With great power, comes great responsibility. However, the weight of that responsibility can be overwhelming and could potentially lead to failure or heartbreak for a hero. Every comic book fan understands part of a hero’s journey comes from some sort of past trauma or pain. Something that has happened to them and sets them on a path to become greater or to never allow that same pain to happen again.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is notorious for crafting some of the most interwoven and details stories, while also making their heroes the most relatable and sympathetic, which is why we will be taking a look at some of the heroes throughout the MCU who have endured the most trauma throughout the films and television series.
Bucky is a bit of an interesting entry on our list. While he might not have experienced many traumatic events as himself, there is no question that behind the metal manipulation of Hydra was the man whose courage and relentlessness were an inspiration for Steve Rogers. Forced to sabotage, harm, and even kill anyone in his way between him and his mission must have created severe PTSD.
This became more apparent when we got to see Bucky become liberated from the mental control of Hydra in The Falcon and Winter Soldier series. Let’s also not forget… the guy lost his arm and probably should have died when he fell off that train in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Spoilers if you haven’t seen Spider-Man: No Way Home, but if you haven’t then you probably need to close out this article and go watch it. For this entry, we focus on Tom Holland’s iteration of the wall-crawler. When we first meet Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War, it is already established that he has already lost his Uncle Ben. And as we watch Parker grow into a hero throughout the films, we watch as he struggles to try to balance a hero’s life as a youth.
Ultimately Peter Parker loses out on being a teenager because of his responsibilities as a hero. But this is really tested for him when he watches his mentor Tony Stark die in Avengers: Endgame and Aunt May die in No Way Home, leaving him with no adult figure before he is even out of High School. And finally has to make the ultimate sacrifice to leave the last two people he has left with MJ and Ned. Leaving him alone to carry on his role as Spider-Man.
Some of Shang-Chi’s past trauma has been revealed to us in his feature film debut but with it still being so new and fresh, there is still a lot to see when it comes to Shang’s journey. However, so far we have seen his uprising at the hands of his father with the extreme training and torture Shang was put through so he could become the ultimate weapon.
This excessive training was caused when Shang witnessed his mother’s death by enemies of his father, motivating his father to train Shang so he could hunt and kill his mother’s killers. It is later revealed that at 14 Shang was finally sent on a mission by his father to find the killer, which is said to have been a successful mission.
When writing this, I was conflicted between incorporating Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. I decided to go with Tony Stark based only on one thing… He didn’t choose any of this. In Iron Man, he is kidnapped by the terrorist group the Ten Rings and despite it being a pivotal moment for the hero to endure, it is still not a decision he made.
Add onto that the multiple times he has come close to death in the many films and finally the betrayal from his longtime friend Steve Rogers, Tony Stark has undoubtedly been through a plethora of traumatic experiences. Iron Man 3 even goes as far as showing how Tony Stark struggles with panic attacks from his experience in the Battle for New York.
What makes someone so hardened? In Gamora’s case, could it have been the genocide of half of her species? Or maybe it’s the torture she endured at the hands of her adoptive father? Possibly the act of harming her sister at the order of her Thanos? Well, all of those make sense when it comes to Gamora’s personality.
We discover in Avengers: Infinity War how Thanos and his army invaded the homes of the Zehoberi and how took Gamora from her home after he decimated half of her species. But Gamora didn’t earn her title as the Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy if Thanos didn’t put her through intense and brutal training and then practice on her adopted sister Nebula.
Star-Lord is another character who has had his fair share of losing loved ones, starting with his mother when she passed away in front of him or losing Gamora. But what really adds to his emotional depth is being taken from his planet as a child.
Basically kidnapped by Yondu and forced to commit crimes, turning him into the outlaw he once was. Now just think about this: you’re about 10 years old, you just saw your mom die and then you are taken from your home by aliens. That might sound like some fun storytelling, but in reality, you would probably be losing your mind. That might be one of the most terrifying things you could experience as a child.
The newest hero makes it onto our list with Moon Knight. Marc Spector suffers some multiple personality disorder, caused by his mother and the abuse she inflicted on him as a child when Marc’s brother died accidentally.
To cope with his mother’s abuse Marc created an alter ego with Steven Grant, a timid and docile man. Often switching from one side to the other, Marc and Steven finally manage to co-exist in the same body while under the rule of the Egyptian god Konshu. But a third personality lurks within Marc’s body, waiting to reveal himself to the other two minds.
Finally, in the film Black Widow, we get some explanation behind Natasha’s past that was teased in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It shows us how Natasha was forced into a family that wasn’t her own and then being shoved around with other girls until she was picked for the Black Widow project. The torture continued when she was forced to endure torturous acts until she was able to pass the program.
Natasha was trained to become the world’s greatest assassin, but luckily had the help of others like Clint Barton, Nick Fury, and the rest of the Avengers to guide her skills into something worthwhile.
Thor might be one of the most fun and exciting characters in the MCU, but he has also been through some of the hardest times. Thor Odison first witnessed his mother’s death in Thor: The Dark World, but the pain continued when he witnessed the destruction of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok. Even when he tried to lead his people to safety, they were caught up by Thanos who then proceeded to eradicate the majority of the Asgardian race.
Not only has Thor lost his mother and father, but he also has watched his brother Loki die multiple times and his closest friends including Heimdall. Furthermore, Thor lived with the guilt of failing to execute Thanos, leading to the extermination of half the universe. While Thor has managed to build himself back up to superhero status, he still has endured so much pain and heartbreak.
Unquestionably the hero that has endured more than any other, Wanda Maximoff might be the hero with the most trauma. It is revealed in WandaVision that Wanda witnessed her parents murdered and was left trapped under rubble with her brother, unable to get out due to a Stark Missile that landed next to them but failed to go off, until days later they finally felt safe to leave the rubble. Later, Wanda and her brother were taken and used to experiment on by Hydra to find the extent of their abilities and endured unrelenting torture.
Wanda’s pain continued through Avengers: Age of Ultron when she lost her brother, then in Avengers: Infinity War and WandaVision when Wanda lost her beloved Vision and her two children. Her trauma became the center of her world in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness when she attempted to kill America Chavez so she could absorb her abilities and find her children.