Most tragic comic book moments (possible spoilers)

Comics have had their share of tragedies over the years. Name a few of your favorites.


“Emerald Twilight”: Hal Jordan, unable to cope with the destruction of Coast City (and its 7,000,000 inhabitants), goes nuts and forcibly takes the rings of several other members of the GL Corps. He is able to bring the city back, but it’s just too much for one man, regardless of the power he wields. Ultimately, he loses out and the city is gone once again. This sends him over the edge and he loses his sanity.

He would return as Parallax and eventually becomes the Spectre.

I’d go with Betty Banner’s death in The Incredible Hulk. Much of Peter David’s run on the series revolved around Bruce’s love of Betty, and Betty’s sincere efforts to love Bruce–which she really pushed to the limits when she demanded the Hulk’s love, too, since the Hulk is Bruce. He’d set it up so that they finally found happiness: the government pardoned the Hulk, who was prepared to work with, rather than against, the military.

Suddenly, Betty dies of, of all things, gamma poisoning. Bruce’s reaction was particularly distressing, since he appeared completely resigned to evil at that point. PAD left us with a chilling implication that without Betty, the Hulk was on his way to becoming his evil future self, the Maestro.

Without a doubt, “The Boy Who Loved Spider Man”. It is, if I remember correctly, not even a full issue. We watch Spider-Man going through the motions of superheroing as a writer for The Daily Bugle narrates a story about a boy who is a Spider-Man fan. Spider-Man goes to the boy’s house late at night, climbs in his window, wakes the boy up, takes off his mask, and tells the boy the story of how he got his superpowers. All while he’s telling this story, the writer tells us about the boy.

The boy is completely blown away that Spider-Man has revealed himself to him. The reader is left wondering why Spidey would do such a thing. I mean, nice kid, but do you really think he can keep a secret like this for the rest of his life? Spidey even takes him web-swinging.

Then the writer explains that he really hopes Spider-Man reads his column and maybe drops the boy a line, because the boy is dying of cancer and has only a month or two to live.

sniffle I must have read that story twenty years ago, and I still get teary-eyed.

Hmmm… I’m not sure comics do tragedy all that well. For every “Death in the Family” there are dozens of stronger examples of “Chagrin” or “Slapstick” or “Irony”.

I found the Death of Superman well done – but the emotional part for me was the times afterward where Lois would get her hopes up (or just be confused) by one of the “new” Supermen knowing a personal detail that only Clark would know.

I also really liked the Death of Superman series.

I don’t remember when this was, but I remember the X-Men comic where Colossus quit the X-Men and joined Magneto’s Acolytes. His reasons and apparent reluctance made it quite compelling.

LifeOnWry hurriedly leaves the thread to once again contemplate the difference between “comics” and “graphic novels.”

Uh, but before I go: One-Eye’s death and Clearwater’s subsequent haircut in ElfQuest.

No one has mentioned the obvious Death of Gwen Stacy? I wasn’t there for the first printing, but it’s still one of the most unexpected deaths in comicdom and, in most circles, marked the end of the Silver Age of comics and introduced tragedy into comics.

The climax of Legion Lost, which I hesitate to spoil because it was so good. The almost casual way Garth tosses his ring back is awful but also cathartic.


Tom Thumb’s death in Squadron Supreme. He was such a great character, and his decision to set aside his personal convictions in order to save himself, and his final acceptance that he couldn’t, and the tasteful, one-panel treatment of the end were outstanding faxfets in an outstanding series. Not a bad issue in the whole run.

Big Fat Hairy spoilers for the Sandman series:

Dream’s death is especially tragic when you take into account the fact that he was killed because he basically put his son Orpheus out of his misery. The Furies had him killed and the Dreaming mostly destroyed because although there were extenuating circumstances, Dream had still “murdered” his own kin, and therefore committed a grave transgression. I liked how this illustrated that even the most well-intentioned actions can have dire reprocussions, even for the Endless. Of course, there were other factors, like Desire’s grudge, that contributed to his downfall, and that only made it feel even more like a Greek tragedy.

I’d have to go with a lot of the action in Kingdom Come, particularly Magog’s reaction to his unintended destruction of much of Kansas and the death of Captain Marvel.

Just about all of Maus. Very profound, powerful comics.

Ozymandius in Watchmen: “I did it twenty minutes ago.”

Swamp Thing in the “My Blue World” issue, where he realizes he has to leave the world he just created because he could never give the inhabitants their own souls.

Don’t remember which 100 Bullets issue this is, but in this particular one, a diner waittress finds out from Agent Graves that her lost daughter is dead, and the reason the girl ran away was because her father molested her. The waittress takes the untraceable gun back to her home and shoots her husband…again and again and again, crying all throughout.

A second vote for “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man.” Starts off as a straightforward “let’s recap Spidey’s origins for new readers,” then the whammy at the end just takes you completely by surprise.

Nitpick to phouka: Spider-Man doesn’t take the kid web-swinging. The closest he gets is a fun ride on a web-swing in his room. :slight_smile:

I was greatly affected by the death of Jean Grey in X-Men #137, which I read the first time around. When she was brought back in X-Factor #1, it cheapened the original story though. I quit reading comics regularly soon afterward.

The one moment that still gets to me is the final page of the “Fanatastic four” issue (I forget the specific #) in which Sue miscarries her second baby. Reed has gone to great lengths to obtain the aid of pre-eminent gamma radiation expert Dr. Otto Octavius (who is also Dr. Octopus), only to be told by the doctor “I’m afraid we lost the baby ten minutes ago.” What a heartbreaker!

I’m not a big comics fan, so the only real tragic moment I remember is the Death of Dream as well. Specifically, when Death and Dream finish their conversation, and Death sighs, reaches out, and says, “Brother, take my hand.” Waaaaah!


When Reed Richards had to deny his son in Earth X. “Look at him. He’s dying to call Franklin ‘son,’ but he can’t.” That was quite poignant.

I got a little misty when Colossus sacrificed himself to activate the Legacy Cure in honor of Illyana.

See, everyone points to Dream’s death, but I thought Orpheus’s death was worlds more tragic. Dream’s death was of his own making and, while I suppose Orpheus’s was as well, he, at least, didn’t understand all the consequences. Add that to the fact that his father could have saved him well before… Well, it was just about enough to make me cry.

Yeah, Orpheus’s death was tragic, sure, but I hadn’t followed Orpheus through a bajillion issues of the comic. He was just another person screwed over by Dream’s arrogance.

Dream’s death was so difficult because I cared about the character. I sometimes hated the character, but I cared about him.


Love and Rockets, the story where Tonantzin died. She set herself on fire at a protest for some political cause she’d never even heard of until that same day. Also, Israel having to leave Palomar forever after his affair with Carmen, his best friend’s wife. Israel’s a pretty tragic character all around, which says a lot considering the company he kept in that town.

Gwen Stacy is dead? Oh, man…

I guess Peter will have to go back to Betty Brant now.