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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
Bizarro is kind of a wacky f*cker. Not only is he Superman's doppelgänger, but he's also one of Superman's greatest mistakes. Since he was created, rather than born, he has no parents. This is doubly tragic, since he operates on a child's level mentally. He has no true home or purpose. Honestly, he never chose to become a villain.
In fact, even Bizarro himself doesn't quite understand his own fate. From his perspective, he is Superman, yet the world appears to hate him. Different versions of Bizarro have been "owned" or created by menacing villains like Joker or Lex Luthor. Orphaned, outcast, and tortured throughout the majority of his appearances, Bizarro has known only pain, sadness, and confusion.
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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.
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Many a super character, be they villain, hero, or something in-between, have been victimized by an abusive father. Perhaps none, however, have paid a higher price than Batman’s nemesis, Bane. Bane was born between the walls of a prison, his life sentence divvied out before he was even born. It was a sentence he was serving in his father's place. How's that for passing the buck?
Bane was raised by the Hard Rock, named by a warden and forced to fight for his own life on a daily basis. He killed his first man as a child by wisely hiding a murder weapon in his teddy bear. As an adult, after knowing nothing but rage, he was subject to intense experimentation like a common lab rat.
As the result of an experiment gone haywire, Bane was presumed dying and thrown out to sea. It was on that ill-fated day that he rose from the ashes of his wretched existence and lived on to become one of Batman’s most feared foes.
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Dr. Doom was born into a witches coven, orphaned at a young age, and persecuted by an unjust monarchy. His love for his mother led him into a life of sorcery that would ultimately become his doom (heh). At first, he tried to use his powers for good and attempted to rescue his mother's soul from the afterlife. Things did not go... well.
Like scores of comic book villains before him, his experiment left him scarred both physically and emotionally. In fact, he was so psychologically damaged by the superficial wounds on his face that he burned his entire body to reflect his tortured soul. Oh, and all of this happened before he even graduated college. Talk about a rough childhood.
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