There are a lot of sad superhero origins out there, there aren’t a lot of superhero parents around, and those two facts are closely related. While Batman remains the gold standard for individuals who witnessed the demise of their parents and felt compelled to dress up in a costume to fight crime, his experience is not a particularly unique one in his line of work. As it turns out, there are a lot of other superheroes who have had to watch their folks perish - they just haven’t made it their whole thing.
Few make it to full-time superheroism without living through a harrowing superhero origin story, and many of those origin stories involve unspeakable tragedy. Sometimes, it’s the loss of a child, or a mentor, or a spouse that sets a hero off on their journey. But the majority of the time, it’s the loss of one or more parents, and often right before the very eyes of said superhero.
Or, in other words, Bruce Wayne ain’t all that special.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
Thanks to his mutant healing factor, Wolverine’s personal history goes all the way back to the late 19th century. There, he was born James Howlett, thought to be the sickly son of the wealthy John Howlett Sr. In reality, he was the result of an illicit affair between Elizabeth Howlett and Thomas Logan, their groundskeeper.
The situation came to a head late one night, with a drunken Thomas storming into the Howlett manor demanding to see Elizabeth, only to be confronted by John. As young James crept down the stairs from his bedroom to see what was happening, he arrived just in time to see the man he thought was his father get his head blown off by his actual father. James reacted like one might expect an adolescent Wolverine to, popping his claws for the first time and burying them deep within Thomas’s chest. His mother would take her own life shortly thereafter, and James would flee, leaving his early life of palatial comfort behind him for good.
Thus began Wolverine’s life-long habit of encountering tragic violence, most often at the pointy end of his own hands.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
The constant cycle of death and rebirth is an important underpinning of both superhero comics and Norse mythology, so it should come as no surprise that most of Marvel Comics’ Asgardians have perished and come back to life on multiple occasions - including even All-Father Odin, their mightiest member.
Odin first fell fighting the Mangog, then the Celestials, and then taking Surtur down with him. Each time, Odin returned to the throne of Asgard as good as new. His most recent demise, however, seems to be of the more permanent variety, and happened to occur in front of and directly involve his son, Thor.
Odin had given up his regency and passed the title of king down to Thor, moving on to a vagrant retirement of sorts. But when Mjolnir itself turned evil - a result of Odin having trapped the Mother Storm in there previously, combined with the vengeful influence of the Mangog - the All-Father had to make another comeback to aid his successor in battle.
Thor and Odin stood side by side against Mjolnir, with Odin taking a mortal blow to his godly spine that certainly looked as though it could end him. Before it had the chance, however, Odin voluntarily ceased his own life so that the full power of the Odinforce could be transferred to Thor. As he watched his father fade away in a flash of cosmic energy, Thor gained the omnipotence required to bend his hammer - and all the Ten Realms - to his mighty will once again.
- Photo: DC Comics
The Flash used to be one of the few superheroes out there with a mother still around. Then Professor Zoom, his time-traveling enemy from the future, decided to sprint back into Barry Allen’s childhood and take Nora Allen away from him. Zoom murdered Nora right before Barry’s eyes, with the young future Flash powerless to stop or even understand the horrific act. To make matters worse, Barry’s father Henry was blamed for the crime and incarcerated for life.
Years later, Allen got the bright idea to run back in time himself and stop Zoom from slaying his mother. This act of chronal interference led to the development of the Flashpoint timeline, an alternate world in which, among other changes to continuity, Wonder Woman and Aquaman were about to destroy the planet in an imperial war.
To restore his reality, the Flash had to make the heartbreaking choice to go back in time once again and stop himself from stopping Zoom from doing away with his mother. This time around, at least, Barry got a few last minutes with Nora before her demise - but it was all somewhat for naught, anyway, as the timeline remained mangled, and the New 52 reboot was born.
- Photo: DC Comics
Dick Grayson was born into his life as a Flying Grayson, joining his parents Mary and John in the star acrobatic attraction of Haly’s Circus at a young age. The Graysons were the best in the business, which only added to the trauma that Dick felt as he watched his parents plummet to the circus floor in what appeared - at the time - to be a fatal accident.
Bruce Wayne was in the crowd that night, and he immediately saw shades of his own childhood trauma in Grayson. He would go on to make Dick his ward and, in time, the first Robin. Their work together would lead to the revelation that John and Mary’s act had, in fact, been purposefully sabotaged, and that they had been slain on the orders of Tony Zucco. This added a whole new layer of mental anguish for Dick to work through, though he’d gain some comfort by helping put Zucco behind bars for life. He eventually overcame his grief to become Nightwing, one of the happiest vigilantes in the business.