On Blue Monday, We Remember Even Superheroes Can Suffer From Depression

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BY January 20, 2020

Daredevil, Mister Miracle, Silver Surfer, Batman, Jessica Jones, Harley Quinn—what do these heroes have in common? They all superheroes suffering from some form of depression. And they aren’t alone. To this list, we can also add Thor, Deadpool, Renée Montoya, Wolverine, Cyclops, Hulk, Punisher, Captain America, Martian Manhunter, Joker, Moon Knight and even Superman. Over the past 30-40 years, writers and artists have explored the complexity of the superhero and their sufferings. But why? What’s the point of showing superheroes on the verge of suicide—or, in some cases, even going through with it? Why not just produce fun comics and cheer people up? Well, for Blue Monday, let’s look at how even a superhero can suffer from depression, and why it matters.

What is Blue Monday and What Does it Have to Do With Superheroes?

Superhero Suffer Depression, Superman (Image: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, DC Comics)

 

According to a formula sociologist Cliff Arnall, the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year. He even constructed a formula  that explains why:

For those of you, like me, who have no idea what this means, let me break it down. The holiday joy is officially over and the bills from said holidays come in. Combine that with the cold and the shorter days, and you get the most depressing day of the year! What better day than Blue Monday to look at depression in the superhero community?

“Street Level” Superheroes Tend to Suffer Depression More Than Others

Iron Fist, Depression, Superhero, Power Man (Image: Power-Man and Iron Fist #88, Marvel Comics, 1982)

If you are a superhero who has no powers, or limited powers, and you defend a single city or section of a city rather than the planet, you probably suffer depression. Take Iron Fist, for instance. He’s one of the most powerful street-level characters in Marvel or DC, but he constantly doubts his ability and worthiness of his power—especially in his early appearances. Danny Rand suffers from “imposter syndrome,” which is basically the brain making you believe you don’t deserve anything you have and you’ve somehow tricked everyone into believing you are capable. And then you have characters like Red Hood, who is perpetually stuck in a thought spiral that often renders him useless or a danger to himself and others.

Maybe since they are “grounded,” it’s easier to believe these superheroes suffer depression. But out of all the street-level characters, nobody represents the illness more than the Man Without Fear.

Daredevil, the Superhero in a Persistent Depressive State

Depression, Daredevil, Mark Waid (Image: Daredevil (Vol. 4) #10, Marvel Comics)

Every superhero goes through intense loss and go through periods of depression, but Matt Murdock suffers depression in the most relatable way possible. It’s always there. It’s a weight on him that lingers in the background, and sometimes makes him sink to the floor. Going back to Brian Michael Bendis’s run on Daredevil, and winding through Ed Brubaker’s and Andy Diggle’s runs, we see Murdock fall further and further into the darkness. In the real world, when someone with depression doesn’t seek help, all areas of their lives are darkened, and they push friends and family away. But for a superhero who suffers from depression? Much worse. Daredevil’s soul is taken over by the Beast of the Hand. In his lowest state, Daredevil gives in and kills Bullseye, which allows an actual demon to invade him.

But even when he recovers, the depression doesn’t leave. When Mark Waid took over after Shadowland, he made Daredevil a swashbuckling superhero, but one who still suffers from depression. This is really important to see. Just because someone is smiling and happier doesn’t mean they are better. We see depression along the edges of Mark Waid’s run. And eventually, as often happens, the depression comes crashing back. Charles Soule’s run dealt with this a lot, but Chip Zdarksy’s current run is exploring it in intense and brilliant ways. What happens when the main outlet for Murdock’s depression, being a superhero, is taken away from him? That’s what Zdarsky is exploring.

Even the Heavy Hitters Suffer Depression

Thor, Avengers Endgame, Fat Thor, Depression Thor’s struggle with depression in Endgame led to a powerful moment. (Image: Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios)

Having the power of a god—or even being a god—doesn’t mean the hero, or villain, never suffers from a mental illness of some kind. Thor frequently has bouts of “melancholy,” a nice archaic way of describing depression. Silver Surfer is downright nihilistic, and contemplates why he does anything to begin with. Jim Starlin’s run, especially pre-Infinity Gauntlet, shows a superhero who does not only suffer from depression, but who forces himself to go deeper into that abyss. At one point, Galactus has to come to his aid because of his collapsed mental state.

Wonder Woman, Mental Health, Greg Rucka, Superhero, Depression

But the most surprising? Wonder Woman. In his recent Rebirth run, Greg Rucka explored Wonder Woman’s state of mind more than ever before…and even the most powerful woman in the universe has a breaking point. But there’s no person with depression or any mental illness who “suddenly” breaks down. Rucka’s story builds off of small moments in Wonder Woman comics for decades. This story reflects how Blue Monday can trigger those with depression, a hundred tiny things all come rushing back at you at once. Even the strongest hero in the DC universe isn’t immune to it.

The Best Superhero Comic Dealing With Depression and Suicide

While a number of superheroes have talked a suicidal character off a ledge, there’s one story that is, without a doubt, the best of these stories. No, it’s not Superman or Spider-Man. It’s Deadpool. To be precise, it’s writer Gerry Dugan’s Deadpool (2015) #20. Deadpool finds a teenage girl on the roof of his building, ready to jump, and convinces her to join him for the night as he beats up bad guys and steals tickets to Hamilton. He doesn’t fully convince Danielle not to kill herself, but that wasn’t his endgame. It was this:

 

Deadpool, Superhero, Depression, Gerry Duggan (Image: Deadpool #20, Marvel Comics)

 

Deadpool, Suicide, Mental Health (Image: Deadpool #20, Marvel Comics)

This is the smartest thing anyone can do, superhero or not, is when they know someone who does suffer from depression. He helps Danielle find help. He recognizes that he’s not equipped to help her, but he walks through the doors with her. It’s the most beautiful single-issue comic book I’ve ever read…and it involves Deadpool accidentally beating up the elderly.

Sure, but Why Should We See Superheroes Suffer Depression on Blue Monday?

One of the most important topics today is about representation. We talk about race representation, gender and sexuality, religion, and body size—but mental health is also part of that conversation. For any reader, child, teen, or adult, seeing a superhero as they suffer depression is empowering. It’s a reminder that surviving depression isn’t about personal strength, it’s about perseverance. More than that, it’s about patience. It’s getting up every day and doing your job, and just trying. Whether that means saving the city from a 400-pound mass of muscle with a bald head, or writing articles for an online comics and pop culture magazine, fighting depression is just getting to the next day. Some days are better than others. But sometimes you’re drifting out in space on your cosmic surfboard wondering if you should even bother saving others.

Remember, superhero stories are allegories for real life. But the superheroes are not some mythical force that will come protect and save us. No, we’re supposed to see ourselves in the superheroes. They are us, and we are them.

You Don’t Need a Superhero to Get Help

If you need help, that’s fine. If a superhero can suffer from depression, anyone can, especially on a day like Blue Monday. See your primary doctor about medication and find a therapist. Don’t believe the stigma of going to therapy—it doesn’t mean you failed or you aren’t strong enough. If you have a mental illness, not seeing a therapist and psychiatrist would be like someone with diabetes refusing to see an endocrinologist. And if you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the meantime, take Deadpool’s advice:

Deadpool, Superhero, Depression, Mental Health, Marvel Comics (Deadpool #20, Marvel Comics)

 

Superhero, Suffer, Depression, Deadpool (Deadpool #20, Marvel Comics)

COMICSPop Culture

Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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