Heroes make up the bulk of literature nowadays. They are our shiny, perfect protagonists that charge into battle and rid the world of evil with either their magic, prowess, or wit. Now, heroes usually stick to a tight moral code. They never stray into the gray area where society’s rules are bendable. They truly are model citizens, ones that would never take a life and would give up everything if it meant keeping the people close to them safe. With that said, could a hero become a villain if it meant keeping their loved ones safe from harm? Would they give up everything if the price was right?
This is a good question. Not many people would agree that some of literature’s greatest heroes would turn to darkness, but these days, authors turn their protagonists into villains right in front of the readers’ eyes. Villain protagonists are dotting our pages and they make people question if some of the greatest heroes could eventually transform into something darker if the right opportunity presented itself.
Eren Yeager, is a perfect example of a hero that turned into his story’s villain. As the main protagonist of Attack on Titan, the manga series, Eren’s job is to help save humanity from the titans; giant, humanoid beasts that feast on human flesh and have broken into the walled city Eren calls home. The titans are destroying everything in their path and eating the people Eren cares dearly about, including his mother, Carla Yeager.
Since Eren was gifted the ability to turn into a titan, it is his job to help rid the world of these mindless, hungry creatures. Complacently, Eren takes this newly appointed job along with the help of his friends and they set off on a mission to restore humanity to its former glory.
When Eren gets betrayed by some of his friends, however, and he finds out they are the ones that orchestrated the titan attack that killed his mother and his people, Eren changes. Revenge is the only thing on his mind and it clouds his judgment. Avid fans of the series watch as the young man that was once full of life becomes a shell of his former self. Overwhelmed by grief and the urge to enact revenge on the people that unleashed the titans into his city, Eren organizes his own heartless attack and declares war on the people he thought were his allies. He ends up killing and spilling innocent blood, throwing a hero’s moral code “not to kill” out the window.
Many Attack on Titan fans might argue that Eren is still the same hero he was at the beginning of the manga series and that his actions reflect the war he is currently in. Still, it is hard to justify Eren’s actions for slaughtering many innocent people later in the manga series. Of course, loyal fans of Eren do not want to see him venturing down this beaten path, but the facts are laid out right in front of them. Eren Yeager is a villain now, and Attack on Titan’s author, Hajime Isayama, is not the only one turning their characters into more sinister versions of their former self.
Some other classic heroes to villain characters are Liv from The Black Prism, Adelina from The Young Elites, and Light from Death Note. DC comics also have heroes that embody villainy later in their lives after years of hero work. Supergirl is a prime example of this when she becomes one of the Red Lanterns.
Additionally, anti-heroes are making a comeback in literature. These anti-heroes lack conventional hero qualities, sometimes commit acts that are borderline villainous, and do not follow the hero’s code. My Hero Academia’s Katsuki Bakugo is the protagonist and Izuku Midoriya’s bully, even though he is a superhero in training. He also does whatever it takes to win and will beat down his enemies till they are almost dead.
Additionally, Marvel’s Black Widow, Wolverine, and the Winter Solider take a page out of Bakugo’s book. They are not afraid to kill and get their hands dirty in hero work to protect the lives of the people around them. They are not the strait-laced heroes that follow the hero’s code like Harry Potter, Charles Xavier, and Percy Jackson. They are an entirely new breed of heroes gracing literature’s pages and showing that heroes are turning into something entirely different.
In the end, some of the greatest heroes and anti-heroes can get sidetracked away from their morals. They could switch sides if the price were right or if the taste of revenge is just too sweet in their mouths. Eren Yeager is not the first hero that has lost his way and fumbled and dropped the hero’s code. Many others might surprisingly change sides in the years to come, and readers will have to wait and see how their favorite characters evolve under pressure. Will they become a diamond? Or crack and split into some fragmented piece of their former self?