Do you want to be a superhero? Rest assured you don’t want to be Spider-Man or Daredevil. Their lives suck. Seriously, their lives are fraught with tragedy, loss, pain, sadness, more loss, and then some agony, just to mix it up. But which of Marvel’s tragic heroes is truly the most miserable?
Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, and somehow got crazy spider powers as opposed to leukemia. Matt Murdock pushed a guy out of the way of a truck and got doused in radioactive chemicals, blinding him, but enhancing his other senses. Seeing as Spider-Man had no consequences accompanying his powers, Daredevil “wins” this first round handily.
Peter Parker’s parents died when he was very young, and he was put in the care of his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Of course, we all know that Uncle Ben was murdered by a criminal that Spider-Man carelessly failed to stop, thus inspiring his crime-fighting career. Daredevil, meanwhile, was raised by his boxer father after his mother abandoned them. Eventually his dad was murdered by the Fixer for failing to lose a fight, thus inspiring Matt to become Daredevil and fight crime the legal system couldn’t.
So Daredevil was actually abandoned by one of his parents, while Spider-Man was raised by a kindly blood-related couple who fed him wheatcakes, so you’d think Daredevil would have the advantage here. But I think Spidey failing to prevent his uncle/father surrogate's murder puts Spidey over the edge for misery. Besides, while I’m sure Daredevil is sad his father is dead, Spidey’s Aunt May has caused him a shit-ton of grief in that she's constantly in danger/dying/marrying Dr. Octopus, so in a sense the parentless Daredevil is the lucky one here.
While Peter Parker is currently working as an actual scientist, as befits his intelligence and interests, he’s spent most of the last 50 years as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle, primarily taking pictures of Spider-Man. There’s no way he's ever had a steady paycheck or health benefits, and he certainly sponged of his super-model/actress wife Mary Jane Watson while they were together. Matt Murdock is a defense lawyer, at least when circumstances allow. Not that people generally love lawyers, but they are definitely more respected than part-time photographers. But on the other hand, Murdock has actual work to do, while Parker just webs his camera to a wall whenever he sees trouble. Does the lack of effort Parker has to put forth negate the lack of respect? I’m not sure, so we’ll call it a draw.
Obviously, Spider-Man has the most famous dead girlfriend in comics: Gwen Stacy, whose neck snapped when Spider-Man caught her in his webbing after the Green Goblin tossed her off a bridge. Being the instrument of his girlfriend’s death is beyond tragic, but Daredevil lacks in quality of dead girlfriends, he more than makes up for in quantity. His major love interest Elektra is killed by his arch-villain Bullseye; his former fiancée Heather Glenn hangs herself after Daredevil refuses to help her; Bullseye also kills his former girlfriend Karen Page, who went from his legal secretary to a drug-addicted porn star after meeting Matt Murdock. Here, it’s Daredevil by a mile.
What’s insane is that Daredevil might be even unluckier in love with girlfriends who aren’t dead. But let’s start with Spider-Man; yes, his marriage to Mary Jane is erased by Mephisto, but that’s something Spidey chooses (over letting his elderly aunt, whose already had a long, full life, die). But other than that, he has regular sex with ladies like Black Cat, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk (mostly Black Cat), while even as Peter Parker he’s dated Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Carlie Cooper, and tons more. The dude does all right.
But Daredevil… man. Okay, first, let’s point out that when Murdock got married to Heather Glenn, he only did it after proving her company had illegal dealings, effectively destroying it, and leaving her no choice but to marry him. We know how that turned out, just like we know of Karen Page’s short, horrible life, which also includes Mysterio telling Karen she had AIDS, just to fuck with Daredevil. His first surviving girlfriend was Typhoid Mary, who was actually a villain hired by the Kingpin to seduce him and then beat the crap out of him, which she did.
We’re not close to done. Murdock had a mental breakdown, during which he married a lady named Milla Donovan, which had to be annulled — and she was later driven incurably insane by Daredevil’s foe Mister Fear. Daredevil did manage to have sex with a woman named Dakota North at this time, who didn’t suffer any consequences for it, but someone took pictures and showed them to Milla, which finally put her over the edge. And then there’s Maya Lopez, who dated Matt while trying to kill Daredevil as Echo, because the Kingpin told her DD killed her father.
In summary: If you’re a woman and you see Daredevil, you fucking run. [Edit: I've just been informed by Ed Yong that Echo was recently killed by Count Nefaria, so... I reiterate my point. RUN.]
For a while, Daredevil was possessed by a demon creatively named The Beast, which gave him demonic powers and led him to take over Hell’s Kitchen with the evil ninjas of the Hand, and which involved killing a lot of bad guys and fighting a lot of good guys before finally being healed with a cleansing “chi punch” by Iron Fist. His horns got longer, but that was mostly it.
Here, Spider-Man has the edge. Over his lengthy career, Spider-Man has 1) grown two extra sets of arms, 2) turned into an actual spider/man monster, 3) turned into a lizard/man hybrid, 4) become a Hulk for a bit, and 5) was possessed by an evil alien symbiote that became Venom, and 6) become the totem of an African spider god which caused him to die, cocoon himself, and eat a vampire’s face (not necessarily in that order). Spider-Man also gained cosmic powers and became a vessel of the Phoenix Force, (or at least a wacky facsimile provided by the villain Arcade) but those were generally positive and didn’t make him look like a freak. Oh, and Peter Parker-clone Ben Reilly was Carnage for a bit, if you count that — and even if you don’t, it’s obvious Spidey has the worst of it here.
Every comics fans knows about Spider-Man’s Clone Saga debacle, where Marvel tried to tell everyone that Peter Parker wasn’t the real Peter Parker, but a clone of a guy calling himself Ben Reilly. Marvel eventually retconned it so that Ben was the clone and it was all a scheme by the Jackal to mess with Peter Parker (which, to be fair, was a resounding success). Anyways, fans lost their shit about as much Peter did, and it actually hurt Spidey’s comic sales.
But did you know that Daredevil had an identity problem that was even stupider? When Karen Page opened a letter from Spider-Man to Daredevil, revealing that Murdock was indeed ol’ Horn-head, Daredevil’s solution was, and I swear I’m not making this open, that he had a twin brother named Mike. Yes, Mike Murdock was the fun-loving ne’er-do-well that was Daredevil. To back this absurd story up, Matt Murdock had to pull double duty as both brothers, which required elaborate schemes and costumes and personality shifts that would have done an ‘80s sitcom proud — and this went on for an entire year, during which Karen Page fell in love with the brash Mike. Eventually, Daredevil had to fake Mike’s death.
Oh, and at one point Daredevil got amnesia and thought he was his dad. At any rate, while Daredevil’s story is dumber, Spidey’s had far graver consequences. Winner: Spider-Man.
Again, Daredevil is blind. But once a vampire ripped Spider-Man’s eye out of his skull and ate it. So I’m gonna call it a draw.
Daredevil kind of died during the Infinity Gauntlet with about a zillion other characters, including Spider-Man, so that hardly counts. He also kind of died in issue #260, after Typhoid Mary tossed him off a bridge; he didn't move for the whole next issue, and then has a revealing conversation with Mephisto which implies they’ve met previously in hell, but the official Marvel explanation is that Daredevil saved himself with magical ninja healing powers and the astral spirit of his former sensei. However, he definitely died in Nighthawk #1, when Nighthawk choked him to death, although he decided to carry Daredevil out of hell in the next issue, which is nice.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man was once killed by Thanos, but managed to talk his girlfriend Death out of keeping him. He died fighting a vampire named Morlun, although he then cocooned himself and became an African spider god avatar and got better. He’s flat-lined a few times, thanks to various poisons and diseases, but been brought back. And most recently, he had his mind swapped in Dr. Octopus’ aging body just in time for it to kick the bucket while his long-time foe got his awesome young body, which tremendously fucking sucks. Winner: Spider-Man.
Miscellaneous Tragedies (Daredevil)
• While busy being a drug-addicted porn star, Karen Page sold Dardevil identity 'sto Kingpin, who used it to completely destroy the hero’s life, including: freezing all his assets, getting his home foreclosed on and then destroyed, getting cops to say Murdock bribed them, getting him disbarred, and, uh, then tied him to the roof of a taxi pushed off a pier while simultaneously being framing him for murder. He managed to escape, but was then stabbed by a thug and hit by a car.
• Terrifyingly, that was not Daredevil’s roughest week. Kingpin later hires a violent lunatic to dress as Daredevil and go around killing people. A newspaper publishes his secret identity, forcing Murdock to sue the paper while supervillains come directly to his house to kill him.
• Also once when Matt Murdock was 13, he saw a pimp abusing his whores. While beating the crap out of the guy, he accidentally knocked a prostitute out of a window, killing her.
• During the “Guardian Devil” arc, Mysterio somehow convinces Daredevil that a baby is the antichrist (don’t ask), and Daredevil tosses the baby out a window (Black Widow catches it). He later tries to kill the baby again before Dr. Strange makes him stop being a crazy asshole.
• When fighting Bullseye (in his guise as Dark Hawkeye during Dark Reign), he refuses to kill his longtime foe. Bullseye almost immediately blows up a building containing 107 innocent people, and laughs at DD for failing to save them by not killing him when he had the chance. This leads to Daredevil going insane again, getting possessed by The Beast, and eventually murdering Bullseye later.
• Daredevil is arrested and put in jail with pretty much all of his foes; while he’s in there, a prison riot claims the life of his best friend and partner Foggy Nelson. Foggy’s mom blames Matt, of course. It turns out (much later) that Foggy was in hiding as an FBI informant, although this mainly means Foggy is alive to fire Matt from their law company after he learns Daredevil is working together with the Kingpin to take out the ninja clan called the Hand.
• Apparently Matt also kept the remains of his dead father in his desk at work. I have nothing to say about this.
Miscellaneous Tragedies (Spider-Man)
• Spider-Man has had a vicious media campaign against him from pretty much day one, courtesy of J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle. His sole surviving family member, Aunt May, also hates and is terrified by Spider-Man.
• His best friend Harry’s dad was the Green Goblin and tried to kill him about a million times, and then Harry himself cracked up and started attacking Spider-Man.
• The Chameleon once sent robot versions of Peter’s parents to his house, which claimed they had amnesia, just to fuck with him.
• Spidey sided with Iron Man during the Civil War, and revealed his identity to the world. This caused Aunt May, Mary Jane and his loved ones to get attacked and kidnapped more often then before, and before they were getting kidnapped and attacked pretty much constantly.
• The Green Goblin made Mary Jane miscarry her and Peter’s baby, and then kidnapped Aunt May, genetically modified an actress to look just like her, then gave her a terminal disease to Peter had to watch her die.
• And while we can make fun of Spider-Man choosing to save the life of his elderly aunt rather than keep his marriage to his supermodel wife — and we should make fun of him for that, constantly — it still sucks that he had to choose at all.
• Oh, and last but not least: Spider-Man had to fight the genetically aged-up love children of the Green Goblin and his first love Gwen Stacy, who had apparently had an affair at one point. This is ludicrous even by comic book standards, but no doubt it must have sucked hard.
Both superheroes' lives have had more than there share of tragedy, and perhaps Spider-Man’s lowest moments have been lower than Daredevil’s. But while this list is only part of Spider-Man’s lengthy history as a costumed crime-fighter, what I’ve written about Daredevil is almost his entire history.
Daredevil’s life has been one relentless pit of shit after another, without even the capacity for joy. Spider-Man has been happy, many times over the years, while any happiness Daredevil might have accidentally experienced is only a prelude to the next tragedy so it can be even more devastatingly awful.
Spider-Man’s life sucks a lot. Daredevil’s life sucks… and never, ever, ever stops sucking. Sorry, Spider-Man, this is one battle you can't — and shouldn't want — to win.