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The Atoner / Comic Books

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  • Marvel's new spin on Speedball fits here, even if Speedball was always a hero. Now he's blamed for 612 people he didn't actually murder. But, hey, he can change his name to Penance Bleedball and design a costume with 612 points of constant pain. It turns out that he didn't make the suit for himself—he made it for Nitro, the true murderer. He only wore it because he felt he had to atone somewhat for failing to save all those people.
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  • The title character of Atavar, despite not ever actually being a villain, becomes one anyway after being tricked into dooming the Kalen.
  • At one point, Hawkeye of The Avengers. After being manipulated to villainy, he joined the Avengers as a way to both make up for what he did, and also to do what he originally intended to do with his skills: Help people.
  • Following Avengers vs. X-Men, Scott Summers, who under the corruption of the Phoenix Force caused the death of Charles Xavier, was willing to spend the rest of his life in jail paying for that and any other crimes he committed under its control (for those who don't know, that basically amounts to him refusing to do what the Avengers told him to do), until he realized that the sudden burst of new mutants mean that a large number of people are going to be hunted down by anti-mutant extremists, so he decided to break out of prison to protect them. Now, still hunted by the government and his former teammates, he's formed a new Brotherhood of Mutants so he can track down new mutants who need protection, whatever it takes. Most, however, just assume he's off his rocker and trying to upstage humanity. Though, he probably doesn't help his case by calling it a 'mutant revolution', or with the fact that his powers are on the fritz, making him unintentionally far more dangerous than he intends to be.
  • Sabretooth is a big example. As a villain, he committed almost every crime one could think of. He's been an assassin, abuser, serial killer, mass murderer, cannibal, and possibly a rapist. His good & evil side are inverted during AXIS and he becomes a good person, trying to atone for all his past sins -vowing to Logan that he would find his own Wolverine spirit.
    • Leads into Reformed, but Rejected seeing as NO hero in Marvel fully trusts him. After the Axis storyline ended, Creed acknowledged that many would only ever see him for the beast he was. So he's prepared for everyone's slights toward him, but he still gets annoyed with it.
  • Batgirl (2000): Making up for murdering a man is the bulk of Cassandra Cain's entire motivation, especially early in her career.
    Barbara Gordon: "You were eight years old, you were raised in a bunker by a psychopath, you didn't know what you were doing... You were eight years old! And the fact that you've tortured yourself ever since proves the type of person you really are."
  • A Batman story did a variant of this: Issue #127 of his self-titled book showed an alternative origin if his parents didn't get killed. In this version, Batman was a criminal called the Blue Bat, and the costume was worn by someone else. This all changed with an encounter with Bruce Wayne, who defeated the crook, took the costume for himself, and became Batman, noting, "This costume that was once a symbol of crime will now become a symbol of justice!"
    • Detective Harvey Bullock, a member of Batman's supporting cast, was introduced as a corrupt cop, but he saw the error of his ways. Since then, he's been working hard at cleaning up both Gotham City and his reputation.
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    • Another Batman-related example: Scientist Kirk Langstrom, alias the supervillain Man-Bat, is often portrayed as trying to make up for the damage his Superpowered Evil Side has caused.
  • Bucky Barnes was brainwashed into a Russian assassin known as the Winter Soldier. When he gets his memories back, he is full of guilt over the things he did. His first solo series makes his atonement a focal point by having him go after Russian sleeper agents he had helped train in the past.
  • Convergence:
    • Pre-Flashpoint Arsenal in Convergence: Titans is making a better attempt to atone for his actions after he was maimed by Prometheus and his daughter Lian died.
    • Pre-Zero Hour! Hal Jordan is this as well. Getting depowered by the dome brought Hal back to his senses and he's legitimately regretful for what he did as Parallax. Unfortunately, the minute the dome comes down and his abilities come back he goes nuts once again.
    • The Vampire Batman in Convergence: Swamp Thing seeks redemption by teaming up with Swamp Thing in ridding the vampires from his Gotham City. After eliminating the queen vampire and thereby turning every vampire back to being human (except for Vampire Batman), Batman allows himself to die under sunlight.
    • Superwoman of the Crime Syndicate has taken her time on death row to reflect on how she's spent her life, and realizes that both herself and the rest of the Syndicate wasted their lives in the pursuit of crime. She fights the Wonder Woman of Justice Legion Alpha for the sake of saving the Metropolis of her world in an attempt to fully atone for her actions and be the hero she now understands she could have been.
  • Crimson: Ekimus is the last surviving member of the Grigori, a soulless race that sided with Satan during the War on Heaven and was completely exterminated. He had forsaken the forces of Hell in shame and tried to atone for his crimes. Unfortunately he ended up crossing paths with Lisseth and together, they created the vampire race that would plague mankind for eons to come. Ekimus would spend his following days searching for a chosen one to help him destroy all vampires.
  • A DC Comics example, Pariah in Crisis on Infinite Earths, whose attempt to explore the origin of the universe has resulted in the destruction of his parallel universe, and personally believes that he may also be responsible for the destruction of the other parallel universes until the Anti-Monitor reveals that he himself is personally responsible for the latter.
  • Post-Parallax Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Then it seemed that that Hal Jordan wasn't really Parallax, that he was merely possessed by an evil creature named Parallax that did all of those bad things and therefore absolves him of all responsibly and exempts him from Character Development. And then we see that he still feels responsible for his actions when being possessed, just like Kyle when he was possessed during the Sinestro Corps War. Part of his interaction with the Corps is trying to rebuild the trust he lost when he killed his fellow Corps members and essentially destroyed the original Green Lantern Corps.
  • Rayek from ElfQuest tried to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, nearly wiping out everyone and everything he cared about in the process. He spends much of the rest of his eternal life trying to make up for this.
  • Emma Frost is this when she is leading Generation X. This aspect went away later.
  • Sistah Spooky (who is not a villain, but can be pretty bitchy) becomes this in Empowered #4.
  • Gambit is another Marvel Universe example of this trope. He joined the X-Men due to the whole unwittingly helping some major baddies commit genocide thing. Admittedly Gambit never intentionally took part in said genocide and continues to be a much loved thief with a heart of gold to fans, but still.
  • Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), ever since he was kidnapped in Vietnam Afghanistan Vietghanistan. Thanks to Survivor Guilt and Major Depressive Disorder, along with a ton of other traumatic events since then, he is also a Death Seeker. More so since Civil War, but generally people who like the character pretend it didn't happen.
  • Superman:
    • At the conclusion of Kingdom Come, Superman's rival Magog becomes one of these.
    • One "what-if" story had Lex Luthor reform and then invent a panacea for all ills as repayment for his crimes.
  • The Mandy story "Sorry Sue" has this premise—Janie, the heroine has been mean to foster-girl Sue and now regrets her actions, so she is trying (unsuccessfully) to make amends.
  • Deadpool of the Marvel Universe is trying to atone, but the fact that he's so bad at it, combined with his natural psychopathy, means that most people don't even notice.
  • Moon Knight fights crime in part to make up for the evil that he did as Marc Spector while fighting with Bushman's band of mercenaries. Since he is, Depending on the Writer, a jerkass, insane or both, these attempts can get complicated.
  • The Phantom Stranger, in (at least) one of his Multiple Choice Pasts.
  • Eel O'Brian, aka Plastic Man, right from the 40s to his current incarnation.
  • Ducra from Red Hood and the Outlaws.
  • Shakara: Dr. Lara Procopio has tried to make up for her role in engineering the disease that was used to destroy the Shakara race through humanitarian missions and dedicating the rest of her life to helping the sick and wounded. When Shakara the Avenger comes to execute her, she admits that it's not meant to excuse what she did and chooses to Face Death with Dignity.
  • The Silver Surfer, spent centuries as a Brainwashed Herald of Galactus. Galactus put a block on his soul preventing him from feeling guilt and he led countless planets to their doom as a result. After the block is released, he feels nothing but regret for his actions and seeks to atone for them.
  • In the Sonic The Hedgehog comics:
    • Knuckles was like this for a bit after his time as the new Enerjak.
    • Heel Face Turned villain Dimitri also feels the need to atone for his previous deeds, and issue #221 has a touching moment between him, NICOLE and Espio, both of whom are also invoking this trope following their respective actions during the Iron Dominion arc.
    • Hope Kintobor does this as well. She had stayed at Knothole until, at the advice of Snively, wandered off to explore the world. When she came back, she found out that Knothole was razed completely and she thought that the Mobians there were dead. Though she later found out they were alive and well, she felt horrible for listening to Snively's advice and, as such, allied herself with G.U.N. and Team Dark to get back at the former Kintobors, vowing to make their name worth something in the end.
    • Sally is hit with this in the post Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: Worlds Collide universe when she finds out what she did as Mecha Sally. NICOLE and Cream have to convince her not to go total workaholic on them.
  • Spawn. Especially since it was revealed that he chose to come back as a monster because that's how he viewed himself in life.
  • The Spectre is a fallen angel who saw the error of his ways and repented. He now punishes evildoers who escape human justice as penance.
  • Supergirl:
    • In Supergirl/Batgirl team-up Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Emil Hamilton. He helped Lex Luthor kill baby Kal-El a long time ago, and he's been trying to expiate his crime since. He doesn't care go to jail as long as he manages to expose his ex-colleague.
      Hamilton: Yes! Thank you! I've worked so hard, thrown everything away, committed terrible crimes... Take me away! I'll gladly accept my punishment knowing Luthor's true nature has been exposed.
    • In Supergirl storyline Bizarrogirl, the Girl of Steel and Bizarrogirl work together to save the latter's homeworld. As teaming up, Bizarrogirl learns morality in human terms, the difference between saving people and killing them and realizes back on Earth she killed a man because he was too loud. Bizarrogirl decides to punish herself and asks Supergirl (who is struggling with her own feelings of guilt) if she'll even be able to find some sort of redemption:
      Bizarrogirl: Does self-punishment end, Supergirl?
      Supergirl: It might never end, Bizarrogirl. We can be sorry for what we've done, be sorry for hurting others, but it's what we do afterwards that really matters.
  • Back in the Marvel Universe, after several attempts to take over the universe, Thanos of Titan may have become the Atoner. In the Atrocious "Marvel Universe: The End" he destroys himself or seems to to save the universe, and then in a self-titled series started wandering around atoning for his old deeds. No one trusted his motives and the series was canceled before it was truly clear how genuine his motives were.
  • Also on the Thunderbolts team, there was Songbird, who honestly saw the team as a chance to redeem herself. Too bad the Thunderbolts were reorganized to be little more than killers on a leash after Norman Osborne took over.
  • A few characters in Vampirella were presented this way:
    • Her mother Lilith was the original wife of Adam who had spawned countless races of demons and monsters upon the world after refusing her role. Seeking to redeem herself, she gave birth to Vampi and trained her to fight monsters in hopes of her hunting down evil. Turns out it was a subversion, she was not really atoning for anything, but planning to take over Hell using the dark essence of all demons her daughter killed. Lilith was using her daughter all along to gain power while using an atoner facade.
    • Pantha used to be an Ax-Crazy cannibal that was worshipped as the goddess Sehkmet and killed children in cold blood. She was cursed by the gods for her cruelty by being transformed into an immortal shapeshifter that could transform into a panther. She tries to atone for her atrocities by fighting evil, but she occasionally suffers memory loss because of the same curse.
    • In a very early story, Dracula attempted to become this trope. In this continuity, the events of the Bram Stoker novel (where he killed Lucy Westenra and nearly turned Mina Harker) were real and with the help of Vampirella and Lilith, he traveled back in time to stop himself from doing either. When it seems he is successful, he ends up faltering and murders both Lucy and Mina.
  • Venom:
  • In War World Superman sets to bring Mongul down after unwillingly helping the galactic despot appropiate the titular, devastating weapon.
  • The X-Men have an archnemesis Magneto who seems to go through regular cycles of Big Bad, Well-Intentioned Extremist, and The Atoner. During one of his atonement phases, he even joined the X-Men.
  • In Batman: White Knight, The Joker is cured of his insanity and transforms into Jack Napier. As a result, he wants to make up for his past as the Clown Prince of Crime by becoming Gotham's White Knight.
  • In The Supergirl Saga, Pocket Universe Lex Luthor becomes this when he accidentally let loose the Phantom Zone criminals from their imprisonment for them to start their reign of terror and devastation on the Earth, even to the point of instantly annihilating five billion people on the planet via Atmosphere Abuse. At the end of the story, when Lex Luthor is killed along with the remaining members of his resistance force, he says to the mainstream DC Universe Superman that he knew about the Gold and Green Kryptonite samples hidden in Superboy's lab, but he refused to use them because he wanted the Phantom Zone criminals' defeat to be by his own hand, and now regrets that decision and has Superman promise to never let that happen again.
  • There was once a boy who gained amazing abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider, and immediately tried to use them for his own benefit. One night, he failed to use his powers to stop a thief from escaping, and flippantly brushed off the people who protested that he easily could have intervened; it wasn't his problem, why should he? Unfortunately, later that night his beloved uncle — who had always tried to teach him that "with great power Comes Great Responsibility" — was murdered, and after pursuing the culprit in vengeance the boy was horrified to discover that it was the same thief he had let escape. Devastated by guilt, the boy from that day resolved to use his powers to atone for his inaction by using them to fight crime as the Amazing Spider-Man.
  • Ultimate Marvel
  • Rat Queens has Sawyer, a former criminal turned captain of the guard of Palisade. When he's tortured for past crimes he accepts it fatalistically.

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