The 30 Most Emotional Moments in Comics
Fans of comic books usually look towards their favorite series for excitement, action, and escapism. However, there are those brilliantly written pieces that tug at our heartstrings and can make us cry. This list collects the most emotional moments in comics, those moments in superhero stories that left you devastated and crying.
Almost all of the major heroes have ventured forth into the great beyond at one time or another. It kind of comes with the job. However, when written delicately, these deaths transcend the medium and become actual news. People all over the world mourned the death of Superman and Captain America. People recoiled when told about Robin’s brutal demise.
For some, the tragedy isn’t the event, but watching the fallout as beloved characters sink into depression and despair over their loss. The reality that gets injected into comics sometimes feels so real that it’s hard to separate one’s self from it. It’s only when both the heroes and the audience are able to look at death, acknowledge its ever-presence in our life, and continue forward, that they are able to obtain heroism.
So grab that box of tissues and your security blanket – these are the most emotional events in comic book history. Most of these entries are tears of sadness, but a few are tears of happiness or relief.
Batman and Ace
Amanda Waller recants to Terry McGinnis a tale of Batman’s compassion in a later Justice League Unlimited episode. Ace, the ultra powerful child in the Royal Flush Gang, has her powers of manipulation grow out of control. Waller has deduced that the only way to stop the girl is to put her down. Sparing the other League members, Batman opts to confront Ace. When he reaches her, she is just a frightened child swinging on a swing set. Instead of killing her, Batman holds her hands until she passes naturally.
Barry Allen Remembers Wally West
The DC Rebirth issue follows Wally West as a phantom trying to warn the New 52 Universe of impending danger before he is lost from reality. Throughout the issue, he fails to get his message across. Resigned to his fate, he makes one last visit to say goodbye to his uncle, Barry Allen, despite the fact that Allen likely wouldn’t remember him. As Wally is about to be lost in the Speed Force, Barry remembers and embraces his nephew.
Superman’s Words to a Suicidal Girl
All-Star Superman is considered by many to be one of the most touching Superman stories in the modern era. This moment sums up why. As a girl is about to jump from a tall building after failing to get in touch with her therapist, Superman intervenes. He saves the day not with heat vision, cold breath, or a massive punch, but with empathy, kindness, and a hug. Anyone who suffers from depression and has had similar suicidal thoughts can certainly relate.
Tony Stark on Captain America’s Death
It’s easy to paint Iron Man as the bad guy in Marvel’s Civil War story – especially when Captain America is assassinated at the conclusion of the event. However, Tony gets his moment alone with the deceased Captain America, where he tearfully breaks down the reasoning for his actions and remorse at Cap’s passing.
Gwen Stacy’s Death
Peter Parker’s life is normally circling the toilet bowl. However, one of the cruelest moments in the webslinger’s life hits when love interest Gwen Stacy has her neck snapped. Although it’s unclear if she was already dead when the Green Goblin tossed her from the top of that bridge, it is generally accepted that when Spidey caught her on the way down, her neck was snapped by the pull of the webbing.
Barbara Gordon’s Maiming
Barbara’s maiming and sexual assault in front of her father by the Joker is a dark moment in comics. Alan Moore’s Killing Joke is a seminal work in modern comics, but even the high quality of the work by Moore and artist Brian Bolland can’t distract from watching Batgirl writhe in pain.
Kitty Pryde’s Sacrifice
Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men is one of the most beloved arcs in the merry mutants’ history. Whedon is able to pluck Kitty Pryde from obscurity and make her not only relevant, but also one of the most-loved characters in his story.
In classic Joss Whedon style, he makes you fall in love with a character and then takes them away. Kitty sacrifices herself by phasing a giant bullet through the Earth and then collapsing inside as it speeds through space.
Death of Jason Todd
Although “Death in the Family” lacks some of the emotional punch of some of these other stories, one can’t dispute the impact it had on the Dark Knight and even casual Batman fans. Robin, then Jason Todd, is beaten to death and blown up by the Joker after being betrayed by his mother. Not only is the punishment extreme, it’s also cruel.
Everything About Dex-Starr’s Origin
The strangest-looking Red Lantern, Dex-Starr, probably has the most tragic story – especially if you love pets. Dex-Starr was originally an abandoned kitten that was adopted by a kind lady whose only companionship was her new cat. A burglar breaks into her home and murders the owner, leaving Dex-Starr cold and alone on the streets. The little guy is then picked up by some thugs, thrown into a sack and dropped off the side of a bridge so they can watch him drown. It’s at this moment that the Red Lantern ring finds him, sets him free and then sets him loose on the universe.
It’s easy to make people sad when you write about death, but what about tears for life? Colossus, the one-time love of Kitty Pryde and long dead X-Man, was found alive several stories underground in a secret bunker where he was tortuously experimented on. When Kitty phases down to his level, she uncovers the Russian mutant alive and when he finally sees her, he thinks he has finally passed.
It’s very rare that a cartoon intended for Saturday mornings can make one roll a tear – especially for a bad guy. Solomon Grundy had been a pretty one-dimensional character up until this episode of Justice League Unlimited. In a quest to regain his soul, the zombie bruiser joins Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl on a mission. The real tearjerker is at the end, when the agnostic Hawkgirl promises the fading Grundy that his soul will be waiting for him.
Although insane and all around off-putting, Rorschach is the closest thing Watchmen has to a central protagonist or hero (using that term loosely). Penciler Dave Gibbons does a great job of executing Rorschach’s final, frantic moments before Dr. Manhattan obliterates him on account of the vigilante’s inability to compromise.
Left alone while his brothers are on a mission, Donatallo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is ambushed by Bebop and Rocksteady. Donatello is able to fight them off for a time, but with Rocksteady breaking his shell. Although it is later revealed that Donatello barely lived through the event, it doesn’t soften the impact of watching one of your cheery childhood heroes beaten to death.
Captain Marvel’s Death from Cancer
Superheroes are seen as invincible gods that can handle anything, but Marvel is known for adding some realism to their universe. Captain Marvel is a powerful character with super-strength, the ability to fly, and other awesome cosmic powers, but he doesn’t die in a fight with a supervillain or in a giant explosion. He dies from cancer. He dies in a slow, painful manner. This splash of grounded realism in the usually bright and dynamic work of superhero comic books hits readers hard, with many of them relating Captain Marvel’s death to the their own loved ones who died of the disease.
Death of Superman
Although one could argue that the Death of Superman event either brought a tear to their eye or that they recoiled at the gimmick, it’s hard to dispute the impact it had on the characters in the DC Universe. It’s touching and depressing to watch all the other heroes deal with the loss of the Man of Steel. The saddest moment is reserved for Ma and Pa Kent – with Superman belonging to the world, they have nothing to bury of their son except for a few of his childhood items.
Jean Grey’s Death
The first major tragedy to rock the X-Men (sorry, Thunderbird) was the complete and utter meltdown of Jean Grey, resulting in her death. Although the revolving door that is Jean Grey’s mortality has become a bit of a cruel joke in the comics world, the initial impact of stripping the heart from the X-Men has had a lasting impact on the team and the characters closest to her.
Sue Storm’s Miscarriage
Death in comics is a little overdone and doesn’t exactly stick. So, when a different sort of tragedy strikes the first family of the Marvel Universe, its ramifications are all the more serious. Sue Storm’s miscarriage shakes the team to the core and devastates Sue and Reed Richards.
Superman Loses His Son
In Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s For The Man That Has Everything Superman story, Mongul attaches a parasitic plant to the Man of Steel’s chest, which puts him into a deep coma where he imagines his dream life.
In his subconscious, Superman is married with a son and living on Krypton as a scientist like his father. Interference from Batman and Wonder Woman cause the comatose Superman to slowly realize that this life, no matter how real it feels, is a sham. Towards the story’s climax, Superman says goodbye to his son, who he knows he will lose when he awakens.
Carl and Rick Leave the Prison
Issue #48 of The Walking Dead is where the crap really hits the fan in the prison. With the survivors’ prison (a main set-piece up to that point in the story) over run by walkers, a Governor-loyalist shoots Lori from behind, her corpse falling and crushing her newborn baby. Rick sees this and continues escaping with his son. When Carl realizes what happened, all Rick can say is, “Don’t look back.”
Doctor Octopus Realizes the Responsibility of Being Spider-Man
In Spider-Man #700, Spidey’s nemesis Dr. Octopus successfully switches his mind into Peter Parker’s body and Parker’s mind into Ock’s dying body. While Parker is just about die in the body of Octavius, he reminds Otto that Spider-Man’s body not only contains Parker’s powers, but his memories as well.
As all of the pain of Peter’s past floods into Otto’s mind, Octavius is overwhelmed by all the of struggles that Peter lived through. He also is floored at how easily Peter could have abused his power to make his life easier, yet didn’t due to his moral code. Now knowing all of this and admiring Parker’s iron will to do what is right, Otto reforms and hopes to live up to his new responsibilities as The Superior Spider-Man.
John Custer’s Final Words to His Son
In Preacher #8, John Custer gives his son, Jesse, the words he will live by for the rest of his life. Before being murdered in front of his son, John hugs Jesse, tells him that he loves him, and gave him some advice:
“You gotta be a good guy, Jesse. You gotta be like John Wayne: you don’t take no sh*t off fools, an’ you judge people by what’s in ’em, not how they look. An’ you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son, ’cause there’s way too many of the bad.”
Foggy Nelson’s Cancer
Death is ever-present in superhero comics, so much so, in fact, that it’s hard to get a response from readers outside of remarks like, “They’ll be back.” Maybe it’s because the heroes pass because of giant explosions while fighting space monsters? However, while Daredevil’s put-upon best friend, Foggy Nelson, goes through the long and painful battle against cancer, readers are brought back down to earth as writer Mark Waid and penciler Chris Samnee take Murdock’s best bud down one of the hardest battles a mortal can fight.
Sue Dibny’s Funeral
A hero dying the in line of fire comes with the territory. It’s part of the risk that comes with the job, but we never expect their family to end up in the crosshairs. Elongated Man and his wife Sue Dibny are leftovers from DC’s Silver Age of comics, when things were just sillier. So, with the horrific death of Sue Dibny, there is a sense of innocence lost in the DC Universe, as heroes weigh their actions against the possible outcomes for their loved ones.
Jean Grey’s Second Death
Bringing up Jean Grey’s revolving door of mortality usually elicits eye rolls and scoffs from long time comic book fans. Been there, done that. However, the climax of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men sees Jean dying in her husband’s arms after a rocky patch in their relationship. It’s artist Ethan Van Sciver who really steals the show here as he renders the panels smaller and smaller until they are ashen pen strokes.
Element Girl Commits Suicide
In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #20, Element Girl finds herself on the outside of the superhuman community. She has been kicked out of the CIA and is living off disability. Utterly alone, she commits suicide several times, only to have her powers rescue her from the brink. Death reveals that her powers were granted to her by the sun god Ra and that she need only ask him to remove her powers. When the morning sun comes up, Element Girl is left as a pale husk.
The Atom Feels Small
Ray Palmer endures a lot of mental anguish after the events of Identity Crisis. Imagine finding out that your ex-wife, who you still love, is responsible for murdering the wife of your friend? Now imagine that your technology was used to commit that murder? That can make any grown man break down and question everything. The emotions and the guilt got to a point where the Atom needed to get away to grieve by shrinking himself to the size of a teardrop.
The Death of 355
Y: The Last Man is an epic journey with a budding love story that gradually seeps in and becomes the driving emotional force of the narrative. Then, as soon as the love building between Yorick and Agent 355 reaches it’s peak, 335 is shot in the head by a sniper rifle. It’s over in a second, and the most resolute, unstoppable character in the whole series is irretrievably lost.
Wanda’s Death and Post-Life
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is full of emotional tales of victory and loss, but the death of Wanda is one of the hardest losses for LGBT readers. In “A Game of You,” Wanda is a pre-op transsexual that dies when protecting her friend Barbie’s body from a storm as Barbie tries to stop the destruction caused by the Cuckoo.
At Wanda’s funeral, Barbie crosses out Wanda’s given name of Alvin with Wanda’s favorite color of lipstick. Barbie would later dream of Death and Wanda, who is in her fully feminine form, waving goodbye to her. This touching moment hits hard with people who are in the trans community and those who support them, especially since they aren’t regularly represented positively in comics.
The Death of Pirate
The death of a cute bunny is always a tearjerker, but the death of a pet bunny kidnapped from his owners and placed into a black ops military project creates waterfalls of tears. Weapon 3, or “Pirate” as he was called by his former child owners, is first shot by a father and son hunting duo, but he survived… only to be viciously mauled by Weapon 4. Pet owners held their bunnies a little closer after reading that.
The Goon Gets His Heart Broken
Eric Powell’s The Goon is usually a fun read with old-timey mobster talk and heroes beating up zombies, but “Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker” finds the Goon getting sucker-punched in the heart. The Goon gives up his/Labrazio’s control of the docks to the Triad in exchange for the freedom of his lover, Isabella.
The only problem is that despite freeing her, Isabella doesn’t want him. The nigh-invincible Goon is crushed, wondering if anyone would ever love his ugly mug. The full-page picture of the Goon’s painful reflection in the mirror is painfully earnest and sad.