There might not be a more famous superhero in the annals of American popular culture than Batman. And the Dark Knight's 80+ years of comic book history offers up a lot of competition for the saddest Batman moments.
In addition to losing numerous fights to baddies, the Dark Knight has been framed, lost loved ones, seen his city fall into chaos, and unwittingly betrayed his closest friends. Batman is not the only hero to face immense hardship; far from it. But has there ever been another superhero with such a litany of tragic events throughout his publication history?
To be clear, we are talking about the comic books here, so items from the numerous Batman-related films and television shows don't come into play. Also, we're talking about the main DC Universe's Bruce Wayne, so any horrific events that happened to other characters as they donned the cape and cowl don't count. This includes alternate universes as well, so Flashpoint Batman and the Batman of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Universe don't count either. That may seem like it narrows the field a bit, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of events to recount.
And with the prerequisite and upfront warning about immense spoilers for the comic book history of the Caped Crusader out of the way, let's dive into the most harrowing things to happen to the Batman.
His Mentor And Oldest Friend, Alfred, Had His Neck Snapped
Tom King's final twist of the knife before riding off into the sunset came in 2019's Batman #77, where Bane takes out Batman's trusted confidant Alfred Pennyworth in front of Damian Wayne's eyes. Alfred pleads with Bane, "not in front of the boy." With an unmerciful twist of his arms, Bane snaps the neck of Bruce's oldest friend.
When Bruce discovers the body of Alfred in Batman #83, he is beside himself with pain. As tears come to his face, he can barely utter a word. Though some fans assumed Alfred wasn't really gone or, at least, wouldn't be for long, DC seemingly solidified the passing of the butler with 2020's Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P.1,36592Was this terrible?
The Joker Killed The Second Robin, Jason Todd
"A Death in the Family," the 1988 Batman storyline from Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, was controversial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it took the life of Jason Todd, the second Robin, for a significant amount of time until he was brought back in the mid-'00s. This brought media attention as offing the kid sidekick to one of the most famous superheroes in the world surely would, but it was not the only item of contention surrounding the story.
DC set up a 900-number calling system for fans to call in and vote on whether Robin would live or not at the end of the story. As if giving fans that kind of choice in the first place didn't rub the creative minds at the company the wrong way, imagine how they felt when fans decided they would like to end a character. The first great impact of a burgeoning comic book fandom was to call for the demise of Robin. Interestingly enough, after years of speculation, we finally know what would've happened had the poll gone the other way thanks to Polygon's Susana Polo.86494Was this terrible?
He Was Slain And Brought Back To Life Repeatedly By 'Emperor Joker'
The 2000 Superman-based crossover storyline "Superman: Emperor Joker" doesn't have all that much to do with the Caped Crusader. The story surrounds the Joker after he obtains the ability to alter reality after duping Mister Mxyzptlk, the supremely powerful trickster villain who has been a comedic thorn in Superman's side for decades. Batman is shunted off to the side here, though his torment at the hands of the Joker is no laughing matter.
At one point, Superman finds the corpse of the Dark Knight and throws together a makeshift grave for his close friend. Batman eventually bursts through the freshly packed soil and reveals the truth to the Man of Steel: the Joker torments him to death every day and every night he comes back to life to do it all over again. "I've reached the point... where I've come to doubt my own existence," he explains to Superman.
Talk about breaking the Bat.76280Was this terrible?
His Parents Were Slain During A Robbery When He Was A Child
In what might be the most well-known origin story in all of popular culture, Bruce Wayne's parents were slain during a robbery-gone-wrong when he was just a child. This events was first shown in the pages of 1939's Detective Comics #33 and serves as the impetus behind everything Batman does.
The Wayne family is walking down an alleyway after seeing The Mask of Zorro at a movie theater when Joe Chill tries to rob them at gunpoint. Chill panicks, the Waynes are killed, and the rest is history. This is the genesis of the Batman, the inciting incident of one of the most influential icons of the past century; two gunshots and a legend was born.892121Was this terrible?