Captain Marvel's redemption and sacrifice in Kingdom Come, along with Superman's reaction. Also, the flashback to Lois Lane's death, and Magog's HeelFace Turn.
The hypothetical defeat of the Justice League and the destruction of Earth in Justice. Everything in that sequence is painful to read: Flash's utter failure to save his city, the gruesome death of the Martian Manhunter, the boiling of Aquaman's oceans, the death of Lois Lane, the crushing of Wonder Woman, the destruction of the Earth and the survival of a tearful Superman who couldn't even lift a finger; even when it was a nightmare implanted by Brainiac and Lex Luthor into their fellow supervillains, it's really crushing how the possibility of such event could be greater than everyone expects, driving them to collectively attack and temporarily defeat the Justice League. Keep in mind, these are only the first pages of the introduction.
When Zatanna and the Martian Manhunter find Aquaman's maimed body. Keep in consideration that Brainiac removed the top of his head and his brain. At first, a worried Zatanna thinks that he is dead, but Professor Caulder (leader of the Doom Patrol) is able to restore his missing parts by submerging him in saltwater. This is one special story that actually shows Aquaman's full potential and drive as it should be.
The almost-death of Zatanna. The chase for Brainiac leads Zatanna to magically teleport herself and her companions right behind Brainiac's consciousness, which is jumping between bodies; it reaches outer space, where Zatanna (who is fully human) fades out from lack of oxygen. Superman basically has to burn through the atmosphere with the beautiful magician wrapped on his cape to make it in time to ground level, and make an enormous effort just to not to blow her up with his super-breath or crush her thorax by administering CPR. He succeeds, but the frantic pace of the sequence and Superman's rush to save her is really painful to watch.
Wonder Woman dying and decaying in the arms of her mother while her mother tearfully begs the Goddesses to help resurrect her daughter from the sand and water of Themyscira. They do.
"We do it because it needs to be done. Because if we don't, no one else will. And we do it even if no one knows what we've done. Even if no one knows we exist. Even if no one remembers we ever existed."
Issue #12 of the mini-series Ion: Guardian of the Universe was especially emotional. Kyle Rayner's mother dies, at which point he uses his Ion powers to revive her. The real Tear Jerker moment comes when she asks him to put her to rest, and tells him she loves him.
From the more recent "Threeboot" continuity, there's Legion of Super-Heroes #11, when Elysion has killed Dream Girl. Brainiac 5 places a force-field over her body, and informs the other Legion members present that he has a plan to save her, to beat death - by outthinking it. The others go off to try and stop Elysion from doing any more damage, while Brainiac 5 remains standing over his fallen teammate. The final page of the issue shows Brainiac still inactive, and Legionnaire Theena confronts him.
Theena: But sir, you said you had a plan to save her.
Brainiac 5: Not yet.
Theena: Why not?
Brainiac 5:(in a small voice, with tears streaming down his face) I'm not smart enough.
The sorrow, frustration, and impotence conveyed in that one phrase is heartbreaking.
The after effects can be seen in Nightwing #139, the Brother vs. Brother issue. Tim and Dick end up physically fighting over the fact that Tim wants to use a Lazarus Pit to bring back everyone he had lost at that point: his father, best friend and girlfriend. It ends with Tim accepting he can't use it and crumpling into big-brother Nightwing's arms for a well-earned Cooldown Hug. It's a tearjerker breakdown and a depressing reminder that a year and a half is a short time to lose three people you love.
Also, that painfully depressing tribute issue of Superman/Batman: written as a tribute to a young boy who died of cancer. The issue was written and drawn by 26 different artists at DC Comics, including all the big, well known guys, and concluded with a tearjerking Superman centric short.
It's worse if you know the story behind it. The boy in question, Sam Loeb, was Jeph Loeb's son. He had been asked to write that issue of Superman/Batman because it was about Superboy and Robin, but had only got as far as writing the outline before he died of bone cancer. It was at his funeral that the idea of the 26 (nicknamed because there were originally 26 of them and it was issue 26 of the comic) to finish it and get it out in his name. The writers and artists were from both Marvel and DC (Marvel having decided that it was bigger than any rivalry) and all profits went to establishing a fund in Sam's name. The Superman short was written by Jeph as a way of dealing with the loss of his son. The kicker? The note that Superboy finds, and is shown on the last page of the short, was the last note Sam wrote before he died.
Similarly, the death of Bart Allen after his depressingly short stint as the fourth Flash. It's the fact that his last words to another character are "I think I love..." which really gets people.
The reaction of Tim Drake to Bart's death (making him the last remaining member of the original "Young Justice" trio from the nineties) even more than Bart's actual death: A single page with no words and a dropped communicator, and Robin just sitting there in silence at the bottom of the page said more than the entire, disastrous arc had thus far. Even without Bart being mentioned at all in the rest of the issue, you knew what it was that had freaked Tim out so much.
The death of Bart's speed-scout in Young Justice which sends Bart into shock and makes him stop wanting to be a hero.
Not to mention Batman's tribute to Martian Man hunter in the tie in: silently unmasking and laying an Oreo on J'onn's coffin.
Final Night features the death of former Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan who, after years of controversy as insane anti-hero Parallax, makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save the world... but not before visiting his long time love Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire and fellow former Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart, and then paying respects to his other superhero BFF Oliver Queen, AKA: Green Arrow (who was dead at the time). Even fans who dislike Hal would be hard pressed to deny that the scenes dealing with Hal trying to make sense of how his life went off the rails as the story builds to his death are incredibly sad.
The DCU Elseworlds comic, Created Equal. A cosmic storm sweeps past Earth, killing every male on the planet except for Superman. If Superman using his heat vision to carve in a Batman insignia on the grave marked "Bruce Wayne" doesn't get to you, then the dialogue between Martha Kent and her adopted son over the grave of Jonathan Kent will. Or the fact that Superman is forced to leave Earth because his presence threatens to mutate the virus, killing the rest of the human population two days before his son is born. And then the second issue starts with tragedy when Adam accidentally kills his mother while hugging her.
Mar'i "Nightstar" Grayson's very existence in an alternate reality is enough of a tear jerker in itself, considering Dick Grayson's relationship history, but worse is when Mar'i is asking about her grandparents. Yes, there is grandpa Bruce, but recall both Dick and Kori didn't exactly have much more than each other. Being told her Tamaranean grandparents are with X'Hal and the Grayson's are in heaven is one of those moments you just want to pick up and hug her. And Dick.
The anthology title House Of Mystery has a few especially sad stories, but a stand out one is "Nightmare" from issue 186(June 1970). A little girl named Judy who feels lonely befriends a whimsical Satyr named Pan, who only she can see and appears to anyone else as a statue on a fountain. The two frolic and play until one day Judy gets a fever and enters Pan's world through her dreams. Everything is beautiful there except for a large door Pan warns her never to open. Judy soon gets trapped behind the door taking a peek and is menaced by demonic monsters. Pan saves the girl by sending her back to her world, where her dad tells her it was all a dream, and that Pan's just a statue. Judy sadly decides that Pan was imaginary all along, and as she walks away from the statue and her childhood, Pan sheds a tear. The whole story is crushing.
The universe of the Crime Syndicate. It's a wonderfully comic book idea: evil counterparts of the Justice League ruling the world and fighting good counterparts of classic DC villains. However, it descends into pure horror and Tear Jerker with one detail about this world: because of the nature of their universe, evil will always win. Meaning that in this universe, people like Lex Luthor and the Joker can be redeemed, become more then their mainstream counterparts could ever hope to be... and constantly be thwarted by Ultraman and Owlman, and fight in vain for truth and justice in a world that is inherently evil.
There is a hope spot though: as a side effect of the universe being reshuffled in a JLA arc, evil doesn't always win there any more, but that also means good doesn't always win in the main universe any more, either.
Justice League of America #0, after Infinite Crisis, is a flashback/flash-forward story which shows multiple personal meetings between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. It shows all of the ups and downs (in one scene, Batman is talking about how he has found a new Robin named Jason and how happy he is, in another it shows the aftermath of the Tower of Babel arc where the League lost faith in Batman and he resigned), and it's all drawn in the styles of the some of the most memorable artists who have ever drawn in Justice League. How can you not shed a tear or two?
Half of Teen Titans Go! #47 (based on the animated series) deals with Robin reminiscing about his parents on the anniversary of their death, with the other Titans coming in periodically to try and help him cope, each in their own individual way. The story ends with Robin going up to the roof of the Tower, taking off his mask and breaking down and crying before being comforted by Starfire, while off across the bay a concerned Batman watches through binoculars, smiling and deciding that Robin's in good hands.
The first canonical meeting of Superman and Captain Marvel in the Modern Age, "First Thunder". Billy's friend is killed by mercenaries (hired by Dr. Sivana) and Cap manages to arrest them and take them to the police headquarters. Upon taking his friend's body to the hospital and being told he is dead, Billy transforms to confront the killers and then Sivana. When Superman confronts Cap later on, Supes discovers that the mighty hero he had just recently met was really a young boy.
"Ask my family and they'll tell you I was a Navajo. Ask the Army Air Force and they'll say I was an American. But if you ask my brothers, they'll set you straight. John Cloud was a Loser."
The story of John Henry, a black vigilante fighting the Klan in the South. His family murdered, he is eventually killed by the Klan after months of fighting them.
Even worse is HOW he dies: he's wounded and trying to escape a murderous posse, and he ends up in a back yard where a small white girl with dead eyes regards him, and then calls out to the posse his location...
Kingdom Come and JSA has been already mentioned, but what about that story, when the Superman from Kingdom Come is, right after the nuclear explosion that killed the other superheroes, transported to main DC-Earth, joins the JSA and when he returns home we can see what happened with him after the end of Kingdom Come? We seen him almost killing all ONZ members only to stop at the last moment, when he finds out that not all of his friends have died. He retires and spends the rest of his life peacefully - we see him raising babies with Wonder Woman, attending on Batman's funeral and other stuff like that. Hundreds of years pass, until we reach the 31st Century - a multi-racial crowd is starring at the sky when Legion of Super-Heroes is flying by. An old, grey-haired man, using his own cape as a cloak and a cane to stand is among the crowd. And he is so damn proud it makes me cry.
Agreed. One of the scenes taking place on main Earth is particularly sad. Kingdom Come Superman, after everything that happened to him for the last ten years, uses his vision to look over the world he finds himself in, only to see heroes flying around without a care in the world, visiting sick friends at a hospital, or showing kids how to fold a flag. You can practically feel his heart breaking.
A recent arc in Booster Gold has him traveling back in time to watch himself at the funeral of Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle. He just stands there, unable to say anything at all. He just collapses and starts to cry. We cut back to the present day, where Ted, now reanimated as a Black Lantern zombie, is attacking Booster Gold and Jamie Reyes, the current Blue Beetle. Booster eventually defeats the zombie Blue Beetle, with some of Ted Kord's old technology. At the end, Booster buries his friend again and says "Rest well, Ted. You'll never be forgotten." Booster's Robot Buddy, Skeets, replies "Indeed he won't, sir" and then proceeds to show a montage of all the memories that the two shared in life. The last page shows Jaime stating "I can be the Blue Beetle, but I can never replace Ted." Booster replies, "Maybe so. All you can do is be the best Jaime Reyes you can be. Everything else will fall in place. Best way to honor Ted I can think of."
The Wonder Woman story "Chalk Drawings" isn't really about Wonder Woman; it's about the suicide of a depressed teenage girl. And it's absolutely heartbreaking.
In the climax of Blue Beetle, when he's finally facing down the Reach, we see Jaime decide to make a heroic sacrifice. That's not tearjerking. It's pretty awesome, but not tearjerking. And then you see the Scarab, an alien intelligence designed to help the Reach conquer planets, completely agree to stick with him until the end, stating "Reyes[Friend]/Sacrifice[Good]. Scarab[Hero]" Yes you are, Scarab. *Sniff.* Yes, you are.
A story where Zatanna has a nightmare and then convinces Batgirl and Wonder Woman to go out clubbing and dancing. At first, the story seems like a cheery fluff story set in the past, but as the story goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Zatanna's nightmare was actually a prophecy of Barbara Gordon being paralyzed. Zatanna and Wonder Woman, knowing they can't fight prophecy, just wanted to give her one last perfect night. The tears really come when the story cuts to the present and you see how important that night was to her.
Barbara Gordon: I had the most wonderful dream. I was dancing...
Early in Grant Morrison's JLA run, Professor Ivo and T. O. Morrow rig up a fake superheroine to join the Justice League in open tryouts — Tomorrow Woman. The plan is to have her detonate a bomb that will wipe out the entire League at the proper moment. While she's chained up in "downtime," her creators gloat that they didn't even put the word "freedom" in her vocabulary banks. When the time comes, and the League is facing a major cataclysm, Tomorrow Woman sacrifices herself and uses the explosion to stop it. Superman finds her soon after, obviously the worse for ware:
Tomorrow Woman: Duh-duh-d-d-don't... don't look at me...
Superman: Why? You didn't have to sacrifice yourself. Why did you do it?
Tomorrow Woman: I... I... word not present in vocabulary... word not present in.. present in vocabulary...
At Sue's funeral, Ralph is so distraught he can't even speak and ends up losing his shape.
When Element Lad murders his former teammate Monstress in Legion Lost. Even if you found that moment to be ridiculous, however, there's still Legion Lost's ending, in which Live Wire sacrifices himself to save the other lost Legionnaires and let them return home - having first formally resigned from the Legion because Legionnaires don't kill - complete with a callback to the Legion's founding and a very effective fade-to-white.
Hitman. Garth Ennis writes a tale which starts off as a bunch of friends who all happen to be hitmen who drink together. Almost everyone dies over the course of the comic, the final issue ends with the title character charging an army by himself in a futile attempt to save his dying friend. "We are such little men" an observer remarks. As the two friends lie dying together one of them reminds the other of a dream he had, where they walk into their favourite bar and all their dead friends are there and the barman says "Drinks onna house fellas. There ain't no closing time. But you gotta leave your guns at the door." The reply: "Cool."
And then there's the scene with Tommy and Sister Concepta at the grave of Pat Noonan, who was his surrogate father and her lover (yes, she's a nun).
Tommy: He was a great man, wasn't he, Connie? Concepta: He was just a man, Tommy. He wasn't a great man, or a good man, or some kind of a saint. He did some decent things and he did some evil things. He killed people. Sometimes for his country, sometimes for money. Once or twice just to help his friends. He did what he thought he had to. He was no better and no worse than a lot of people who've walked this Earth. He was just a man. And I loved him more than God almighty.
The ending of JLA/HITMAN: a while after Tommy's death, Superman stumbles across the mostly-demolished wall of the Watchtower bathroom, and finds the facetious "Tommy wuz here" graffiti Tommy had scribbled there a few hours before the Crowning Moment of Awesome in which he had singlehandedly stopped a Bloodlines-alien infestation.
Grant Morrison ends his run on Doom Patrol with a classic one in "The Empire Of Chairs". Kay (Crazy Jane) Challis is subjected to electro-shock therapy which makes her just an ordinary person. She goes about an ordinary little life, getting more and more sad, until she leaves to - we think - kill herself. However, in a lovely pastiche of "It's A Wonderful Life", as she is apparently about to do so... Cliff Steele shows up at her side, and leads her - now smiling - off onto Danny The Street, who promptly dematerializes out of the series. Sad to happy tear-jerker in the blink of an eye!
The death of Mr. Nobody.
In a JLA story, Martian Manhunter takes the Spectre, with the rest of the team tagging along, on a mental journey to prove a point. They end up in a hellish dimension with warped, misshapen scenery, nightmarish laughter, and gangs of roving demons that even the Justice League are no match for. But J'onn then reveals that at the core of this madness is a small untouched sanctuary of peace and love. In it, a dorky but friendly man and his wife welcome the heroes to their home. The Spectre is enraged and uses his light on them, which will destroy any illusion or deception. Instead of being destroyed, they glow right back, and the astonished Spectre realizes that this goodness is genuine. Where is this place? In the mind of the Joker. To make it subtly worse, it's implied it's a bit of a callback to Going Sane - listed itself in the BatmanTear Jerker section.
The death of Dinah Drake. She was the original Black Canary before her daughter took up the mantle. Drake didn't die a dramatic death in battle, she died in a hospital bed due to cancer caused by a radiation blast that killed her husband years prior. Her death must have been even sadder for people who liked her back when she was Black Canary. It's a very bittersweet death and the narrations final lines say it all.
But tonight, no stalking the night for prey this evening, no Canary Cry echoing in the streets. The canary cries no more. Tonight she weeps.