Anti-heroes are an essential part of the comics ecosystem. For years, companies had heroes who might go a little farther than others, but they were still demonstrably heroes; it wasn’t until the 1970s and the rise of the anti-hero in movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish that comics truly embraced the concept. Since then, it’s been off to the races, as some of the most popular Marvel, DC, Imageand Dark Horse characters have been anti-heroes.
Nowadays, it’s hard to even imagine the comic industry without them. Anti-heroes are everywhere in comics, their popularity helping some of the biggest franchises of all time create memorable stories.
10 Marv From Sin City Is A Crime Comics Icon
Frank Miller’s Sin City brought crime comics roaring back to prominence in the ’90s. The crime-addled Basin City was the perfect backdrop, and Miller’s cast of characters shined through, sharp-edged diamonds in the rough. The most popular was Marv, an ugly massive block of square muscle, a violent thug with memory problems, and a heart of gold.
Marv struck readers from the first story he starred in, “The Hard Goodbye.” he would become the poster boy for Sin City, returning in three subsequent stories set before the first one. He best exemplified the series’ violent ethos and helped propel it to dizzying heights.
9 Winter Soldier’s Return Found A Way To Make Bucky Interesting For Modern Audiences
Bucky Barnes was an important part of the legend of Captain America, but mostly for being dead. For years, an unwritten rule of Marvel was that Bucky stays dead, but that rule was broken in 2005. Returning as the mysterious Winter Soldier, Bucky battled his former mentor before Cap was able to redeem him and bring him back to heroism.
Since then, the Winter Soldier has walked the fine line between hero and assassin, acting as Captain America for a time before going back to being the Winter Soldier. The character’s popularity in the comics led to MCU success, making him one of the more well-known anti-heroes in comics.
8 Red Hood’s The Black Sheep Of The Batman Family
Jason Todd was the bad boy Robin, a more mouthy, violent version of the classic sidekick that fans weren’t exactly in love with. Notoriously killed by a fan vote in “A Death In The Family,” Todd would return as the Red Hood in 2005, a banner year for dead sidekicks coming back, looking for revenge against Batman and the Joker. Eventually, he’d find his way back to being a hero and rejoin the Bat-Family.
Red Hood may have been on the side of angels again, but he kept his more violent ways. Since then, he’s had several ongoing series, led his own team of Outlaws, and butted heads with heroes and villains alike because of his attitude and methods.
7 Spawn Is Image’s Most Popular Character
Image Comics was a powerhouse in the 1990s, and a big reason for that was Spawn. The brainchild of superstar writer/artist Todd McFarlane, Spawn was the perfect exemplar for the fledgling company; Big cape, big chains, spikes, and a bad attitude. An assassin resurrected in a cruel deal with the demon Malebolgia, Spawn immediately struck a chord with readers in the ’90s.
Since then, Spawn’s horror-tinged anti-hero adventures have wowed fans. The character is one of the few Image characters to be continually published since the company’s inception, and Spawn can still set sales records even thirty years after his heyday.
6 Deathstroke Has Always Been More Anti Than Hero
Deathstroke quickly became the most popular Teen Titans villain, a super-soldier enhanced mercenary who was a threat to the entire team. Helming his own series, Deathstroke’s blood-soaked adventures saw him branching out from fighting the Titans and embracing the path of the anti-hero. However, he was just as liable to go back to villainy as anything else.
Deathstroke embodies the anti-hero ethos more than most anti-heroes; he’s a morally reprehensible man in a world of shining happy superbeings, and his only motivation to do good is money and a twisted sense of morality.
5 The Punisher Is One Of The Grandfathers Of The Comic Anti-Hero
The Punisher debuted as an assassin hired to go after Spider-Man but became so much more than that. His simple design and tragic backstory resonated with readers, and he’d become a part of Marvel’s big one-two anti-hero punch that kickstarted the trend. Since then, the Punisher has starred in some amazing stories that stretch the definition of the word “hero” and dive deep into his fractured psyche.
The Punisher’s popularity has risen and fallen over the years, but he’s an important part of the bedrock of the anti-hero trope. He’s had a lot of forgettable stories that were just violent romps, but his best stories have always explored ideas of violence and revenge in ways more thoughtful ways than most would have imagined from the guy in the skull shirt.
4 Black Adam’s Ultra-Violent Methods Made Him A Star
Black Adam spent years as a cartoonishly evil villain battling Shazam, the first and former Captain Marvel, before JSA Writers Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer transformed him into an anti-hero superstar in the pages of their book. Black Adam quickly became a fan favorite, a man with an older moral code who went too far with the violence but had his reasons.
Fans empathized with Adam at every turn, and he became one of the most popular anti-heroes in comics. Nowadays he’s walking a more heroic path than before, but he’s still no goody two-shoes paragon of virtue. He’s a hard-edged and pragmatic man willing to do whatever it takes to vanquish evil.
3 Deadpool Broke The Anti-Hero Mold To Become Something Special
Deadpool was originally created as a Deathstroke rip-off, a wisecracking mercenary to fight the newly rechristened X-Force. He surged in popularity and eventually got a chance at solo stardom, something which changed the character completely. While he was still an ultra-violent killer, the humor took a front seat, taking a cliché character and making him into a legend.
Deadpool became the funniest anti-hero ever, a fourth-wall-breaking loon that fans loved. However, there was still a core of sadness to the character, one that kept him from being a buffoon and allowed the writers to explore the pathos of the Merc With A Mouth in unexpectedly thoughtful ways.
2 Harley Quinn Went From A Side Character On A TV Show To Mega-Stardom
Harley Quinn had a long strange trip to stardom. Debuting as the Joker’s girlfriend in the classic Batman: The Animated Series, her violent gangster moll at the mercy of a monstrous psychopath immediately made waves with viewers. Eventually moving over to the comics, she bounced between being Joker’s battered love interest and One of the most irredeemable heroes in the DC Universe before settling into her anti-hero niche.
Harley Quinn became an icon like a select few anti-heroes before her. Her violent antics and over-the-top humor are a thin veneer over one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe. Harley’s struggles to leave the Joker’s abuse and torment to find love and acceptance make her quite different from most other anti-heroes before or since.
1 Wolverine Made Anti-Heroes The Biggest Thing In Comics
Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, which is selling comics. The knockout blow of Marvel’s opening one-two anti-hero punch alongside the Punisher, Wolverine helped catapult the X-Men to stardom and has since become one of the most popular comic book characters ever. He exemplified the anti-hero ethos to a tee, a haunted, violent man with a heart of gold who never stopped fighting to be better.
Wolverine has been many things over the years — a samurai warrior-poet, a gruff soldier, a slick black ops assassin, and a linchpin superhero of the Marvel Universe — but at his core, he’s still the best and most important anti-hero in comics. His popularity is as rabid as ever, and without him, the comic anti-hero never would have become the force it did.
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