Superheroes don’t have it all figured out. While they may be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, it doesn’t mean that they are the most upright people in the entire universe. As a matter of fact, many of them have have some serious issues. Some of them have gone through extremely horrible events that had lasting effects on their mental well-being, others came in contact with a physical illness that they could never shake. Whatever the case, we’ve seen this occur in comic books for several years and still be a part of the lore to this day. Remember that time when Batman was locked up in Arkham Asylum?
To become a superhero and put your life on the line for the rest of the world, you have to risk selling your soul to that profession. Regardless of how good you become, it may be at the cost of your own health and/or sanity. Many heroes, whether fallen or still operating, have experienced their own downfalls related to the tragedies they’ve witnessed. They press on, but we haven’t forgotten those standout moments. Here are 15 superheroes you had no idea suffered from a severe mental or physical illness.
15. CAPTAIN MARVEL – CANCER
Many different people have taken on the mantle of Captain Marvel, but it was the first one, the Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had a run with death. Being a cosmic hero, he found himself face to face with many unnatural foes and locations, and this resulted in him getting cancer after being exposed to the “Compound 13” nerve gas.
Captain Marvel watched helplessly as his health began to fail in The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel. With all of his might, his life ended because he was never able to save himself from a vicious disease. He passed away on a bed, surrounded by some of the greatest heroes and his close friends in the Marvel Universe. Rest in peace, our dear friend, and we hope that you find your true peace among the stars.
14. MOON KNIGHT – SCHIZOPHRENIA
Schizophrenia is one of the scariest mental illnesses to ever be depicted in a person, and proof of this is the hero known as Moon Knight. Originally a mercenary who was betrayed and left for dead, he was saved by the spirit Khonshu and instructed to be the god’s new avatar. Or was he?
The reality is that we don’t know what really happened to Marc Spector. Some comics depict him as a perfectly sane person who acted on the will of a god who spared him, but others like Moon Knight vol 8 #11, portray him as someone who hears voices in his head. The jury is still out as to whether Moon Knight knows exactly what reality is or if it’s all in his head, but he still manages to maintain his superhero image.
13. ANT-MAN – SPLIT PERSONALITY DISORDER
Like Captain Marvel, several people have taken on the mantle of the Astonishing Ant-Man, but it was the first one, Hank Pym, who we are focusing on for the purpose of this particular list. After having years under his belt as a superhero (including prolonged exposure to the Pym Particle), Hank started to slowly slip in and out of reality. He began suddenly taking on different personas, like Giant-Man and Yellowjacket.
Janet, his wife, became extremely concerned for his health, but Hank Pym began to close himself off due to his knowledge of his own mind. However, everything took a turn for the worst when he snapped and hit Janet in frustration. From that day on, Hank’s relationship with the Avengers had never been the same.
12. SPIDER-MAN – PTSD
You can’t help but feel sorry for Peter Parker. As a young high school student, he inadvertently caused the death of his Uncle Ben and dealt with that for many years. As if that weren’t bad enough, he also accidentally killed the love of his life, Gwen Stacy. Peter loses just about everyone he cares about, and for being so young, that has a profound effect on his health.
In comics like Spider-Man: Blue, we are shown a Peter who is still scared and grieving over his losses. While they motivate him to become a better hero, he is still affected by them negatively. In Spider-Man One More Day, he even gives up his own life to a demon in order to save his Aunt May because he didn’t want to have to deal with the idea of losing her.
11. DAREDEVIL – DEPRESSION
Most superheroes have the luxury of gaining something from the freak accidents that turn them into costumed vigilantes. For Matt Murdock, it was the other way around. He was hit with toxic waste that blinded him for the rest of his life, and it only became worse from there. Slowly but surely, he lost everything, including his father, who was murdered by gangsters.
For those of you who haven’t watched the Daredevil show, it’s events like these that shaped Murdock into the Man Without Fear. He distances himself from his peers and he prefers to hide and fight in dark alleys. The writers at Marvel even dealt with this in Daredevil #10, where Murdock states that he now understands what depression feels like. Unfortunately, he is a great guy who was dealt a bad hand.
10. CYCLOPS – EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT
Cyclops was the first X-Man to study under Professor X, and it took its toll on him. From the beginning of his career, he noticed that the world wasn’t yet ready to accept mutants and he had to fight to maintain a positive image in the public. Despite everything he tried, the world still rejected him. Add that to the loss of his wife, and things get a bit more intense.
Being the successor to Charles Xavier, Cyclops held the entire race of mutants on his shoulders. Unfortunately, couple this stress with the many tragedies he suffered, and Cyclops began detaching himself from the world. He attempted to start a revolution, he didn’t bat an eye when his son needed to be killed, he left Jean Grey, etc. We know that he’s putting forth every effort to leave a positive legacy, but he’s fighting an uphill battle there.
9. SUPERMAN – DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER
Picture this: you’re an alien from a different planet. Before you have a chance to get attached to your parents and world, everything you know is destroyed and you are sent to a different environment. It’s there that you have superpowers in relation to the rest of the world, but you have to hide it from everyone.
The point of this here is that Superman has inadvertently developed dissociative identity disorder as a means of coping with the idea of people and villains figuring out who he really is. Psychology Today defines the disorder as a person who exhibits two distinct personality states, which Superman certainly does. Clark Kent is the clumsy news reporter who works with Lois Lane, while Superman is the confident hero who can face anything head on.
8. IRON MAN – ALCOHOLISM
Tony Stark has never had it easy. After trying to overcome the “rich life” that he inherited, he made a lot of mistakes over the years. One time, his suit even malfunctioned and a world leader was killed. Because of this, he learned to cope through the consumption of alcohol.
One arc, “Demon in a Bottle”, directly followed his time through this illness. Tony Stark fell deeper and deeper into the “demon in a bottle,” and he had to work extra hard to overcome it. He had to learn to love himself as a man and become accepting of who he is as a superhero and business owner. This was something addressed in Iron Man 2, and it breaks our hearts every time we see Rhodey have to fight him in his own home.
7. SCARLET WITCH – ANXIETY
It should come as no surprise that being the daughter of Magneto wouldn’t come with the happiest of conditions, and Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, got the worst of it all. She was fairly unstable from the start, but when horrible things begin to happen, she completely loses her mind.
Take the entire House of M miniseries for example. How did this new universe come to be? Scarlet Witch had a complete breakown and lost control of her powers. She became so distressed that she inadvertently restructured the entire universe so that she could be with her family and live a happy life. She also destroyed all mutants in the world with a mere sentence. Scarlet Witch’s insane powers coupled with her anxiety aren’t a good mix. We just wish there were some way to help her cope.
6. THE HULK – INTERMITTENT EXPLOSIVE DISORDER
This entry really goes without saying. Bruce Banner’s life was forever changed once he was exposed to a supposedly lethal amount of gamma radiation. Afterward, he discovered that his body chemistry changed and every time he became angry, he would transform into the brute known as the Incredible Hulk.
Keeping that in mind, it’s interesting to note that Banner became easily agitated a lot and would frequently explode on people. In the “Original Sin” event, Banner discovered that Tony Stark had a hand in the experiment that turned him into the Hulk. He lost his mind, transformed into Hulk and beat the living daylights out of his fellow Avenger. This is just one instance where Banner lost control, but it’s a frequent issue that he has to deal with.
5. SPEEDY – HEROIN ADDICTION
Back in the old days, addiction was seen as little more than a horrible decision that someone made over and over again. Nowadays, it’s regarded more as an illness, much like the alcoholism seen in Tony Stark. However, he wasn’t the only hero to spiral down when their life took a turn for the worst. Speedy, aka Roy Harper, the sidekick of the Green Arrow, also fell down hard and became addicted to heroin.
This arc took place in Green Lantern Vol 2 #85-86. Harper had lost his girlfriend, his teammates and his money. He coped the only way he could and things didn’t get any better from there. Green Arrow kicked him out and he was taken in by Black Canary while he was rehabilitated.
4. JESSICA JONES – SEVERE PTSD
Jessica Jones could never figure herself out. After discovering her powers, she became a hero and tried to team up with the Avengers. However, not many people, or her fellow heroes, even remembered her and this affected her psyche. Still, she pursued her crime fighting career until she came in contact with a dark and twisted character known as the Purple Man.
After kidnapping her and forcing her to perform specific activities against her will, Jessica Jones was changed forever. She eventually escaped the clutches of her captor, but she was never the same person. Becoming a much rougher, more rude individual, Jessica carried the memories of what was done to her forever. She forfeited her mantle of a hero and decided to help other people who were faced with similar situations.
3. PROFESSOR X – CONTROL ISSUES
Professor X is the brilliant leader of the X-Men. Being in his position, his powers of telepathy also serve him extremely well. Unfortunately, this kind of power has led him to make certain decisions that shouldn’t be in his power. Time and time again, he has proven that he’s not the selfless leader that some people make him out to be.
In X-Men: Deadly Genesis, it was revealed that there was another team of mutants before the team that debuted in Giant-Size X-Men took over. The reason no one knew about them was that they all died in action and Professor X wiped Cyclops’s memory of the event. That’s just the bottom of the barrel. He messed with Magneto’s head countless time, became a villain and has even ended conflicts by forcing people to walk away.
2. DEADPOOL – PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE
You all knew this was coming. Wade Wilson’s life was never of the normal sort, but it all came to a head when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was brought into the Weapon X program in a desperate attempt to save his life. However, the healing factor worked so well that it permanently affected the chemistry in his brain, leading to dangerous outbursts and an enhanced self-awareness.
The thing about it is that Deadpool knows that he’s absolutely insane. He has often heard voices in his head that conflict with one another, like in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. That said, he’s not without heart and deep inside the Merc with a Mouth is a Wade Wilson who simply wants to lead a normal.
1. RORSCHACH – ABSOLUTISM
Walter Kovacs was a brilliant young man from an early age, but there was always something a little bit off about him. As he became older, he began to despise criminals who harmed others for their own personal gain. He decided to take matters into his own hands. Taking a white mask with a fluctuating ink blot and a trench coat, he became the vigilante known as Rorschach.
As he operated, Rorschach’s views of justice became very black and white. Simply put, if somebody had done something horrible, they deserved to die. Many have regarded his methods as violent and without remorse, and whether that’s true or not, Rorschach dishes out justice that can only be done by somebody like him. He even went as far to regard his mask as his “true face.”
Do you know of any other characters who suffer from real diseases? Let us know in the comments!
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