Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 10 Fictional Characters That Had Heel-Face Turns

From what I understand, the term “heel-face turn” originated from professional wrestling.  It happens when the storyline would require a wrestler playing as a bad guy – called “heel” in pro wrestling jargon – to turn into a “babyface” or good guy (the opposite of which is, obviously, a “face-heel turn”; if you are familiar with professional wrestling, you know already that allegiance to “good” or “bad” is never permanent and constantly shifting to make new story material to work on). 

Hence, this list is about fictional characters that were bad guys at the start but then eventually turned into good guys – or at least started working for the good side.  Actually, I have already written such a list in the past, and this one can be considered as a sequel to it.             

First, let me share the parameters I’ve set in assembling this list:

1.) The characters already featured in my “Top 10 Former Bad Guys Who Are Awesome As Good Guys” are, of course, exempted from this list.

2.) Usually, the appeal of characters that were former “heels” is being edgier and more tortured than characters initially established as “face.”  Thus, to be considered for this list, the characters’ former identity as villains should have significantly helped in making their characterizations and character development interesting. 

For example, Fairy Tail’s Juvia is a former antagonist, a member of Phantom Lord, Fairy Tail’s enemy guild.  She eventually joined Fairy Tail after the Phantom Lord arc and eventually ascended as one of its most important members.  She is a legitimately interesting heroine, but, for me, her origin as a former antagonist was not a big factor in making her so.   (Another example is One Piece’s Nico Robin.)
Gajeel Redfox, however, who has the same origin as Juvia’s, is an example of a protagonist whose former identity as a villain is a significant facet in whatever appeal the character has (that’s why he was on the last list).   

3.) “Last minute” heel-face turns, whenever the villain has a “change of heart” near or at the end of the narrative, don’t count.  Example, when the hero makes the villain realize his wrongs and then the latter sacrifices his life to save the hero/world/day (e.g. Darth Vader).
4.) I don’t consider characters revealed to be only pretending to work with the bad guys and were good all along fitting the concept of heel-face turns (e.g. Severus Snapes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows).
5.) Characters who were initially introduced as “heels” but were actually expected to be eventual “faces” in the story are disqualified (e.g. Hiei of Ghost Fighter). 

6.) Unpleasant, antagonistic protagonists – but nonetheless part of the protagonists of the story – who undergone “change of heart” or moral reformation in the course of the story are disqualified (e.g. Grinch of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Eustace Scrubb of The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol).
7.) In case of still ongoing stories, particularly comic books, the character to be considered should still be one of the good guys as of the present.

8.) Speaking of comic books, there are several super-heroes that were erstwhile super-villains (especially among the Avengers’ ranks).  Silver Surfer, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Wonder Man, Gambit, Rogue, and Emma Frost – to name some – started out as super-villains before becoming prominent super-heroes.  But their days as villains were so long ago already, and right now, they are already established, long-serving super-heroes, hence, the fact that they were former “heels” has not much impact at all.  The best of such heel-face turns in comics are the ones recently done after serving a long time as significant villains, like Red Hulk, Magneto (though likely to return back into becoming a villain eventually), and Venom; they were already featured in the last list. 

10.) TOHRU

Tohru is a character from the ludicrous but entertaining animated series Jackie Chan Adventures (which stars a fictionalized Jackie Chan, now working as an archaeologist).  During the show’s first season, Tohru serves as the lead enforcer for the Dark Hand, the villainous criminal organization that Jackie fights against.  Tohru’s sumo physique made him the sturdiest and most formidable among the Dark Hand henchmen (sans Shendu’s Shadowkhan) but he was usually outclassed in a fight by the martial arts-proficient Jackie Chan.  

As a bad guy, Tohru was intimidating, ruthless, and stern.  But after he was kicked out of Dark Hand and was replaced by Hak Foo as lead enforcer, Tohru found himself joining the Chan household.  And with the same fierce loyalty he had for his Dark Hand boss, Valmont, he now displayed on his new found friends and became extremely protective of them.  His personality also lightened up and became more amiable, meek, and relaxed. 


Shaman King is one of those manga/anime series wherein most of the antagonists during the story’s run are won over by the good guys to join their side.  A lot of characters did heel-face turns through Shaman King’s run, and almost all of them are interesting since they seemed to be irredeemable, thus, when they became allies of the main protagonist, Asakura Yoh, the heel-face turns were unexpected and delightful.  For me, Shaman King and Katekyo Hitman Reborn are the manga/anime series that had best executed heel-face turns in terms of both quantity and quality.  There are a lot of great characters that turned face in Shaman King, but I decided to give only one slot to Shaman King and give the slot to my favorite among them, and that would be Faust VIII.      

Faust VIII’s insanity and oddity as a character are probably what made me like him best above the others.  He is a brilliant but mad doctor proficient in both necromancy and medicine that he can perform many physical procedures on himself that a normal human body can’t do.   When he had a broken bone, instead of letting it heal on its own, he opted to rip it off, and replaced it with a salvaged bone of the same size.  When dropping from an airplane, he happily announced that he injected himself with so much morphine that he won’t mind getting his body smashed on impact, he won’t feel the pain anyway; he would just patch himself up afterwards.  This guy is so enjoyably batshit. 

The first time Faust made an appearance, he was creepy and loony, and could turn sadistic and merciless.  His powers of necromancy fit his personality very well.  When Yoh was scheduled to fight him in the first round, Silva, the Shaman Fight referee assigned to Yoh’s bracket, even urged Anna to forfeit the match for Yoh since Faust had the reputation of killing ruthlessly whenever he likes to.  Yoh still proceeded to fight him but the match resulted in his first ever defeat (if I remember it right).  During this fight, Yoh enraged Faust so much that the latter was on his way to kill the former, and it would have been so, if Tao Ren didn’t interfere.

But in the second round of the Shaman Fight, Faust’s ruthless personality was gone.  He even became part of Yoh’s team!  What led him to be so?  It was established early on that he succumbed to insanity and necromancy because of his obsession of bringing his late wife, Eliza, to life; his ultimate goal is to resurrect Eliza by becoming Shaman King.  Faust’s necromancy only reanimated Eliza’s skeleton and gave it her appearance, but it doesn’t truly have the essence of his late wife.  However, with Anna’s itako powers, she was able to summon the soul of Eliza from the afterlife.  Therefore, it was only then that Faust was able to truly reunite with his wife.  Moreover, since he now has a real human spirit to work with, Faust became more powerful.  Because of finally being able to genuinely interact and communicate with his wife, Faust became extremely loyal to Anna and Yoh, and, being a medical doctor, an invaluable member of Yoh’s Team “Funbari Onsen.”    


Second to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, the most enjoyable character in the Pirates of the Caribbean series is Geoffrey Rush’s Hector Barbossa.  The “heel-face turn” of Barbossa is a bit shaky, since like Jack Sparrow, he has no real sense of morality; both Barbossa and Sparrow, as pirates, just do the things they think will benefit them, readily allying or betraying as the circumstance calls.  But in the context of being introduced as the main antagonist and then becoming one of the protagonists (or, at least, a tenuous ally of the protagonists) in the course of the story, I will consider it a heel-face turn.     

In the first movie, Curse of the Black Pearl, Barbossa was the wicked and treacherous antagonist of the story who mutinied and stole the Black Pearl from its rightful captain, Jack Sparrow.  Barbossa’s identity as a villain was further enhanced by the fact that he and his mutinous crew had become undead when they took cursed Aztec gold.  At the end of the story – due to the accidental assistance of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann – Jack Sparrow got to be in the position to exact revenge against Barbossa, shooting him just as he returned to mortality. 

However, it was revealed in the final scene of the second film, Dead Man’s Chest, that Barbossa had been resurrected by Tia Dalma.  Will and Elizabeth sought his aid to rescue Jack Sparrow from “Davey Jones’ Locker.”  In At World’s End, Barbossa and Jack developed an uneasy alliance, and they fought side by side against the formidable coalition of Davey Jones and Lord Becket.  Barbossa would even conduct the wedding ceremony of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann amidst the final battle (it was an awesome scene).     

In On Stranger Tides, Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa found themselves joining forces again, this time against Blackbeard.  


When I was discussing Vegeta in the first list, I’ve given honorable mention to Piccolo as an interesting “villain-to-hero” character from Dragon Ball.  Now, he gets his own slot on this one.  As a villain, Piccolo was initially ruthless and sadistic, and very much focused on killing Goku (to avenge his father’s death) and to take over the world. 

But in order to take on Raditz, he allied himself with Goku.  It was meant to be a temporary truce, but from that point, after defeating Raditz, Piccolo grew less and less evil, and the threat of invading Saiyans would eventually compel him to be a permanent member of the Z Fighters. 

Piccolo would even train Gohan, the son of his erstwhile nemesis whom he had vowed to kill (Goku sacrificed his life so that Piccolo can kill Raditz, thus, he wasn’t around to train Gohan).  He was a harsh teacher at first, but in the end, he developed a strong bond with him.  Piccolo even proceeded to willingly sacrifice his life for Gohan (of course, in Dragon Ball Z mythos, death is never permanent since people can be wished back to life).  

As the story progressed, Goku, Gohan, and the other Saiyans would tremendously surpass Piccolo in power (especially once “Super Saiyan” mode was discovered) – eliminating him, as other Z Fighters, as a serious contributor or threat – but he still remained as an interesting and important character as he provided tactical wisdom to those doing the fighting. 


Let me cheat a bit.  For this slot, it’s not a single character but a whole team. 

The Thunderbolts team was originally conceived by Baron Zemo, a team made up Masters of Evil members masquerading as superheroes to win the public’s trust.  Which they were able to do.  However, because of experiencing constant successes as heroes, Zemo’s teammates/minions begin to like the feeling of being heroes and eventually broke away from him.  Hence, the members of the Thunderbolts – which includes the criminal shrink, Moonstone; size-enhancer Atlas, formerly a regular super-villain enforcer named Goliath (also Power Man); the armored MACH-I (presently MACH-V), who had been the Spidey-villain, Beetle; and Songbird, formerly Screaming Mimi – who were originally just pretending to be heroes, truly became heroes, completing a “heel-face” turn.   Ironically, it was when they broke away from Zemo and decided to become genuine heroes that they became wanted fugitives from the law after Zemo revealed their true identities.  
From then on, the team has undergone several incarnations and roster changes.  At one time, around the time of “Civil War”, it had even become Marvel’s answer to DC’s Suicide Squad – super-villains implanted by nano-explosives being forced to go on missions for the government.  And, at the present, it’s an awesome team of gritty anti-heroes assembled and led by Red Hulk that kills bad guys to get the job done.   But it all comes down to what made me like the Thunderbolts for the first time: its core premise of a superhero team made up of reformed, semi-reformed, and pseudo-reformed super-villains.  It was the first time I encountered such fascinating premise.  

5.) IAGO

In the first Aladdin movie, Iago was the pet/accomplice of main villain, Jafar.  He resented having to live under the sultan, particularly how the sultan would force him to eat crackers, which he hates.  Iago was portrayed as short-tempered; loud-mouthed; and – probably learning from Jafar – greedy, bitter, and scheming.  At the end of the movie, Iago was dragged and trapped with Jafar in the latter’s genie lamp and was cast into the Cave of Wonders. 

Back when I was a child, when watching the brilliant Aladdin animated series and reading the comic books, I was perplexed how come Iago was hanging out with Aladdin’s gang.  It was only later on that I’ve become aware of the existence of the movie’s sequel, Return of Jafar, and came to understand how Iago became part of the good guys.  In Return of Jafar, Iago escaped from the lamp and chose to join the good guys after being fed up of being pushed around by Jafar.  When Jafar also managed to escape the lamp, Iago was instrumental in his former master’s ultimate defeat.   

Though still retaining some of his character flaws – like his weakness for luxury and money; being easily frustrated; and being mischievous, cowardly, and pessimistic – he had nonetheless come to learn the true value of friendship in his time with Aladdin and friends.  Moreover, the presence of Iago – with his sarcastic wise-cracks, cynical but realistic perspective on situations, and understanding of the criminal mind – is a major contributor in making Aladdin’s gang a delightfully diverse and dynamic ensemble, especially in the animated series.

In the conclusive movie of Disney’s Aladdin story, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Iago decided to join Aladdin’s father, Cassim, in his adventures, feeling that he would be more at home with Cassim’s sense of thievery than with living with the “lovey-dovey stuff” that Aladdin and Jasmine’s marriage would bring.   

David Xanatos is cast in the mold of Lex Luthor: a brilliant and Machiavellian schemer; possesses genius acumen in both business and science; and has access to seemingly unlimited resources provided by his powerful conglomerate.  During most of Gargoyles’ run, he served as the main antagonist of the series.     

Learning of the existence of the Wyvern Clan of gargoyles and the centuries-long curse that put them into “stone sleep” which can be broken if Castle Wyvern is raised above the clouds, Xanatos purchased the ruins of the castle and rebuilt it atop his skyscraper in New York.  He intended to exploit these gargoyles’ sense of loyalty to the lord of the castle so he can use them as his personal henchmen.  The curse was successfully broken and the Wyvern Clan – renamed as Manhattan Clan – was initially deceived by Xanatos.  However, later on, the gargoyles saw through his manipulations and left him.  From then on, Xanatos engaged in a bitter rivalry with the Manhattan Clan, especially with its leader, Goliath.   Xanatos would look for ways to capture or destroy the Manhattan Clan, while the gargoyles would interfere with Xanatos’ criminal operations.  Sometimes there were temporary truces when a common threat arose, but Xanatos, being a pragmatic man, only did them out of self-preservation or self-interest. 

Xanatos’ “change of heart” moment started when he fell in love and got married with Fox.  Gradually, Xanatos softened and grew instinctively protective of his family, probably understanding for the first time Goliath’s devotion for his clan.  After Goliath led the Manhattan Clan to come to the aid of Xanatos and Fox when Oberon was set to take their son for the “gathering” of the children of Avalon, Xanatos became extremely grateful to Goliath and pledged his help whenever the clan required for it.  From that point onwards, with the same cunning and resourcefulness he displayed when he was clashing with the Manhattan Clan, he now applied as the gargoyle’s benefactor.  Xanatos even asked the gargoyles to return to their ancestral home, Wyvern Castle, marking the official end of their feud and the beginning of their alliance.   When the time came that existence of the gargoyles became known to the general public and many parties came to hate and persecute them, it was fortunate that Xanatos was already on their side.


While watching Power Rangers as a kid, it was with Tommy Oliver whom I had my first encounter of an impactful, memorable heel-face turn.  Tommy first appeared as a new student in the high school where the Power Rangers attend in their civilian identities.  He showed his adeptness as a martial artist when he sparred with Jason (the first Red Ranger) in a tournament, wherein he was noticed by Rita Repulsa.  Rita enchanted Tommy to follow her commands, transformed him into the Green Ranger, and then ordered him to destroy the Power Rangers.  He proved to be more powerful than them – beating them in battle, banishing Zordon, and destroying their command center.  However, when Zordon was revived, the Power Rangers were able to counter-attack, and the Red Ranger was able beat the Green Ranger in one-on-one combat, also freeing Tommy from Rita’s mind control.  Giving Tommy the opportunity to redeem himself, Zordon asked him to join the Power Rangers in which he readily agreed, and he became an invaluable member of the team. 
After a while, he lost his Green Ranger powers, but then became the White Ranger later on.  As the White Ranger, Tommy would replace Jason, the Red Ranger, as the new leader of the team.  Witnessing such development had been new to me.  Here’s a former antagonist, and now he’s the leader?!  It was astonishing and delightful to a five-year-old me. 

Tommy’s legend continued to rise.  He became a Red Ranger eventually (since red is the true color of the leader in the Power Rangers mythos), and, years later, became a Black Ranger in a mentor-type role in Dino Thunder.  Now, there is a consensus that Tommy is the greatest Power Ranger ever in the franchise’s 21-year history; for he is a constant badass, a compelling leader, and the guy who won the heart of Kimberly (the first Pink Ranger), the ultimate crush of most 90’s boys.  Not bad for a former villain. 


Spike was initially meant to be a brief antagonist, but the fantastic “punk, badass vampire” characterization and actor James Marsters’ charisma made him so popular with fans that he became a regular.  According to creator Joss Whedon, Spike is the best-developed character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And one can understand why.  His transition from villain, to reluctant ally, to anti-hero, and even becoming Buffy’s lover along the way, was so amazingly well done through the course of the series.  Spike’s heel-face turn was gradual and complex that it’s something you need to witness to appreciate fully (seriously, if you haven’t yet, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel [Spike was part of the main cast in its last season].  Those were great shows).    


This is a bit of a controversial choice for I actually hated Superior Spider-Man during its run.   However, despite my animosity, I had also made it clear that I found it original and genuinely intriguing.  The series kept me absorbed enough to compel me to write several times regarding it.  Besides, most of the hate I have for its concept was because it was done on Spider-Man, the comic book character that I’m most passionate about.  I felt that it blasphemed the essence of what makes Spider-Man exceptional.  Moreover, writer Dan Slott and his conspirators were actually effective in their deception that it was going to be a lengthy status quo (it only lasted for a little more than a year).  

But, again, “Superior Spider-Man” was a fresh comic book concept, and the heel-face turn that was involved in it is definitely the most unique and sophisticated I’ve ever encountered. 

As Doctor Octopus, Otto Octavius was probably Spider-Man’s most dangerous and most prominent archenemy (rivaled only by the Green Goblin).  He possesses a tremendous genius intellect and is arguably smarter than Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man).  He is a brilliant inventor and engineer, and displays great expertise in various scientific fields, ranging from radiation to cybernetics.  Aside from his superb scientific capabilities, he is also a proficient strategist and a criminal mastermind.  Moreover, even with his stout physique, he’s actually a deadly combatant due to his cybernetic tentacles.  But despite of his many advantages, Spider-Man always comes out on top.   

However, when he was in his dying state, Otto pulled off the most triumphant coup of his super-villain career: he successfully developed a mind-swapping Octobot which he proceeded to use against Spider-Man.  Otto transferred his mind into Peter Parker’s body, and Peter Parker’s mind, on the other hand, was placed in Otto’s dying body.

Peter, in his usual tenacious spirit, still made an attempt on reclaiming his body from Otto.  Unfortunately, Otto was able to foil Peter’s desperate effort, ensuring Peter’s demise and Otto’s victory.  However, though Peter couldn’t re-swap their minds anymore, he noticed that their minds were still connected.  Realizing that he was unable to win his body and life back anymore, Peter instead proceeded to make sure that he won’t be leaving the life and legacy of Spider-Man to a villain.   With their minds still connected, Peter made Otto relive all of his struggles, pains, and defining moments as Spider-Man.  This made Otto empathize with Peter’s experiences, comprehending the great responsibility that came with being Spider-Man. 

Before Peter could give out his last breath, Otto promised him that he would carry on the duty of being Spider-Man.  Not only that, but he was determined to become a better Spider-Man than what Peter had been – a Superior Spider-Man. 

So Otto did truly have a heel-face turn as he really strived to succeed as a super-hero.  However, his personality remained the same.  He was conceited, harsh, impatient, and grim.  Yes, he was sincere in his desire of being hero, but his methods of doing so were in an un-heroic manner.  He readily committed brutality.  He was manipulative.  He applied blackmail.  He employed henchmen.  He mind-controlled super-villains to do his bidding.  And, worst of all, he was even willing to take a life… and did!  He believed that the end justify the means.  Though he indeed became a more efficient and more calculating Spider-Man, he was hardly a better hero than Peter Parker.          

Otto Octavius has been enjoyably kick-ass as the Superior Spider-Man, but it’s not what Spider-Man is all about.  And I think that’s the whole message of the “Superior Spider-Man” story.   Being more intelligent, being more powerful, and having cooler gadgets don’t make a better Spider-Man.  Even Otto himself realized that in the end, hence, he sacrificed his life so that Peter can regain control of his body.  The resolute, selfless, determined, uncompromising, witty, and optimistic Peter Parker is the Amazing Spider-Man – it won’t work any other way. 

Nonetheless, as far as doing a heel-face turn and its effect on the characterization are concerned, what was done on Otto Octavius a.k.a. the Superior Spider-Man was fresh and engaging.  At this point, I don’t mind anymore that it came about at the cost of Peter Parker’s temporary death.  

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