The 5 Saddest Sacks in Superhero Comics
Comics are the domain of heroes and villains. They tell decades-long, dramatic stories about the clash of good and evil, and of the fall-out from that clash. The characters who inhabit comics live lives of operatic tragedy, intense joy, and all-consuming obsession.
Most of the time.
Amidst the grand passions and noble characters there are always a few characters who are just . . . sad. Either due to literary conventions, or running gags, or just common neglect, they are chained to fates that are disappointing, annoying, or just . . . well . . . sad.
Take a look at the five saddest sacks in comics, and feel better about your own life.
5. J Jonah Jameson
At first this character doesn't seem tragic. As the editor of a newspaper, he has a huge amount of power over Spider-Man, his chosen nemesis. And make no mistake, he uses that power as well as he's able.
The problem is he isn't able to use it well, because he is in a book with the word 'Spider-Man' on the cover. J Jonah Jameson occupies this position on the list not because he has an especially sad life in his medium, but because he is doomed in meta. He's always going to be around, he's always going to be angry with Spider-Man, and he is never, ever going to get satisfaction.
And that haircut?
That's not going away, either.
Worth more alive than dead.
Let us reflect on this character's downfall by thinking about how many classic Mad Hatter stories there are out there. Go on, rattle off a few names. Go on.
It's strangely quiet in here.
The fact is, The Mad Hatter is one of those window dressing villains. He's recognizable, he's understandable, he's iconic. If he's used at all, he's used as the intro villain, or the side villain who supplies a story for the background of bigger, more important character arcs.
This character is so sad that the last big Batman story involving him was his old gang getting together and committing crimes without him. One of them was The Carpenter. She's had return appearances. He hasn't.
This character is so sad that there is Batman Black and White arc in which Batman braves the dangers of the house of a Gothamite obsessed with Lewis Carroll. There are animatronic Jaberwockyies and there is even a spot in the house called 'The Mad Hatter's Tea Party.' The main villain of the story is The Riddler.
This character is so sad that he was given to the champion rehabilitator of the DCU, Gail Simone, in her incredibly successful series 'The Secret Six.' Before Secret Six, Catman was a Batman rip-off, whose last appearance involved him whimpering and sobbing while being beaten by Green Arrow, another Batman rip-off. In Secret Six, Catman became the kind of character that inspired fans to hand make his costume for cons. Gail Simone tried to rehabilitate The Mad Hatter the same way - and made him into a character who masturbates with hats. There is nothing more to say.
2. Betty Ross
I have to admit that this is a stretch, since Betty in comics has had her share of triumph and tragedy. Yes, all of this is either guided by her husband or her father, but she was Harpy, she was a fugitive with Bruce, she died and was resurrected - she has some kind of a life.
In the movies though, she's the most insipid creature ever put on the screen. This is what Betty does in every movie:
"Bruce! No! Calm down! It's okay!"
"Bruce? What's happening? Where are you going? When will you be back? Why are you doing this? I don't understand!"
In every big screen film and every animated straight-to-dvd movie, Betty is there, always just far away enough not to help stop anything, just close enough to rush in at the last moment and make him calm down. There's even one movie, set far into the future, in which Ancient Hulk is living in a cave on a distant planet, and when he Hulks out, Ancient Betty still runs in and whines at him until he stops smashing. That is a terrible, terrible life.
I'm not even including a picture of her. What does it matter what she looks like? She's basically a recorded message played over and over.
1. Lana Lang
No one in the world has it worse than Lana Lang. Anyone who doesn't know this either doesn't know about Lana Lang or lacks even the most superficial understanding of human nature.
In each of us, there lies a tiny core of spite. That spite doesn't have to be a large part of our personalities. It doesn't have to poison our lives. It doesn't even need much fuel to keep it comfortably burning. But when it is neglected, its death will take the human soul along with it. This, I firmly believe.
Say you split up with a boyfriend. You loved him deeply, but the timing and circumstances just weren't right. You parted amicably, and you wished him the very best.
And that's exactly what he got.
He's Earth's Greatest Hero. He has loving parents, his dream job, and the admiration and gratitude of the entire world. He has an exciting life in which he does work that's truly meaningful. He has great friends, and yes, he has great love. He's happily married to a woman who is beautiful, brilliant, successful, happy, even smug. And she doesn't have to make a choice due to circumstances. Her silly, unrealistic fantasies came true. She's a fangirl who married both the object of her desire and the man she grew to love, and along the way, she? Got a Pulitzer.
That alone would start making me want to play chicken with passing trains. But that's not enough. Fate unleashes on Lana Lang like it is a Joe Pesci character in a Scorsese film. There's one storyline in which she and Lois bicker over Clark until his mother - his mother! - steps in and informs her that she 'had her chance.'
There's a storyline in which she and Lois, as fourteen-year-old girls, come to the future. Fourteen-year-old Lana sees everything that will happen, including the fact that she will never be Clark's wife, and that he's deeply in love with someone else. All her dreams are crushed in front of her eyes. Then she is sent back to the past, her memory erased so there is no chance that she can re-prioritize and move on with her life.
There's even a storyline in which she's made the head of LexCorp. LexCorp has kryptonite, and Superman is rabidly abusing his power by stealing, sometimes violently, all the kryptonite in the world. She demands he leave. He refuses. She uses the kryptonite. Batman and Superman deal with that, after which Superman comes back, tells her that he knows that she sometimes wonders why he chose Lois instead of her. He tells her that this was why. Then he leaves. After he stays long enough to watch her cry.
That history hurt even to type. Lana Lang, without question, wins the Saddest Sack in Comics Award. I'm sure she's thrilled.