Comic books are meant to be a source of joy and wonderment, places where we can retreat deep into the depths of our inner geek and lose ourselves for hours as we join our favourite heroes and heroines during their battles to defeat the forces of evil.
And then we turn a page and look on in horror as something awful happens to one of them. Just like in TV and movies (particularly Game Of Thrones), no character in a comic book is safe from something unexpectedly dreadful happening to them, and some of them have left readers cold. Let’s take a look at five moments in comic books that shocked us to our core.
Honourable mention – the death of Jason Todd
A Death In The Family is widely regarded as one of the best Batman stories ever written, and one of the most unusual in that it gave readers the chance to vote on whether the life of a main character should be spared. Due to Jason Todd’s unpopularity, fans were given to phone number to call in and vote; one that would see Jason live, and the other to seal his doom. Ultimately, Jason met his demise at the hands of the Joker, who brutally beat the Boy Wonder with a crowbar, before leaving Jason and his mother in a warehouse full of explosives. Batman arrived too late to save his partner, and readers breathed out heavily. While it was expected that Jason would die, even the writers described the Joker’s beating of him as ruthless and cruel, and it’s still a difficult panel to read even now.
And now, onto the real heavy hitters.
5) Barbara Gordon’s shooting and paralysis
The Killing Joke is one of my personal favourite Batman stories, for a very important reason – it’s not a Batman story. The Killing Joke details the Joker’s origin and how he subsequently became the Clown Prince of Crime, interjected with various happenings in the present day. In one of these, we see Commissioner James Gordon and his daughter Barbara (A.K.A Batgirl) enjoying their morning coffee while the Commissioner sorts through newspaper clippings. There’s a knock at the door. Barbara goes to answer it, and when the door is opened, she and the reader are greeted with the Joker standing there, dressed in a garish Hawaiian shirt and pointing a gun straight at Barbara. In perhaps the greatest example of silent panelling in the history of comics, the Joker shoots Barbara through the spine, sending her sprawling to the floor while his goons restrain the Commissioner. It was a completely unexpected moment of brutal violence even for the Joker, and it showed us all how insane he truly was. The sight of Barbara lying in a pool of her own blood, helpless, her spinal cord severed, stayed with us forever as it marked the end of Batgirl’s career….but the beginning of Oracle’s.
4) Superman and Doomsday kill each other
As Lex Luthor himself put it, “there comes a time when even gods must die.” If you thought the battle with Zod in Man of Steel was damaging to Metropolis…well, read The Death of Superman and come back to me. During this story, members of the Justice League International respond to a distress call from a destroyed big-rig, before following a trail of destruction to find a monster that takes down the entire team singlehandedly, throwing Booster Gold into space, where he is caught by Superman, who christens the monster as Doomsday. What follows is a cataclysmic battle between the Man of Steel and Doomsday as they travel across numerous states before ending up in Metropolis, where the shockwaves from their punches shatter windows. Eventually, both of them land a devastating punch on their opponent and collapse. Doomsday expires immediately, but Superman lives just long enough for Lois Lane to cradle him in her arms before he dies. This marked the beginning of an ongoing comic book trend of superhero deaths and resurrections, and the sheer scale violence and the distance it covered still resides in our memories. Not to mention, whoever thought we’d see Superman die?
3) Mr. Hyde rapes and kills the Invisible Man
I couldn’t not make a list entitled “Most shocking moments in comic books” and not include something from Alan Moore. The guy is the founding father of gritty, dark comics and with scenes like this one from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2, it’s easy to see why. Hawley Griffin, the Invisible Man, has betrayed the League to the invading Molluscs (the aliens from H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds) and assaulted Mina Harker. He’s planning to make his escape and leave the rest of the League to die during the invasion…only to be confronted by Mr. Hyde, who tells Griffin that he has infrared vision – and thus, he’s been able to see Griffin, and his treachery, the entire time. Hyde then savagely beats and rapes Griffin, leaving him on the floor of the League’s headquarters in agony. Later on, during dinner with the other League members, Griffin’s blood slowly begins to appear all over Hyde’s clothes, and Griffin’s death is revealed to the League when Captain Nemo finds his body. It’s a scene that is shocking for its brutality and how it gives a real insight into just how twisted and gruesome comics can get. It’s no wonder the film was so heavily toned down.
2) Watchmen‘s twist ending
Oh look, another Alan Moore entry! Surprise, surprise. Considered by many to be the greatest comic book ever written, Moore’s Watchmen depicts an alternate 1985 where mask-wearing superheroes have become outlawed and the world is on the brink of nuclear war. Amidst the chaos and political confusion, the vigilate Rorschach attempts to get to the heart of the various events that point towards one thing: a conspiracy. Eventually joined by Nite Owl II, Rorschach discovers that the mastermind behind everything is none other than Adrian Veidt, A.K.A Ozymandias, one of the founding members of the Watchmen, who admits to creating an alien monster with the same energy signature as Dr. Manhattan, then teleporting it to New York city, where the alien’s psychic powers kill both itself and millions of people. Although Veidt’s plan achieves his greater goal of uniting the world against a common threat, believed to be Dr. Manhattan, the silent panels depicting millions of corpses strewn across a devastated New York City stick in the minds of any reader, whether they’re reading Watchmen for the first time or the hundredth.
1) The death of Gwen Stacy
In 1973, The Amazing Spider-Man #121 marked a turning point in comic books and in Spider-Man’s life by examining a gallery of his friends and family and teasing that someone in the near future would die. Little did readers know that the death in question would be Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. In an event that marked the end of the Silver Age of comic books, Gwen was hurled off a bridge by the Green Goblin. Spider-Man fired a single strand of webbing in a desperate attempt to stop his girlfriend’s fall. It worked, and the web-line caught Gwen and stopped her fall…but the whiplash effect from the sudden stop snapped Gwen’s neck and killed her instantly. It’s shocking to think that Spider-Man both succeeded and failed in what he was trying to do – he stopped Gwen from falling, but he failed to save her life. And let’s not forget that Gwen was a completely innocent character, a pure symbol of good in Spider-Man’s life. With this reasoning, and the fact that her death cemented Marvel’s entry into the Bronze Age, it’s safe to say that it takes the top spot on out list.
Which comic book moments shocked you most? Leave it in the comments and don’t forget to like and share!