Then of course came Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and the '90s, and suddenly every time a superhero tried to eke out a little personal happiness, he or she was met with instant personal disaster instead. Nowadays, seemingly every hero is tortured in some way, and their lives are filled with constant tragedy that ceaselessly tests their moral resolve.
You can blame modern comics for this trend, but the reality is this kind of thing happened to even the cheeriest of heroes well before 1990. But it happened a lot less, and that always made those stories of superheroes faced with loss, abuse and trauma special -- and heartbreaking -- and sometimes even disturbing. Here are six of those stories.
6) Spider-Man, "The Death of Jean DeWolff"
When Spider-Man catches up to the killer, himself an NYPD detective who had befriended Peter, Spidey's in such a rage that he nearly beats the guy to death. Only Daredevil's intervention stops him, and the Sin-Eater ends up crippled. Earlier, Spidey comes pretty close to killing a drug pusher during an interrogation, too. And here's the crazy thing: He's wearing his black costume in the story, but it's not the symbiote that would become Venom. It's just a cloth version of the suit. Mr. Fantastic removed the symbiote almost a year prior. So, unlike the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon, where Spider-Man nearly killing The Shocker is directly the result of the symbiote, this was straight-up him.
A couple years later, Spider-Man would be buried alive in what might be the darkest Spidey story ever, "Kraven's Last Hunt." Oh, and he also made a deal with the devil to scrap his marriage to save Aunt May's life, but that's less "dark" and more "stupid."
5) Superman, "For the Man Who Has Everything"
Most of the single-issue story takes place in a simulated reality, as the supervillain Mongul has attached a hallucinogenic plant to Superman's chest that puts him in a vegetative state and makes him think he's living on Krypton again, married with kids. The hallucination turns out to be anything but Superman's paradise, though. His father, Jor-el has been discredited because his predictions that the planet would be destroyed turned out to be false, and has taken over a political extremist group. His mother's dead. His family's in a shambles, and eventually, Superman realizes none of it is real, telling his son so as Batman pulls the plant off him.
But none of that's really the dark part. That's what comes next. Superman asks Mongul, "Do you realize what you did to me?" Mongul attacks, saying he most assuredly did. Superman replies with one word, "Burn," and savagely attacks Mongul with his heat vision. And there's the darkness. For once, Superman doesn't see the good in someone. He just wants him to burn for what he did.
4) Fantastic Four, "A Small Loss"
The loss of the baby (who would eventually return as Valeria von Doom in the oh-so-convoluted Fantastic Four comics of the late '90s) had far-reaching effects. Sue spirals into depression and anger leaving her open to an attack from Pscyho-Man, eventually turning her into Malice, the Mistress of Hate. That's right. Malice, the Mistress of Hate. Eventually, Reed snaps her out of it by just plain slapping her in the face.
3) Avengers, "The Child Is Father To...?"
Carol Strickland goes into way more detail about it that I can here, but here's the rundown: Ms. Marvel discovers she's suddenly pregnant. After three days, she gives birth to Marcus, Immortus' son. She didn't know anything about this, and is pretty upset about it. But Marcus (very quickly an adult) explains how he used his dad's machines to woo Ms. Marvel and impregnate her with himself. Then she leaves with him, willingly. He raped her, and she (and all the other Avengers) are cool with it.
However, a year later, in the 1981 Avengers annual, Ms. Marvel returns to point out that she was not, in fact, cool with it, and tears into the other Avengers for leaving her with Marcus. And they realize what they did was pretty rough. Marvel acknowledged that it published some pretty messed-up shit.
2) Daredevil, "Last Hand"
1) Green Lantern/Green Arrow, "Snowbirds Don't Fly"
The story ends with the two superheroes at the junkie's funeral, where Speedy confronts Green Arrow about trying to bully him out of his addiction: "It maims, it pains, it dims you! It drives you to the edge of insanity and over...and one day ends your trip on a slab in the morgue, with a tag around your toe!" Heavy.
Tags: Avengers, Daredevil, DC, Fantastic Four, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Marvel, Spider-man, Superman