We know heroes by their deeds. And the greatest heroes are the ones whose legacies are as big as space and as enduring as the stars. Unfortunately, sometimes great deeds also include terrible actions.
Here are eight of your favorite epic heroes who have committed mass murder, or even genocide. Out-of-date spoilers ahead...
In the animated series episode "Standing Room Only", ghosts on the run from Mee-Krah, a recently awakened ghost-eating monster, approach the Busters — begging to be trapped in exchange for sanctuary. It isn't long before every ghost in New York is waiting to be captured, and the Ghostbusters are struggling to keep up. When Mee-Krah's path of destruction threatens to destroy New York (the Sahara, Gobi Desert and Death Valley were the results of his past visits), Peter makes a startling suggestion: "Hey… Sparky feeds on ghosts, right? So, lets leave a trail of ghosts, and lead him out to sea." "Great idea!", replies Ray. Winston adds, "We sure have enough ghosts to go around." It's then Peter turns to Slimer, "You sure you want to go on this run, Spud?" and is answered with an enthusiastic, "Uh-huh, Uh-huh!"
At no point do any of the characters stop to question the morality of feeding frightened, trusting ghosts to an ancient, soul-devouring elemental, so Peter, Winston and Slimer depart in their private gyrocopter, the ECTO-2, releasing terrified, confused Class 5's from their traps and into the snapping jaws of Mee-Krah's death beyond death. Eventually, they're able to over-gorge the monster with a machine that absorbs spirit-energy, effectively killing Mee-Krah when it eats the ectoplasmic residue of 1612 ghosts simultaneously. (Which is, coincidentally, the same year Rubens completed his masterpiece, Massacre of the Innocents.) The episode ends with Peter offering this justification for ghostly genocide, "You can do anything, as long as you do it scientifically."
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight comic book series, the consciousness of a new universe called Twilight imbues Angel with Superman-like powers. Twilight convinces Angel that in order to fulfill his destiny and save the world, he must kill as many potential Slayers as possible in a gambit to, essentially, antagonize Buffy into having time-travelling astro-sex with him. Their passion results in the creation of the paradise-like Twilight dimension, and heralds the destruction of the present universe. Angel tries to convince Buffy to stay in Twilight and rule, believing it morally wrong to be an absent God in a reality of his own making, but she declines, opting to rescue the present universe by destroying the "Seed of Wonder", the source of all Earthly magic. Twilight demands that Buffy and Angel finish what they started –- it possesses Angel and kills Giles.
On his own TV show, the question of whether Angel was truly a hero, or merely a very talented victim was one of the series major overarching themes. (He did spend two hundred years of immortality eating rats and riding on submarines, not even considering helping the helpless until it was pointed out to him.) Could the actions of a demon, being naturally evil, be compared to those of human beings, who have more or less a choice in their actions? As a human, Angel was a cruel and violent drunk and becoming a vampire ultimately made him a better man. Though to many, the season eight series and Angel's attempt at Slayer-cide provided the final nail in the coffin of Angel's character/crusade.
In the must-read "apocalypse war" story, Mega-City One is first torn apart by artificially induced "Block-Mania," and then invaded by Soviet Judges from East-Meg One. Almost the whole city is occupied, and the Sov Judges run over citizens in their massive rad-sweepers. So Judge Dredd and a hand-picked squad travel to East-Meg One, where they break into a missile silo and use it to nuke the entire Russian city. As the Sov Judges beg Dredd not to murder half a billion people, Dredd says, "Half my city is burnt to ashes by East-Meg missiles — and you're begging ME for mercy? Request denied." Later, the Soviets actually invite Dredd to kill their own War Marshall, as the only way to stop this war.
In the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager, a Captain Janeway from twenty-six years in the future deliberately injects herself with a "neurolytic pathogen", and is voluntarily assimilated by the Borg Queen. The pathogen takes hold, allowing the Voyager to fire a legion of transphasic torpedoes at the suitably weakened Borg's transwarp network, killing the trillions of drones within and atomizing their Unicomplex. Once out of the explosion, the USS Voyager realizes it has arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant, where the crew is greeted as heroes rather than as some of history's biggest murderers.
Before he slaughtered the Jedi council, strangled his pregnant wife and assisted with the destruction of Alderaan (though after massacring the Sand People) Anakin Skywalker spent his early days alongside his padawan Ahsoka Tano as a war hero in the Clone Wars, slaughtering countless sentient droid fighters. His adventures can currently be seen on Cartoon Network.
This quote from Harvey and Eisner award-winning writer, Jason Aaron sums it up best: "So basically George Lucas has given us a show set in pre-World War II Germany where you find out Goebbels and Himmler were actually pretty cool dudes. Almost as cool as Anakin Skywalker, the other big hero of the series. Who we all know eventually turns out to be Hitler!"
Hailing from the planet Zenn-La, the astronomer formerly known as Norrin Radd lead an unfulfilled life, dissatisfied with the sedentary nature and complacent attitudes of his people. When the planet-devouring giant, Galactus, decided to pay a visit, Radd volunteered to travel the universe, seeking out tastier, alternative planets for him to consume, under the condition the monster would not eat his own homeworld. Amused, Galactus agreed, and imbued Radd with a portion of the Power Cosmic, transforming him into his new herald, the Silver Surfer.
It wasn't until the Surfer met the Fantastic Four on Earth that he began to question the morality of his mission and revolted against his master — and although he was a willing accomplice to the deaths of countless trillions, the Silver Surfer remains quite popular. In fact, when the Living Tribunal offered him a "moment of godhood" he agreed he was worthy of the honor and readily accepted. And people pick on Cyclops. Image by Nestor Allende.
During the Death of Superman storyline, the alien despot Mongul, with an assist from the Cyborg Superman, obliterated Coast City, the hometown of Hal Jordan (still the most beloved of all characters to wear the title) killing most of its 7 million population in an attempt to terraform Earth into the new Warworld (exactly how it sounds). Understandably upset, Hal tried to reverse the incident with his ring, but was reprimanded by the Guardians for misusing his power. This lead to a complete mental breakdown for Jordan, in which he attempted "universal genocide" by stealing as many power rings as possible, destroying Oa, homeworld of the Lantern Corps, in the process. Years later, Hal made a stab at redemption by sacrificing himself in order to reignite the Earth's dying sun. And even later than that, Jordan came back to life and the whole incident was retconned as being the work of a fear parasite called Parallax.
In the 1975 serial "Genesis of the Daleks," the Doctor has the chance to annihilate the Daleks, a race of genetically engineered tyrants whose existence has brought untold suffering unto the universe. Instead of making the obvious choice, he stops to ask himself, "Do I have the right?"
Since then, he's answered his own question: "I do atrocities now. Atrocities are cool." For a character who frequently makes moralistic pronouncements and shows plenty of righteous indignation towards other people's actions, he is probably responsible for more deaths than any action hero or horror icon of the 1980's.
Here's an incomplete checklist:
He infected the Vervoids, an enslaved species of humanoid flower, with a life-accelerating pathogen –- leading to his own trial on charges of genocide.
He obliterated Skaro, homeworld of the Daleks, remotely from Earth with the Hand of Omega. Later, he destroyed both the Daleks and the Time Lords, his own race, at the end of the Last Great Time War.
Drowned the final surviving Racnoss hatchlings to prevent them from eating humans on Christmas.
Accused his own genetic duplicate of genocide when *he* killed all the Daleks this time, and banished him to a parallel universe.
Broadcasted footage ordering all invading Silents (Doctor Who's take on alien "Greys") to be killed on sight.
…And those are only the ones that made it to television.
In his 1103 years, the Doctor has racked up a body count that could be conservatively tallied in the trillions. It's gotten so bad, for a while he was able to defuse any potential conflict by doing nothing more than introduce himself.