What Batman can Teach Us About Depression
Possibly the most well known fictional character besides Superman, Bruce Wayne, a.k.a The Batman, will hold a spot in history forever. With his hell-bent desire to rid Gotham City of filth and corruption, Batman is the epitome of rough justice. Resembling the size and magnitude of New York, Gotham is home to bankers, drug dealers, and everything in between.
Since his debut in 1939, billionaire philanthropist (and occasional playboy) Bruce Wayne has struck fear in the hearts of villains such as The Scarecrow, The Penguin, and everyone’s’ favorite, The Joker. Batman does much more than just punch these criminals into Arkham Asylum though, as he provides hope for those in need of something to believe in. When the bat-symbol shines in the night, fearful citizens can be reassured that Batman is coming. However, that light in the sky also serves as a warning. A warning that evil is afoot once again.
The Dark Knight can show us that righteousness can indeed rise out of the ashes of sin. He also teaches normal people like us, who don’t wear capes to work, what it feels like to battle depression.
The Sad Man Behind the Mask
Everyone knows the story of how Bruce Wayne became the Batman. Like most superheroes, Bruce went through something so traumatic that his life would never be the same again: witnessing the death of his parents. After this, a very lonely boy made a promise. In 1939, the comic Batman Wars against the Dirigible of Doom showed a grief stricken Bruce kneel over his bed saying “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” That was nearly eighty years ago, but the story remains mostly unchanged. The young boy began his journey that would turn him into Gotham’s Dark Knight. It might be easy to pass off Bruce’s method of coping as heroic and extraordinary, but his response may be slightly more normal than one would think.
There are numerous coping strategies that victims of psychological disorders, such as depression, use in order to get through each day. A common coping strategy is denial; in which someone refuses to acknowledge the harmful things affecting them. Bruce Wayne, however, is not the type of person to deny anything.
Instead, he appears to use the strategy known as sublimation. Sublimation is the concept of acting out unacceptable impulses by converting these negative thoughts into acceptable behaviors (Cherry 2016). In Batman’s case, he desperately wanted to avenge his parent’s deaths, but literally doing so would be illegal. Instead, he trained his body and mind to peak perfection in order to fight crime. I know what your thinking. How is this any more acceptable? He is still breaking the law by becoming a vigilante! But to Bruce, this behavior is not only acceptable, it’s justice. That depressed and angry boy was able to use his raw emotions to transform him into a modern day Gothic Hercules.
Yes, one could say this drove him to become obsessive towards his mission, but one could also argue that sublimating his grief into crime fighting helped him get through his depression and he ultimately came out physically and mentally stronger.
When someone is traumatically hurt, it’s probably a good idea not to become a vigilante running around saying in a gravelly voice, “I am the night.” Sublimation, however, can be beneficial in a more practical way. An example of this is boxing. Someone with built up aggression can take this anger out while learning to spar, and thus using it as a release. Another example could be writing poetry to vent out some negative or depressive thoughts, and all while putting these thoughts on paper and making them tangible. Whether its boxing or poetry, sublimation can be used to turn unacceptable impulses into acceptable behaviors. Although Batman ended up becoming a crime fighting war machine, he also used this coping method to rise above his hopeless situation.
A Death in the Family (and beyond).
Batman was able to cope with the death of his parents, but nothing prepared him to deal with something many would consider worse: the death of a child. The year was 1988 and Batman: A Death in the Family took a dark twist. In a shocking and groundbreaking turn of events, Jason Todd, the second Robin Boy-Wonder, was brutally murdered by The Joker. Like I said, this was the second Robin, and Jason was much different than his predecessor, Dick Grayson. Whereas Dick blurted out cheesy one liners like “Holy Armadillo, Batman!” or my favorite “Holy hole in a donut, Batman!” Jason was much more serious.
His father a low end criminal, and his mother a victim of drug addiction and eventual overdose, Jason was on the streets becoming a petty thief when Batman found him. Although Jason, like Dick, wasn’t related in any way to Bruce, he raised him as his own son (I’m assuming Alfred dealt with the complicated adoption paperwork). Batman now had a new Robin, and things were back to normal. Well, as near to normal as comic books would allow.
In a painful yet captivating story, Jason found out that his biological mother was actually alive, and went in search of her. However, Batman and Robin stumbled upon yet another of the Clown Prince of Crime’s schemes; the Joker was back on the scene, and this moment would become a cornerstone for comic book tragedies. After his own mother betrayed young Jason to the Joker, and while Batman was off stopping the mad clown’s plot, the Joker had a vulnerable and defenseless bird to play with. But the Joker decided this game needed a plot twist.
The Light in the Dark
So what can we learn?
Batman embodies what it means to be committed and resilient in the face of adversity. However, the sun goes down on every horizon, and death is one bad guy Batman can’t defeat. Although Batman was able to cope with his parent’s death by bettering himself and becoming the hero Gotham deserves, even he couldn’t handle his grief alone. What Batman shows us, is that anyone can suffer depression. Bruce Wayne, who has more money than most people could even dream of, isn’t impervious to despair. Batman, who rarely shows emotion and is depended on for his courage, couldn’t handle losing a son.
Batman shows us that yes, we can find methods to cope with our grief, but ultimately we will meet a roadblock that derails us faster than we can recover. These coping strategies may end up dooming us as we struggle to find normalcy in a chaotic world. Depression tends to make us force those closest to us farther away. It darkens our days and stretches out our nights.
Batman shows us, however, that family can help. Lifting a boulder becomes easier when you aren’t the only one lifting it. Although it may seem so far away, the dawn will always come. “But if you are willing to try,” Batman tells his small family, “we’ll try.” Under the suit, under the mask, and under the symbol of the bat, lies a man. And any man willing to try can become a super hero.
What do you think? Leave a comment.