We all love a good superhero origin story. They tell us personal histories, provide some information on what the superhero was like before being super, give us the character’s motivations, and they’re almost always tragic. Some origin stories have become incredibly well-known to pretty much everyone. Think Batman and Spider-Man, two of the best origin stories out there. Both of these are also dark. It’s the darkness we like today. Now, we’ve decided not to include either Batman or Spider-Man on this list. It’s true that a solid case could be made for both and that either of their origin stories could be considered the darkest, but they are just too familiar. We know the sad details off by heart. As a child, Batman watched his parents get murdered in cold blood right in front of his eyes. Spider-Man, after using his powers to earn a little cash, could have stopped a criminal but decided against it. He chose not to get involved. But then, that same crook ended up killing his uncle Ben (his surrogate father) shortly afterward.
When using a term like “dark,” we feel that it’s necessary to explain ourselves a bit. For this list, we’re looking at the superheroes that were created through awful tragedies and/or sometimes sadistic means. We’ve given a major preference to those who are super and those who are heroes. Some stories were just too dark to pass up. Hell, we might even throw in a villain or two if they’ve ever switched sides. With so many superheroes out there and so many origin stories, we’re bound to neglect someone deserving here or there. If you know of someone who definitely should be on the list, let us know; or don’t, and call us stupid. Whatever. Here are 15 Superhero Origin Stories That Are Darker Than Batman’s.
15. Astro Boy
You may look at Astro Boy and see the smiling face and buggy eyes and think him a happy creature and with beautiful origins. The truth is the opposite. Astro Boy’s origin story, although it’s been retconned several times, is almost always depressing. The original story begins with the death of Tobio, the young son of robotics expert Dr. Tenma. To deal with his grief, Tenma creates Astro Boy, a sentient robot replica of his dead child. It doesn’t take long for Tenma to see that Astro Boy is incapable of replacing his son. Astro doesn’t age. He prefers geometric shapes over organic ones, and he’s a robot, albeit one with emotions. So, Tenma sells him to the circus. Astro’s new owner, Hamegg, is cold, cruel, and ruthless. He abuses Astro at every turn. Astro is forced to destroy other robots, some of them his friends. This is why he joins the robot liberation movement.
Wolverine almost didn’t make the cut because so many people are intimately aware of the character. Still, despite how long he’s been front and center, there are still plenty of people who don’t know his origins (blame the awful film if you like). Born James Howlett, Logan/Wolverine lived with his parents, Elizabeth and John Howlett. After a crazy conflict between James and his childhood friend, “Dog” Logan. Dog and his father, Thomas, the groundskeeper, were removed from the property. Later, the Logan’s returned. Thomas was drunk and armed and tried to convince Elizabeth, his former lover, to come with them. John tried to stop this and was shot and killed by Thomas, just as James walked into the room. This caused James to extend his claws for the first time. He attacked and killed Thomas and scarred Dog’s face. After the fight, James’ mother kicked the boy out and then shot and killed herself. Years later, Wolverine would learn in Hell that Thomas Logan was actually his biological father.
As you probably saw in Logan, X-23 was created by cloning Weapon X. Raised in captivity, X-23 was treated like an animal. Her claws were forcibly extracted and then coated in adamantium without using any anesthetic. She was exposed to radiation poisoning to encourage and accelerate the mutant gene activation process. Her berserker rage was manipulated and misused as the facility designed a “trigger scent” that set her off. In fact, the facility even used the trigger scent to force X-23 to kill her own mother, the only person she loved and the only one who showed her any true kindness. Although she escaped, X-23 was then forced into prostitution before being rescued by the good guys.
There’s a reason why John Constantine is the brash adult that he is. His origins were super dark. This is a guy whose mother died while giving birth to him. He was a twin, but his twin brother was stillborn. Worse still, it was John’s umbilical cord that killed the twin. John’s dad hated him for his mother’s death. When he first tried to become a hero as an adult, John exposed a magical orgy and discovered an abused child at the center. He learned that this child had created a magical monster to help her take revenge on her abusive father. After this thing got out of control, Constantine helped create a magical demon that would stop it. Unfortunately, this demon, too, got out of control. After it killed the first monster, he killed the little girl as well, even dragging her to Hell.
Born Xi’an Coy Manh in Vietnam, Karma and her family were forced to accompany their father on missions for the South Vietnamese Army. During one mission, Karma’s twin brother was attacked. Wanting to protect him, Karma’s mind control powers emerged and saved him, but her brother absorbed some of the powers as well, which he would use for evil. After her father was shot and killed, Karma, her siblings, and her mother escaped on a boat to the United States. While on the journey, the boat was boarded by pirates who would beat and force themselves on the women. Karma’s mother would also die on this trip. It wouldn’t be until after this tragedy that Karma learned to control and use her powers properly.
10. The Punisher
Frank Castle was a military man who was often sent into the most dangerous missions because his superiors hoped that he would be killed, but he never was. When he was on leave from the military, Frank and his family (wife and two small kids) went to Central Park to spend the day together. While there, they ended up witnessing a mob killing. To eliminate the witnesses, the mob attacked and killed Frank’s family. This ruined him. Then, at court, Frank was not even allowed to testify against the mob because of police corruption. This is why he’s angry.
9. The Crow
The events that led to Eric Draven turning into the Crow in the graphic novel differ a bit from the film, although either origin story would allow Draven to occupy a spot on this list. In the graphic novel, Draven and his girlfriend, Shelly, are forced to pull off the road with car problems. Shortly after, some thugs pull up and start bothering them. Eric is shot in the head, which paralyzes him, although he is still conscious. He is then forced to watch as Shelly is beaten, assaulted and killed. In the film, the same thing happens, except it’s in the couple’s apartment. The film Eric was meant to be shot as well, but when it was attempted in filming, the film’s star, Brandon Lee, was accidentally shot and killed. Therefore, the attack was changed to a stabbing out of respect for the actor and his family.
8. Iron Fist
Even though the television show Iron Fist might have scared off a few too many generations from this superhero, the real Iron Fist has a pretty bada*s origin. In the original comic, Danny Rand’s father was well aware of the mystical K’un L’un. In fact, Wendell Rand was the adopted son of the leader. When the Rand family died (shown in the show as a plane accident), they were searching for K’un L’un. Harold Meechum, one of the antagonists in the show, was also present. In the comics, during the expedition to K’un L’un, there’s an accident and Meechum uses it to his advantage, killing Wendell. Danny and his mother escape but are attacked by wolves shortly after. Danny then watches as his mother sacrifices herself to save him. He looks on as his mom is torn apart by hungry wolves. That’s a lot more intense than the stupid mother in the TV show who didn’t put her seatbelt on.
Badger is a strange superhero with a dark backstory. As a child, Badger (Norbert Sykes) was abused in every way by his stepfather. When Norbert found an injured badger one day as a child, he rescued it and nursed it back to health. Sadly, as soon as it was healthy, Norbert’s stepfather killed it. The sicko would also abuse Norbert’s dog. Later, Norbert ran away and joined up with the Army. During the war, he was captured and held prisoner for two years, starved, and tortured the entire time. It was then and there that Badger learned the ability to speak with animals. He also learned to stay alive by eating bugs. It was not a glamorous lifestyle.
6. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing has been altered a few times by different authors, but the core of the character’s origins remained somewhat the same. Swamp Thing was originally a man named Alex Olsen. After an explosion in his lab, Olsen is enflamed and forced to jump into the swamp. When he arises, he is a monstrous creature, half man half swamp. At least, that’s what he thinks. Later, after Alan Moore got a hold of the story, it was revealed that Swamp Thing was not half Olsen as believed. In fact, Olsen died in the accident. The Swamp was just able to absorb the man’s memories, making it believe itself to be part-human. In a weird way, Olsen was then made aware that the human him was dead and gone, and he was now pure Thing, Swamp Thing.
5. The Hulk
We all know how Bruce Banner became the big green guy. There was stuff with the gamma radiation and the accident and, boom, green and angry. But the Hulk’s origin story is much stickier than that. First of all, the accident wasn’t just some faulty equipment as the films suggest. Banner saved the life of a stupid teenager who wandered onto a field during a field test for a gamma bomb that Banner designed. While he saved the kid, Banner took all that bad stuff into his body. But, let’s go further back. Banner’s dad was a real piece of work. He was an alcoholic and a rage-oholic who hated Bruce and abused Bruce’s mother. Eventually, Banner’s father’s abuse got so violent that it killed the woman. Later, Bruce got in a fight with his father and killed him by accident (or not, depending on what you believe). The gamma radiation may have turned Banner green and strong, but he was the always-angry Hulk long before that.
Dex-Starr may now be villainous and a member of the Red Lantern Corps, but it wasn’t always that way. As a kitten, Dex-Starr was known as Dexter, a cute blue kitten at an animal shelter. Dexter was picked up by a loving new owner and had a good life for a short period of time. One night, a man broke in and killed the owner. Dexter scratched the man but was unable to stop the crime. When the cops came, they kicked Dexter out on the streets thinking him a stray. The poor kitten then stayed on the streets living in a cardboard box. That was before a couple of thugs picked Dexter up one night, apparently for the sole purpose of throwing him off the Brooklyn Bridge in a bag to watch him drown. Before they could pull off their sadistic crime, however, a red ring, sensing Dexter’s rage, came to him. Dexter then transformed into Dex-Starr and killed the thugs. His mission then turned to finding and killing his owner’s murderers.
Even if you had never read the comics, Magneto’s origin story has played out in various ways on screen. It’s well-known but not well enough that we felt we shouldn’t include it here. Magneto was born into a Jewish family in Germany. During the rise of Nazism, his family suffered and struggled. They fled to Poland but were eventually captured and sent to a Ghetto in Warsaw. They fled from there as well but were captured once again. This time, Magneto’s father was shot down, and his mother and sister were executed. Magneto, then known as Max Eisenhardt, was sent to Auschwitz. It was there that he was reunited with his childhood love, Magda, who was also his future wife. After the liberation, Max (now named Magnus) and Magda started a family, having a daughter named Anya. One night, Magneto’s powers surfaced during a fight, and he accidentally killed his attackers. That night, the villagers burnt down his house, killing his daughter. Magneto then killed everyone involved and, in the fracas, scared off his pregnant wife, never to see her again. Now, you know why he kind of hates humanity.
2. Martian Manhunter
Born J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter had a really tough time of it. He was born on Mars to loving parents. He also had a twin brother, Ma’alefa’ak. Since Martians have the ability to connect to each other telepathically, naturally, Ma’alefa’ak was an outcast because he was born without this gift. This caused the twin to grow up hating his own people. He eventually developed a plague that would kill them all. It was called H’ronmeer’s Curse, and it was a virus that was triggered by the same telepathic energy that he was incapable of using. When contracted, the inflicted would burst into flames. J’onn tried to shelter his family, his wife, and daughter from using their telepathy, trying to save them from the curse. But, he was unsuccessful. He had to watch his child and wife burn to death in front of him.
1. The Thing
Benjamin Grimm (The Thing) had a rough life. His father was an alcoholic, and the family was kept together by Ben’s older brother, a brother that he idolized. Predictably, Ben’s brother was killed. Grimm’s parents then died. But Grimm didn’t let that hinder him. He grew up and became a football star in high school. In college, he would befriend Reed Richards and jokingly make a promise that would haunt him. When Richards said he would achieve interstellar space travel, Grimm said he would pilot the ship. Later, after Grimm became a successful pilot and Richards actually achieved his dream, he came to Grimm looking for him to follow through on his promise. Grimm was against the mission from the start, but he went through with it. Then, the accident occurred, and they all got powers. While the other members of the Fantastic Four can hide their powers and look beautiful, Grimm was forever plagued to look like a giant rock.
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