15 Emotional Comic Book Moments That Made Us Shed A Tear –
The advent of the age of superhero comics in the late 1930s introduced a wave of characters that inspired awe and wonder from readers. These characters could fly, leap tall buildings in a single bound and exhibit feats of strength that made them appear more God than man. And yet, despite these unbelievable demonstrations of power from the likes of Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash, these characters maintained a sense of innocence because comics had traditionally been marketed to children and teenagers.
The Marvel Age of Comics, which was launched in 1961 with the publication of Fantastic Four #1, marked the beginning of a phase of profound change for the comic book industry. Suddenly, these funny books were being injected with doses of realism and tragedy. Men became monsters. Heroes felt the pangs of conflict. Characters were forced to confront more complex ideas like loneliness and isolation.
From there, the comic book industry produced stories that not only made us laugh, or filled us with a sense of awe, but also made us cry. These landmark stories pushed the boundaries of the medium and engaged and connected with readers by depicting moments of disease, heartbreak and death. Readers could now identify with their favourite heroes because they dealt with similar problems and pain.
The following 15 moments are among the best examples of how the comic book medium is capable of using its world of fantasy to exhibit the very real pathos of human existence. So get your tissues ready and brace yourselves for some heartache.
15. Foggy Nelson Has Cancer
Since taking over as lead writer on Marvel’s Daredevil series in 2011, comic book legend Mark Waid has examined the friendship between law partners Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson better than any other creator that preceded him. This pronounced focus on Matt and Foggy has led to some emotionally wrought stories, including the heartbreaking Daredevil #23 when Foggy is diagnosed with cancer.
Leading up to this reveal, Matt had poked fun at Foggy’s poor physique and propensity to eat junk food a number of times. But when Foggy tells his partner that hes been suffering from headaches and joint pains for a while, Matt brings him to a doctor to get checked out. Waid and artist Chris Samnee masterfully tell the scene in the doctors office where Foggy gets his results. As the doctor enters the room, Matt uses his radar sense and picks up what he thinks is Foggy’s rapid heartbeat. Matt continues to remain calm until he realises it’s actually the doctor’s heartbeat that’s reflecting worry and panic. Matt is instantly overcome with sorrow and puts his hand on Foggy’s shoulder.
That one action alone, signals to Foggy that he is about to get some terrible news. As tears well in Foggy’s eyes, the only bit of dialogue the reader gets from the doctor is, sorry. As Daredevil, Matt has saved Foggy dozens of times over the years. But this story serves as a reminder that sometimes there are even bigger threats to our loved ones than the likes of Bullseye and Stilt-Man.
14. Return Of Colussus
Typically, superhero resurrections are designed to be celebratory and jubilant affairs, but Joss Whedon and John Cassady are not your typical comic book creators. As part of their opening Astonishing X-Men arc Gifted, the X-Men are investigating rumours that the mysterious lab BeneTech is experimenting on a mutant they believed to be dead. Most of the team members think it’s Jean Grey, but while phasing through the laboratory, Kitty Pryde discovers her former love Colussus.
Kitty is so shocked and overcome with emotion, she doesn’t even move. Colussus beats down a couple of armed guards, and then collapses to his knees in front of Kitty, tearfully asking am I finally dead? Never has the return of a fan favourite character felt so bittersweet.
Colussus had supposedly died a very noble death a few years earlier when he injected himself with the Legacy Virus, allowing a cure to become airborne. Instead, he was so badly abused and tortured by BeneTech, his first reaction when he sees Kitty is to plead to be dead.
13. Orpheus Looks Back
Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed Sandman series is chock full of emotional moments depicting pain and loss, but none may be as despairing as The Song of Orpheus. For the Sandman Special one-shot, Gaiman reimagines the classical Greek tale of Orpheus by making him the son of series protagonist Dream (Morpheus).
Per the ancient story, Orpheuss wife Eurydice is killed by an asp on the day of their wedding. In an effort to resurrect her, Orpheus travels to the Underworld and appeals to Hades and Persephone. The Underworld rulers agree to send Eurydice back on one condition: Orpheus must walk in front of her as they travel back to the upper world and he can not look back to see her.
Of course, Orpheus has a moment of doubt about his wife and looks back which causes Eurydice to be pulled to the Underworld. The absolute tragedy of the situation is sold by Orpheus’ scream of No, while the art team of Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham beautifully depict Eurydice fading to black.
The Song of Orpheus demonstrates that even a story that is thousands of years old can still emotionally resonate today if told correctly. And with such a special team of creators behind it like Gaiman, Talbot and Buckingham, this old story still has the capacity to make us tear up.
12. Alfred Mourns Damian
While the death of any child in a comic book is inherently tragic, Damian Wayne’s passing in 2013 was a special case. The 10-year-old son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, Damian had a bizarre upbringing and was trained by the League of Assassins as a child, learning to kill at a very young age. When he eventually assumed the mantel of Robin, he often clashed with his father over his don’t kill philosophy, and was generally portrayed as being erratic and violent. As such, Damian wasn’t just some kid who was just killed - this was something he was essentially prepared and ready for.
Still, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason manage to give the character an appropriate and emotional sendoff in the pages of Batman and Nightwing #23. The comic focuses on Bruce using Internet 3.0 to revisit the night of Damians death, and then kicks it up another emotional level by addressing how the shocking event has impacted the Wayne family butler and friend, Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred, who first helped train Damian when Bruce was dead during the Batman R.I.P. storyline, blames himself for the childs demise.
As he revisits that fateful night, Gleason gives the reader a visual of Alfred holding a sleeping Damian in his arms. And that’s when the full emotional magnitude hits the reader. Damian Wayne, hardened killer, was still just a little boy.
11. Sue Reed’s Miscarriage
Going back to its debut issue in 1961, The Fantastic Four had always placed an extraordinary amount of focus on the family dynamic of its four characters: Reed Richards and Sue Storm (who would become husband and wife), Johnny Storm (Sue’s brother), and Benjamin Grimm (a longtime friend and confidante). Like real families, these characters all loved each other, but would often disagree and bicker.
And as these characters aged and evolved, Marvel was always certain to highlight major family milestones like the marriage of Sue and Reed and the birth of their first son Franklin. Unfortunately, portraying the Fantastic Four like a real family cuts both ways - there were plenty of moments to celebrate, but also times when things were sad and tragic.
In a landmark story from John Byrnes writer/artist run in the mid-1980s, Sue miscarries what would have been her second child because of radiation poisoning from the Negative Zone. Like so many other arcs in Fantastic Four history, stories of this ilk weren’t typically covered in mainstream comics.
Adding to its inherent sadness is the fact that Reed, in a desperate attempt to save the life of his wife and his unborn child, actually enlists the help of noted villain and murderer Doctor Octopus, an expert in radiation. Doc Ock is initially reluctant to team-up with Reed, because he believes it is some sort of trap. By the time Mr. Fantastic finally convinces Doctor Octopus to help Sue, she has already miscarried.
10. The Death Of Harry Osborn
In the world of Spider-Man comics, Peter Parker and Harry Osborn have long had a complicated relationship. Harry blamed Peter’s alter-ego, Spider-Man, for the death of his father, Norman (who masqueraded as the supervillain the Green Goblin). At one point in the 1970s, Harrys anger for Peter/Spider-Man reaches such a tipping point, he took on the mantel as the Green Goblin, and attempted to strike back at the hero by murdering his Aunt May. Spider-Man was able to defeat Harry, and after some therapy, his marriage to Liz Allan, and the birth of his son Normie, Osborn appeared to be cured from his bout of insanity.
That’s when J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema decided to take Harry down the path of evil again, as part of their Spectacular Spider-Man storyline The Child Within. In this story, Harry is haunted by the ghost of his father, and returns to the Green Goblin persona to exact justice on Spider-Man. Peter is distraught to be fighting his friend again, and is unprepared and unwilling to use his full strength on Harry, despite the fact that the Goblin is threatening the safety of his wife Mary Jane, and Aunt May.
The storyline culminates in Spectacular Spider-Man #200, when it appears that Harry has defeated Spider-Man, leaving him to die in a building that is rigged to explode. However, Harry suddenly feels guilty and goes back to save Spidey seconds before the bomb goes off. Immediately after his moment of heroism, Harry falls to the ground and he dies in the back of an ambulance.
What makes Harry’s death so tear-inducing is how there are no words; DeMatteis and Buscema let images tell the entire story. Despite the lack of dialogue, Buscemas pencils are so extraordinary, they are able to convey how the two have reconciled and love each other. The final image of the comic is a photo of Peter and Harry in younger, happier times, reminding the reader of a what a world with less complexity and evil looks like.
9. The Death Of Superman
More than 20 years after it was first published, Superman #75, aka, The Death Of Superman, is generally derided by critics and fans as a publicity stunt that indirectly led to the comic book speculator bubble bursting in the mid-90s - an event that almost destroyed the entire industry. But even the most jaded and cynical comic book fan should hopefully be able to put aside all the noise and hoopla generated by this story and understand just how powerfully sad of a moment Supermans death was a the time.
Superman wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill superhero - he was an America icon and a global sensation. Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 is single-handedly responsible for launching an entire genre of storytelling , a genre that has persevered for more than 75 years. To kill off a character as important to the world as Superman – how often does a fictitious characters death become leading news on a network like CNN? - regardless of DCs motives or agenda, is overwhelmingly upsetting.
Having him die in the arms of his one true love, Lois Lane, adds even more emotional weight to the moment. Yes, Superman was resurrected less than a year later, and all of those people who spent an exorbitant amount of money on black market copies of Superman #75 lost money on their investment, but the character’s death was one of the few times the entire world was brought together to celebrate and mourn the life of one (fictitious) person.
8. Tony Starks Confession
Marvel’s Civil War event in the mid-2000s pitted long-time friends and Avengers teammates Iron Man and Captain America on opposite sides in a battle over the government-sanctioned Superhero Registration Act. By the end of the war, Cap and his team of registration act protesters surrender to Tony’s pro-government forces in an effort to stave off the loss of more lives. Tony then looks the other way when the government parades Captain America around like a war criminal, which allows assailants (it turns out to be a combination of Crossbones, Doctor Faustus, Red Skull and a brainwashed Sharon Carter) to murder the Red, White and Blue Avenger.
The 2007 one-shot Civil War: The Confession by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev deals with the fallout from Cap’s murder. In it, a very distraught Tony makes his confession to Cap’s corpse. He tells his old friend that he knew this war was brewing for years and always anticipated that they would be on opposite sides of the battle. Tony was okay with the war destroying their friendship because they both ardently believed in their respective causes. But now that Captain America was dead, Tony concludes, it wasn’t worth it.
Any person reading this story who has had a unresolved falling out with a best friend will likely identify with and be devastated by Tony’s grief. Captain America and Iron Man are two of the biggest icons in comic books, but they are inextricably linked because of their relationship and camaraderie. They were both soldiers who, through avoidable circumstances, went from fighting on the same side to fighting each other.
7. Death Of Agent 355
The dystopian Vertigo series Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, tells the tale of the only man, Yorick, to survive a plague that has wiped out every male mammal on the planet. A secret agent, dubbed Agent 355, has been assigned to protect Yorick as he tries to make his way to Boston to meet with a geneticist that hopes to clone him and save mankind. Eventually, Yoric’ks existence is betrayed to an Israeli commando Alter, who plans to use the man as leverage in her counrty’s geopolitical conflict with pretty much every other nation in the world.
Initially, the Agent 355/Yorick dynamic is strictly a business relationship, as the man is determined to find his fiancé Beth as part of their journey. But the two characters slowly start to fall in love with each other over the course of the series, and Yorick eventually comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t want to marry Beth and instead wants to spend the rest of his life with 355.
In one of the most shockingly sad scenes in the history of comics, in the third-to-the-last issue in the series, 355 admits to Yorick that their feelings are mutual and even whispers (the reader never sees it) her real name to him. In that instant, Alter shoots 355 in the head with a sniper rifle, killing her. Never has the lost of a comic book character felt so unquestionably unfair.
6. Krypto’s Sacrifice
Nothing pulls on the heartstrings like the death of a pet. Ask any pet owner who has seen films like Marley and Me or Old Yeller if they shed a tear at the end of those movies, and they are 100 percent lying to you if they say no.
Alan Moore’s epic Superman storyline Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow is the comic book equivalent of Old Yeller. In it, Supermans longtime pet Krypto the dog, sacrifices his life to protect his master when he attacks the deadly Kryptonite Man. Superman apparently hears his beloved dogs death howl but is unable to do anything to help him.
Adding to the emotional weight of the scene is the fact that Kryptonite Man is incapable of understanding why a dog would be willing to sacrifice himself for a loved one. Perhaps because Kryptonite Man never had a pet growing up to help him understand the unconditional love that comes with that relationship.
5. Peter Rasputin Loses His Sister
Peter Rasputin, better known to comic book fans as the metallic mutant Colussus, is the quintessential gentle giant of Marvel comics. Despite being very tall and incredibly powerful, he is typically characterised as being quiet, shy and a bit of a pacifist. Because of the characters innocence, the death of Peter’s sister Illyana to the Legacy Virus in Uncanny X-Men #303 feels all the more sad and tragic.
On a team of complex heroes and anti-heroes like Wolverine and Cyclops, Colussus was the last mutant reader’s would ever wish pain and suffering on. As if Illyana’s death by itself wasn’t enough to bring a tear to the eye, writer Scott Lobdell and artist Richard Bennett deliver a beautifully crafted issue-ending sequence between Jubilee and Jean Grey that is utterly heart wrenching.
Because Colussus is stunned into silence by Illyana’s death, Lobdell and Bennett use Jubilee to emote feelings of grief and despair. The young mutant is comforted by Jean - certainly a character that knows a thing or two about death - who tells her Jubilee, “we come into the world alone, and we leave the same way”. If the tenderness of that line of dialogue doesn’t open the floodgates for a reader, then there’s no telling what will.
4. The Death/Funeral Of Sue Dibny
Nearly 10 years after it was first published, the Brad Meltzer-scripted Identity Crisis miniseries continues to polarise fan opinion. But whether you love it or hate it, the brutal murder of Sue Dibny, the wife of Justice League-member Ralph Dibny, aka, the Elongated Man, and her subsequent funeral in the very first issue, remains one of the most shocking and gut-wrenching moments in comic book history.
Part of what makes Sue’s death so memorably sad is the way Meltzers script builds to the ultimate reveal. The issue starts with Elongated Man and Firehawk on a stakeout, when Firehawk starts asking Ralph questions about how he met Sue. Over the course of conversation, Ralph expresses his love for his wife, while also mentioning the inherent threat that exists for her because she is married to a superhero with a publicly-known identity.
In traditional, Chekovian-gun fashion, Sue is attacked by an unknown assailant and Ralph arrives at the scene (she was planning her husband’s annual surprise birthday party) only to find her dead on the ground, horrifically burned. As an added knife in the back, the creative team adds in the detail that Sue had just taken a pregnancy test and it was positive. Meltzer then immediately follows Sue’s death scene with her funeral an affair that is attended by nearly every hero in the DC Universe, plus a number of media members and spectators.
Reminiscent of celebrity funerals that occur in the real world, a number of DC characters speak about Sue’s life until things end with Ralph, who is too choked up to get any words out. The whole issue is just so profoundly sad. Of course, Identity Crisis would become far more controversial from here, when it is later revealed that Sue had been raped by Dr. Light year’s before her death, raising legitimate questions about how women tend to be portrayed in mainstream comics.
3. The Death Of A Prince
While the Bronze Age era unquestionably brought darker, more somber stories to the comic book industry in the 1970s, few comic book readers anticipated the tragic events of the 1977 story, Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams, which marks the death of Aquaman’s young son, Arthur Curry III.
In this story, Aquababy is kidnapped by the villain, Black Manta, and is held in a sphere that is filling with air. Aquaman is forced to battle his sidekick Aqualad or the child would be killed. Aquaman frees his son by throwing a trident at the sphere, but it’s too little too late, and the child is already dead. The image of Aquaman holding his child accompanied by the narrative – “There is hatred in the world. There is injustice, prejudice, corruption, but none of these matter anymore” – is absolutely heartbreaking to look at especially when you consider the historical significance of this moment.
Up until this point, young children were generally considered off-limits in mainstream comics. But this Aquaman storyline established an unsettling precedent that any character is fair game to be killed off.
2. The Night Gwen Stacy Died
The 1973 Amazing Spider-Man storyline, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, is considered a definitive moment in comic book history. In it, Gwen Stacy, the girlfriend of Peter Parker, aka, Spider-Man, is killed after she is thrown off a bridge by the villain, the Green Goblin. Spider-Man attempts to rescue Gwen by webbing her leg to break her fall, but inadvertently snaps her neck instead.
The storyline is historically significant because it marks one of the first times in mainstream comics that an innocent, non-superpowered character is killed. This event is made even more egregious by the fact that the hero is depicted in failing in trying to save her. The story’s grittiness has led some comic book historians to cite it as an unofficial transition point from the more innocent, fantastical Silver Age of comics, to the darker, more realistic Bronze Age. In fact, the storyline has been dissected and discussed by fans and critics so frequently over the past 40 years it has arguably lost some of its emotional impact.
However, if you put yourself in the shoes of a Spider-Man fan in 1973, reading The Night Gwen Stacy Died for the very first time without any knowledge or prejudice about what was about to come, then you will understand why this story is considered one of the most extraordinarily sad moments in comic book history. How many comic books can stake the claim of ending an era of innocence for an entire industry?
1. Don’t Look Back Carl
Readers of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic series will likely note that it’s unwise to become emotionally attached to any character because they will probably be murdered by a flesh-eating zombie, or worse, a rival gang leader in the post-apocalyptic universe.
So while it was shocking and devastating to watch Lori Grimes, wife of the series protagonist, Rick, and their baby Judith be murdered by one of the Governor’s henchmen in the final chapter of the Prison arc, the true tear-inducing moment took place after that ambush. By the end of Walking Dead #48, Rick, and his surviving son Carl are left all alone as the prison they once called home has been overrun by zombies. Carl, unaware of the death of his mother and sister, asks his father why they’re running away from the prison without Lori and Judith. Rick, unable to verbalise the tragedy that has befallen their family, can only tell his son, “Don’t look back”.
Again, it’s not the death of these characters itself that is inherently sad, but rather the fact that Kirkman has created this cruel world where a young boy is unable to appropriately mourn the loss of his mother and baby sister.