Why do we read sad stories? For whatever reason, there’s something absurdly cathartic about digesting a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing tale of death, abuse, or perpetual states of teenage angst. We’ve experienced this with films, we’ve experienced this with novels, but for whatever reason, until recently, comic books have more or less been written off by people who don’t regularly read them as frivolous, shallow entertainment with no real emotional impact.
Marvel Comics has been in the business of making people cry for as long as they’ve existed. Between the heavy social commentary on discrimination we’ve seen in X-Men titles dating back to the ’60s all the way up to the death of America’s First Avenger in 2007, Marvel knows how to pull at our heartstrings. Here are some sad Marvel comics that will make you cry. Vote up the most emotional Marvel moments.
Ultimate Peter Parker’s End
Ultimate Spider-Man, like the rest of the Ultimate universe, promised to be a darker, more edgy take on everyone’s favorite Web Head. How, then, do you make a story about an orphaned teenager losing his father figure due to his own arrogance even more depressing? Easy. You off him when he’s 16.
In the Death of Spider-Man arc, Peter can’t really catch a break. He gets beaten within an inch of his life by the Sinister Six, but repeatedly puts off medical treatment in order to save his family and his community. He takes a bullet for Captain America, survives a bridge blowing up, and still manages to bash Norman Osborn with a truck. The resulting fireball, however, finally does him in. With the last of his strength, he manages to tell Aunt May that he “did it.” He made up for not being able to save Uncle Ben by saving her.
With that, Peter Parker draws his last breath, leaving New York City a better place than he found it.
Tony Stark’s Postmortem Confession To Steve Rogers
While it’s easy to argue that the saddest moment from the Civil War crossover event was the passing of Steve Rogers, Tony Stark’s admission of guilt to Captain America’s lifeless form in 2007’s aptly titled Civil War: The Confession was more emotionally impactful for some readers. Character ends in comic books are cheap and rarely permanent, but the same can’t be said for emotional revelations.
Following Cap’s slaying, Tony Stark made a shocking confession to his old friend. He tells him that not only did he sense a conflict fomenting for years around the government registration of superheroes, but that he also knew they would fight on different sides of the issue. Stark was prepared to sacrifice their friendship since he knew they’d each be entrenched in their own ideology, but he didn’t anticipate Captain America’s demise.
It was a haunting eulogy and confession that reverberated through the Marvel landscape for years afterwards.
Spider-Man Faces 9/11 Head-On
When the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened in September 2001, it was genuinely difficult to process, especially for kids young enough to both comprehend what was going on and simultaneously have no idea the gravity of the situation at hand.
That following December, Marvel released The Amazing Spider-Man #36: Stand Tall. The issue gives an incredibly real look at what lower Manhattan was like the day the towers fell, and through the eyes of Peter Parker, readers realize that the emotional confusion they felt that day was universal.
The Invisible Woman’s Miscarriage
The Fantastic Four comics have never been afraid to explore all aspects of family life, the light and the dark. Things tipped the scale towards darkness, for example, in John Byrnes’s 1984 Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #267.
Sue Richards (The Invisible Woman) is pregnant with her second child by Dr. Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). Due to her unique physiology and unstable genetic makeup, childbirth is potentially fatal. Mr. Fantastic tries to get help from an unlikely source (Dr. Otto Octavius, AKA Dr. Octopus) but is waylaid when the twisted scientist struggles and tries to break free. By the time he finally gets to the hospital with Doc Oc in tow, Sue had already lost the baby.
It’s a tragic moment that showcases the vulnerability of Marvel’s First Family, and indeed the feelings of loss anyone would feel in a similar situation.
Foggy Nelson’s Cancer Diagnosis
Mark Waid knows how to pull on reader’s heartstrings. When he took over Daredevil in 2011, he put no small amount of effort in to exploring the relationship between Matt Murdock and his affable partner Foggy Nelson. Unfortunately, it was revealed to all be set up for a heartbreaking revelation.
In Daredevil #23, Murdock takes Nelson to the doctor for issues including headaches and joint pain, no one saw the tragedy that was coming. In fact, when Matt’s radar picks up an elevated heartbeat in the doctor’s office, he first assumes it belongs to Foggy and that his friend is nervous. Almost too late, he realizes that it’s the doctor’s heart rapidly beating with stress and anxiety. Murdock puts his hand on Nelson’s shoulder, and as tears well in his eyes we know the hammer is about to fall. The only dialogue from the doctor? “Sorry.”
Nelson’s cancer is heartbreaking, and perfectly expresses the torrent of emotions that can come with an unexpected diagnosis.
The End Of Captain America
In 2007, Marvel wrapped up its multi-title crossover event Civil War with The Death of Captain America and a series of five one-shots, collected as Fallen Son, each of which goes through a different stage of grief (Wolverine – denial, The Avengers – anger, Captain America – bargaining, Spider-Man – depression, Iron Man – acceptance) in the aftermath. Public reaction to Captain Roger’s passing was so overwhelming that it permeated into mainstream news.
Some outlets highlighted Cap as the moral beacon that’s been there since the ’40s, setting the standard for morality, while other outlets simply reported it wouldn’t be permanent and was simply a means to soft-reset the character, since he had somewhat fallen out of touch with the modern world.
Both were right, of course, considering Cap is often seen as the “lawful good” character on the standard D&D alignment chart and nobody really stays gone except for Uncle Ben.
Gwen Stacy’s Fall
In 1973, a small story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man (#121-122) greatly changed the way comics were perceived as a whole – the night Gwen Stacy died. Prior to this, the thought of offing someone so close to a main character’s personal life outside of something akin to an origin story was pretty much unheard of and became one of the first mile markers of the Bronze Age of Comics.
Subsequent issues involve Spidey questioning the exact cause of Gwen’s demise – was it the shock from the fall? Did he inadvertently end her with his webbing, snapping her neck due to the force of the whiplash? The arc deals with the guilt that grief brings in a truly heartfelt way.
The Mind Control Of Jessica Jones
What makes Brian Michael Bendis’s Alias so incredible is the level of understanding both he and Michael Gaydos have when it comes to portraying both fear and trauma in comics. For those of you that might have only watched the Netflix series Jessica Jones, which was based on Alias, it should be noted that there are some significant differences between the properties.
In the show, Jessica is mind-controlled and assaulted by Kilgrave/The Purple Man. In the comics, Jessica is also mind-controlled but is told to stand next to Kilgrave and watch, helplessly, as he assaults other women, commanding Jessica to wish it was her, and commanding her to cry. This is all told second hand by Jessica, but just watching the character recount this on the page makes anyone squirm.
Kitty Pryde’s Great Sacrifice
Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men brought a lot of fans to the title, not only because of his prior work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but because the writing is just so good that it became a great gateway comic for the title.
Whedon did what he normally does and turned a character, Kitty Pryde, that was more or less seen as the cheerful teammate that was often dismissed into something so, so much more. During her final moments in Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1, Kitty phases a massive 10-mile-long bullet made of alien metals through the Earth, saving the planet and countless lives before drifting off into space, never to be seen again.
‘No More Mutants’
Photo: MarvelThe Scarlet Witch is arguably the most powerful character in any comic book published under the Marvel umbrella, and you could easily claim she’s more powerful than any character from DC, Image, or any other comic company as well. Wanda Maximoff’s powers (at the time) stemmed from her mutation as well from the tutelage of one Agatha Harkness and consist of mystic arts as well as the ability to warp reality itself.
That being said, things get especially wild in Marvel’s House of M crossover event. Over the course of the series, it’s revealed that Wanda was effectively manipulated into creating a perfect world for all of the Avengers and X-Men/Mutants (eg: Spider-Man is married to an alive Gwen Stacy, Homo-sapiens are the minority species and Magneto rules over mutant kind as head of the House of M).
The reveal happens, and during a moment of passion after Magneto nearly takes out Quicksilver, Wanda utters the phrase “No more mutants,” wiping the X-gene out.
Darth Vader Learning About Luke
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, what was once known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the pre-buyout canon, was effectively erased, resulting in what is now known as Legends. One of the new canon titles published under the Disney/Lucasfilm/Marvel umbrella was the Darth Vader solo series, which explores the time period between Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and often ran parallel to the Star Wars comic.
In issue #6, Vader employs Boba Fett to track down the Rebel pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Fett returns with the pilot’s name – Skywalker – and Vader relives every moment that defined him up to that point in a recollection that can only be described as haunting.
Jean Grey’s Saga
Arguably one of the most well-known “ends” in comic history, Jean Grey’s demise and resurrection and demise again is nothing short of heroically heart-rending. During a space mission gone awry, Jean sacrifices herself in order to save her fellow X-Men from a crash landing, exposing herself to massive amounts of radiation and resulting in her first “death,” only to be reborn from the wreckage as the Phoenix in her signature green and gold costume.
Time goes on and the immense power of the Phoenix Force begins to corrupt Jean, resulting in the destruction of a star, offing every inhabitant of its solar system. Jean is able to reclaim control over her conscience, and rather than constantly fight with herself internally, takes her own life for the safety of others.
Scarlet Witch Learning Her Children Aren’t Real
In the 1980s run of Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries and Avengers West Coast #52, it is revealed that the twin boys of Scarlet Witch and Vision didn’t actually exist. Wanda was so desperate to have children with the love of her life, Vision, that she altered reality and in the process, unbeknownst to her, created her children from two fragments of a shattered soul of the demon Mephisto.
In this run, her children are kidnapped and reabsorbed by Mephisto, effectively slaying them and driving Wanda into madness.
Hawkeye Losing His Hearing
The 22 issue run of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye from 2012 is incredible for many reasons, but one moment in particular stands out. At the end of issue #18, Clint and his brother are severely injured by The Clown, who pierced Clint’s eardrums with his own stray arrows. Throughout issue #19, a large portion of dialogue is cut, with empty speech bubbles and panels with American Sign Language taking its place.
We get to see Clint’s frustration as he deals with his injury, recovery, and depression through the seriously intense facial expressions that lace Aja’s artwork.
The (Almost) Last Words Of Gertrude Yorkes
An original member of astounding comic book writer Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways team, Gertrude Yorkes (or Gert) is not exactly a household name. Regardless, her demise was one of the saddest, most emotionally impactful moments in the Marvel universe.
In Runaways #18, Gert takes a dagger to the stomach in order to save her (sort of) boyfriend Chase. Surrounded by flames, Chase and Gert share a legitimately touching moment as she almost tells him “I love you” for the first time. The scene is doubly impacting because Gert and Chase had been fighting prior (he kissed their team leader Nico, it was a whole thing), meaning that the moment is both a reconciliation and a final goodbye.
At least Chase got a telepathic connection to a genetically modified dinosaur out of the deal.
Bobby Drake Coming Out To Himself
2015 was a big year for the X-Men franchise. Bobby Drake, AKA Iceman, one of the five original X-Men from 1963, came out as gay in All-New X-Men #40, with the help of (an alive, pre-Phoenix) Jean Grey. He then confronted his older self, who confirmed it. Fans of the series have speculated that Bobby might be gay for years, given his relationship history with women and his often hyper-masculine tendencies.
For a comic that’s effectively been an allegory for the socially oppressed, and yet has never had one of its primary heroes be gay, it’s about time.
The Emotional Rollercoaster That Is Billy And Teddy
From the launch of Young Avengers vol. 1, Billy and Teddy’s relationship journey has been a constant source of feels. From their slow build up in the Heinberg/Cheung run to their eventual break up in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers vol. 2, both runs will take you on a journey that’s all too familiar to anyone that’s had a relationship – romantic or platonic.