The 13 Most Harrowing Superhero Origin Stories

Voting Rules
Vote up the most traumatizing superhero origin stories.

It’s safe to say most characters don’t become superheroes because they possess a great life. If anything, most superhero origins take root in the character's dissatisfaction towards their life, if not all-out tragedy. But the saddest origin stories of superheroes take the tragedy of everyday life and twist the knife until nothing's left to bleed. The characters on this list haven’t simply led a hard life, they’ve had the hardest life. Either their parents were murdered in front of them, or the one thing cherished most was ripped away from them, leaving them a broken mess of a person. Keep reading to learn about even more sad superhero origin stories.

For much of the golden era of comics, superhero origins were based around dead either dead parents or science gone wrong – or in the case of one character on this list, both – but as the decades moved on the origin stories got more complicated, and some of them became even more depressing. As you read this collection of the most depressing superhero origin stories prepare to sigh heavily, think about your parents, and maybe even have a stiff drink. But remember, the characters on this list took the world’s biggest lemons and turned them into lemonade, and that means that you can too. But before you turn your life around, don’t forget to vote on the most traumatizing superhero origin stories.

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  • 1
    2,899 VOTES

    Eric Draven

    Eric Draven
    Photo: IDW / Amazon

    Eric Draven's story in The Crow gets excruciatingly dark, and what makes it even sadder are its roots in a real-life tragedy. In the comic, Eric and his girlfriend Shelley return from a romantic getaway when their car breaks down. Then a local gang stops by, shoots Eric in the head, and forces him to watch them rape and murder his girlfriend before he dies a few hours later.

    The whole comic came from author James O’Barr who created the character as a way to cope with the death of his girlfriend, who was killed by a drunk driver.

    2,899 votes
  • 2
    2,587 VOTES
    Photo: DC / Amazon

    As a child, losing your parents is one of the worst things imaginable, so watching it happen in front of you could completely destroy your fragile psyche. While walking through crime alley after a movie, Bruce Wayne and his parents were robbed gunpoint by a common street thug. Rather than give into the criminal's demands, Bruce's father attempted to fight the thief off, but his attempt was futile and Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered before Bruce’s eyes.

    Left in the care of his butler, Alfred, Bruce grows up doing nothing but obsessing over that night and training to destroy the crime underworld that took his family away. 

    • As Seen In: Superman/Batman, Identity Crisis, Batman Confidential, Detective Comics, Batman
    2,587 votes
  • 3
    1,888 VOTES
    Swamp Thing
    Photo: DC / Amazon

    Swamp Thing's origin has everything you need to get truly bummed out while reading a comic: science, explosions, and infidelity. One might say it's Shakespearean. Scientist Alex Olsen gets blown up in a lab explosion because his co-worker is trying to get him out of the way so he can marry Olsen's wife, Linda, and then kill her.

    But that plan fails when Olsen is physically altered by the chemicals and bonds with the swamp to become a gruesome monster. After saving Linda from her fate, she rebuffs him for his hideous features, and he returns to the swamp. 

    1,888 votes
  • 4
    2,235 VOTES


    Photo: Image / Amazon

    If you have a PhD in comic book math, then you know the spookier the character, the sadder the origin story. Before Spawn was Spawn, he was Al Simmons, a contract killer who got double-crossed by his best friend and murdered while on a job. From there, his soul was sent to Hell, and then he was unceremoniously dropped back on Earth as Spawn.

    If that weren't bad enough he would shortly learn that while he was dead his wife, Wanda, married his best friend and fathered his child.

    2,235 votes
  • 5
    1,957 VOTES
    Photo: DC / Amazon

    Rorshach's origin feels so sad because he could have been something better than a homeless vigilante who only sees the world in black and white. Born Walter Kovacs, he was a bright child who excelled in his classes and showed interested in religious education, but his mother was a prostitute, and his father an abusive monster who beat any desire for knowledge out of Kovacs.

    This domestic violence slowly turned Kovacs into a tightly coiled snake waiting to strike.

    • As Seen In: Watchmen
    1,957 votes
  • 6
    1,761 VOTES
    Doctor Manhattan
    Photo: DC / Amazon

    Born Dr. Jonathan Osterman, or rather Jonathan Osterman because no one is born a doctor, Dr. Manhattan lived a fairly normal life until things became a real drag after being accidentally locked in an intrinsic field experiment test chamber in 1959 and blasted with radiation. That may seem fairly normal for a comic book, but the fact remains his colleagues essentially allowed him to vaporize rather than risk their lives to save his.

    It could be noted that this was the first moment that separated Manhattan from the rest of humanity. His sadness may be slow burn, but it's not any less sad. 

    1,761 votes