dc villains

As an exaggerated form of our lives, comics hold a unique place in discussions of morality. In a world of superpowers, extremes tend to become the norm. Heroes represent the quintessence of truth and righteousness, while villains naturally turn to the vilest of evil schemes. This is especially true with DC villains. In a world of Batmen and Jokers, there’s very little middle ground. Sometimes, though, a hero or a villain slips into the grey area, becoming antiheroes. Even more rarely, though, a character can completely flip-flop sides in a single story arc.

Oddly enough, it’s professional wrestling that gives us the necessary terminology. When a villain turns to the side of the angels, we witness a “face turn.” Now, Marvel Comics is much more famous for this type of storytelling. However, I have found five DC villains that have performed their own face turns. Some of these characters are massive names, while others are little more than side characters. Each, though, holds a major importance to the DC Universe as a whole. So, without further ado, here are the top five DC villains that have turned heroic.

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5. Pied Piper, The Man of Music

DC Villains
FLASH #222. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Pied Piper is one of the Flash’s oldest villains. First appearing in FLASH #109 in 1959, the Pied Piper acted as a thorn in Barry Allen’s side for over twenty-five years. Using his genius-level intellect, Harley Rathaway developed a number of sonic-based weapons that allowed him to control the minds of humans and animals. After several years in print, he even began to lead an army of rats into battle, making him a mirror for the Piper of lore. He turned to crime as a means of excitement and escapism. This all changed, though, after Barry Allen’s death in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. The Pied Piper retired from crime, and while he has slipped back into his old ways on occasion, he’s now a steadfast hero and dating the Central City Crime Lab Director, David Singh.

Of the DC villains on this list, Hartley Rathaway is likely the least recognizable. With music and rats as his gimmick, you’d be forgiven for this oversight. However, despite his somewhat corny weapon, Pied Piper is one of the earliest of DC face turns. He’s also incredibly important for becoming one of comics’ first openly gay vigilantes. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played a role in many modern comics. In fact, his last major appearance came in the early days of the New 52, where he joined the Flash to fight the Rogues. Nevertheless, the Pied Piper is one of DC’s most important characters. For many fans, he has thankfully found a place on CW’s THE FLASH, but the comic book readers of the world should be clamoring for Hartley’s return to the pages.

4. Star Sapphire, The Bearer of Love

GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS vol. 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

DC villains, especially those of the Silver Age, often have strange origins. Take Carol Ferris’ Star Sapphire, for instance. Her entire life, she harbored strong emotions for Hal Jordan (AKA Green Lantern). This love drew the attention of a race of aliens from the planet Zamaron. In order to strike back at the Guardians of the Universe, the Zamaronians forced the Star Sapphire Gem on Carol, giving her incredible but uncontrollable powers.

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Carol’s villainy would come and go over the years but, for a long while, she and her greatest love were the greatest enemies. This gem, though, didn’t bear the full strength of the Star Sapphire’s powers. Only when Carol fully accepted her role as a guardian of love could she truly save the universe.

Carol Ferris is one of DC’s most interesting characters. For many years, she was largely defined by her oversexualized costume and her obsession with Hal Jordan. However, writers have since discovered the potential in this strong leading woman. After ridding herself of the uncontrollable gem, she proved herself worthy to join the Star Sapphires. This group, despite having the same name and powers, carries with it one main difference. They have full control of their faculties. During BLACKEST NIGHT, Carol learned that the Star Sapphire Gem is simply a weapon thrust upon deeply loving individuals. The Violet ring is a decision, though. Carol has proved herself since, showing time and again that she’s one of DC’s best reformed villains.

3. Lobo, The Main Man

DC Villains
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

First appearing in THE OMEGA MEN #3, Lobo has had a long history riding the line between hero and villain. Though he began life as a villain and enjoyed his time there, he spent most of the ’90s as a reluctant antihero. A bounty hunter from the planet Czarnia, Lobo only cares about one thing: himself. For many years, money was the only determining factor for Lobo’s villainy. This eventually got him into a lot of trouble in the Rebirth event JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD. Here, Maxwell Lord recruited a number of DC villains to take out the titular two teams. Lobo, in the final battle moments of the battle, faced a major change of heart. Then, surprising comics’ fans everywhere, Batman invited him onto the new Justice League of America, likely knowing he wouldn’t be accepted onto the main team.

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To be fair, Lobo didn’t join the JLA willingly. Rather, he owed Batman a favor, and the Dark Knight came to collect. Yet while Lobo never quite grew past his many, many character flaws, his impact on the team was great. He wasn’t just the group’s main tank, as this role could have been filled by other characters. No, Lobo actually acted as the glue that held the team together. When Ryan Choi (AKA Atom) lost hope in their heroics, Lobo actually inspired him to keep fighting.

After JUSTICE LEAGUE: NO JUSTICE ended, he hasn’t made another major appearance. However, I still have hope that he remains a hero. His character is far too interesting to simply relegate to a villainous role yet again, and with his daughter Crush a member of the Teen Titans, it would be good to see a daddy-daughter team-up in the future.

2. Killer Frost, The Heat Vampire

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD #2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Caitlin Snow carries with her one of the most tragic supervillain backstories. A young S.T.A.R. Labs scientist, Caitlin was sent to an Arctic outpost to complete her predecessor’s work. While there, though, her fellow researchers betrayed her, locking her inside the experimental technology in an attempt to murder her. The device didn’t kill Caitlin Snow, however. Rather, it transformed her biology. Now, she could control cold and ice. Nevertheless, these powers came at great cost. She could no longer produce her own body heat, and she needed to feed like a vampire on the warmth of other people. This put her at odds with characters like Firestorm, who she saw as the only cure for her vampiric condition.

While there have been other versions of Killer Frost, Caitlin Snow only made her first appearance in 2013. From there, she’s traded blows with and fought alongside some of the world’s greatest superheroes. Her first foray into superheroics came during the FOREVER EVIL event, in which she helped Steve Trevor fight off waves of supervillains.

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Her true reform wouldn’t come until JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD, though. During this story, Maxwell Lord trapped her with the rest of the Justice League, hoping that she would turn her vampirism on the heroes. Instead, she fought it off for months afterward. Batman, seeing her strength of will, invited Caitlin Snow onto his new Justice League of America. She’s remained on the side of the angels ever since.

1. Harley Quinn, The Beloved Jester

DC Villains
HARLEY QUINN #1 Variant Cover. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Out of all the DC villains on this list, Harley Quinn needs no introduction. At this point in comic book history, this character’s popularity has never been higher. No matter your opinion on the divisive SUICIDE SQUAD film, nearly everyone agrees that Margot Robbie’s performance of this psychiatrist turned supervillain is one of the best in the Worlds of DC. Since her first appearance on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, Harleen Quinzel has captured the hearts of fans everywhere. While simply a fun addition to Batman’s rogues’ gallery, that doesn’t explain this character’s sudden stardom.

Harley Quinn’s popularity stems from several places, but her current heroic nature only speaks to her origins. Essentially enslaved by love to the abusive and neglectful Joker, Harley Quinn evolved over her years with the madman. While originally obsessed with him at every turn, Harley slowly slipped away from his influence. In the end, she found herself as well as love outside of her abuser. Her story is one of the few in Batman’s rogues’ gallery that signals the improvement of one’s mental health. Harley is a testament to the strength of will and healing, as well as a commitment to self-improvement. It only makes sense, then, that she’s one of the most important characters in comic books today.


On Face Turns and DC Villains: Final Thoughts

The face turn for DC villains isn’t as prevalent a theme as it is for other publishers. Marvel Comics, in particular, has a long history of face turns, going all the way back to Namor’s redemption in CAPTAIN AMERICA. In some ways, this blurs the borders between hero and villain and creates a world of intrigue. In others, it lessens the impact of each subsequent turn. For DC antagonists, a face turn may only be temporary. In fact, many a hero and reformed villain have slipped into villainy on a number of occasions. Let us not forget that famed Hal Jordan murdered dozens of Green Lanterns during his possession by Parallax. Nonetheless, when these turns happen, they mean something.

Whether they happen often or rare, the face turn is deeply embedded in comic book history. It represents the fact that we’re not owned by our mistakes. Given a strength of will and some patience, we can find redemption. This is an important lesson for any reader, no matter their age or beliefs. As human beings, we all fail and fall at times. By looking to characters like these listed here, we can understand that we aren’t limited to these failures.

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