Have you ever wanted to kill yourself after watching a horribly depressing movie? Well, thankfully, comics can have that affect too, except most of these characters are serialized month after month, so the reader is constantly filled with an empty, sorrowful feeling in the pit of their stomach after every read. But guess what? We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Comics may be entertainment, but more than that, they are a form of literature, an art form. And, all art forms have their tortured souls. This week, CraveOnline takes a look at ten comic book characters that it is utterly painful to even see on the page. Though their lives may be tragic, what better way to draw emotion from a reader than by making them feel for a character? Utterly impressive when it comes down to it; there are no performances here, no spoken words. They are nothing more than pen and ink.
10. Yorick Brown
One might think that being the last man on Earth would be a Godsend. All the women of the world itching for your seed. The last hope for the survival of the human race. Treated like royalty. But think of the negatives: All the women of the world itching for your seed, the last hope for the survival of the human race, and being treated like royalty. Y: The Last Man is one of the most important comic books of the last decade, and that is in no small part due to its lead character, Yorick Brown.
He is faced with the impossible task of being the last man on Planet Earth, as well as his own naive quest to reconnect with his girlfriend, who is contintents away, in a world that has lost all semblance of stability is like watching a child lose its innocence. Though he masks his guilt and fear with genuinely funny one-liners, it is truly gutwrenching for the reader to watch Yorick en route to the inevitable end of the story. Along the way, his family falls apart around him, friends are lost, and it remains more and more difficult to find hope in post-male world. Though I won’t spoil major plot points for those who have yet to read the series, one can’t truly see the tragedy of Yorick’s character until you’ve seen his story from beginning to end.
Rorschach is the focal point of the narrative of Watchmen, and is a suitable "main" character as any, as the depressing tale to his background fits right in with the dystopian 1980’s that Alan More and Dave Gibbons created. Told by his mother when he was a child that he should have been aborted, in addition to being beaten by her and seeing her abused by her pimp, Walter Kovacs didn’t exactly have much hope to begin with.
Using his introverted tendencies in a way similar to someone like Batman, Kovacs becomes Rorschach, detective and crime fighter. Though, like Batman and most other heroes, he does not kill his adversaries, that all changes on the fateful night depicted in Watchmen, when Rorschach confronts the kidnapper of Kitty Genovese. Henceforth, he was thought of as a loose cannon amongst his peers, and coupled with his decision to remain active after all vigilantes her outlawed ostracised him from any companions he may have had.
The tragedy of Rorschach is in the fact that his theory throughout Watchmen was right all along, but due to his status amongst his peers, no one really believed him. And, in the end, he paid for it; a suitably sad ending to an already sad life. He’s an astonishing character, but one that is bleeding with tragedy in the first panel.
I can’t think of anything more immediatey depressing than having to avoid human contact for all of your life. For this reason, Rogue earns a spot on the list. Due to the nature of her powers (though she’s recently learned to control them), Rogue is unable to touch human skin, or she will siphon his or her powers and/or life energy. In addition, Rogue has been seen to retain portions of memories of the people she’s touhed, and they haven’t always been the most pleasent human beings (or mutants). Tack on to that a life starting as a villain adopted by Mystique, and you’ve got a recipe for tears.
Imagine going through your existence with your one true love – in Rogue’s case, Gambit – and never being able to physically embrace? Though that tragic aspect of Rogue’s character has been resolved for now, comics being comics, you can expect it to not stay that way forever. And then, what is worse? Never having human contact for all of your life, or having it briefly and then losing it?
7. Superboy Prime
Superboy Prime is currently one of the most fascinating villains in the DC Universe. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. Growing up on Earth-Prime before Crisis on Infinite Earths, this version of Clark Kent existed in a world where Superman was a fictional comic book character, and his naming was a happy coincidence. Of course, it was soon discovered that he was indeed Earth-Prime’s baby Kal-El, and his superpowers were soon unleashed and he became Superboy. When his entire world is destroyed, Superboy-Prime joins the fight against the Anti-Monitor in the original Crisis, and in the end is relegated to a "paradise dimension" along with Alexander Luthor, Earth-2 Superman, and Earth-2 Lois Lane.
As he becomes more and more secluded in the paradise dimension, constantly reliving the loss of his world, neglect from those in the dimension with him, and the downfall of the Earth he and his companions sacrificed their lives for, Superboy Prime is driven slowly insane. Eventually, he and Alexander Luthor set into motion the events of Infinite Crisis, in no small part by Superboy Prime punching the walls of reality and leaving a wake of continuity changes. What makes this character so tragic is that all of his rage stems from losing his entire world; a tragedy that most of us can hardly begin to imagine.
When he finally emerges from the paradise dimension into the main DCU, he becomes homicidally jealous of Connor Kent, and his narrow view of the world finally comes into focus for the reader. Superboy Prime is so blinded by rage that his entire vision is just skewed. Superboy Prime has done some terrible things to some heroic characters, but its the young hero’s fall from grace that makes the character so endlessly intriguing. Essentially, Superboy Prime sacrificed his own sanity for a world that he was never a part of, and received nothing rewarding for that whatsoever.
6. Tim Drake
Tragedy runs rampant in the Bat-family, but arguably no member of that family has lost more than the third Robin, Tim Drake. His mother was killed right before he took up the mantle of Robin, and later on his love interest Stephanie Brown – Spoiler – would follow suit. Continuing down the path of miserable deaths, his father was murdered during Identity Crisis and his best friend, Connor Kent (aka Superboy) was killed the next year in Infinite Crisis. And of course, the one saving grace that Tim had through all these hardships – Bruce Wayne, his adoptive father – was seemingly killed last year during the events of Final Crisis.
Though Tim has never been consumed by grief, the mentorship of Batman and friendship of Dick Grayson certainly shines through in the way that Tim deals with the difficulties of his life. He doesn’t stop fighting, he just goes and goes – likely avoiding having to deal with all the death that has crept up around him. Tim shares a trait with many other superhero characters that appear on this list, which is a masking of grief using their superhero persona.
5. Frank Castle
The Punisher. Undeniably the biggest badass over at Marvel Comics, but of course, said badassery comes at a high price. A veteran of Vietnam, Castle began a one-man war on the mafia when his wife and child were murdered by the mob. He has a similar origin to most heroes, but where Castle differs is his methods. The Punisher is an anti-hero in the most definitive way possible. He fights crime on the moral side of the law, but his methods are absolutely brutal. Frank Castle kills, tortures, blackmails, kidnaps and threatens anyone that gets in his way.
Sure, we may all be sadists for enjoying the character so much, but beyond the graphic violence is truly a tragic tale. Again we have a person so completely broken by their horrific experiences that they see no alternative but to fight, thirsting for some semblance of vengeance that will likely never be quenched. Frank Castle is a man with a deathwish, and it’s not unlikely that it will be granted sooner or later. The Punisher is so pushing the boundaries of being a hero and being a homicidal maniac; perhaps the most depressing thought is thinking of what his deceased family might think of him were they alive. Is he still the crime fighter he set out to be, or simply a lunatic with bloodlust?
4. Bruce Wayne
Bruce Wayne is the originator of depressing comic book characters. After witnessing the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne devoted himself to fighting crime. Simple enough, but through the years, we have seen how deeply this event has scarred this character. Though we have seen himself exert effort in relationships – from adopting Tim Drake to having an extended Bat-family, and even his relationship with Superman – when it all comes back to it, Bruce is genuinely incapable of trusting anyone but himself, aside from Alfred, the main who raised him. And again, Bruce is a man who is so haunted by his past that he makes himself into the peak of human physicality, his true face only revealing itself when he puts on the cape and cowl.
Bruce has been betrayed by nearly every woman he’s allowed himself to get involved with, and more importantly, by his friends. When it was revealed that he was mind wiped by his fellow Justice Leaguers, Batman took it upon himself to build a massive satellite to keep track and essentially spy on all of his closest associates. In addition, Bruce has been, in some ways, directly responsible for the deaths or injuries of some of his closest friends. To name a few: Jason Todd, the second Robin, beaten to death by the Joker. Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, shot by the Joker and left paralyzed. Thomas Elliott, Bruce’s childhood friend driven insane and ultimately led down the path of a supervillain known as Hush. Hell, even most representations of the Joker’s origin implicate Batman as having a role in his creation.
Though his crusade is neverending, one cannot deny the guilt that must weigh heavily on his conscience.
3. Jimmy Corrigan
Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and also one of the most depressing. The book chronicles the life of the titular Jimmy, and jumps between his life as an introverted thirty something man about to meet his father for the first time, to Jimmy’s lonely childhood fantasies as well as an actual documentation of his childhood. The book even ventures to explore Jimmy’s grandfather in the late 1890’s, who suffers from many of the same socially deabilitating issues that Jimmy does.
Jimmy Corrigan is the kind of character that is difficult to even see on the page. We know he’s uncomfortably awkard, and we know that nothing in his life has ever, or will ever, turn out well. Chris Ware’s distinct art style plays into the loneliness of the character, with each particular panel and page so meticulously laid out that it feeds the themes of boredom and alienation.
Throughout the book, even Jimmy’s fantasies that should end in a cheerful fasion end only in disaster. The book is an ingenius character study of perhaps the loneliest man in existence, and though you may feel suicidal upon its completion, there is no denying the utter relatability and depth of the lead character.
2. Eric Draven
In the case of Eric Draven and The Crow, though the character himself is tragic, the true feeling of the overall book comes from knowing what inspired it and literally being able to feel the blood and tears on every page and every pen stroke. Creator James O’Barr created the character as a means to coping with the death of his girlfriend, who was killed by a drunk driver. Using gothic imagery and a mental soundtrack of Joy Division and The Cure, The Crow was born. The original series tells the story of Eric Draven, who along with his girlfriend Shelly, is savagely murdered by a group of thugs. Eric is shot in the head first, only to witness the love of his life raped and killed. A mythical crow then resurrects Eric to seek vengeance on his killers, and he walks amongst the living once more.
Throughout the book, essentially whenever he is not killing one of his murderers, Eric is dwelling on the thoughts of Shelly, often weeping or self-mutilating. Eric is shot and stabbed countless times in the series, but the only wounds that remain on his body are those he inflicts upon himself. Combined with the well placed poetry, lyrics, and gothic portraits thoughout the book, O’Barr creates a horrifically beautiful tale of vengeance, albeit one that is fueled by one of the most depressing stories of all time. Eric Draven is one of those few characters that really cement themselves in the minds of the readers, as much for his undying devotion to his lover and for his inexplicably harrowing fate.
1. Matt Murdock
I am shocked beyond belief that Matt Murdock has not killed himself. Since the character’s inception, Daredevil has gotten nothing but shit on, decade after decade. To start, after his brush with a radioactive substance and subsequent blindess, his father is killed in the alleys of Hell’s Kitchen, and Matt takes on the role of Daredevil. Once his superhero life gets in full swing, we witness him suffer numerous mental breakdowns, being disbarred as a lawyer, more murdered girlfriends than any other superhero, a public ousting of his secret identity, having to fake his own death, becoming the Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen, becoming a wanted man by the FBI, being thrown in jail, a marriage and subsequent dissolution of said marriage when his wife goes certifiable and is committed, fired from his own firm, a very public affair with a co-worker while his wife is in the nuthouse – shall I go on?
The man can’t catch a break, and as much as I love seeing him kick some ass, it quite literally pains me to watch Daredevil push it to the brink of insanity while on patrol. He runs nonstop, often times nearly crossing the boundries between fighting crime and murdering. Matt Murdock’s life is truly one that is defined by tragedy. If, perchance, Matt was to find something that resembles a bright light – such as his wife Milla during Brian Michael Bendis’ run – you can be sure that it will only add to the tragedy someplace down the line (spoiler: she goes to the nuthouse and he cheats on her).
Reading Daredevil is truly like watching a train wreck. It’s a terrible, terribly sight, but so vastly fascinating and haunting that you can’t help but to keep on looking.