“Heroes In Crisis” vs “Unstoppable Wasp” and a Look at Mental Illness

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!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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?

Wrong.

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.

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7 thoughts on ““Heroes In Crisis” vs “Unstoppable Wasp” and a Look at Mental Illness

  1. WallyEast

    Great analysis. I’ve been disappointed with the portrayal of mental illness in Heroes in Crisis since the first issue. I was especially looking forward to Wally’s therapeutic journey to recovery. He’s dealing with a lot, including grief and PTSD (not that grief is a mental illness, of course, but it is something where going through therapy can help). I wanted to hear an unbiased observer help Wally deal with everything — and “everything” is a lot, I mean, he’s lost his kids TWICE now, once through miscarriage and once through … non-existence.

    Instead, we’ve gotten … this. Confessionals. Wally hasn’t sinned. He doesn’t need to confess. He needs help. He needs to talk to someone and have that someone talk to him. It even could have been Harley Quinn.

    And there were SO MANY plot holes in Wally’s explanation: How did he doctor the bodies so the cause of death didn’t appear to be lighning? Since when do speedsters have to “control” the Speed Force? And don’t you think Thawne (amongst many others) would have used that particular power at least once? And no other speedster has lost control, ever? Riiiiight.

    And how did Wally piece together all of the computer data?

    To say nothing of the idea that he couldn’t handle that other people had issues.

    And, he covered it up. Accidents can happen to anyone, they don’t make you a villain. Cover-ups do, in fact, make you a bad guy. What? He had to make a split-second decision? Ha. He could stretch that second out to a veritable lifetime.

    Reply
  2. Lee

    Agreed, Ed, with every word.

    I don’t know what King was going for with this story. Trauma, PTSD and mental illness are clearly things he cares about a lot, on a personal level… so I don’t understand why it turned out this way. This cartoonish portrayal of mental illness making people “crazy” and dangerous, this story where everyone who went to get help ended up dead or framed for murder or framing other people for murder.

    This could and should have been a story to destigmatise depression and mental illness, to show that things can get better. That probably was King’s intention, but to say he missed the mark is an understatement. Instead it just ended up a weak murder mystery where the reader is invited to guess which “crazy” person killed all the other “crazy” people. A story where everyone who sought help for their trauma or mental illness is punished for it.

    Reply
  3. Will

    Thank for taking the time to write this article. I agree with you on every point.

    I’m literally devastated to see what DC became.

    Reply
  4. Kyer

    Never thought I’d see you write a ‘bad’ review, but if anything could —HIC trash certainly qualifies as a contender. Such a horrible bunch of out-of-character garbage. In fact, the only way I can see how this was written is because King said he wanted to do a murder mystery and likely Didio said ‘yes you can…and in doing so can you do me a big favor and kill off all these characters I despise…and oh yes, utterly destroy Wally West as well as have him commit suicide? You can? You’re books a go!’.

    Reply
  5. married guy

    Heroes in Crisis is the book that took Wally West, a character in publication for almost 60 years, who was THE FLASH for a generation of readers, who has been a speedster since CHILDHOOD and turned him into a murderer. Who couldn’t control the Speed Force. Are you ****king kidding me??
    Wally was the only speedster to return from it.
    He’s been a speedster since he was 12!
    This story was pure crap from the get-go.

    Reply

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