Comic villains are responsible for some of the most heinous acts in all of fiction. They commit the sorts of graphic crimes that make empathy almost impossible. They engage in criminal activity that can send shivers up the spines of readers. But behind the masks and capes and ghoulish grins lie some of the most sympathetic comic book villain origins you'll ever hear.
Because these characters were crafted in a medium bursting with possibilities, the torture they endured prior to turning to the dark side is often more physically and emotionally extreme then audiences might be used to. Some of your favorite villains were tortured for millions or even billions of years. Subject to rejection, mutilation, starvation, lobotomies and more, it’s difficult at times to determine whether the decisions they make are derived from their own will or from their circumstances. It's often heartbreaking when you really stop and think about the lives of villains in comics.
In order to understand what fuels the hatred behind the alter egos, it’s best if we get to know them before they were baddies (if that’s even possible). The saddest supervillain origin stories often begin before they had a chance to fight back. You might be surprised to learn that several villains were abused as infants, or slated for punishment before they were born. For many of them, crime was not a choice. It was their only identity. Here are some of the most gut wrenching, cringe inducing, and just straight up saddest supervillain origin stories in history.
Magneto was his family’s sole survivor of a Nazi death camp. He tragically witnessed his family murdered before his eyes, a common trope amongst superheroes and supervillains alike. What sets this story apart however, is the number of times his family escaped death camp after death camp only to succumb to fatality in the end.
After surviving the incident, this fallen hero was forced to endure psychologically brutal enslavement. At the hands of the Nazis, he was made to dispose of the bodies of the victims of the death camps he once inhabited.
Imagine how many pain stricken memories he buried with each victim. He later escaped with his long-lost love but their union was disrupted when an angry mob burned down their home. Magneto was again driven into a life of seclusion. Magneto's back story is unique because he experienced extreme prejudice both as a human and a mutant.
Also Rankedsee more on Magneto
When a struggling comedian turns to a life of crime in order to support his pregnant wife, the end result is tragedy. Not just for the comedian, mind you, but for everyone in Gotham City. During a routine robbery, Red Hood, later known as the Joker, falls into a vat of toxic chemicals. Not only does the solution horribly disfigure his face, it also causes him to lose his mind. In his madness, the Joker goes on to commit some of the most heinous crimes known to man. Heartbreakingly, on a few occasions the Joker's conscience emerges from the ashes of his past, and the truth comes to light.
As it turns out, it is the Joker's madness that drives him to commit these crimes. Each time his sanity is restored, the thoughts of the things he has done to people haunt him so much that he reverts back to his shattered mental state. It's a vicious cycle of insanity.
Also Rankedsee more on Joker
Scarecrow was born Jonathan Crane, a terrified child who was regularly subject to cruel experiments conducted by his own father after his mother died. Unlike some other abuse villains, Jonathan’s scars were mental, hurting him in a way that was difficult to prove. Among other things, Jonathan’s father liked to lock him in a room with fear inducing toxins, a method he would later utilize on his own victims. In certain retellings of the story, the perpetrator is Jonathan's grandmother instead of his father.
Either way, these experiments eventually drive young Jonathan into incurable madness. In every variation of the story, he is harassed relentlessly by family members and peers, yet he continues to maintain a kind and humble attitude.
It is the insanity that turns him into Scarecrow in the end. It's always sad when a character is forced into villainy as opposed to choosing the lifestyle on their own. It is even sadder when the villain has a scared little child roaming around on the inside, trapped in a hateful world.
#20 on The Best Comic Book Villainssee more on Scarecrow
You'd think that in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, everybody's origin story would be the same: zombie apocalypse. However, as demonstrated through the Walking Dead comic book characters, the events leading up to the new world order are equally important. In order to understand the comic book version of the Governor, one must first understand Philip Blake.
Philip Blake was a strong man, who had a beautiful daughter named Penny. Philip, his brother Brian, and his daughter Penny comprised part of a planned community originally referred to as the Wiltshire Estates. The survivors there lived in fear. They were held under the harsh rule of national guardsmen gone rogue.
The two brothers together led a heated battle against the guardsmen and learned that the living were much crueler than the dead. Brian lost his brother Philip and his niece Penny. He was so scarred by the experience that he took on the identity of his dead brother, feeling that he was too meek to be a leader as himself. He even started calling his zombiefied niece his daughter. Many of his questionable actions from there on were the result of a dissociative disorder which he developed out of fear and necessity.
Dextor, now known as Dex-Starr, was a stray cat whose only love was the Brooklyn apartment owner who adopted him. After witnessing his owner's murder, the then helpless little kitty was abandoned in the streets once more, slinking through alleyways and foraging for food.
Street thugs found him and abused him just to amuse themselves. After kicking the daylights out of him, they tossed him off the Brooklyn Bridge, watching in wonder and expecting him to die. Instead, the fated kitten emerged with the rage power of the Red Lantern ring and exacted revenge on his attackers. This would lead him down a horrid road of villainy. Still, angry cat, it's not your fault. What were they doing to you?
Apocalypse was orphaned twice in his early life. Abandoned by his birth parents, he was adopted by a group of nomads as an infant. The group was later slaughtered, with Apocalypse and his foster father left to hide in a cave.
It was in that very cave that Apocalypse was told about a prophecy while watching his foster father starve to death. According to the prophecy, Apocalypse was to be the hero who saved his people from oppression and slavery. Tragically, the opposite proved to be true. Apocalypse never got to free the slaves. Instead, he himself was enslaved. And, as fate would have it, he never emerged a hero of his people but instead became a tyrant corrupted by hatred and anger.
#18 on The Best Comic Book Villainssee more on Apocalypse
Think of your favorite outer space doomsday film. You know, the kind where a group of astronauts get together and try to save the planet from certain and complete destruction. Now imagine the hero who dives headfirst into some sort of cataclysmic disaster that will mean death for said hero and life for the rest of the Earth's inhabitants. At the end of the film, the hero dies, carving out a gallant legacy known far and wide. This is the story of Galactus. At the end, however, there's a terrifying twist.
Everyone from planet Taa (Galactus's homeworld) was destroyed except for him when he tried to save the universe. Galactus sucked up the energy from the cosmos and survived, but became suspended in a state of extreme hunger for billions of years. He later learns that the only way to keep himself from starving, to satisfy the hunger, is to devour entire worlds.
What a cruel destiny for a mortal whose dying wish was to save the lives of the people from his planet. His good deed throttled him headfirst into an eternity of swallowing worlds, murdering millions just to satisfy a hunger that never seems to go away.
#16 on The Best Comic Book Villainssee more on Galactus
Cheetah was initially an archeologist and, admittedly, a bit of a weirdo. She had an obsessive love of artifacts and didn't care much for other humans. Still, she didn’t exactly intentionally become a villain. She was actually tricked by a witch doctor during and has been paying the price ever since.
In the original story, the witch doctor relays the legend of the Cheetah to her while she is still going by the name of Barbara Ann Minerva. She feels enticed by the idea of becoming the plant god Urzkartaga’s bride. She fulfills all of the requirements to become his bride, but a key element is left out. She is never told that she must be a virgin in order to seal the deal.
Since she isn’t a virgin, she is cursed to consume human flesh for the rest of her life as the Cheetah. She also faces fierce competition due to the fact that many feel she "stole" the Cheetah identity. What a raw deal.
#98 on The Best Comic Book Villains
#100 on The Greatest Female Villainssee more on Cheetah