At the time, it was a dreadful setback for the idea of "grown-up" superhero comics. In hindsight, it was America's inevitable reaction to Watchmen, and the only response that could possibly be effective: Fuck realism, we just want our superheroes to look cool and kick ten thousand kinds of ass.
During Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, in one alternate universe Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen created a device that would allow the user to create a super-powered Tulpa. They wanted to create The Cape, however the executives thought this trope would have more wide-market appeal, and deliberately attempted to invoke it.
At the climax of the story Superman briefly becomes a '90s Anti-Hero following his resurrection. Since his powers are taking longer to regenerate than the rest of him, Superman storms the villain's lair with two large guns and bandoliers, an all black suit, and a mullet. Thankfully it doesn't last, except unfortunately the mullet.
In the Else World story Superman: At Earth's End, Superman is portrayed as this, being depowered and having to rely on huge guns, being a lot more willing to kill, and drawn to be overtly muscular and with huge pouches.
After having his back broken in Knightfall, Batman is replaced by Jean-Paul Valley a.k.a. Azrael, a character with no compunctions about killing. Azrael is chosen by Bruce, who is then chewed out by Nightwing over it, and Bruce himself admits it was one of his worst mistakes. Azrael, especially his time as Batman, was written as a Take That! towards those who wanted Batman to act more like The Punisher, though he was still written as a sympathetic deconstruction, in that he is shown to suffer from mental illness from his brutal upbringing by the Order of St. Dumas' Program rather than being a Tautological TemplarJerkass like many other examples of this archetype were. From the moment after he meets and befriends psychiatrist Brian Bryan, Valley becomes more of reconstruction of the trope.
By late '94, the Wonder Woman office had decided they also wanted in on that action. Enter Artemis of Bana-Mighdall, the kindest and most open-minded member of a splinter tribe of Amazons... which meant she was still a Hot-BloodedJerkass several magnitudes more violent than Diana on her worst day. Artemis' tenure as Diana's Anti-Hero Substitute was a lot shorter, lasting only about six issues (and a handful of cameos in Justice League titles and the like) before she was killed off. A while later, she was resurrected, become a part-time demon slayer, and ultimately mellowed out into a regular member of Diana's supporting cast.
Aquaman became a version of this in The '90s and lasting until Infinite Crisis. He grew his beard out to adopt a Father Neptune look, and lost one of his hands and had it replaced first by a hook and then by a form-changing magical water-hand. He also adopted a more aggressive attitude on behalf of Atlantis. These changes were actually very well-received by much of the DCU's fanbase, and is considered an implementation of this trope that actually worked, as the goal of Peter David's revamp was to essentially rescue Aquaman from the scrappy heap that Superfriends had left him in. Unfortunately, until the release of the movie, much of the general public was still unaware of the revamp, and still pictured poor Arthur as he was in Superfriends. One thing that saved Aquaman from the negative qualities of the 90s anti-hero is that the book was often funny, and while he might have had more of an edge, he didn't take himself too seriously either. Because, you know, Peter David.
Koryak, Aquaman's son with an Inuit woman named Kako was a straighter example of this. He was arrogant, hot-tempered, prone to violence and was a rival/foil to Garth, the original Aqualad. Koryak did mellow out later on after he unwittingly caused a war between Atlantis and the sea god Triton and was banished from Atlantis by his father. Koryak could be considered a deconstruction of the 90s anti-hero given that his aggressive and antisocial tendencies are frequently criticized and often lead to disaster and it is not until he becomes a nicer person that he is accepted by his father.
The Authority represent an entire Justice League of Nineties Anti-Heroes. They are, however, unusually idealistic for their kind, as part of their remit is to "make the world a better place". Their methods, however, seem to involve copious amounts of ultra-graphic violence (no Thou Shalt Not Kill for them), ruthless cynicism towards their enemies, and disdain for opposing points of view — they once overthrew the government of the United States.
In 1994, DC turned Doctor Fate into an Anti-Hero named Fate who was a grave robber and had melted Dr. Fate's helmet into a knife.
Around 1994, Guy Gardner, a roughnecked, "macho" member of the Green Lantern Corps, was reinvented as "Warrior," with ridiculously huge muscles, tattoos all over his body, and the ability to form his arms into any kind of weapon he could think of, mainly gargantuan guns. Rumor has it that the reinvention was the result of writer Beau Smith writing the pitch as a joke and accidentally having it approved. He eventually reverted to his old (but still roughnecked) Green Lantern persona after the fad played itself out.
Word of God in the letter column was that after Guy lost his briefly-used Qwardian ring, Beau wanted to reinvent Guy as an Indiana Jones/Race Bannon type globe-trotting adventurer, no powers had or required. This did not get approved.
Jack T. Chance, who first appeared in 1992, was the Psycho Party Member for the Green Lantern Corps. He was the only Green Lantern allowed to kill, and confined to his homeworld, which was a Wretched Hive so horrible that every Lantern that was sent there was killed within a week.
Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, was in part a savage denouncement of Nineties Anti-Heroes, and was one of the things that caused the changeover from the Dark Age to the Modern Age. One of the themes of the comic was the classic generation of superheroes fighting the violent "modern" heroes. Of course, the "classic" heroes shared some of the blame as well; many became just-as-violent Knight Templars attempting to deal with it. The "face" of the anti-heroes, Magog, is practically every Dark Age stereotype rolled into one cybernetic, sacrilegious package (though Waid and Ross admitted a certain fondness for him due to how over-the-top he was). In a brilliant twist of idealism, Magog realizes how screwed up he is, turns himself in, renounces violence, and is one of the people left alive at the end; in the prose novelization of the story, he becomes the Dean of Students at Paradise Island!
Magog himself was able to pull a Canon Immigrant, and was introduced in the Main DCU in a JSA storyline. In 2009 he got his own solo series, which is something of an Affectionate Parody of the old school Nineties Anti-Hero. His Rogues Gallery includes an insane homeless man with mind control powers and a silver haired woman who talks like a 1980s valley girl.
The late eighties and early nineties had the Teen Titans sister team, the "Team Titans," who were this to the point that one of them took to calling himself Deathwing.
Though that probably doesn't count since adopting the Deathwing identity marked the character's descent into villainy.
Likewise, in The DCU, Jason Todd (Batman's second Robin) has been a Nineties Anti-Hero type ever since he came Back from the Dead. Amusingly, he was absent for the entire decade.
Every number one issue of a Milestone Comics (Defunct and now owned by DC) book was written like one... and then every issue from then on subverted it. Unfortunately, this had the effect of painting the comics as "me too" and never caught a foothold (save Static, who had his own animated series.)
The X-Men have featured plenty of these throughout their run, among them one who was possibly the single greatest Trope Codifier, Cable.
Cable, of the New Mutants, X-Force, and the X-Men was a major influence in every example who came after. Tragic and mysterious past? Check. BFGs coming out the ass? Check. A "badass" look that used to be reserved for villains? Check. His first appearance was even in February 1990. Over time, though, he's been developed into a more heroic/complex character, somewhere between Messianic Archetype and A God Am I.
According to the rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks FAQ, Rob Liefeld originally designed him as a villain, but later reused the original design when he was asked to create a "New Leader". Not too long after, though, he returned to the original plan and created Stryfe, while still maintaining Cable in his position.
Cable's leadership was also a catalyst in giving the existing members of the New Mutants a 90's Anti-Hero look, even though many of them did not have the personality traits.
Not long after Cable's introduction, Liefeld followed up with Feral and Shatterstar, who were basically 90's Anti-Hero expies of Wolfsbane and Longshot respectively.
Cyclops, of the X-Men, had his personality largely unchanged, but despite having been nicknamed "Slim" his whole life suddenly developed a chest that pro wrestlers would find intimidating. His personality has changed later though. During Grant Morrison's New X-Men and especially after, he became pretty much Nineties Anti-Hero despite the fact that it started in 2003.
Wolverine went from being a complicated, interesting character in the 80's to "stabby stabby stabby!" in the 90's. It took "Enemy of the State" and "Wolverine: Origin" stories to restore his former glory.
There's an obscure X-Men character named "Random", who started out as a recurring character for the second incarnation of X-Factor and can turn his arm into a gun. In Generation Hope #15, Pixie calls him "Johnny '90s". What's generally forgotten in later appearances is that Random is a shapeshifter who was actually a 13-year-old kid when first introduced, and took the form of a muscular giant with gun-arms because it's what he thought a badass was supposed to look like.
Psylocke was turned into a 90's antihero in-universe. For most of her decades-long publication history, Betsy was demure and preferred to use her psychic powers to win fights rather than engaging physically. All that changed when she was body-swapped with the Japanese assassin Kwannon and gained her martial arts skills, cold-but-aggressive personality, overt sexuality (her previous modest costumes were replaced by a leotard and thong), and willingness to kill. Ninja!Psylocke became the 90's antiheroine, even though she had been around much longer and the new incarnation was a totally different character in all but name.
Venom. First there was the "black suit" Spider-Man, basically a textbook example of this trope before its time. This was caused by an alien Symbiote bonding to him, which he later removes. It then bonds to another man, Eddie Brock, becoming Venom, designed to be an Evil Counterpart of Spider-Man. That would have all been well and good, except Venom proved to be something of an Ensemble Dark Horse, and entered his peak of popularity during the peak of this very trope's popularity, and thus Venom was given his own comic and re-worked into one. Then they have Venom's symbiote give birth to a second one, which bonded with a Serial Killer to become Carnage, an evil(er) counterpart of Venom. This opened the floodgates at this point: Venom's symbiote gave birth to five more symbiotes, but all but one of them fused into a single one. The fusion bonded with a police officer to become another 90's anti-hero Hybrid. Meanwhile, Carnage's symbiote also gives birth, the resulting symbiote binding with another another police officer to become yet another anti-hero, Toxin. Since then, however, the original Venom symbiote has exchanged hands a few times and and its then-current host was a normal Anti-Hero. Venom himself moves on from this trope when the symbiote jumps back to Eddie; since at this point, Venom is now trying to become just a regular hero.
Kaine. Seriously, just look at him.◊ (At least he was salvaged in Spider-Girl.) And in the 2012 Scarlet Spider comic series written by Chris Yost, Kaine is now reluctantly (the reluctant part coming in with his regularly proclaimed ambition to move to Mexico and drink margaritas on the beach for the rest of his life. No one really believes him) trying to be more of a traditional super-hero and move away from this motif altogether, as part of an attempt to live up to his 'brother' Peter, who he considers to be generally a far better person, and to be an example to his Morality PetAracely, usually coming off more as a Knight in Sour Armour. On top of that, he is aware that he used to be an awful person. Moreover, he believes wholeheartedly that he still is, simply telling Aracely to leave it at the end of his solo series when the residents of Houston (including his girlfriend) freak out and reject him after his transformation intoa giant spider monster in order to destroy Shathra and save lives, and she tries Shaming the Mob.
Morbius. Edgy leather gimp suit, magical demonic powers, slaughtering bad guys by the dozen, less moping and more badass-itude and even more exaggerated 90's villains to fight with... Only aversion might be that the 90's comic made him more generic handsome.
The entire plot of Superior Spider-Man sees Doc Ock stealing Peter Parker's body and using it to become a darker, more "badass" version of Spidey. He even has a black and red costume that was originally designed by Alex Ross for the first movie (since Movie Superheroes Wear Black). The entire thing is a bit of an Idiot Plot, since it requires all of Spider-Man's friends and teammates somehow not realizing that Peter Parker has been replaced. But like Azrael was to Batman, it ends up being a deconstruction; as Doc Ock slowly loses control over the situation until he's forced to concede that Peter Parker is, in fact, the "superior" hero.
Spider-Girl has AprilParker, that is simply a jerk version of main protagonist with the powers of Venom. She fits this trope perfectly, right to the point that a woman she once saved from bandits runs away, because she is more violent than they are. Oh, and she killed Tombstone, too.
One of Spider-Man's lesser villains, Cardiac, was one of these.
The second-tier Marvel superheroes Darkhawk and Sleepwalker, both of whom had their heyday in the early 1990s, are downplayed examples of this trope. While they have strange and bizarre appearances, neither one was especially dark in their tone, at least compared to titles like Spawn, or the other characters that exemplify the Nineties Anti-Hero.
Darkhawk was about a kid who followed in his policeman father's footsteps by fighting crime with the mysterious alien armor he had obtained, while simultaneously keeping his Nuclear Family from falling apart. At one point he finds a journal of his father's, the last entry stopping with him and his partner preparing to go in pursuit of a hit-and-run driver before seeking medical attention for his victim. Chris refers back to this several times to remind himself to take a harder edge, before discovering the journal had a stuck page, in which his father hesitates, calls an ambulance, and makes sure the old woman who was hit survives.
Sleepwalker was about an alien from another dimension that became trapped in a human's mind and manifested to fight crime while he was asleep, carrying on the similar role he had carried in his home world. There were, both in the letter columns of the old Sleepwalker comics and more recent web postings, positive responses from fans who liked the fact that Sleepwalker wasn't a violent antihero.
A strange example is Deathlok the Demolisher, who was created well over two decades before the heyday of the trope. Each of the various versions of Deathlok have very 90's Anti-Hero traits to them: he is always a dead man resurrected as a cyborg (cyborgs being common in 90's comics), and turned into an unliving cybernetic weapon that uses huge guns as its primary method of offense. Usually however the plot often involves Deathlok's unwillingness to succumb to his programming and kill wantonly, instead struggling to non-lethally dispatch his foes.
Rachel: You know what gives me strength? My loss. We're alike that way, I imagine. Admit it: nobody who's a stranger to that particular pain could ever be as driven as us. Matt:Never...*throws one of his sticks at a wall so hard behind herit plants in it*... Don't you ever say that to me again. That is a repellent statement. It is a vomitous insult to every cop — every fireman — every soldier alive who steps up to fight for those who can't! I am sorry for your loss! But if you genuinely believe that only the death of a loved one can motivate a human being to take up a cause... then get your pathetic, cynical ass out of my way so I can do my job!
Speaking of The Punisher, he definitely fits this trope when written by certain authors. He's vacillated between a somewhat reasonable vigilante fully willing to abide by other heroes no-killing rules during team-ups, to an frothing lunatic who'll murder jaywalkers (retconned into being due to drugs he was exposed to without his knowledge), to being a serial killer who uses his family's deaths as a justification for the endless war he wages to sate his bloodlust.
Penance in the Marvel Universe, originally the happy-go-lucky character Speedball, is a strange version of this. After believing himself responsible for the death of 612 people in Civil War, he designs a costume in dark colors designed to give himself constant pain with 612 spikes. This was intended seriously, but having happened long after the 1990s, is treated like a parody in most of his appearances outside Thunderbolts.
The "Winter Soldier" mega-arc by Ed Brubaker in Captain America subverts a lot of these tropes. When Cap's sidekick Bucky turned out to be Not Quite Dead after all, he was revived as a brainwashed assassin with a cyborg arm; it could have been really stupid, but it wasn't. Then, when Bucky took over as Captain America, he seemed poised to be a Grim and Gritty alternative to the more traditional model, with much made of him carrying a gun — however, Bucky almost never uses the gun, and in fact tries overcome his past and be a more traditional superhero.
Image Comics specialized in these for as long as the fad lasted.
Spawn, quite possibly the most popular Nineties Anti-Hero. Edgy one-word name, grim-n-gritty Backstory (an assassinated mercenary damned to Hell and sent back as a soldier of Satan), killing bad guys who were slightly worse than him, and written and drawn by Todd McFarlane. The character became less of a typical example of this trope as the series went on, however. The first issue of Spawn had a little parody of the trope, with TV Talking Heads commenting that while the spikes and chains are "totally gauche", trying to bring back capes is a bad idea.
The Darkness and Witchblade both exemplified this trope. The former is a former mafia hitman who becomes a living vessel of the world's dark energies, complete with an army of flippant, happy-go-lucky demons who delight in every opportunity to torture someone; the second is a pornolicious detective with lethal powers which rip her clothes off whenever she uses them.
The former, however, is a Reconstruction of this trope, since he's much more subtle and complex than many other examples.
Youngblood by Rob Liefeld. Initially playing this trope as straight as an arrow, later runs thoroughly deconstructed the people that would be part of such a team, as well as the publics perception of them, with the 2017 run making the publics hatred of Youngblood (a few members excluded) a key plot point.
Shadowhawk was an Image Comics title about a successful, scrupulously honest African-American attorney who refused to fix a case for an organized crime outfit and, in revenge, was kidnapped by them and dumped after being given an injection of the AIDS virus... which prompted him, in a fit of rage and desire to try and make some sense out of the world, to don exoskeletal armor and start brutalizing thugs as a vaguely Batmanish vigilante. The suits got more and more elaborate as the disease took its toll, to help compensate for his weakness, but he ended up dying of the disease anyway. Apparently even series creator Jim Valentino hated the character, and killed him off purely out of spite. Why he even bothered with the whole affair in the first place is anyone's guess. That may be why the second Shadowhawk ended up so... different.
Bloodshot: Mobster Angelo Mortalli was framed by the Carboni crime family, forcing him to become a witness for the state. While under Federal protection, Mortalli was betrayed by his protectors and sold to Hideyoshi Iwatsu to become a test subject for Project Rising Spirit.
Pretty much everyone in Dark Age arc of Astro City, as one might expect in a deconstruction of The Dark Age of Comic Books. There is also lampshading aplenty. There is a notable subversion in the character of Hellhound who, despite having the demonic background, monstrous appearance, torn leather and chains costume and "edgy" name, is actually a Noble Demon, and a respected ally of the local Captain America and Spider-Man expies.
The Doctor Who Magazine comic introduced a full-blown Nineties Anti-Hero to the Doctor Who universe in the shape of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer. He's a "chainsword"-loving professional criminal and multiple murderer who was exiled by a future Earth society to a Dalek-occupied world to kill as many Daleks as possible before his inevitable death (although he turned out to be badass enough to survive). Of course, he first appeared in 1980 and in some ways was a deconstruction, so could be considered an Unbuilt Trope.
Doom has the Doomguy going around and punching and/or shooting things... just because. He's also borderline psychopathic. What makes him stand out from the crowd is that he doesn't brood or snark, and is instead a Large Ham and a bit of a Boisterous Bruiser. It's oddly endearing.
Holy Terror: As one of the individuals who influenced the Dark Age of Comics, it was the natural evolution of Frank Miller that he would eventually create a Dark Age Anti-Hero of his own in the form of "The Fixer". He is a Blood Knight so psychopathic that even the darkest iterations of Batman (of which he is a Captain Ersatz), including even those by Miller himself, would seem saintly by comparison. This is demonstrated with The Fixer's slaughter of the Al-Qaeda cell in the underground of Empire City with a multitude of guns, ranging from pistols to bazookas, as well as a chemical weapon of some sort (and yes, you read correctly). Granted, the setting tries to justify his methods in that he is fighting a terrorist group who is orchestrating an act of war, rather than the typical mobsters and other criminals that would be the purview of the justice system to try and punishnote and to what extent either the military and/or law enforcement should be involved in addressing terrorism is another matter of debate.
In the Dark Horse Comics superhero line Comics Greatest World, X filled this role. He was at least willing to give you one warning, a vertical slash across the face. If the X across your face or an image of your face was completed, however, he killed you. No exceptions. He was willing to do whatever it took to cleanse the city of Arcadia of its crime and corruption.
The Tick: Big Shot, who also appeared in the animated series, was originally introduced as a one-off character in the comic as someone hanging out at the vigilante table in the superhero club. While other vigilantes had complicated backstories, Big Shot's reasons for being a gun-wielding vigilante? "I just like to kill people."
This trope hit Transformers: Generation 2 hard. A lot of the Autobots came off as gung-ho and violent; some who were already Blood Knights, like Blades or the Dinobots, started killing downed opponents outright. Inexplicably, they also found ways to stick pouches and belts on robots, as well as redoing several of them with darker decos to be more grim and gritty—most notably, Sideswipe went from a red-painted Boisterous Bruiser to a black-painted example of this trope.
The source of the page image is Blood Hunter, one such anti-hero who is also a vampire, from Brainstorm, one of the many independent publishers that emerged in the 90s. He first appeared in the indicatively titled Vamperotica, but his solo comic was a one-shot.
Judge Dredd, despite being a Judge, Jury, and Executioner working for a dystopian police state, is actually a subversion (or an Unbuilt Trope), since his character is much too layered beneath the gruff exterior to ever qualify as one. The judges of the Mega-Cities do have total power over life and death, but they're still genuinely cops, not mere tyrants, meaning they have to adhere to standards such as fairness and "the punishment must fit the crime". However, the way in which he's depicted in Heavy Metal Dredd (published in 1993) is a straight example. Metal Dredd solves every problem with his Lawgiver pistol, to the point where he'll happily blow the legs off jaywalkers or beat anyone who looks at him funny into a coma. If his version in the 2000 AD continuity was that much of a Rabid Cop, he would have already been executed by Internal Affairs for abuse of power.
Another pre-90's example from 2000 AD would be Nemesis the Warlock, a brutal and demonic-looking alien Anti-Hero with esoteric powers, a gruff and misanthropic personality, a tragic background involving his dysfunctional family, and he leads a resistance against Torquemada's regime in a crapsack galaxy for selfish reasons instead of the freedom of the various alien species like a traditional Space Opera hero would do. However he's nowhere near as cruel as Torquemada and his inquisitors and terminators, and he slowly learns to care about Others thanks to Purity Brown. Helps that Nemesis is also from the same creator of Marshal Law.
Men in Black has Wolf, formerly a man in black himself (Agent X), now a rogue superhero. The costume, Beast Man behavior and Non-Human Sidekick Peter don't help. Agent K, as well, might not look the part, but he's pretty much an evil fascist, quite a shock from people who enjoy the much-more-popular movie adaptation.
The Simpsons irregularly featured issues of Radioactive Man, Bart's favourite superhero. In one, Radioactive Man's arch nemesis Doctor Crab created a set of clones and one of them returned as an over-the-top mockery of a Rob Liefeld designed character, bulging muscles, pouches and feet that are always blocked by the scenery and all. Radioactive Man commented that the clone was stronger, faster and more popular with both kids and marketing executives than him, alluding to the fact these kind of character were all the rage back then (the comic was actually published during the The '90s). Then he decided the best way to deal with his phony was by summoning his lawyer who proceeded to sue the ripoff to oblivion for numerous copyright infringements.