Published September 23, 2019

The Biggest Heel Turns in Marvel History

When heroes go bad, they make the best villains!

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The Marvel Universe is home to the best Super Heroes on Earth and beyond. But sometimes, even the greatest heroes fall from grace or go bad. In the vernacular of professional wrestling, this is called a “heel turn.” It’s happened quite a few times in Marvel history, most notably to Phoenix in the DARK PHOENIX SAGA.

In the latest episode of This Week in Marvel, Ryan “Agent M” Penagos and Lorraine Cink shared their picks for the greatest heel turns in Marvel history. Unsurprisingly, both of their picks came from the X-Men.

Ryan’s Pick: Archangel

It’s rare for a hero to fully embrace villainy, much less twice! But Warren Worthington III’s life has been marked by evil since the events of the MUTANT MASSACRE. As one of the original X-Men, Warren lived up to his codename, Angel. But once his injured wings were amputated, Warren was abducted by Apocalypse and transformed into his Horseman, Death.

Angel is Archangel
X-FACTOR (1986) #24

Warren made his debut as Death in X-FACTOR #24, just in time for the FALL OF MUTANTS. It took Iceman’s apparent death to snap Warren out of Apocalypse’s brainwashing. However, his time with the enemy left Warren with physical and mental scars, in addition to deadly metallic wings. As Archangel, Warren rejoined his friends and eventually found love again with Psylocke shortly after X-Factor was folded into the X-Men.

For a time, Warren seemed like he was on the road to a full recovery. His metallic wings became feathers again, and his skin color lost its blue hue. Unfortunately, Apocalypse’s touch is nearly impossible to shake. UNCANNY X-FORCE (2010) revealed that Apocalypse’s long-term plans included transforming Warren into his heir. The Dark Angel Saga unfolded in UNCANNY X-FORCE #11-18, and Warren very nearly dragged Psylocke down with him.

Even after his defeat, Warren’s legacy of evil lived on. He had two children, Uriel and Eimin, with Ichisumi, one of his Horsemen. Within the pages of UNCANNY AVENGERS, Uriel and Eimin emerged as the Apocalypse Twins and they nearly destroyed the Earth.  

Lorraine’s Pick: Madelyne Pryor

Much like Warren, Madelyne Pryor is a tragic villain. There was a time in her life when Madelyne truly loved her husband, Scott Summers AKA Cyclops, and their child, Nathan Christopher Summers. But their happy marriage fell apart in X-FACTOR #1 when Scott learned that his first love, Jean Grey, was back from the dead. Keep in mind, Madelyne was virtually identical to Jean in every way, yet Cyclops still abandoned his wife and newborn to reunite with Jean.

You can see how this would upset Madelyne. She also survived a hit on her life before being rescued by the X-Men. During FALL OF THE MUTANTS, Madelyne proudly stood side-by-side with the X-Men as they met their apparent deaths in Dallas. However, they were resurrected soon afterwards, and that’s where Madelyne’s downfall began.

Madelyne’s anger towards Scott and Jean left her vulnerable to demons from Limbo, including S’ym and N'astirh. Madelyne accepted their offer to become the Goblin Queen, but she may not have fully understood what she was doing at the time. Regardless, the Goblin Queen soon proved to be more powerful than S’ym and N’astirh combined. During INFERNO, Madelyne’s true origin revealed that she was a clone of Jean Grey, and she took her heel turn to the next level. She seduced her brother-in-law, Alex Summers AKA Havok into becoming her Goblin Prince, turned Jean’s parents into demons, and tried to sacrifice her own baby to permanently unleash the demons of Limbo. As villainy goes, that’s pretty hardcore!

Madelyne Pryor learns the truth
UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #241

Although Madelyne perished in the final battle, she keeps reappearing to plague the X-Men. The sad thing is that Madelyne’s true self has never returned. She keeps coming back as the evil villainess that she became.

If you’re looking for more Marvel heel turns, here are some of the most memorable:

Captain America

The dreaded Hydra Cap made his debut in CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS before seizing control of the world in SECRET EMPIRE. “Stevil” has even shown up to haunt the real Cap in the current CAPTAIN AMERICA series.


Hydra Cap

Scarlet Witch

Oh, Wanda. What are we gonna do with you? AVENGERS WEST COAST #56-62 brought out the Dark Scarlet Witch during a very vulnerable period in her life. Things got considerably worse years later in “Avengers Disassembled” (AVENGERS #500-503) when Wanda went insane and nearly wiped out the team. Wanda’s still looking for forgiveness after HOUSE OF M, when she depowered almost the entire mutant population at once.

Scarlet Witch revealed
AVENGERS (1998) #503

Iron Man

Tony Stark is almost always too brilliant for his own good. AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS inverted several heroes and villains. Essentially, this made them switch alignments. But “bad Tony” liked his new persona a bit too much and he made sure that he didn’t revert. Thus in SUPERIOR IRON MAN, Tony was both the hero and the villain of his own story.

Superior Iron Man

Ultimate Reed Richards

Before the Ultimate Universe took on a much darker direction, Reed Richards led the Fantastic Four as Mr. Fantastic. But in ULTIMATE COMICS DOOM, Reed turned himself into the greatest villain his world had ever seen. He rebranded himself as “the Maker” and proved to be extremely dangerous in ULTIMATE COMICS: THE ULTIMATES #1-12. In fact, the Maker is still making trouble in the Marvel Universe after surviving the events of SECRET WARS.

Ultimate Reed Richards


If you were to ask Bishop if he was ever a villain then he would probably deny it. That’s because Bishop justified his mission to kill Hope Summers, the “Mutant Messiah,” as an attempt to prevent a future where she may have caused the deaths of millions. Bishop betrayed the team in X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX, but he went even further in 2008’s CABLE. Bishop chased Cable and Hope across time in an effort to end her life. Ultimately, he realized that his pursuit of Hope may have inadvertently caused the future he was trying to change.

Bishop explains himself
CABLE (2008) #4

When a classic character has lasted decades, it’s only natural to take them in another direction once in a while to explore a whole different side of them. Sometimes, it’s even more fun to take a walk on the dark side!

You can listen to the whole conversation about heel turns on This Week in Marvel!

Stay tuned to for more about its classic characters and their ongoing, ever-changing stories!


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