As a kid, most of us pretend to fly like Superman or pretend that we have cool gadgets like Batman; but the one thing that we don’t like to think about is the origin stories of some of our favorite characters. We don’t want to disrupt that happy image of that epic larger-than-life hero and imagine the tragedy that they have seen or that most of their path is riddled with traumatizing events, murdered family members, death, mutilation, or an immense amount of pain. So since I love to make a list I had to list out the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top Ten: Most Tragic Superhero Origins.
Honorable Mention: Black Widow, The Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange
10. Rorschach – I didn’t read the limited run DC Comics series Watchmen by Alan Moore until the release of the 2009 movie was released. The Watchmen is set in an alternative reality that closely resembles the world of our 1980s. The existence of superheroes in this world drastically changed their real-world events like the Vietnam War (which ended with a US victory in 1971 and the presidency of Richard Nixon does end because the Watergate scandal does not happen. The costumed crime fighters in the series are called “superheroes” though only one of the characters actually possesses any real superhuman powers. The character of Rorschach is especially sad. Rorschach was raised by a prostitute mother and an abusive monster of a father who brutally beat him as a child. The violence that he witnessed as a child turned him into a tightly wound vigilante who wears a white mask with alternating rorschach-esque designs (hence his name). He sees the world in black and white. His character is literally born into ugliness and his hatred of the corrupt is sadly understandable.
9. Superman – Before being rocketed to Earth as an infant, Superman was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton. Jor-El, his Kryptonian father sent him to Earth moments before Krypton was destroyed. The infant Superman was found and raised by Kansas farmers who imbued him with a strong moral compass. As he grew up, the superhuman abilities started to show and as an adult he decides to use his powers to benefit humanity.
8. Spiderman – There can not be a sadder background story than that of Peter Parker. To not only be living with his aunt and uncle because his parents had been killed in a plane crash. Peter was bit by a radioactive spider while on a field trip with his school. He went through some physical changes causing him to have immense physical powers thusly allowing him to gain notoriety and money from that notoriety. One night he allowed a fleeing criminal to pass on by and didn’t use his powers to try and stop him. Turns out that that fleeing thief was the man that had just robbed and murdered his Uncle Ben. He vowed from then on to use his powers for good due to the famous words of his Uncle: “With great power there must also come–great responsibility.”
7. Batman – Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents, Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne which led him to ultimately craft the Batman persona and seek justice against criminals. Wayne keeps suspicion of his nighttime crime fighting persona by portraying the image of the extravagant, playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne. Psychologically, Bruce grew up obsessing over and training to rid the world of the crime underworld that took his parents away. Since Batman/Bruce Wayne does not have any ‘superpowers’ he uses his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, detective skills, intimidation, and indomitable will. His vast wealth allows him to have the funds to use the science and technology around him to create increasingly sophisticated Bat-themed weapons to aid in his continuing journey in crushing the criminals of Gotham City or whatever villain that he may encounter.
6. Doctor Manhattan – I spoke earlier about the only character in the Watchman to actually have powers; well that character was Dr Jonathan Osterman or as he became known: Doctor Manhattan. He was transformed into one of the most powerful beings in the DC Universe after he was painfully disintegrated in an Intrinsic Field Subtractor. He is literally vaporized and over the course of a few months painfully reconstructs himself. So almost immediately after realizing his powers, he is immediately pressed into becoming a pawn for and is used them for the US Government to turn the tides in the West’s favor. The already brilliant scientist gained amazing powers through his transformation, but the experience was excruciating both mentally and physically. His humanity declines as time goes on and he quite literally sheds the uniform of humanity.
5. Swamp Thing – In a turn of events similar to that of Doctor Manhattan, the original Swamp Thing character was originally named Alex Olsen. Olsen was a scientist who was caught up in a lap explosion that was caused by his co-worker and fellow scientist, Damian Ridge. Ridge intended to kill him and gain the hand of Olsen’s wife Linda so he could kill her. The explosion did not kill him, but the chemicals and forces within the swamp altered him into a monstrous creature. The creature kills Ridge before he kills his wife but in the monstrous form, he is unable to speak so he cannot reveal his true identity. So he sadly returns to the swamp.
4. Rocket Raccoon – Now before you laugh at me for putting Rocket Raccoon’s origin above that of Superman, hear me out. Rocket Raccoon aka Rocky aka Rocket comes from the Halfworld planet in the Keystone Quadrant; where animals are genetically manipulated to grant them human level intelligence and bipedal body construction so that they can become the caretakers of the inmates on the planet which houses the mentally ill. Rocket was the colony’s chief law officer. After villains tried to kill him, he and his cohorts fought and destroyed them. They left the planet to go on their own adventures but a short time later he was a laboratory subject on the Stranger’s planet. Thankfully he escaped and was able to go wonderful adventures and become a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy but the training and powers that he has are all thanks to a pretty miserable origin. To gain the cybernetics that cause him to be more powerful, he was quite literally torn apart.
3. Spawn – The antihero Spawn was originally USMC Retired Lt Colonel Albert Francis “Al” Simmons. Simmons was a highly trained Force Recon Marine who at one point saved the President from an attempted assassination. He was promoted to a high level and was recruited to work with the CIA and worked on a black ops team. Once there he began to question the morality of what he was doing because some of the missions seemed wrong. Simmons’ friend and partner, killed him after he was hired by Jason Wynn to do so. In a blazing inferno, Simmons was killed and due to his sins on Earth (specifically the killing of innocents while working with the CIA), was damned to Hell. While in Hell, Simmons made a deal with the evil being known as Malebolgia and in exchange for his soul, would once again be allowed to see his wife. However, when returned to the human realm, five years had gone by and he was transformed into a demonic creature with only faded memories of his former life. After he gains his memories back, he seeks out his wife, only to find out that she had moved on and married his best friend whom with she had had a daughter. After this the Violator, forces Spawn to use his powers for the benefit of Hell.
2. The Crow – James O’Barr created The Crow series as a way to cope with the death of his girlfriend, who had been killed by a drunk driver. Eric Draven’s story in the Crow is extremely dark. The happiness of Eric and his girlfriend Shelley is thwarted while returning from a romantic getaway when their car breaks down on a deserted road and a car full of gang members stop to take advantage of their misfortune. They shoot Eric in the head which only paralyses him, and he is forced to watch the gang rape and then murder Shelley in the car. Eric dies hours later in the hospital. A year later, Eric is resurrected by a supernatural Crow (who is the link between the living and the beyond, so that the dead that he resurrect can seek justice on the person/people that harmed them) who helps him exact vengeance on the men responsible for their deaths.
1. Wolverine – The life of James Howlett is anything but picturesque. The guy literally had a crappy life from the beginning. James was born in northern Canada during the late 1880s to rich farm owners though he is actually the illegitimate son of the Howllett’s groundskeeper, Thomas Logan. Thomas is kicked off of the family farm after his other son, Dog, tries to rape James’s childhood companion, Rose. Rose was brought in to the help take care of James because he was an extremely sick child. His illegitimate father comes back to the farm out of anger and kills John Howlett. In a fit of rage, young James’s mutation manifests and he kills Thomas with bone claws that emerge from his hands.
He flees with Rose and he works on a mining colony in the Yukon territory where he adopts the name “Logan”. Logan accidently kills Rose with his claws and lives in the wilderness among the wolves. He is captured and is placed in Hugo Haversham’s circus. While at this circus he meets Saul Creed and his sister Clara. Clara is the animal handler at the circus and saw the human quality inside of the wild beast that Logan had become. She tries to civilize him but her brother is not happy about their relationship. Saul sells Logan’s location out to the leader of the Marauders: Mister Sinister. The Marauders, who act as a commando strike-force, assassinate other mutants and carry out acts of mass murder. Nathaniel Essex aka Minister Sinister tries to kill Logan and Clara but Logan accidently stabs Clara in the malay. He thinks Clara is dead so he goes and drowns Creed in Sinister’s potion. Turns out that Clara is not dead but is so hurt by Logan killing her brother that she tells him that she doesn’t want to ever see him again.
Logan is again broken hearted but returns to civilization and lives with the Blackfoot Native American people. After a while there, Logan is again faced with the death of a friend or lover when Victor Creed (brother of Clara and Saul), now known as the infamous Sabretooth kills his Blackfoot lover, Silver Fox. Logan is then ushered into the Canadian military during World War I before spending time in Madripoor (a a fictional island in Southern Asia known as a haven for pirates, essentially lawless and does not extradite criminals). After Madripoor, he moves on to Japan where he trains with ninja and martial arts master Ogun. While in Japan he falls in love with and marries a local woman named Itsu. Logan returns home from a failed ceremony for their soon to be born child and finds Itsu dead from gunshots to the head and stomach.
He again leaves emotionally broken and during World War II, he continues his career as a mercenary and even teams up with Captain America. He serves with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during D-Day, and later works with the CIA before being recruited by “Team X”, a black ops unit. During his time with Team X, Logan is given false memory implants and is under mental control. He breaks free of the mental control and joins the Canadian Defense Ministry before being kidnapped by the Weapon X program. While there he is held captive, experimented on, and has his entire bone structure forcibly/painfully fused with adamantium. He escapes and begins to work with an intelligence operative for the Canadian Government. He becomes Wolverine and in his first mission, he is dispatched to stop the destruction caused by a brawl between the Hulk and the Wendigo. Later Professor Xavier recruits Wolverine to be a member of the new iteration of the X-Men where it is revealed that he was ctually sent there to assassinate Professor X but Professor X wiped his memories and forced him to join the X-Men. After many years of being in the X-Men, Wolverine has the adamantium forcibly torn from his body which causes his healing factor to burn out and it almost kills him.
And that is just a brief summary of the hell that this man has gone through. Wolverine may be a celebrated and well loved character, but he has gone through a lifetime of massively traumatic events.
Cover of Black Widow #1 (April 2010) by Daniel Acuna. Fair use. All Marvel characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33270654
Superman in “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” (August 2005). Art by Alex Ross. Fair use. Trademarks & Copyright © DC Comics, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Cover of Detective Comics #27 (May 1939 DC Comics). Art by Bob Kane. “Detective Comics #27 from The Grand Comics Database. Retrieved December 19, 2004. Full front cover as published. Fair use. Trademarks & Copyright © 1939 DC Comics, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy NYCC 2014 by Docking Bay 93 – CC BY 2.0, Fair use. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41693096
Textless variant cover art of Infinity Countdown Prime #1 (April, 2018). Art by Adi Granov. Fair use. All Marvel characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15524006