving that he deserves to be king by being willing to put his people above himself.
  • King Sombra in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW) is played very sympathetically as a Tragic Villain at worst, accompanied by a Morality Pet, and is ultimately (and abruptly) redeemed by The Power of Love complete with a Happily Ever After type ending, in stark contrast to the source material that has consistently portrayed him as an irredeemable darkness-wielding villain.
  • In Noob, Gaea negotiated for her guildmates' (except Omega Zell) immunity from Tenshirock's "attacks" as part of her frequent cooperation with him. The webseries and novel storylines have that immunity be Tenshirock's personal initiative while the nicest things Gaea ever said or did fell into Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.


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