In light of Marvel’s recent announcement of The Heroic Age, a new direction for the Marvel Universe in which hope and optimism reign true, I thought it was high time to take a look back on the darkest, most depressing moments in the history of Marvel Comics.
That said, just because something is depressing doesn’t mean it’s not good; in fact, the opposite. Depressingly rough patches for characters always seem the most prevalent in terms interesting storytelling, and that’s the case with a lot of these choices. Of course, some choices are a bit… outside the box.
As youth-oriented as it is, Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways dealt with a lot of adult themes. Aside from having to deal with the fact that their parents were supervillains, the Runaways teams had to learn how to adjust to life on their own, and for the older members, be a surrogate parent.
Gert’s death was the first to hit the team (discounting one of the traitorous original members), and it came at a time that would hit them hardest, particularly her boyfriend Chase. Though her death inspired Chase to step up and be the leader he should be (for a time, anyway), these were characters built from the ground up by Vaughan with his unchallenged knack for building original characters with a solid foundation and depth, and losing one of them was saddening.
Plus, she had a telepathic link to a genetically produced Raptor named Old Lace. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.
9. Captain America Assassinated
Even though his death had a huge impact on the Marvel Universe and was incredibly well handled by all involved, the fact remains that everyone knew he was returning at some point. So while it was depressing, there was an air of safety in knowing that Steve Rogers would be back in the funny pages before long.
What was really sad about Cap’s death was much of the turmoil that led up to it. He was murdered not as a hero but a war criminal. In context, it’s possibly the worst way for America’s greatest hero to go out, but being the sadists we are, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
8. Avengers Disassembled
Just as the Justice League was in the process of dissolving over at DC Comics in Identity Crisis, so too was Marvel’s long standing superhero team The Avengers. Since the 1960’s, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the rest were a solid, cohesive unit that always teamed together to avert disaster after disaster. To see them pulled apart due to mounting personal strife was heart wrenching, and was the catalyst for many of the events we are still seeing today.
Of course, Marvel’s tragic need to rectify everything immediately led to a new Avengers team being formed in… New Avengers. But still, seeing the classic team fall apart made my face droopy.
7. Wolverine Origins
The story of Wolverine’s origin isn’t what’s depressing here, it’s the book itself. Wolverine: Origins is a completely unnecessary look at the "official" history of the X-Men’s most popular character. Part of Wolverine’s intrigue, just like The Joker, is the conflicting reports of his history. It adds a mystique to the character that lends itself to great characterization, and by bastardizing that aura Marvel lessened the effect of their most over used character, making his multiple appearances even less appealing.
6. Jean Grey’s Death (the first time around)
It’s become a bit of a joke now, with the amount of times that Jean Grey has been killed and brought back, but admit it – the first time tore you up inside. After becoming immensely powerful as Phoenix and subsequently having her mind altered by Mastermind and becoming Dark Phoenix, Jean goes a little nuts-o and destroys an entire solar system, inhabited with life.
Tragically, regaining snippets of her sanity, she commits suicide before she can do any further damage. Talk about getting a frog in your throat.
5. Demon in a Bottle
In another case of a hero hitting rock bottom, the Iron Man classic story arc Demon in a Bottle added a much needed dimension to Tony Stark, while also bringing forth a relatively taboo real-life topic into the fantastical world of superheroes. There’s a reason that although it may be one of Marvel’s most depressing moments, it’s also got a pretty high spot on our Top 10 Moments in Marvel History list.
In a lot of ways, reading Demon in a Bottle is like meeting your childhood sports hero and realizing that he’s nothing but a shell of his former self, a womanizing douchebag that spouts about his greatness. It’s rough.
4. Destruction of Genosha
Wow. Nothing will make you get the blades out like good old fashioned genocide. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did the unthinkable when they wiped out all 16 million mutants living on the island of Genosha during their run on New X-Men. Remarkably devastating, reducing Genosha to rubble was another bad hand dealt to the mutant community, though it was an engrossing, hold-back-your-tears read for the rest of us.
3. Matt Murdock’s Entire Life
No other character in Marvel’s vast library of superheroes makes me want to put a gun to my head like Daredevil (in the best way possible, of course). From Frank Miller’s Born Again all the way up to Andy Diggle’s current run on the book, Matt Murdock has seen hardship time and time again. Bendis’ run was the most successful in piling the shit on top of the ginger-haired badass; just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they did.
From being betrayed by ex-girlfriends (a lovely trend), to the murder of loved ones, being outed in the media, losing his job, being sent to prison, becoming the leader of the enemy organization he’s been fighting for years, being responsible for the insanity of his latest gal-pal, and… I’m going to stop there, because the list could go on for days. Never before was reading about someones utterly miserable existence so god damn entertaining.
2. Spider-Man is Retconned to Hell
Yeah, I went there. What Marvel pulled with the whole One More Day/Brand New Day debacle is absurdly devastating. Quite literally, they tossed away 20 years worth of Spider-Man’s history in order to "rejuvenate" the character and "keep him fresh". So obviously, to keep a character fresh, you cancel out the progression of a 50 year old character and revert him back to the way he used to be.
I absolutely understand the need to reinvent characters and update them, but with this huge retcon of Peter Parker’s life Marvel cut out the most interesting developments the character had seen in some time. Namely, his unmasking during Civil War. Thus, gone was the potential to explore Peter’s efforts to manage both superhero and married life, let alone protecting those closest to him from harm.
It was a saddening solution to a problem that didn’t exist.
1. Tony Stark vs. Steve Rogers
Think of it like John hating Paul. Peanut butter hating jelly. Worse yet, Han hating Chewie. When Tony Stark became the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and declared Captain America an enemy of the state, pitting the former figureheads of the Avengers against one another, our hearts broke.
Civil War in general was brutal on all of our souls as we witnessed the characters we loved fighting against one another over their opinions on the Superhero Registration Act. It was an epic, and the focal point was the shattered relationship between Iron Man and Cap. There was perhaps no comic that made my heart sink like Bendis and Maleev’s The Confession, which saw Tony Stark pouring over Cap’s body.