12 Marvel Heroes With Backstories Almost Too Tragic To Bear

Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even most non-comics readers are familiar with the origin stories of the big-ticket heroes. Everyone knows about the radioactive spider and the super solider serum. Those are easy, and in a lot of ways, they are perfect stories for the big screen and big audiences. But, there’s also the other side of Marvel, the darker side, the side reserved for the die-hard readers. That’s where these origins derive.

There’s nothing sunny about how X-23 got to be who she is, while characters like Cable and Deadpool repeatedly get the short end of the stick in their tragic lives. Voted on by comic fans, these are the Marvel superheroes with the most harrowing origin stories.

1. X-23 Was Forced To Kill Her Own Mother

A clone of Wolverine who experiences horrific experiments early in life, Laura Kinney does not have a happy backstory. Raised in captivity to become a merciless slayer, Kinney’s only bright spot in life is her surrogate mother. But that relationship only leads to further tragedy.

One of the experiments performed by the Weapon X program involves the creation of a “trigger scent,” a substance that makes Kinney fly into an uncontrollable rage and take out everything in her sight. When she begins to rebel against her controllers, they use the trigger scent to force Laura to slay her own mother. Kinney ultimately escapes the facility to start a life on the streets. 

2. Wolverine Has A Less Known Backstory That Is Almost Shockingly Tragic

In a way, Wolverine has two origins. The more well-known story, frequently referenced in the X-Men films, involves Wolverine’s time with Weapon X. While part of the shadowy government program, the mutant has liquid adamantium forcefully bonded to his skeleton. By comparison, the first appearance of Wolverine’s genetic abilities (healing factor, enhanced senses, and bone claws) is relatively obscure.

Growing up in the late 19th century under his original name, James Howlett, Wolverine first discovers his claws and healing factor as a young man – and does so in a suitably depressing fashion. Unbeknownst to himself, Howlett is the offspring of a tryst between his mother and their family employee, Thomas Logan. When Thomas drunkenly confronts and slays the man Howlett believes to be his father, Howlett reacts in a moment of passion. He fatally pierces his biological father with the bone claws that unexpectedly spring from his hands. It’s an ugly scene, and made more confusing to the young man when the wounds on his hands mysteriously heal. 

3. Rogue’s First Kiss Put Her Teenage Love Into A Coma

Many superheroes experience tragic origins but eventually move on to the stalwart existence of a costumed vigilante. This is not the case for the mutant known as Rogue. Rogue’s mutant abilities, which allow her to absorb the memories, powers, and even personality of anyone she comes into physical contact with, have made her life a difficult and lonely one. They’ve done so from the very beginning.

As a teenager, Rogue was in the throes of young love before everything went horribly wrong. During her first kiss with a boy named Cody, the magical moment becomes horrific when her powers suddenly kick in. She absorbs Cody’s life force, leaving him in a coma. It’s understandable that Rogue has had relationship issues ever since. 

4. Sentient Robots Made Rocket Raccoon Into What He Is

In the beginning, Rocket is indeed a raccoon – or at least, a member of an alien species visually indistinguishable from Earth raccoons. Rocket and his fellow beings live on a planet-sized psychiatric facility known as Halfworld where they serve as therapy animals. That is, until the robot therapists left in charge of the asylum gain sentience and abandon their posts.

Rather than leaving the patients of Halfworld to fend for themselves, the robots perform genetic experiments on Rocket and the other companion critters, granting them awareness, intelligence, and some anthropomorphic features. When Rocket and his allies uncover the truth of their creation, they experience a rather understandable existential crisis. This traumatic origin informs Rocket’s personality to the present day.

5. Wade Wilson Gets Cancer And The ‘Cure’ Turns Him Into The Deadpool We Know Today

Perhaps no superhero better embodies the trope of the “sad clown” than Wade Wilson, AKA the Merc with a Mouth. Following a prolific career as a mercenary, Wilson finds that his body is ravaged with incurable cancer. Desperate for a cure, his search leads him to Weapon X, the shadowy section of the Canadian government responsible for creating Wolverine.

Using some leftover DNA from Wolverine, Department K attempts to artificially, and painfully, graft a mutant healing factor onto Wilson. The experiment is deemed a failure when it does nothing more than accelerate Wilson’s cancer, resulting in his trademark skin condition. His cruel caretakers wash him out into their reject pile and place bets on when Wilson will perish in their “deadpool.” When Wilson’s regenerative abilities finally kick in, he adopts the word as his nickname and viciously makes his escape from the facility.

6. Black Bolt Accidentally Kills His Parents While Stopping His Brother’s Evil Plot

Blackagar Boltagon, or Black Bolt, is the sovereign ruler of a race known as the Inhumans. Among Inhumans, it is a ritual practice to expose select members to the Terrigen Mists in order to trigger latent mutant powers. When Black Bolt undergoes Terrigenesis, it leaves him with a voice that can crumble mountains. 

Black Bolt is forbidden from ever speaking, which is not the best developmental path for a young individual. When he breaks the rules to stop a plot by his brother, Maximus, the results are catastrophic: Blackagar loses control of his voice and slays dozens, including his own parents. Since then, Black Bolt’s words have been few and far between, and only hurled at his enemies. 

7. Drax The Destroyer Is Actually A Resurrected Earthling Created To Get Revenge On Thanos

Those who only know of Drax the Destroyer from his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are missing out on the true horrors of his comic book origins. The future Guardian of the Galaxy was once a saxophone player named Arthur Douglas living an ordinary life on Earth – until Thanos showed up.

When Thanos strikes, Douglas and his wife are slain and their daughter Heather is horribly injured. Taking pity on the family, Thanos’ father and grandfather take Heather back to their home planet to heal and raise her. They also resurrect Arthur and turn him into Drax the Destroyer with the sole purpose of hunting down Thanos and bringing him to justice. Drax has been working at it ever since. 

8. After Being Infected With A Virus, Cable Lives Out His Childhood In A Post-Apocalyptic Future

Cable’s comic book origin is as disturbing as it is convoluted. The son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey, Nathan Summers’s early childhood is as normal as could be expected under such circumstances. Everything changes when the forces of Apocalypse infect him with a techno-organic virus.

Unable to find a cure in the modern era, Cyclops sends his son into the future for medical treatment. Surviving in a post-Apocalyptic world, young Nathan grows into the combat-hardened Cable before traveling back in time to reunite with his father and the X-Men as an old man. 

9. Johnny Blaze’s Deal With Mephisto Goes Wrong And He Is Forced To Become Ghost Rider

There have been many Ghost Riders over the course of Marvel Comics history, but Johnny Blaze remains the most recognizable and the most tragic. When the stuntman who raised Blaze is stricken with terminal cancer, Blaze makes a deal with Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe, to save him. Mephisto agrees, at the cost of Johnny’s soul. When the father figure perishes in a stunt shortly thereafter, Blaze remains at the mercy of Mephisto.

Claiming the soul that is rightfully his, Mephisto forcibly bonds Blaze with a demon known as Zarathos, a spirit of vengeance. Now the latest in a long line of Ghost Riders, Johnny Blaze gains a flaming skull and a host of demonic abilities, but loses control over his own destiny.

10. Jessica Jones Got One Last Trip To Disney World With Her Family Before It All Went Wrong

Jessica Jones is returning from a trip to Disney World with her family when her father loses control of their car. He smashes into a military convoy carrying radioactive chemicals, some of which end up splashing Jessica. While the rest of her family perishes in the incident, Jones is saved by the effects of the chemicals. She slips into a coma for several months and then awakens to discover she now has superpowers – and is completely alone in the world.

11. Matt Murdock Was A Hero Even Before He Became Daredevil

Thanks to a critically acclaimed Netflix series (and a significantly less-beloved film), Daredevil is now one of the better-known superheroes. But even fans may forget just how horrific Matt Murdock’s origin story is. When the boy who would become Daredevil sees a blind pedestrian about to be struck by a truck, he boldly leaps into action, pushing the man out of the way and putting his own life in peril.

Murdock isn’t hit by the truck, but it does spill its radioactive contents all over the young hero’s face. Murdock is burned and blinded. The accident grants him amazing abilities that enable him to start a career as a costumed vigilante, but he remains permanently without sight. 

On the upside, unofficial canon states that the same radioactive substance that disfigured Murdock drained into the New York sewers and created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – a remarkably silver lining to Daredevil’s dark origin. 

12. Blade’s Mother Was Transformed Into A Vampire By The Doctor Who Was Assisting Her With Her Pregnancy

Blade is a vampire hunter, so few would expect him to have a happy-go-lucky origin story. While Eric Brooks’ mother is pregnant with him, she seeks the services of a doctor who turns out to be the vampire Deacon Frost. 

Frost bites Brooks’ mother as she gives birth, transforming her into a vampire and her son into a half-vampire known as a Dhampir or Daywalker. This leaves Blade with a wide array of vampiric abilities, few of their natural weaknesses, and a burning desire for vengeance against all creatures of the night.