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My Greatest Failure / Comic Books

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  • Ant-Man: The villainous robot Ultron was supposed to be Henry Pym's greatest failure, but it never seemed to take; later, he was given much more depressing sorts of failures to worry about (such as abusing his wife, betraying his teammates, and repeatedly going insane), while Ultron eventually (for a time, anyway) became more of a ludicrous than ominous figure.
    • During his tenure on The Avengers, Kurt Busiek did a good job of finally making Ultron into a credible threat, up to and including having him wipe a country's population off the map. Pym's destroying the primary unit with a metal disruptor, and a subsequent character arc that involved quite literal split personalities were supposed to finally put Pym's demons to rest and let him start growing as a character again without the existence of Ultron and his other failures to continue hindering him. Yeah... not so much. Later writers actively regressed his sanity, brought back Ultron more than once, and had him replaced by an alien who tried to kill his ex before Thor accidentally turned her into a dimension, which Pym is obsessively trying to fix at the cost of his relationships with his team and Jocasta. As of the most recent Avengers stories, he's possibly even more screwed up now than he was then.
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    • As revealed after Jan's death in Secret Invasion, Hank considers the worst thing he's ever done to be hitting his wife — and he admits that, given everything else that's happened, that's saying something.
  • Batman:
    • Batman himself has blamed himself for a lot of things over the years:
      • Bruce blamed himself for the death of sidekick Jason Todd aka the second Robin. In the animated Batman: Under the Red Hood, he specifically uses the phrase "my greatest failure" in reference to Jason's death. Some versions of Batman's story have him blaming himself for the death of his parents. (In Batman Begins, Bruce blames himself for the death of his parents, as they encountered Joe Chill after leaving the opera Mefistofele due to the performers triggering Bruce's fear of bats.)
      • That's not the only form of blaming himself for his parents - in some comics versions, he convinced his mother to wear pearls to the show, and those pearls are the reason they get robbed and shot.
      • He also blames himself for the creation of The Joker, since he knocked him into the acid; the torture of Stephanie Brown, because he lost control of Gotham during "War Games"; and the death of Ted Kord by Max Lord who hijacked Batman's creation, Brother Eye, to find Ted.
      • In some continuities, at least, there's also Harvey Dent, who Batman saw as a friend and ally that could really clean up Gotham in ways he himself could not - until Harvey became Two-Face.
      • For a time, he considered making Jean-Paul Valley Batman this, saying that it was done at a moment of weakness and it was a mistake. Really, this guy has so many of these that he's got a full-blown Guilt Complex.
      • When Jason Todd came back and because The Punisher-like vigilante "Red Hood", that was another thing that Batman blamed himself for. He found Todd's descent into "lethal justice" so abhorrent that, in the story "Battle for the Cowl", his last will and testament address Jason with "You're broken, and I couldn't fix you. Maybe someone else can." Mind you, that wasn't exactly the best thing to say to him and it drove Jason even further over the edge, something else that Batman would have justifiably blamed himself for if he were still around.
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    • Commissioner Gordon has his role in the creation of the original Wrath: The same night Bruce's parents were murdered, a rookie Gordon got into a firefight with a couple who'd bought their son along as they committed a crime, which ended with a wounded Gordon killing the parents in self-defense, which in-turn led to the kid becoming the Wrath. Batman Confidential # 13-16 added to this, revealing that one: the original Wrath's father was among the many dirty cops in the GCPD, two: a then-Captain Gillian Loeb covered it up to save his ass and those of the other corrupt officers, and three: Loeb forced Gordon to comply with this and a transfer to Chicago by threatening the kid's life.
    • Alfred has always regretted that he didn't do more to help Bruce emotionally work through his parents' deaths, culminating in Bruce becoming Batman. In one particularly poignant scene in Dark Victory, he resolves not to make the same mistake with the recently orphaned Dick Grayson.
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  • Blue Devil's greatest failure was making a deal with Neron (DC's ruler of Hell at the time) to gain fame as an actor in exchange for destroying an electrical substation in the desert. This resulted in the death of his best friend Marlene Bloom, whose helicopter crashed because of the blackout. This would come back to bite Blue Devil again years later when Marlene's nephew and Blue Devil's sidekick Eddie Bloomberg/Kid Devil found out after making a deal with Neron for powers. This resulted in Eddie losing his trust in Blue Devil and Eddie eventually losing his soul to Neron once he turned twenty.
  • Chassis: In her first professional race, Chassis McBain is forced to take evasive action due to a dangerous maneuver by ALEX Prime. In doing so, she collides with 'Rocketman' Rodriquez; forcing him off the track. Rodriquez collides with a pylon and is killed. This event haunts Chassis throughout her career and makes her always help racers in trouble, even if doing so causes her to lose the race.
  • Circles: Paulie's life-threatening mistake, (accidentally contracting HIV), made him change his life around and now he lives as happily and as fully as possible.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • In The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Scrooge once hired a group of thugs to chase away an African tribe and burn down their village in an attempt to claim their land. This was the only time he ever made money dishonestly, and the resulting guilt (and zombie — as in Bombie the Zombie) has haunted him ever since. He even became a depressed shut-in for the better part of twenty years until his nephews were able to re-ignite his spark, leading to the adventures we all know.
    • Parodied in a Carl Barks comic; In one story, Donald Duck, Scrooge, and the nephews learn that Gladstone Gander has something locked in a safe that he never lets anyone see. They believe it's a charm that is the source of Gladstone's uncanny good fortune, but after much pressure, Gladstone admits its anything but; it's just a nondescript dime, the only salary he has ever earned from working, which he did during an unusually long dry spell in his luck. Gladstone is so smug about his luck providing him with everything that he considers the dime to be a symbol of his Moment of Weakness and actually breaks down crying bitter tears as he tells the Ducks about it. (Who, BTW, are very close to caving in Gladstone's head at that point.)
  • In Empowered, the death of Mindf*** is this for both Emp herself and Sistah Spooky, both of whom tried, and failed, to save her.
  • In the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards' own miscalculation and arrogance are what led to the titular team being hit by gamma rays and given superpowers. In the case of Reed, Sue, and Johnny, this is no big deal. But Ben's powers leave him a freakish rock monster and being trapped like that put a huge barrier between the two of them for years, in spite of being best friends. It wouldn't have been so bad if Ben could just change back from being The Thing, but Status Quo Is God so any changes back to a human are doomed to be short-lived. The fact that Reed is responsible for his friend's condition and cannot permanently cure him is something that has weighed heavily upon him his entire career. When the team finds out that their transformation was caused by the ruler of a planet who was scared of their arrival and tried to force them back, Ben goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge because he realized that he'd blamed the wrong guy all along. Even when Ben finally buries the hatchet with Reed, Reed himself refuses to let it go privately and resolves to protect his family better.
    • Also from the Fantastic Four is the supervillain Doctor Doom. Doom built a machine that would allow him to communicate with the spirit of his dead mother and was told beforehand by Richards that it would critically fail. But when he ignored this, that's exactly what wound up happening and left his face scarred. Years later he still can't accept that it was his fault it happened, and devotes his life to killing Richards after convincing himself he must have tampered with the machine.
      • The very different reactions of two characters who had initially not been so different to their respective greatest failures exemplify the fundamental difference between them: Reed acquires a long-lingering Guilt Complex and dedicates himself to With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, which frequently torments him with It's All My Fault. Doom descends into a spiral of Green-Eyed Monster and Revenge, unrelenting in his insistence that it's Never My Fault.
      • Disproportionate Retribution indeed. In the original telling at least (Lord knows how many retcons may have flip-flopped since then) Doom didn't create the mask to hide a hideously mauled hamburger-face; he did it because the explosion left a thin, barely noticeable mar on his supposedly "perfect" facade. A man that vain, you could almost understand making some sort of covering... unfortunately in his haste, he didn't wait for the mask to cool before putting it on, which (Depending on the Writer) either DID hideously scar his face, or permanently bonded the mask to his skin. He might not admit the accident itself, but he DOES (very rarely) admit to the fact that putting the mask on so fast wasn't his smartest idea.
      • Actually all this was based on John Byrne's retcon of the Lee/Kirby origin, based on an idea by Kirby that either Stan Lee had discarded or Jack Kirby only had it after the original version was published in Fantastic Four Annual #2 (1964). There, Doom's head is completely bound up and hidden beneath bandages and in the caption Stan Lee unequivocally states: "As for Victor Von Doom... his face was hopelessly disfigured!" Also on the page after that, even though the mask is not completely cooled when it is put on Doom's face, it is cool enough for the monk to hold it in his bare hands (you can easily discern his fingernails, etc.) By the evidence of that Annual, all the mask likely did was singe Victor's eyebrows.
      • It now turns out that Doom's disfigurement is actually Ben's greatest failure. After years, he admitted that he had purposefully sabotaged Victor's machine after seeing how badly he treated Reed, and thus was presumably the one responsible for his transformation into Doctor Doom. During Age of Ultron, Ben claims he's wrestled with the guilt for years but is too terrified to tell anyone what he did.
  • The plot of the comic series Fell is essentially watching Detective Fell right after his greatest failure, one that resulted in his banishment to his city's Shadowland, a ridiculously poor and crime-ridden slum. Most of the comic so far revolves around whether the already overly intense Fell, (who may be a little too good at getting inside the head of psychos) will snap in his exile, get killed, or come out of it redeemed.
  • From The Flash
    • The third Flash's ally-turned-enemy, Zoom (Hunter Zolomon), acknowledged this in a twisted way. He felt that Wally required a tragic failure to be a great superhero — even if Zoom had to make one for him. He later made good on his promise by causing the Flash's wife to miscarry the couple's unborn twins, right in front of the hero's eyes. The twins were later restored to life by the miracle of Time Travel, but the Flash still blames himself for Hunter becoming a villain in the first place, as Hunter had asked him to use time-travel to "fix" his past, which Wally declined.
    • A future version of Barry Allen (the second Flash) regretted getting Wally West II killed, and it sent him over the edge. He time-travels backwards through time, murdering his villains along the way, and arrives in the present to prevent any criminals from committing any crimes, whether they've done them yet or not.
  • From Green Lantern:
    • Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, was away in space when his home city of Coast City was destroyed. He went crazy and became a villain, Parallax, dedicated to undoing the destruction through gaining cosmic power, time travel, or just rebooting the universe itself. (It was later revealed that the great failure had let an ancient evil trapped in the Central Power Battery of the Green Lantern Corps get a foothold on his mind.)
    • Additionally, John Stewart, the Bronze Age Green Lantern, had this moment with the destruction of the planet Xanshi, being way too overconfident with his power, apparently forgetting the weakness to yellow, as the bomber painted the planet-killing bomb yellow. This depressed him so much that he contemplated suicide. (The Martian Manhunter thankfully prevented that, through Reverse Psychology). The end result was a guilt that would haunt him forever, and the creation of Fatality, the sole survivor of Xanshi, who was off-world at the time, who now hunts Green Lanterns as revenge.
    • Another Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, had his mother die of an unknown fatal disease. Even when Kyle, with God-like power, tries to resurrect her, she asks to be allowed to die. During the "Sinestro Corps War" Arc Sinestro reveals to a captive Kyle that her death was the work of a sentient alien virus working for the Sinestro Corps, and was all part of a plan to make him vulnerable to possession by Parallax.
    • That was Kyle's second Greatest Failure. The first came early in his career when his girlfriend Alexandra DeWitt was killed by Major Force in the original Stuffed into the Fridge incident. Up until then, Kyle thought having a super-powered ring would be fun and a lot of laughs, but when that happened, Kyle grew up pretty fast.
    • Green Lantern Tomar-Re's greatest failure was failing to stop Superman's home planet of Krypton exploding. Krypton fell under Tomar-Re's jurisdiction, so he gathered a bunch of Stellarium to absorb the explosion, but got blinded by a solar flare and did not make it in time.
  • John Constantine, Hellblazer, botched a summoning and caused a little girl to be dragged down into Hell. This hung over him for years, until he was able, thanks to some clever manipulation and trickery, to free her soul and the soul of every other child in Hell.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Captain America originally was plagued with guilt about his sidekick, Bucky, being killed when he could have spared him by not allowing him to be his sidekick. However, the writers realized how old that got and had Cap's later protégé, Rick Jones, demand he get over it and move on. Furthermore, that guilt was replaced by the writers with Cap troubled by the state of the nation, which is at least more sophisticated and flexible a concern to use. Having said that, Bucky's death still influenced his interaction with younger superheroes, notably Spider-Man. His guilt came back when it turned out that Bucky survived, only to have been found by the Soviet Union and turned into the Winter Soldier; an elite assassin responsible for multiple murders. Cap considered this a fate worse than death and did his best to break his mental conditioning. Even afterwards he felt responsible for Bucky's well-being and put in his will that Tony should do his best to save him after he died.
    • His Ultimate version ends up feeling just as guilty if not more so, due to telling teenage Peter Parker that he wasn't ready to be a hero, causing him to be more heroic than he ever had been before. The fallout, coupled with a lecture from an angry Aunt May, made him retire from superheroics altogether.
    • Bucky himself feels that his time as the Winter Soldier can be summed up as this, but the biggest seems to be his killing of the Bucky that replaced him. Not only because he killed the guy, but because, if Bucky had never become Steve's sidekick, then he wouldn't have inspired his replacement to begin with.
  • Nightwing had a moment revealed following Zero Hour: Crisis in Time!. When he was Robin, it was up to him to rescue Batman and the DA that replaced Harvey Dent when he became Two-Face. When he confronted the aforementioned villain, he was planning to hang both of them for their "crimes". Two-Face attempted to hang the DA and Robin responded by cutting the line with a Batarang. However, he didn't realize that Two-Face's MO applied to everything - he saved the DA from hanging, but couldn't save him from drowning. Batman freed himself and saved the day, but the event haunted Dick until the first time he took up the Mantle of the Bat, finally making the save when confronting Two-Face again.
    • Nightwing also feels guilt over not only the crippling of Barbara Gordon but the death of Jason Todd. Both of them stemming from the fact that at the time both events happened Dick and Bruce had a falling out which resulted in Dick leaving Gotham and establishing himself as Nightwing. He has notably taken a far more proactive role in mentoring subsequent members of the Bat-family (as well as serving as leader of the Outsiders and a key ally to the Birds of Prey).
  • The Punisher 's greatest failure was the loss of his family, for which he blames himself as much as the mobsters who gunned them down, believing that he should have been able to protect them. His war against criminals is as much to punish himself as it is to punish them.
    • Punisher himself is considered a Greatest Failure by his on-again-off-again ally Daredevil, who was one of the first heroes the Punisher encountered (after Spider-Man) and who he is closely associated with. Daredevil regrets having been unable to pull Frank back from the brink when they met early in their respective careers and feels obligated to at least try and stop Punisher's endless blood bath.
  • Runaways has several examples:
    • Nico has occasionally been shown to regret her rejection of Karolina's advances. She was also not proud of her decision to sleep with Victor.
    • Xavin regrets his/her role in the war between the Skrulls and the Majesdanians.
    • Chase is still haunted by Gert's death and has tried on at least two occasions to undo it. He also used to feel guilty about the time he apparently ran over his uncle, but then his uncle turned up alive a few years later.
    • In Avengers Academy, Klara is shown to blame herself for Old Lace's death, to the point that she's become somewhat more aggressive in protecting her friends.
    • Lillie McGurty has spent the past 90-plus years regretting her decision not to follow the Runaways into the present. It's unclear whether or not she's also aware of her role in the deaths of most of her friends and the horrible maiming of Tristan.
  • In The Sandman, the immortal Hob Gadling will never forgive himself for having made his fortune in the slave trade.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • It was revealed that Monkey Khan was taken control of by the Iron Queen and forced to eliminate the Freedom Fighters in the Dragon Kingdom. Understandably, he harbors massive guilt toward himself and hatred for the Iron Queen, to the point where he was angry at Knothole for holding a celebration when she had taken control of the Eggman Empire.
    • Robotnik caused a lot of this. He caused the accident that resulted in Nate Morgan being exiled from the Overlanders' city, and years later, was saved from the overlanders by Jules and Sir Charles the Hedgehogs. He also banished Kodos to the Zone of Silence, sabotaged Sir Charles' roboticizer (resulting in Jules becoming a robot), took over Mobotropolis from King Acorn...
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spider-Man didn't stop the burglar that would shoot his Uncle Ben (in various tellings, because of spite, laziness, or arrogance); later, he was unable to prevent his girlfriend Gwen Stacy from being killed by the Green Goblin. The latter is not helped by how his using his webbing in an attempt to save her caused her neck to snap from the recoil, a fact Marvel initially attempted to gloss over but has recently admitted (through, among others, What If? - where he saves her by diving in after her instead - and Spider-Girl). It's made pretty clear that he at the very least thinks this is what happened, as he makes it a point to use multiple weblines when saving people, and Iron Man recalls Peter telling him of the incident.
    • Speaking of Spider-Man, for his foe J. Jonah Jameson, it was definitely the Scorpion. Jonah paid private eye MacDonald Gargan to undergo an experiment that would make him strong enough to subdue and defeat the hero. The scientist conducting the experiment warned both of them that he "didn't know how it will affect your brain" but they went ahead with it anyway; true to the scientist's fears, Gargan was driven insane, becoming more of a threat than Spider-Man could ever become. Jonah has never even tried to blame this on Spider-Man (at least in any convincing way); after the Hobgoblin tried to blackmail Jonah about Gargan, the publisher has taken full responsibility for the villain, and to this day, pays for Gargan's psychiatric treatment out of his own pocket and orchestrates compensations funds to aid victims of the villain's crimes. And to make it worse for Jonah, Gargan hates him even more than he hates Spider-Man for what happened to him.
    • In the Ultimate Marvel universe, he considers his treatment of Spider-Man to be his greatest failure. He was visibly distraught when the hero sacrificed his life to stop Norman Osborn, and later admitted that he spent all that time and money essentially hounding a good kid who just wanted to make the world a better place. His guilt over Peter's death is what later motivated him to protect the identity of Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man.
    • Mary Jane Watson felt incredibly guilty over having essentially abandoned her sister when their mother died and left her to take care of two children by herself because MJ was afraid of spending the rest of her life sacrificing her own dreams for everyone else like her sister and mother had.
  • Supergirl:
    • During a talk with Guy Gardner in Red Daughter of Krypton, Kara confesses that she feels guilty for Krypton's destruction, even though she intellectually knows there was nothing she could do to save it.
      Supergirl: And now Krypton's lost forever. There was nothing I could do to save it, but it feels like I'll be trying to make up for that the rest of my life.
    • In Bizarrogirl, Supergirl blames herself for being incapable of saving her family and her race when New Krypton got blown up.
    • In The Hunt For Reactron, Thara "Flamebird" Ak-Var, who was Kandor's chief of security when it was raided by Reactron and Metallo during the events of New Krypton, reveals she will never forgive herself for the security breach which let Reactron murder Zor-El, whom Thara loved like a father.
  • Superman:
    • At various points in his history, Superman has had the bottled city of Kandor to deal with.
    • Superman also feeling really guilty of being unable to help his childhood friend, Mon-El, conquer his deadly weakness for lead and leave the Phantom Zone where he was cast into at his request as the only way to save his life.
    • In War World Superman blames himself because he has the power to do nearly anything... but saving Krypton or his foster parents. Even when he's got the chance to save them, he failed.
    • During the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, Superman's biggest failure was arguably when he destroyed Lex Luthor's protoplasmic lifeform that he created as well as causing his hair to fall out when he was trying to rescue Luthor from a lab fire when they were teens in How Luthor Met Superboy. Sure it was an accident and mostly not his fault (Luthor caused the fire and Superboy had no way of knowing what was inside at the time), but it didn't help that before the fire, Superboy jokingly said he could spy on Luthor to find out what he was working on. Luthor wrongly believed Superboy destroyed his experiment out of jealousy and dedicated his life to destroying him and proving he was better. Luthor had the scientific genius to make a cure for Kryptonite as well as unshrink Kandor, so if things had gone differently, Superman would have had a lot fewer problems in his life and an ally against evil as well.
    • A painful one for Superman happened just after his resurrection in The Death of Superman. After the excitement and relief of him returning from the dead, he and Lois raced off to Paris for a getaway to catch up. While he was gone, the Toyman kidnapped a bunch of kids, including the son of co-worker Cat Grant, Adam. Adam attempted to lead the other kids away, but Toyman caught them and slew them all. Superman was so distraught over this, it led to him vowing never to take another vacation again.
    • Another one was when one of Luthor's schemes leveled Metropolis to the ground. Lois had to snap him out of it, reminding him that this wasn't Coast City and Metropolis could be rebuilt. It was, thanks to Zatanna.
  • In Top 10, Jeff Smax never really got over his failure to save a little princess from a dragon. Her handprint was permanently burned onto his chest and would serve as a constant reminder of how big a screw up he was. Immediately after it happened, he informed the queen and ran away. Across dimensions. To a world nothing at all like the one he came from. Even changing his name. Only after a necessary return to his homeworld, where the dragon was slain and the handprint was erased, could he let it go, and only a little.
  • Optimus, and later Megatron, both consider the 6 million year Great War this in The Transformers (IDW). Optimus blames himself for not taking a stand against society earlier. Megatron for abandoning his ideals and becoming a monster over the course of the war. Many transformers, Autobot and Decepticon, echo these views.
  • X-Men:
    • Rogue for a long time lived in deep guilt and remorse over what she had done to Carol Danvers. She was able to finally work past it, especially after Ms. Marvel was reintegrated with the stolen thoughts and memories through Applied Phlebotinum.
    • X-23 continues to be haunted with guilt and remorse over killing her mother in a trigger scent-fueled rage during her escape from the Facility, to the point that when Logan finally manages to bring her to the Xavier school, Emma Frost tries to drive her away by taunting her with a psychic ghost of her mother's dead body blaming Laura for her death. The illusion is shattered when the "Sarah" calls her "X-23," but it's still enough to drive the normally stoic Laura to tears.
    • Gambit has the fact that, to repay a debt to Mr. Sinister, he was forced to help gather a group for Sinister to execute a task — that being Remy got suckered into helping form the Marauders for the fateful massacre of the Morlocks and maiming of Angel in Mutant Massacre.


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