I know it seems a bit odd to talk about a Marvel book on a Flash website, but stay with me a moment. There are two series currently running, one at DC and one at Marvel, in which mental illness has been portrayed in a major plot line. For DC, it’s HEROES IN CRISIS, with a tragedy occurring at a mental health facility for superheroes called Sanctuary. For Marvel, it’s THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP, in which the lead character is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So, how do the two story lines match up? Follow us after the jump!
Let’s Make Mine Marvel (to coin a phrase) for just a moment. In THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP, Nadia Pym (the latest Wasp) has experienced her first manic phase while trying to “fix everyone”. She displays the symptoms of bipolar disorder, something that the original Ant Man, Hank Pym, was known to have as well. While there are no major tragedies in this story line, there are consequences. Her friendships are tested, and in some cases frayed. She needs counseling and medication to manage her symptoms. But, there is some hope for her, in a story line that is uplifting. To put this story together, writer Jeremy Whitley consulted both mental health professionals and people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in order to portray this as accurately…and with as much compassion as possible. If you want to see mental health issues addressed well in a comic story line, go check out THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP.
Now we turn to DC and HEROES IN CRISIS. We don’t see much of the diagnosis and treatment of anyone’s generic “mental illness”, other than “confession” videos that are being leaked to the public. It’s done rather quickly and dismissed just as quickly. We only know that they need “healing” and that Sanctuary is the place to go. That quick intro is all we get before we see everyone except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn laid out dead…including Wally West. Booster and Harley blame each other, and the story turns into a murder mystery that just happens to include people who need counseling. Our (now dead) characters are just mentally ill, period, and that doesn’t play any further into the story…until issue #8. Even then, we only know that someone “broke” and did all this. Who is that someone?
Who killed all those people?
Who killed Wally West?
Wally did it
Let that sink in.
Wally West killed them all…and even himself. What?
After returning Wally to the DCU, after implying that he might well be the key to undoing all the bad things that had caused that 10 year gap (from the New 52), writer Tom King did more than just take that off the table.
He did more than just kill Wally West. He turned him into Parallax. The version of Hal Jordan that also “broke” and killed countless members of the Green Lantern Corp. And why?
Because Wally just “broke”.
Yes, the story does tell why he “broke”. But we just get generic “mental illness” here. And of course, “crazy” people just kill, right? It may be an accident, but they just are dangerous and should be avoided, right?
One series gives an accurate portrayal of mental illness, working it seamlessly into the fabric of the character and the plot. The other just throws a generic “mentally ill” at the wall and uses it as a cheap excuse for mass murder.
Now, do I think Tom King is being purposely cavalier about mental illness? Not at all. But, I don’t see a lot of homework in this story arc, either. It seems that DC wanted a murder mystery that happened to include the stress of being a superhero and how it might cause a generic “mental illness”. Sad to say, it could have been much more.
Yes, this could turn around in the next (and final) issue. But, making things right for Wally and the others would take a LOT of contrived work. Everything was a dream sequence? It all happened in VR? Nope, that won’t work since Wally’s death has been a part of story lines in the main FLASH book and elsewhere. And, even with the best possible outcome for Wally, an opportunity has been missed here. THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP didn’t miss their opportunity. It’s sad that a DC book didn’t do as well on the subject.