Not all superheroes have the most joyous origins; in fact, most initializing storylines in the superhero genre tend to be pretty dark and desolate, but for good reason. While the hero in question may often find themselves bestowed or gifted with unimaginable strengths and power, these unique qualities typically come with an unruly price. But the origin story of a hero shouldn’t be a diminishing factor for their overall heroics; it’s only intended to shape and mold that character’s being.
This is the case with Marvel’s Dr. Strange, a world renowned surgeon whose powers are gained after a debilitating car accident that renders his hands useless, sending him on a wild goose chase to find a pseudo-cure, only to stumble upon Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One’s lessons on cosmic binding. Or, there's even DC’s Shazam, who simply gets chosen by Egyptian Gods and is gifted with extraordinary abilities (that make even Superman look like nothing but an action figure), neither of which are anywhere close to the saddest superhero origin stories. So, while it may be a common trope, not every superhero has the the most depressing backstories, but let’s take a look into the ones who do.
Bruce Wayne is not only one of the most iconic DC characters, he's probably one of the most well known superheroes of all time. Everyone knows the story of Batman, how his father and mother were shot in cold blood right in front of him, simply over a pearl necklace. While it denoted Bruce's eventual claim to the caped crusader fame, it was also highly picturesque of the decrepit setting presentable only in the history of the ever-evolving Gotham City.
It's among the saddest superhero origin stories, but certainly nowhere near the most depressing. It's definitely a good starting point, for it helped shape quite a few heroes and their rise into the capes and masks of comic book lore—similarly witnessed through the criminally infested streets of Gotham, entrenched by both corruption and a brutal hierarchy of evil. Batman, a rather anti-heroic character, hence becomes their only saving grace, but ironic and seemingly iconic in its own right.
While Bruce Wayne’s bittersweet beginnings might be pretty depressing, it doesn’t get any better for Oliver Queen, otherwise known as the Green Arrow. His father is Robert Queen, a wealthy business tycoon, whose shady interests and monopolistic deals are the inevitable cause of Oliver's donning of the hood in one of the saddest superhero origin stories.
Well into Oliver's 20s, the pair of them set off on an extravagant yachting expedition, which eventually casts them overboard after a terrible storm. In a last ditch effort to save his son, under the depleting conditions of their food supply, Robert shoots himself, not before leaving a list of names for his son. Oliver's 5 years as a castaway on a remote island is his training in the art of archery, and once returning to Star City, wherein everyone thinks him long dead, the Green Arrow is born as he begins to avenge his father's name.
Immortality is probably one of the most powerful superhero abilities, next to the obviousness of omnipotence, but when friends and family (plus, even foes alike) all begin dropping like flies, what's left to live for? As is the case for our beloved X-Men, the Wolverine, his curse of immortality happens to be among the saddest superhero origin stories.
Few heroes are as complex and as intricately designed as Logan, whose life as a young boy first began in the 1880s as the illegitimate child of Thomas Logan, whose accidental death at the hands (or shall I say "claws") of Wolverine, initiated the hero's continuous bout with turmoil. Leap nearly 150 years into the future, after he's seen a myriad of messed up shit already, the X-Men just won't leave him alone, and when he finally does join them, the death of Jean Grey sends him quite literally over the edge. No wonder he's so pissed off.
The death of Uncle Ben and the following prominence of Peter Parker's amazing Spider-Man is among the saddest superhero origin stories, for not only does the energetic and scientifically-gifted young boy have to live with being an orphan already, but the untimely death of his uncle takes away the only father figure and family that's truly dear to him.
And, while Batman may have also been orphaned at a young age (right in front of him, too), Spidey wasn't exactly as economically inclined as the former, being mostly raised within a working class neighborhood. Peter Parker is also a bullied high school nerd, and when you add the eventual death of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, at the beset of his own attempt to save her, well, you don't need spider senses to see how this Spider got it pretty bad.
Frank Simmons, a highly capable CIA operative and ex-military contract killer, becomes the bearer of one of the saddest superhero origin stories, and no other superhero origin is as dark or as mentally impairing as his might be considered.
Amid a contract job, Simmons is betrayed and double-crossed by his best friend. In the short time leading up to this eventual setback, he had been questioning the morals of his commanders more and more, yet upon death his soul is banished to Hell, anyway. Thanks to a deal with a demon, Frank is allowed to return to Earth, only he's been turned into the likes of a rather empowered yet disfigured demonic entity, known as Spawn. If it couldn't get worse, he's been gone five years; his wife's been remarried to none other than his own murderer and he has even fathered a child—yikes. Oh, he's also been enlisted as a pawn in the demon's unholy war against life; double yikes.
Not only is it among the saddest superhero origin stories, but it also involves the own author's recounting of his deceased wife, killed in a tragic drunk driving accident. Eric Draven, protagonist from the comic book series The Crow written by James O'Barr, is subject to an incident similar to the author's, wherein Draven and his girlfriend, Shelley, see their car break down in the middle of a romantic getaway.
While waiting for assistance, a ruthless gang appears to enact an evil of disproportional dimensions. After shooting Eric in the head, the gang of thugs rape and beat Shelley to death as Eric is made to watch amid his slow but sure death, which occurs only a few hours later. Upon being resurrected from the grave, granted immortality, among other capabilities, and guided by a supernatural Crow, Eric unceremoniously stalks the thugs and kills them off one by one.
One of the least known DC heroes, mainly for the very reason of his having one of the saddest superhero origin stories; Martian Manhunter has had it worse than both Batman and Superman combined, in my opinion. Known as J’onn J’onzz and hailing from Mars, the Martian hero experienced a bit of adaption to his overall story, only growing darker the more it evolved.
His story begins with the conviction and imprisonment of his own brother for the Martian offense of mind rape. J'onn's twin brother eventually breaks free and engineers a rabid plague as revenge, effectively wiping out the entire Martian race through their use of telepathy, which when used would make them spontaneously combust. After watching his species slowly die out, the Manhunter found himself a loner on a floating rock, encircled by his own twin brother's innumerable victims. At least Superman had the Kents, and even the old Bat had his Alfred, but the Martian Manhunter? Nobody.
Arguably one of the most complex, interesting, and powerful comic book characters within the Marvel Comics pathos, Magneto's backstory and rise into prominence was certainly no easier than anyone else's on this list. It's a recurring question: is Magneto a hero or villain? The answer, which no one will like, is that it's complicated, mainly because he's got one of the saddest superhero origin stories.
Born Max Eisenhardt, a Jew living in Poland amid the rise of WWII, he and his family were eventually captured and sent to Auschwitz. Max is forced into operating the Gas Chambers, where he meets Magda. After his family is executed, Max and Magda escape from Auschwitz and live peacefully for a time in the Ukraine, where they have a daughter, Anya. Of course, once the world discovers his mutant abilities, they ransack his home and burn it to the ground, effectively killing Anya. And, in the long run, they also engineered the creation of the X-Men's most valiant foe: Magneto.
The coolest and furriest superheroes to date, Rocket Raccoon, often simply shortened to "Rocket," has made a name for himself in recent years with the inception of both Guardians of the Galaxy films, which have soared among box office numbers, fans, and even critics alike. His inception as an emboldened space merc with extraordinary capabilities, however, isn't as pleasant as the movies make it out to be.
In violation of a hundred different sanctions against the treatment of animals and the scientific testing on living things, Rocket was the cause of a scientific experiment. He was kidnapped from his home world—by whom is still up in the air—and implanted with enhanced cybernetics and mental consciousness, thereby allowing him to become a self-aware, murderous space pirate coined simply 89P1. It may not sound like one of the saddest superhero origin stories, but imagine if you were a little innocent raccoon once running free and picking through trash, until some crazy geeks go to town on your mind and body? Inhumane doesn't even begin to describe it.
'Before Watchmen': Comedian/Rorschach by Brian Azzarello
Deciding which Watchmen was the worst is an even trickier question than denoting which has had the saddest superhero origins story. Yes, there's the likes of Dr. Manhattan, who's unwittingly locked into an intrinsic chamber and blasted with radiation, but that's not so bad, given the range of abilities he's granted in the wake of that fatal accident.
No, it's obviously only Rorschach who's among them with one of the saddest superhero origin stories, and for a guy who literally bears (and wears) a psychiatric experiment as his calling card, you'd think everything would be all fine and dandy up there in the noggin. Nope. Born into an unruly childhood, Walter Kovacs was never allowed to see the world as anything but evil. His mother was a prostitute and his father was a drunkard, who regularly beat Walter into dismissing his education, despite being a rather intelligent child with high hopes in religious teaching. Unfortunately, due to this violent upbringing, Walter evolved into what we now know as Rorschach.