How Comic Books Have Dealt With the Stigma of Suicide

Suicide is a very tough subject to tackle, but as a society, we are learning how to deal with it better. Spotting warning signs or identifying behavior from others that might cause someone to want to self-harm is important. It has become a little easier as we understand what triggers such thoughts, sadly though it has been at the cost of others lives.

With Facebook releasing a new AI to detect suicide possibilities from user posts, it’s a good time to address the issue in comic books. First though let’s see what Facebook is doing to help the situation. While it already had tools to report suicidal posts for moderators to react to and take action, it will now use an AI that constantly scans posts for content that identifies with suicidal tendencies and comments like “Are you ok?”, or “Do you need help?”. The AI will flag content to moderators, quicker than people having to report it and allow them to send mental health resources to the user. They are also putting on more moderators and training them to deal with suicide as well as partnering with local organizations that deal with this type of crisis. For the full article, read here.

Now let’s visit how some comics have dealt with the situation. It is a tough topic that possibly isn’t talked about enough, often due to fear of glorifying it or implanting ideas. The first comic I read that touched on the subject was The Sensational Spider-Man #7 (1996) which featured Ben Reilly as Spidey saving someone who was attempting to do the deed. The man, George, had climbed all the way up to an aerial atop a skyscraper, a helicopter crew trying to get near to film it. When Spider-Man shows up, he starts with a quip to try and defuse the situation, the man believes he is a failure at life and should have accomplished so much by now. The helicopter begins to spiral out of control and smashes into the building, Spidey grabs the man from the aerial and swings him to safety, not having time to diffuse the situation in a calmer manner.

 

As Spider-man gets the injured chopper occupants out, he relies on Georges help, one of them needing CPR and George is the only one around that knows it. In the end, George saves a mans life, giving him a renewed form of self-worth and lease on life. An important lesson here is that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to anyone else’s achievements or standards to measure our own worth. We all take our own path, focus on what you have done rather than haven’t done. Take pride in your own achievements, no matter how small.

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Another comic that dealt with the matter was The New 52 Red Hood and the Outlaws #3 (2011). In the New 52 universe, Roy Harper (Arsenal) was kicked from his position as Green Arrow’s sidekick and has joined up with Jason Todd’s group. He is also a depressed alcoholic with not much of a will to live. In this issue, Roy goes up against Killer Croc alone with the hopes that Croc will kill him in the process. When Killer figures out what Roy is trying to do, he refuses to be a part of it but instead offers to be his sponsor and help Roy get back on his feet. Sometimes people will put themselves in a situation they hope will end in harm to them without them actually doing the deed. It’s still actively deciding to end one’s life but doesn’t seem as definite a decision.

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In Batman Rebirth the “I am Suicide” arc #8-13 (2016) we have most of the story told in the form of a letter correspondence between Bruce and eventually learning Selina Kyle. It’s a very interesting way of furthering the inner themes of the arc, almost like it is a suicide note, a last confession and admittance for all the reasons they do what they do. Midway through the arc, we read that a young Bruce felt so alone and painful that he slit his wrists with his father’s razor. Here he discovers the choice to ignore everything or embrace Gotham and get vengeance for his parents, give his life away to a cause. In his letter, he explains that this is what all the costume, the toy’s, the waiting is about, he is Batman, he is suicide. Essentially when he made the attempt as a young boy and came to the realization that he would give his life up then and there. Bruce Wayne would be but a memory and he would fight for vengeance and justice until it killed him, he was suicide waiting to happen. This is new and disturbing ground for the Dark Knight, he is always calculating and mysterious, but to give all that a new sensation to drive him from is almost chilling.

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The classic saga of Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt (1987) deals with a different kind of thought process to the matter. Kraven tranquilizes Spider-Man, buries him and takes his place for two weeks. He defeats and captures Vermin, a foe the Spider could not beat alone and tortures him while holding him captive. For him it is the ultimate victory, showing that he can defeat him and take his place gives Kraven a sense of completion. When Spider-Man eventually recovers and digs his way out, he goes after the hunter, but Kraven doesn’t fight back, he doesn’t need to, he has won the game already. He unleashes Vermin on Spider-Man to further drive the lesson home. Vermin thinks it was Spider-Man who had been hurting him and easily overpowers him until Kraven steps in and tells Vermin to flee. Kraven even helps Spider-Man up and shows him the exit, giving his word that he will not hunt again. As Spidey pursues Vermin, Kraven says farewell and shoots himself in the head with a rifle. Someone who is in a depressive state and considering suicide may begin to tie up loose ends, finish things left undone. They often become happier when doing this because they know the end is in sight, that peace will soon end their suffering.

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Lastly, we have The New Mutants #45 (1983) where a new transfer student to the local high school, Larry Bodine, tries to deal with keeping being a mutant a secret. At a school dance, he meets Kitty Pryde who unbeknownst to him is also a mutant. They dance away, neither knowing the other’s secret. Some of the jocks at the party start to tell mutie jokes and insinuate that Larry is probably one, he heavily denies the accusations. This furthers their belief that he is a mutant and decide to play a prank on him, pretending that they have called the government mutant hunting group X-Factor. Back hanging with Kitty and the rest of the New Mutants, he tries to dispel any suspicion by telling mutie jokes, not realizing who he is with. The group angrily leaves Larry, saying they thought he was a nice guy, but were clearly wrong.

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Larry is depressed by what his actions have brought about, just trying to fit in, he tries to drink his woes away but can’t stomach it. Another sign of failure, he can’t even get drunk properly. In his room, the phone rings and the voice on the other end says X-Factor is coming for him. Rhane is peaking through his window and sees his light sculptures from his powers and proves what she thought, that Larry is a mutant too. The next morning, Magneto, the headmaster of Xavier’s school announces to the team that a student from the nearby high school committed suicide last night. This is where bullying can lead to as we have seen so often in recent years, people being singled out and taunted for being a bit different can be quite hurt by people’s remarks and actions. Now with the internet, it seems to have become easier to bully people, reaching them wherever they are. What some people see as harmless fun can be extremely damaging to an individual, so think twice before you make a joke at someone else’s expense.

 

If you or someone you know is heading down this path, there is always someone who is willing to listen. A local helpline, authority figures such as a teacher or police officer and most importantly family if you are lucky enough. You can even contact me via Facebook or Twitter @KebbleDotDesign if you want a nonjudgmental ear. No matter how far down you have fallen, it can always be worse, someone else out there is having a harder time. It’s not the end, it is just a reason to start over and try things differently. It’s kind of corny but I like the saying “A lump of coal will only transform into a diamond through immense pressure”, consider yourself a diamond in the making. From all of us at Comic Watch, we wish you happy and healthy futures.

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