The Reformed Hero

Written by: Lydia Aaron, Edited by: Sarah Carter

When talking about Reformed Heroes, here are key points that you should focus on:

  • At one point in time, Reformed Heroes were villains who fought against another hero or group of heroes.
  • Eventually, the villain becomes motivated in doing the right thing and becomes a hero.
  • The process of becoming a hero can be hard for a Reformed Hero; therefore, Reformed Heroes must prove to themselves as well as to others that they are truly heroes.
  • Reformed heroes consistently fight an internal battle of right versus wrong; this internal battle eventually influences Reformed Heroes to either make the right decision or resort back to their villainous ways.

The Reformed Hero paradigm focuses on a specific group of heroes who were once considered villains; they are initially introduced as evil villains in a story. As the story plot unfolds, the villains undergo a series of events that begin to change their outlooks on life. Eventually, they experience a change of heart and determine to live the life of a hero. While they may have fully committed to their new ways of life, an internal struggle of right and wrong normally commences and becomes the center of their characterization as Reformed Heroes. Because of this, many Reformed Heroes are sometimes considered Anti-Heroes since this classification allows them to commit wrongdoings for the sake of accomplishing their heroic deeds.

A Reformed Hero becomes good in several different ways. One way this happens is when the villain and the hero both share a common enemy who is normally so powerful that it is in the interest of both the hero and the villain to form a truce and work together. This is a common plot twist used in the Japanese animated television series Dragon Ball Z[1]. Both Piccolo and Vegeta form a truce with Goku and the other heroes in order to defeat a more powerful foe. In the case of Piccolo, it was the three evil Saiyans, Raditz, Vegeta himself along with his partner, Nappa. Vegeta agrees to work with the Z Warriors in order to defeat Frieza who is the leader of an alien army as well as Vegeta’s former leader. This explains why sometimes a Reformed Hero’s reasoning for going against another villain isn’t always necessarily influenced by morally right motives. In the case of Vegeta, he wanted to pursue revenge when Frieza destroyed his planet. Consequently, he was willing to put the lives of other innocent people in danger to accomplish this goal; however, Vegeta’s truce with the Z Warriors marks the beginning of his change into a Reformed Hero.

A villain can also become a Reformed Hero through the positive influence of another hero. Through their actions or persuasiveness, a hero may be able to change the villain’s own ideals and beliefs. For example, the Apostle Paul was persecuted of Christians in the New Testament of the Bible [2]. After being blinded by a bright light (and therefore encountering God), Paul began to seriously question his actions. Shortly after being taught the Gospel by Ananias, who was sent by Christ, Paul (who was referred to as Saul before his conversion), finally accepted Jesus as the son of God, was baptized, and converted to the Christian faith.

Even after a villain finally reforms, he or she must still face many defining trials, such as learning and understanding the responsibilities of being a hero and gaining and maintaining the trust of new companions. This can be a very hard process for some Reformed Heroes, since the Reformed Heroes are normally more willing to commit wrongdoings in order to accomplish their heroic duties. If Reformed Heroes are working with a team, they may be scolded over such behavior, potentially losing the trust of their heroic companions. For example, Zuko from the American animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender[3] is willing to kill anyone who goes against him and the rest of his group. Disunity is often created within the group when members argue whether or not it is okay to kill someone who conspires against them. Specifically in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko himself must learn what is generally accepted as right or wrong.

Due to the criminal past of many Reformed Heroes, it can be very hard for them to initially gain the trust of other heroes. Neal Caffrey consistently faces this problem in the comedy-drama television series White Collar[4]. Because of his outstanding reputation as a con-artist and art thief, many of the FBI agents whom he now works with constantly question him; some of the FBI agents have even gone so far as to investigate him in order to prove that he is still up to no good. In some cases, a hero may actually be right in assuming that a Reformed Hero is not all that he or she seems to be; in other cases, however, they may be proven wrong. If so, the hero may lose the trust and even the help of a Reformed Hero.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Reformed Hero paradigm involves the internal battle of right and wrong that Reformed Heroes must face along the path of discovering what is good and bad. It can be a constant battle for Reformed Heroes to remain good and not fall back into their evil ways. They may also have to deal with another villain trying to turn them back into their old selves, consequently marring their status as a hero. For example, Zuko faces this problem when his sister tries to persuade him into joining their forces again, promising him the things that Zuko has always wanted (in particular, the respect and love of their father). This internal battle of right and wrong is exacerbated when they can’t seem to fit in with the other heroes. When Reformed Heroes consistently feel like they have to prove themselves to other heroes, they may begin to question whether or not it is even worth pursuing the right thing.

Majin Vegeta

When facing such trials, it is not surprising that some Reformed Heroes actually fall back into their previous villain personas (ex: Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z). After being tempted with the strength to finally defeat Goku, Vegeta actually gives in and allows himself to be controlled by the evil sorcerer Babidi. When Reformed Heroes turn back to their evil ways, one of two things normally occurs: the Reformed Hero may realize the error of his or her ways and try to make amends, or the Reformed Hero resorts back into his or her previous villain persona. If the former happens, the villains may or may not be able to correct what they did; nonetheless, they are finally able to resolve their internal battle of right versus wrong. In some cases, they may end up sacrificing their own life in order to correct the wrongs they have committed. For example, after Vegeta finally defeated Goku, Vegeta betrayed Babidi and even fought against Babidi’s strongest minion, Buu. While fighting Buu, Vegeta actually sacrificed his life in an attempt to defeat Buu. However, if the latter option occurs, they may not necessarily remain a villain forever. Reformed Heroes tend to become a bit more hesitant in doing the wrong thing, especially if it concerns harming the heroes that they once considered their friends. This gives the former hero a chance to make things right at a later time.

The Reformed Hero paradigm includes some of the most complex heroes since the paradigm expands on the dark pasts of these heroes and the dramatic changes in outlook they undergo later on in their lives (ex: evil villains turning into heroic figures). Unlike other heroes, their hardest battle isn’t always against a powerful villain, but rather against his or herself in their internal struggle to do the right thing. They must prove to themselves and to other heroes that they have truly changed. Unfortunately, being a hero can be a hard thing for some Reformed Heroes and they may end up resorting back to their evil ways. Because of this, it is often convenient for some Reformed Heroes to act as anti-heroes. No matter the case, Reformed Heroes stand as a testament to how hard it really is to do the right thing and live just lives and how even the hardest of criminals can change for the better.

[1]Toriyama, Akira, “Dragon Ball Z,” Weekly Shonen Jump, December 3, 1984 – June 5, 1995

Dragon Ball Z. Directed by Daisuke Nishio. Japan: Toei Animation, 1989.

[2]“A Hebrew-English Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.” Mechon Mamre. 2005. Last edited 17 Oct. 2012. Accessed 21 Oct. 2013

[3]White Collar. Created by Jeff Eastin. USA: Fox Television Studios, Jeff Eastin and Warrior George Productions, 2009.

[4]Avatar: The Last Airbender. Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. USA: Nickelodeon Animation Studio, 2005.