Male mental health is a topic that needs to be discussed on a continuous basis. There is a plethora of factors that stop men from talking about their mental health, which range from the perception of being ‘weak’, to the fear of being judged. Suicide has become the biggest killer of men under 45, and to stop this from happening, we need to create a society where guys can feel comfortable talking about their experiences with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Creative mediums like comics can help to drive the discussion about mental health and raise awareness of suicide and the reasons behind it. Several superheroes and villains have been depicted as having suicidal thoughts. Examining the motivations of these characters can help to shine a light on the thought process behind suicide.
An escape from the world
A recent example of a superhero who tried to kill himself is DC’s Mister Miracle. A master escape artist and New God, Mister Miracle gained fame and fortune on Earth through his daring escapades, but it wasn’t enough to make him forget about his violent upbringing on the planet of Apokolips.
In Tom King’s critically acclaimed series, Scott Free tries to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. His wife, Big Barda, reaches him in time and manages to get him to hospital. Mister Miracle spends the rest of the story trying to come to terms with the attempt on his own life. The reasoning behind his actions may have been a combination of the past and the pressure of his celebrity lifestyle.
As a child, Scott was tortured by the likes of Granny Goodness and Darkseid. After years of trying, he finally managed to get away from Apokolips and started a new life on Earth with Barda. This past trauma, coupled with the sensation of having to perform for people, could have induced his suicidal tendencies.
Escapism is an important part of the comic. The reader is left to wonder about the nature of Mister Miracle’s reality in the static imagery that appears throughout the story. A possible outcome is that Scott was successful in his suicide and that he became trapped in the afterlife. This uncertainty is juxtaposed with Scott creating a happy life with Barda and his son. Ultimately, he chooses to stay in the reality that he’s created.
And like Mister Miracle, men who suffer with suicidal thoughts may see the act as a form of escape. They may think of it as unburdening themselves and their loved ones, when it has the opposite effect.
Pride and worthlessness
Marvel has also explored male suicide through supervillains like Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio. In Kraven’s case, he wanted to go out on his own terms and prove that he was superior to Spider-Man. During Kraven’s Last Hunt, Kraven had grown frustrated with his failures and ailing health. He set out on a final mission to defeat Spider-Man by capturing and shooting him with a coma-inducing dart.
After burying Spider-Man, Kraven dressed up as the web-slinger and went on a brutal crime-fighting spree across New York. Once Spider-Man dug his way out of the grave, he confronted Kraven, but the hunter didn’t fight back. Feeling at peace, Kraven committed suicide with a rifle.
Kraven’s suicide was prompted by him no longer having anything to live for. In his mind, he’d fulfilled his purpose as a ‘better’ version of Spider-Man. Years later, the character was unwillingly resurrected by his family, forcing him back into a life that didn’t have any meaning.
While Kraven’s suicide was motivated by pride, Mysterio killed himself because of feelings of worthlessness. Quentin Beck had built a career out of illusions and special effects, becoming obsessed with defeating Spider-Man. After he was diagnosed with cancer, Beck was granted an early release from prison and planned to exact his final revenge on the wall-crawler.
At the time, Ben Reilly, Peter Parker’s clone, was acting as Spider-Man, which caused Mysterio to change his mind. Instead, Beck focused on Daredevil, who he saw as a ‘kindred spirit’ because he believed they were both viewed as second stringers who weren’t known outside of their neighbourhoods.
Mysterio gained knowledge of Matt Murdock’s identity from Kingpin and drugged him. Under Mysterio’s influence, Matt thought he had fathered a girl who was the seconding coming of Christ. Over the course of the scheme, Matt’s former girlfriend Karen Paige was killed and Daredevil nearly went insane.
The Man Without Fear managed to overcome the drug and brutally attacked Mysterio. Beck expected Matt to kill him, describing it as “a grand way to end the show.” But Daredevil dismissed Mysterio as a hack who’d never had an original idea in his life. Broken and feeling like he had nothing left to live for, Mysterio shot himself.
The reasons behind suicide are extremely complex and each of these characters tried to take their own lives under different circumstances. Comics haven’t glamorised suicide or tried to present it as anything other than a tragic, sometimes unavoidable, part of life.
But the existence of characters like Mister Miracle and Mysterio is an important reminder that men should never be afraid to talk about their feelings. The more mental health is normalised in society, the more lives will be saved.
12 thoughts on “An Exploration Of Male Suicide In Comics”
I feel like the vast majority of suicides in literature, not just comics, revolve around females or people who identify as women. There is this stigma against mental health, but its far worse for male and masculine individuals. I never understood this whole dynamic of “less than a man for having emotions or mental health challenges” because we all as people have experiences and trauma or just other things that will affect us. To expect it to be limited or “permitted” to exist within one gender identity is so… ignorant and that sort of closed-off ideals should be challenged. I love that comics take important topics like these and discuss them in ways that regular narratives cannot. Portrayal of male suicides and raising awareness for mental health in males is so extremely vital. I’m glad to see a post such as this that brings a light to this sort of representation.
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The more representation that male suicide is given the more I think the stigma will be broken down for guys. That’s part of the reason why I love reading comics so much. They portray powerful, traditionally masculine characters in vulnerable situations and bring them down to earth with issues that normal people can relate to.
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Not to be a negative nancy here, but is the vast majority of ficional suicides really by women? I never noticed this pattern before and am curious as to the type of literature you’re referring to. Maybe I’m missing something. (Some famous suicide stories that quickly come to my mind are Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werter, Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde)
Although I’m unfamiliar with many of the characters you feature here, I do appreciate your success in tackling this important problem from an unusual angle.
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Your article is very interesting, I never realized that superhero comics had this sort of capacity.
I wonder if a major character had a suicide arc (and avoids killing himself in the end), it would spark more conversation.
Comics have done a lot to provide suicide in a realistic way and haven’t tried to gloss over how complex it is. In terms of superheroes that have contemplated suicide and chosen to avoid it, there is a character called Sentry that chose to accept the darkness within himself. You can learn more about him by checking out a list of stories that he features in.
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I never knew about this until now. This is a good read.