If there’s one thing any hero can count on it’s that, at some point in their illustrious career, they’re going to have to face off against themselves. Sometimes, like with the classic Demon in a Bottle (Michelinie, et al, 1979) this is a metaphorical battle against their own inner demons and foibles but. More often than not, it’s a literal battle against an evil version of the themselves.
Sometimes they’re from another world or a parallel dimension, perhaps they’ve used stolen technology or been cloned from the hero; other times, they are of the same race or seek to replicate the hero’s powers and usurp them. Whatever the case, I’ve always enjoyed a good doppelgänger, generally because they’re just like the hero but dark and edgy or more violent and, being as I grew up in the nineties, I like that kind of stuff. An evil version of a hero can help to elevate the hero by allowing them to overcome their failings and, sometimes, will even edge out of villain territory and become either a full-fledged hero in their own right or a line-towing anti-hero. In either case, today I’m going to run through ten of my favourite dark doppelgängers; evil versions of heroes who are just cool through and through.
First appearing in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo EAD, 1987) this shadowy version of the heroic Link gets the number ten spot purely because he isn’t really much more than a glorified henchmen for main series villain, Ganon. In true Peter Pan (Barrie, 1902) fashion, Dark Link often takes the form of a pitch-black shadow or a dark, distorted reflection and is able to perfectly mirror all of Link’s attacks and abilities. In recent years, he’s appeared more as a phantom and been given more definition but he’s generally relegated to being a sub-boss for a game’s dungeon and never the true threat to the land of Hyrule.
Debuting in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Nintendo R&D1, 1992), this bloated, disgusting, twisted version of Mario is everything Nintendo’s cute and cuddly mascot isn’t: he’s rude, crude, mad, bad, and dangerous. Where Mario jumps on blocks and Koopa heads to save a delightful Princess, Wario barges through walls and tosses his enemies at each other to steal, loot, or recover treasure. Wario even has his own version of Luigi, Waluigi (who exists more for the sake of existing, I would argue) but, while he crashed onto the scene in a big way by taking over Mario’s castle, Wario has softened over the years. He’s transitioned from an anti-hero and begrudging ally to simply a master of ceremonies as Nintendo moved him away from being the star of his own series of unique games and more towards party games and mini games.
Created by Otto Binder and C. C. Beck, Teth-Adam was originally gifted the magical powers of the wizard Shazam and chosen to be his champion, Mighty Adam. After being bewitched and corrupted, however, Adam was stripped of his powers and withered away to dust but, centuries later, was reborn when his ancestor, Theo Adam kills Billy Batson’s parents to lay claim to Adam’s power. Black Adam possesses all of the same powers as Captain Marvel/Shazam but is also gifted with a pronounced mean streak and tactical genius; he briefly reformed for a time, even joining the Justice Society of America and building a family of his own, but his quick temper and deep-seated contempt for humanity generally always drives him into a murderous rampage that few heroes can hope to oppose.
Appearing in what is still probably the best James Bond film ever made, GoldenEye (Campbell, 1995), Alec Trevelyan (masterfully portrayed by Sean Bean) was one of MI6’s top 00 agents. However, wanting revenge against the British government for the death of his family and comrades during World War Two, Trevelyan faked his death and formed a criminal organisation named after his new alias, Janus. Trevelyan makes the list because he’s everything James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) was but twisted towards villainy; he and Bond were close friends and partners and his “death” weighed heavily on Bond’s conscious for nine years, making his betrayal even more sickening. In facing Trevelyan, Bond not only faces his biggest regret and mistake but also himself and what he could easily become if the fates were different.
First appearing in ‘Slash, the Evil Turtle from Dimension X’ (Wolf, et al, 1990), Slash was originally an evil violent mirror of the heroic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who often appeared in Turtles videogames and merchandise as a sub-boss for the Turtles to fight. For me, his most iconic look is when he’s sporting a black bandana, some spiked apparel, razor-sharp, jagged blades, and a heavy, armour-plated, spiked shell. Slash’s look and characterisation have changed significantly over the years as he’s gone from a somewhat-eloquent villain, to a rampaging monster, to an ally of the Turtles depending on which version you’re reading or watching.
Originally (and, perhaps, most famously) portrayed by Roger Delgado, the Master was a renegade Time Lord who rebelled against his overbearing masters to freely wander through time and space. While this closely mirrors the story of his childhood friend, the Doctor (Various), the Master was the Doctor’s exact opposite: evil where the Doctor was good, malicious where the Doctor was kind, and wanted nothing more than to extend his lifespan, conquer other races, and destroy (or break) his oldest rival. Though sporting a deadly laser screwdriver and able to hypnotise others, the Master gets the number five spot simply because he’s been overplayed to death in recent years. Time and time again we’ve witnessed the Master at the end of his regeneration cycle, or destroyed forever, only for yet another incarnation to appear and wreck more havoc. He’s even redeemed himself and turned good before, and yet still returns to his wicked ways to plague the Doctor even when his threat should long have ended.
Speeding onto the scene in Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993), Metal Sonic stands head-and-shoulders above all over robot copies of Sonic the Hedgehog simply by virtue of his simplistic, bad-ass design. A fan favourite for years, Metal Sonic has made numerous appearances in multiple Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team/Various, 1991 to present) videogames, comic books, and other media. Sporting a sleek, aerodynamic design, chrome plating, and a massive jet engine on his back, Metal Sonic did something no one had done at the time of his debut and not only matched Sonic’s speed, but outmatched it on more than one occasion. While Sonic CD is far from my favourite Sonic title, it’s hard to downplay the iconic race against Metal Sonic in Stardust Speedway or his impact on the franchise.
Versions of the Reverse-Flash have plagued DC Comics’ speedsters over the years, most notably Edward Clariss (The Rival), Eobard Thawne (Reverse-Flash), and Hunter Zolomon (Professor Zoom). Sporting a yellow variant of the classic Flash suit and shooting off sparks of red lightning, the Reverse-Flash is generally characterised as using his powers to torture the Flash out of a twisted desire to make him a better hero. Reverse-Flash’s threat is increased by his tendency to travel through time, evading death and plaguing different generations of the Flash; Professor Zoom was even able to manipulate the Speed Force to jump through time and appear to be faster than the Flash. Reverse-Flash has also been the cause of numerous agonies in the lives of multiple Flashes; he’s killed or threatened those closest to him (including Barry Allen’s mother) and delights in bringing the Flash to the brink of his moral code.
Hailing from an alternate dimension where life itself is a crime (as crimes are only committed by the living), Judge Death is the dark counterpart to no-nonsense lawman Judge Dredd. First appearing in 1980 and created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland, Judge Death assumes the appearance of the Grim Reaper and uses his demonic powers to kill with a touch. Rocking a metal design (recently evoked by the Batman-Who-Laughs, another contender for this list), Judge Death takes Dredd’s uncompromising enforcement of the law and ramps it up to eleven. Alongside his fellow Dark Judges, he once slaughtered over sixty million citizens of Mega City One and, despite his corporeal form being destroyed or trapped, has returned time and time again to bring judgement upon the living.
Perhaps the most popular (or, at least, mainstream) of all dark doppelgängers is the alien symbiote who, when bonded to Eddie Brock (or others), is known as Venom. Created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, Venom began life as a black alien costume that absorbed Spider-Man’s powers and abilities and sought to permanently bond with him. When Spidey rejected it, it turned to Brock and, through their mutual hatred of Spider-Man, Venom was born. Sporting a super simple design (pitch-black with a white spider logo, emotionless white eyes, deadly fangs and claws, and a long, drooling tongue), Venom plagued Spidey for years. Immune to Spidey’s Spider-Sense and sporting all his powers, but double the strength and viciousness, Venom has evolved from a sadistic villain, to an anti-hero, to all-out hero over the years but, thanks to their equally violent offspring, has been the source of much death and woe to Spider-Man since day one.
What dark doppelgänger is your favourite? Were there any I missed off this list, or do you, perhaps, feel the evil copy is a played out trope? Drop a line in the comments and pop back for more lists and articles.