Mental illness being represented in media is on the rise, and comic books aren’t falling behind in that realm. But with our heroes showing serious issues, such as mental illness, a lot of fans aren’t on board with these “weaknesses” being shown within their favorite heroes. But this shouldn’t be seen as weakness in heroes, it should be seen as a piece of the struggle that our heroes have to fight against.
Heroes like Batman and Spiderman are now showing issues with mental illness and for very good reason, being a hero is not the easiest job in the world. Putting your life on the line everyday for no pay and no guarantee for the safety of you or your loved ones is stressful, and that doesn’t even take into account the tragic backstory most, if not all heroes suffer from.
To narrow our discussion, we’ll be focusing on Tom King’s run on DC Rebirth’s Batman. In King’s rendition, Bruce Wayne shows his struggle with depression and trauma. His parent’s death didn’t just lead him to be a crime fighter, but to be a suicide survivor and an addict to his work, being Batman.
When discussing his life, Bruce told Gotham Girl that he’s not Batman because he likes it, he’s Batman because that’s who he is. He knows no other alternative to his struggle with his childhood trauma other fighting and giving. His only coping skill is Batman.
And slowly over that conversation with Gotham Girl, Bruce says he’s afraid to be happy, that he’s afraid of failing to be happy, and in the long run, if his own happiness will get in the way of his mission. The discussion of Batman’s mentality of putting himself last and his city and the people he loves first has always been there, but with King’s story telling, we see it not from a heroic stand point, but as a self destructive defense system.
A lot of people who suffer from depression have the same mindset and seeing it in a hero, not even mentioning it’s the Batman, is quite amazing. For most people, someone who gets their own mindset and issues is enough comfort, but here it being shown taken to an extreme is self destructive and that you need to be a priority, or you’ll be as miserable as Bruce Wayne.
Hearing people say comics isn’t the place for these issues just doesn’t make sense. Mental illness is rising every year. According to Mental Health America, more youth are experiencing mental health problems. The rise of depressive episodes among youth increased by a 11-12 percent in recent years.
A lot of comic book readers are teens and children, and if we show them that these issues aren’t necessarily life ending or self defining, maybe the stigma of mental illness and other issues can be avoided more easily. A product that goes into millions of developing minds should carry strong messages on real issues.
There is a fear that children can’t handle bigger issues, but it’s not the issue that is too much for them, it’s the delivery of these issues. In the movie “The Lion King”, children have faced one of the most heart-wrenching death scenes with Mufasa, and children were affected but rather than handle the death in less than savory ways, children are the ones opening up the conversations about death in a civil and conscious way.
Bring mental health issues to comics isn’t really a question of our young kids not being ready to handle that issue, it’s a question of do we even want them to have to deal with these issues. Our kids will have to face issues, such as mental health eventually, and the sooner they’re exposed to it the better they’ll be prepared.
And some would say heroes are supposed to be who we want to be and should be an example of who we should be. But saying our heroes don’t deal with these issues doesn’t just alienate a demographic, but also villianizes mental illness.
A lot of villains such as Joker, Two Face and Riddler suffer from mental illness and that doesn’t seem to be an issue. And with this, we show that this is the only route for the people who suffer from mental health issues, and this is just wrong.
Showing a hero, a hero as famous as Batman, having mental health issues isn’t a sign of weakness nor does it make our heroes any less of a goal for children to become one, it actually makes them more relatable and accessible to more people.
When people saw Miguel O’Hara or Miles Morales as Spiderman, people of minorities raved because they can finally see themselves in their favorite heroes. Take the same thing for a child dealing with depression, anxiety, or any mental issue, they can have a hero that they can look up to.
The main problem with putting major issues in media, such as mental illness, isn’t that people aren’t ready to see those stories, it’s an issue on who’s brave enough to put it out there and how those people execute it. With Tom King’s Batman, children suffering from depression and trauma have someone to look up to and a message that you can be heroic as long as you fight back.
Mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s simply the cards dealt to someone that they have to deal with such as having diabetes or HIV. If we push these issues to the dark, not only are we not acknowledging millions, if not billions of people, but we aren’t even putting these issues on the table to be discussed or even be helped. The sooner we talk about these issues the better and King isn’t holding back with his work and starting the conversation within comic book fans.