Writing the anti-hero is a relatively new problem in the realm of comics. It is hard to trace the rise of the anti-hero, most people will point to the Punisher or Wolverine as the source of this focus towards someone else than the champion of justice as protagonist, but it roots potentially go back a lot further, to the original darker versions of Batman. The problem with writing these characters is to make them both approachable but also make their actions seem justified in some way. Regardless as this concept has progressed, there has been not only a shift from hero to anti-hero but also of anti-hero to villain. This is perhaps most evident in recent times, with the massive expansion of comics following the new 52 and Marvel NOW! as we now see the likes of Magneto and Sinestro headlining their own series. The problem of this writing is that it ignores the villain based approach of the character’s past and provides them with a heroic set of circumstances to undertake.
It would seem that the most popular villains are not ones that are truly evil in an absolute sense, but rather ones that made a moral decision which put them on a path to villainy. Generally speaking this choice can be interpreted as one of utilitarianism, that of the greatest good for the greatest number. When Sinestro decided to rule over Korugar as dictator, it was because he believed that this was the best way to protect his people. Equally, many of Magneto’s actions have been ones of creating a safe future for mutant kind or at least of protecting them in some way. It is thus rare that as readers that we get a truly malevolent character that we are supposed to identify with. It is the nature of moral philosophy that there are no right answers, and so some could regard the behavior of Sinestro or Magneto as correct and righteous. There are of course a number of complexities to such questions and as there is no real answer, they can be debated for all of time to no definite end.
It might be well to identify the fact that there are different kinds of villains, and that the ones that tend to gain more fans are the ones who are wrestling with these dilemmas. There is still a problem though, and that is that these characters are still evidently evil. When Sinestro invaded Earth during the course of the Sinestro Corps War (from 2007) he was not doing so as an act of conflicted good will towards his people. He was trying to destroy the Green Lantern Corps. Granted that he thinks that the Green Lantern Corps is corrupt and therefore evil, but the degree of carnage and destruction which he is willing to impart upon others in the wake goes above an argument of a greater good. The same holds true for Magneto and many of his own decisions, they may be morally correct as the character regards them, but they are also evidently still evil, at least in application.
It becomes a problem therefore of how to write these stories. In the first story arc of Sinestro which just finished in issue #5, there has been a shift of the character away from true evil to a sliver of the moral dilemma which he originally faced. In this sense it is kind of a dialed-down version of the character who acts heroic, an anti-villain. In the past Sinestro is shown to be ruthless, but so far in the series he is shown to be only sometimes argumentative, in most cases either with his Green Lantern daughter Soranik or his Green Lantern protégé Hal Jordan. It is not the Sinestro which some fans love to hate, but rather a falsely heroic version of the character, shoved into a somewhat heroic role in order to act as protagonist. If the character were to revert to some of the previous behavior fans would not be able to read the story in the same way, or at least not those that are drawn to comics because there is a morality to the heroes. That the writers of Sinestro have gotten this far while focusing on worse aspects of the character is admirable, and in fact this series thus far is perhaps the best of the DC cosmic based series since the new 52 reboot. The problem is though that there is still some distance to go, not only for the character but also for his evil acts. Fans will be convinced (fooled?) only as long as Sinestro can keep up the false heroics, but in terms of his history in the DC Universe, how long can that be?