You know, sometimes it’s tough to remember that there are dangers in the superhero world that don’t manifest themselves as villains. In fact, some dangers aren’t even people. Some dangers patiently wait and go undetected for years. Then, when the moment is right, they rear their ugly heads and attack their victim at their weakest point.
Of these kinds of dangers, none are more toxic and fear-causing than cancer. The mere mention of the word cancer is enough to send shivers to the top of the tallest hero’s spine and to bring the strongest hero to their knees. Cancer is so prevalent in our society that it’s no surprise that comic books have talked about them.
Over the years, there have been many superheroes to succumb to and/or fight cancer. Of them, only a handful is important enough for us to talk about…and talk about them we will. Let’s take a look at the 8 most important superheroes that have battled cancer.
8. Foggy Nelson
The Mark Waid and Chris Samnee run on Daredevil saw Foggy Nelson diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. For any of you who don’t know, Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the bones and soft tissue that surrounds the bone. While Foggy may not seem like a superhero, remember not all superheroes do their work on the streets. As the best friend and courtroom partner to Matt Murdock, Foggy has been heavily involved in putting away some of Hell’s Kitchen’s worst offenders.
What makes Foggy’s diagnosis so terrible is that he’s often depicted as fun-loving, jovial, and can do no wrong. Foggy is not the kind of person that anyone should wish ill will upon. As you can imagine, the news of Foggy’s diagnosis crippled Matt and he shifted focus to doing whatever it took to cure his friend. This included a failed attempt at having Hank Pym shrink down and enter his body to combat the cancerous cells.
If the Ryan Reynolds Deadpool movie showed the world anything, it’s that cancer is what you make of it. It showed the world that it’s ok to fall off the edge of the Earth after a cancer diagnosis. It showed that it’s ok to cast everyone out of your life because you’re too busy wallowing in your own pity. And it showed that it’s ok to participate in an experimental program that may or may not have the desired outcome you’re looking for. Right?
To this day Deadpool has cancer and it’s only his mutation that keeps it from spreading. Remember, he has the ability to rapidly heal himself. We all owe a great deal of gratitude to his abilities because without them and like so many other 1990s creations, Deadpool would’ve probably died just as quickly as he appeared.
Venom first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #300 and was created (kind of) by Todd McFarlane. The funny thing about Venom is that at the time of his creation, nobody understood just how popular he’d become. In fact, over the years the Venom character has spawned multiple offspring, most notably Carnage. Venom isn’t a traditional superhero but instead an anti-hero. He lives and breathes with the intent to kill Spider-Man. However, for all the hate he has towards the wallcrawler, he also has a “never harm innocents” code of conduct.
It was revealed in the late 1990s that Eddie Brock actually had cancer and it was the Venom Symbiote that had kept him alive for years. The run saw him come to terms with all the pain he had caused in his life. In an attempt to atone for his discretions and finally die, he tried to auction off the Symbiote and bring closure to his painful existence.
5. The Question
In 2006s 52, it was revealed that Vic Sage had developed Lung Cancer and was desperately trying to pass the mantle of The Question onto his longtime friend, Renee Montoya. To help her prepare for what’s to come, he sends her to train in Nanda Parbat with his mentors Rodor and Dragon.
As his condition worsens, Montoya returns to Vic and attempts to bring him to Nanda Parbat. Her thought was that he couldn’t possibly lose his battle if under the care of Nanda Parbat. Unfortunately, the two fail to reach the city. As they reach the outer wall, Vic falls into the snow, bestows Renee with The Question, and quietly passes away. The scene is like something you’d expect from a well-crafted Hollywood movie. It’s moving, will bring you to tears, and burn itself on your brain for months to come.
In one of the most well-received Superman stories in history (All-Star Superman), Superman has come to learn that he’s at the end of his life and dying of cancer. The book follows the Man of Steel as he attempts to complete as many acts of kindness as he can before he ultimately passes on. All-Star Superman works because at its center it’s an exploration of everything that the world loves about Superman.
It reminds the reader that there is good in the world. It reminds the reader that even as death calls, nobody is immune from helping others. And it reminds the reader that even Superman has an expiration date. All-Star Superman is a brilliant look at a man who gives so much…even when he can’t.
Admittedly when I heard that the mantle of Thor was being passed onto a woman, I was a little off-put. Please understand that I don’t say this because I’m sexist or think that a woman can’t be Thor. Instead, I say this because, to me, Thor is one of those untouchable characters. He’s a formula that works and has worked for over half a century. Jane Foster proved me wrong and she did it in a big way.
After Thor became unworthy to wield Mjolnir, it was Jane who picked up the hammer and became The Mighty Thor. What made this so amazing was that at the time, Jane had been dying from cancer and nobody, Odinson included, believed that she was worthy. After all, she had been discarded as someone too weak to do anything. Jane’s time as Thor drove home the point that no matter our circumstances, we’re all capable of more than we think.
2. John Constantine
John Constantine is different from the others on this superheroes who battled cancer list because unlike them he didn’t get his start at Marvel or DC. Instead, he got his start at Vertigo, the one-time DC Imprint deemed too edgy for mainstream comics.
In one of his original runs (Dangerous Habits), it’s revealed that Constantine had developed terminal lung cancer. Hearing the news, John seeks out a way to cure himself of the illness. To do this, Constantine sells his soul to two of the three Lords of Hell. After his death, all three lords arrive to claim their prize. Unfortunately, because his soul isn’t owned by only one, none can take him. Unwilling to let pride subside and give up their portions, the three instead heal John and send him back to the living.
1. Captain Marvel
Without a doubt, the most famous of all the superheroes who battled cancer is Captain Marvel. Understand that Captain Marvel is not the same as the one we know today. Instead, this Captain Marvel is the original Captain Marvel…Mar-Vell. What makes the Death of Captain Marvel so compelling is that at its heart, it’s a tale of loss, acceptance, and grief. The story watches Mar-Vell as he comes to terms with his own death. In an in-your-face kind of way, it reminds the reader that humans and their technological advancements mean nothing if cancer still exists.
It beautifully shows that life is precious and can be taken away in a minute. For all the space-faring tales that Jim Starlin has written, for all the points on religion that he has driven home, and for everything he has given the world, none of it compares to the Death of Captain Marvel.