When most people look into the mirror, they expect to see themselves but just with a flipped image. A similar thing happens regularly in fiction, but instead of a flipped image, it’s a flipped morality, whether that be full villain or antihero, showing what our hero could have become. Some examples that may spring to mind include Venom, Reverse Flash, and General Zod. While these villains and anti-heroes have many unique characteristics, some of them aren’t exactly mutually exclusive to one another. In most cases, people view them as boring because they have little to nothing unique from the hero, except that’s simply not true. Mirror characters aren’t only full of personality, but they are also essential in defining a character and their lore.
That backstory brings us to how mirror characters are being implemented in comics today. With the current comic event Metal, comes the debut of the new team, The Dark Knights. This is a group of fusion-mirror characters to the Justice League, having all of their respective powers and the mind of Batman, but minus the morality. While we know next to nothing about this group currently, they are nonetheless intriguing. Why is that? It’s because these are characters that are similar to our heroes, but something has changed, something has made them snap. Something has made them darker. In turn, they’ve become but a dark reflection of the Justice League, which will most likely feature the following tropes commonly found in mirror characters.
A common trope of a mirror character is one that has a similar beginning to our hero so that in their inevitable showdown, it’s all the more thematically pleasing when our hero defeats his/her mirror. Some examples that fit this mold perfectly are Eddie Brock and Sabretooth. Eddie, much like Peter Parker, started out as a journalist from a dysfunctional family environment. This of course lead him to being exposed by Peter, which in turn got him fired. This leads to him acquiring the symbiote, which lends him Spider-Man-like abilities. Due to the intergalactic space-ooze, Eddie has all of Peter’s power, but none of his responsibility. Unlike how Peter dealt with grief and anger, Eddie let that fuel him in his quest for vengeance against both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. This creates a dynamic based on revenge, which again serves as moral opposites for Spider-Man’s philosophy of forgiveness, especially prominent with how he handles the burglar that killed Uncle Ben.
Another common quality of mirror characters is that their abilities come from the same source that the heroes’ abilities come from. With this being the case it makes it all the more thematically pleasing when our hero finally defeats them. Two such examples are Sinestro and Malcolm Merlyn. Sinestro was a Green Lantern much like Hal Jordan, and like Hal he had a connection to Abin Sur. But Sinestro began to doubt the Green Lanterns so he left and made fear his weapon, harnessing another side of the emotional spectrum. Sinestro is the result of what would happen if a hero based in courage and their own force of will were to become a figure of cruelty, one who is fueled by the fear of others.
A third factor regarding the success of mirror characters is when they come from a background totally inverted from that of the hero. Two examples that fit this mold are Reverse Flash and the Crime Syndicate. While the Crime Syndicate is literally from an earth where the morality of the DC Universe is inverted, Eobard Thawne is a far different story. His arc starts in the distant future as a fan of the Flash. To be just like his hero, Barry Allen, he recreated the infamous science experiment gone wrong that created The Flash. But, once he went back in time to become a hero, he was brutal, cold, and even calculating in his approach to justice. Eventually he was removed of his memories and powers and was banished back to the future only remembering that he despises Barry Allen. From this moment on he spent his life finding ways to torture Barry, that is after regaining his speed through a time displaced Flash suit. He proceeded to reverse the colors of the suit representing his path, to be the reverse of everything that Allen stands for. This is a complete inversion of The Flash, a character who is heroic in honor of the ones he loves and will do anything to help anyone. Reverse Flash is not that. He is the complete opposite actually, wanting to do evil because he hates his idol, and doing everything in his power to torment him, no matter how insane or unethical.
Mirror Characters are wonderfully complex creations. Dark, twisted, and cunning, but nonetheless wonderful. They come in all shapes and sizes. Young, old, man, woman, human, alien, and even mystical creatures. Venom, Reverse Flash, and Sinestro are but three of hundreds of this archetype of character. These characters function as a good counterpoint to our hero, showing what they could become, showing how they could’ve been, and showing their complete and total inverse from both a origin and moral standpoint.