In the glorious world of comic books, superheroes, and dastardly villains, there is a running theme throughout: PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Hero after hero, villain after villain, not to mention the innocent bystanders witness to the immense amounts of cruelty and heroism they witness on a regular basis; depending, of course, on what comic derived city they live in, Gotham, Central City, Metropolis, or the super-person filled New York City. Although at this point it would seem that the people of New York don’t need anymore stimuli to get any more traumatized than they already have within the fictional universes created by the entertainment industry.
But to the crux of the matter, Post Traumatic Stress: a devastating mental illness brought on by an extremely traumatic experience. For example serious car-accidents, combat deployment, serious injury or abuse, just to name a few of the causes. In fact PTSD is condition that is still being studied and understood by medical science, the condition affects millions of people and is a terrible thing. There are many different factors and variation of the disorder, it is not limited to suffering certain experiences or military combat etc. It is a condition that is still being researched and new things discovered everyday in order to better understand and treat this terrible affliction.
Diagnosing the disorder is just as difficult as understanding it, the human mind is such a complex organ there are always more and more factors the deeper we delve into ourselves. Post traumatic Stress causes many different symptoms, memory loss or inability to recall stressful or triggering event, unusual habits begin to form as well; combat veterans have experienced delusions, hearing a loud bang (or something similar to a gunshot, explosion, etc) can cause an violent reaction. The problem goes on, I’m in no position to give any definitive word on this disorder nor should I be seen as an authority on such, but I can’t help see the parallels of super-powered people and post traumatic stress.
The poster-boy of superhero PTSD and of DC Comics: Batman, is my exhibit A. When Bruce Wayne was 8-years-old he witnessed his parents being murdered in cold-blood before his eyes, from then on he’s sworn to rid Gotham of the criminals, like the one that took his parents. A child witness to such a horrific event, the murder of his parents, it spurs him almost into a delusion of sorts. Going forward, mastering skill after skills, brooding, dark, and relentless Bruce Wayne beats criminals to a pulp while funding his adventure with his private billions. Throughout the Batman the character takes a few light-hearted turns but never really deviates from his dark brooding persona. Even when out of his cowl just as Bruce Wayne, he’s lost his way, he believes himself to be the cowl and not much else.
Moving onto a plethora of other heroes and villains driven by the death of a loved one, Spider-man gets his start post-Uncle Ben, Mr. Freeze goes ice-crazy when his wife becomes terminal, Wolverine’s memories are lost his identity a mystery to himself, Superman learns the truth about his past, his family, his destroyed home, and our dearly beloved Punisher: his family is murdered in front of him and he proceeds to kill nearly everything that moves. And there are definitely more heroes and villains that have suffered and become who we know them as.
Our heroes are tortured men and women. These superheroes all have some horrific traumatic experience, that they fight everyday to get over, and some never do. Batman never gets over his parents murder. The Punisher sure as hell never gets over the slaughter of his family. It would seem that our culture values the tortured hero, the individual able to persevere despite great losses and pain and torture and devastation. A contorted take on the American Dream, struggle through horror and trauma and you’ll make it.
Maybe we need to take a step back and re-think our heroes a bit.