The advent of the age of superhero comics in the late 1930s introduced a wave of characters that inspired awe and wonder from readers. These characters could fly, leap tall buildings in a single bound and exhibit feats of strength that made them appear more God than man. And yet, despite these unbelievable demonstrations of power from the likes of Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash, these characters maintained a sense of innocence because comics had traditionally been marketed to children and teenagers.
The Marvel Age of Comics, which was launched in 1961 with the publication of Fantastic Four #1, marked the beginning of a phase of profound change for the comic book industry. Suddenly, these funny books were being injected with doses of realism and tragedy. Men became monsters. Heroes felt the pangs of conflict. Characters were forced to confront more complex ideas like loneliness and isolation.
From there, the comic book industry produced stories that not only made us laugh, or filled us with a sense of awe, but also made us cry. These landmark stories pushed the boundaries of the medium and engaged and connected with readers by depicting moments of disease, heartbreak and death. Readers could now identify with their favourite heroes because they dealt with similar problems and pain.
The following 15 moments are among the best examples of how the comic book medium is capable of using its world of fantasy to exhibit the very real pathos of human existence. So get your tissues ready and brace yourselves for some heartache.
15. Foggy Nelson Has Cancer
Since taking over as lead writer on Marvel's Daredevil series in 2011, comic book legend Mark Waid has examined the friendship between law partners Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson better than any other creator that preceded him. This pronounced focus on Matt and Foggy has led to some emotionally wrought stories, including the heartbreaking Daredevil #23 when Foggy is diagnosed with cancer.
Leading up to this reveal, Matt had poked fun at Foggy's poor physique and propensity to eat junk food a number of times. But when Foggy tells his partner that hes been suffering from headaches and joint pains for a while, Matt brings him to a doctor to get checked out. Waid and artist Chris Samnee masterfully tell the scene in the doctors office where Foggy gets his results. As the doctor enters the room, Matt uses his radar sense and picks up what he thinks is Foggy's rapid heartbeat. Matt continues to remain calm until he realises it's actually the doctor's heartbeat that's reflecting worry and panic. Matt is instantly overcome with sorrow and puts his hand on Foggy's shoulder.
That one action alone, signals to Foggy that he is about to get some terrible news. As tears well in Foggy's eyes, the only bit of dialogue the reader gets from the doctor is, sorry. As Daredevil, Matt has saved Foggy dozens of times over the years. But this story serves as a reminder that sometimes there are even bigger threats to our loved ones than the likes of Bullseye and Stilt-Man.
Mark is a professional writer living in Brooklyn and is the founder of the Chasing Amazing Blog, which documents his quest to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and the Superior Spider-Talk podcast. He also pens the "Gimmick or Good?" column at Comics Should Be Good blog.