The life of a hero can be a complicated thing. Whether they have super powers or not, the reasons that someone chooses a life of crime fighting is often deep routed within their psyche. With back stories that would push a lot of us to the brink of our very own sanity, the hero uses that in order to fuel their passion for crime stopping. But with so many heroes battling “deranged” super-villains, the lines can very quickly become blurred as to which one is actually more mentally unhinged, the villain of the hero.
With all their power and responsibility, they may be able to save the world, but it doesn’t help them with the issues of life. Some embrace their disorders and don’t let them hold them back, while others are defined by their conditions. This doesn’t often work out well for them or for the people around them.
Here are 15 heroes that show many warning signs of their mental state, and with a little push, could easily hand in their tights and cape for a life of crime. We’ve seen it happen before…
15. Jessica Jones
The first entry on this list is a newbie to the Marvel television universe. Having recently had her very own series on Netflix, Jessica Jones is punching her way into the hearts of fans everywhere.
After coming into contact with some dangerous chemicals, Jones developed super human strength, invulnerability and flight. With these powers she tried her hand at the superhero gig. First becoming Jewel, she would also use the alias Knightress and Power Woman. However, her days as a superhero didn’t work out and she soon left all that behind her.
Ending up becoming a detective in Hell’s Kitchen, Jones shunned her superhero friends but couldn’t stop helping people when she could. This transition from superhero to a “normal” person is in no doubt due to her encounter with The Purple Man and the trauma that he caused her.
The Purple Man (AKA Zebediah Kilgrave) used his mind control powers on Jones and commanded her to do whatever pleased him, physically and emotionally torturing her for a long period of time. As well as this, Kilgrave used Jones’ powers to aid in his criminal schemes; this included using her to try and kill Daredevil. She did finally manage to break free from Kilgrave, but she could never forget. The events of what he did to her haunts her nightmares and makes it almost impossible for her to move on. Even with her great powers, the scars that she is left with can never be healed.
14. Moon Knight
A lesser known hero here; the casual comic book fan may not be too aware of Moon Knight, but this Marvel hero has a bag full of mental issues. Growing up as Marc Spector, Moon Knight was an Olympic level athlete who was also a trained fighter. As an adult, Spector became a U.S. Marine and a mercenary, using his skills for covert missions. While in Egypt, Spector gained powers that are linked to the lunar cycle. Adopting the name Moon Knight, he used his powers and abilities as a hero and even joined the Avengers at one stage.
With all his good intentions, Moon Knight has some issues. The lunar cycle which he draws his powers from has an effect on his psyche, resulting in split personality disorder. As well as the moon, Moon Knight is influenced by the heroes around him. Three in particular: Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine. While Spider-Man and Captain America keep Moon Knight good and fighting against evil, Wolverine keeps him dark and a loner. A battle within Moon Knight bubbles over as he constantly tries to figure out his own personality. This resulted in Moon Knight not being included in Civil War as neither side could trust his stability.
13. Captain America
As you will see from this list, a lot of the conditions these superheroes suffer from are a result of losing either people or their home. Captain America is one such hero. The super solider is a man out of his time; frozen in the ice after World War Two, Captain America woke up to find the world had changed dramatically and everyone he’d ever loved had gone.
Wearing a patriotic costume and always standing up for the little guy, Captain America isn’t just the poster boy for his country but he’s also a poster boy for depression. Dealing with such loss makes it hard to not only move forward, but to make any new connections for fear that they will end. So Captain America is stuck in a circle between his past and his future and everything is a constant reminder of what should have been.
It’s amazing that Captain America saves the world on a daily basis as most people who have his burden wouldn’t even be able to get up in the morning. Captain America isn’t just physically strong, he’s an emotional superhero too.
The most common cause of trauma that many people have to deal with comes from their childhoods. The same can be said for many superheroes; the only difference between them and us is that these childhood traumas are often the reason they become superheroes and reach for the tights in the first place.
Out of all the superheroes on this list, not many have suffered so much so early in life as Daredevil. A young Matt Murdock was blinded by chemicals – you may well think that is enough of a trauma for anyone. However, having already lost his mother, Murdock would also have to deal with his father’s death at the hands of gangsters. The silver lining, if there is such a thing in this situation, is that Murdock developed hyper sensitive reactions and senses, which aid him on his quest to clean up Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.
There is no question that Daredevil suffers from a severe case of depression, which is understandable given his past. However, Daredevil uses this depression and sadness to push himself to the very edge, and sometimes over it, which aptly gives him the nickname The Man Without Fear. But how long will it be before Daredevil goes too far? If this was reality, there’s only one way this story would end and that’s with Daredevil being found dead!
To many people, Superman is the ultimate superhero. A man that stands for truth and justice and will do anything in order to help anyone. He maybe one of the most powerful beings on the planet, however he never uses his powers for his own personal gain and is always very careful to never lose control as he might hurt people or destroy the world.
With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine the Man of Steel suffering with any psychological disorders, but he does. Having left his family and his home planet, Superman had to fit into a new world. Not only that, but as his home was destroyed, he doesn’t have any connection to his roots that a healthy person needs to grow.
Choosing a life in which he helps people is very noble, but Superman never fit in with his adoptive home as he would always be the outsider. This is known as “Part of Two Worlds Syndrome.” The emotional and mental struggle that Superman has to go through will never likely be resolved and Superman will never really feel at home.
There aren’t many superheroes in the comic book world that are more selfless and pure than Spider-Man. Raised by his aunt and uncle, Peter Parker grew up with good values and the ethics of a saint. So when he was bitten by a radioactive spider, the powers he gained were used responsibly and only for good. The web-slinging hero stands up for the little guy in the face of bullies and supervillains alike. Spider-Man is a hero in the truest sense of the word.
Having suffered the loss of his parents so young, Parker would always feel that sense of loss which could turn into a feeling of inadequacy, as he could never live up to their memory. However, his real problems would start to manifest when he gained his superpowers. Being brought up as a passive person, the use of violence within his crime fighting duties would cause a constant struggle within Parker. There is also a heavy sense of guilt weighing on him as his actions and decision to let a petty criminal go, would result in the death of his uncle. These reasons often push Parker to the outskirts of society as he feels he doesn’t belong anywhere.
This loner and sometime anti-hero is probably the most famous and popular mutant in the Marvel universe. Wolverine has been a fan favorite since his first appearance in the early 1970s. Born with the mutant powers of regeneration, animal-like senses and of course bone claws which would later be fused with the unbreakable adamantium metal, the cigar-chomping Wolverine often plays by his own rules and does as he pleases.
It’s a fair assessment to say that Wolverine has a lot of baggage. With the powers that he was born with, Wolverine was a very sought after mutant. Being used by the government for “special ops,” Wolverine has also been subjected to his share of torture as his healing powers make him the perfect subject for experimentation. With this much emotional and physical baggage, Wolverine keeps everyone at a distance. Choosing the life of a loner is Wolverine’s way of keeping people safe as his anger and unstable emotional state can often get the better of him and he inevitably lashes out at the people closest to him.
Often regarded as one of the most powerful mutants, Rogue has the ability to absorb other people’s powers, abilities and sometimes even their memories simply by touching them. Growing up in the deep South, Rogue’s mutant powers began to activate when she became close to a local boy named Cody Robbins. After almost killing him, Rogue ran away from home and eventually met with Charles Xavier. Since then Rogue has become an integral part of the X-Men team.
With her powers rooted in “intimacy,” Rogue finds it almost impossible to connect with people; whether that’s physically or emotionally. With the fear of hurting people constantly at the forefront of her mind, Rogue feels as if she’s forced to become isolated.
Rogue also has a history of adopting negative aspects of other people’s personalities, especially when she becomes close to them. With so much turmoil inside Rogue, it’s difficult for her to know what her own personality is, which has proven costly on several occasion for both herself and those around her.
7. Scarlet Witch
Scarlet Witch is one of the most feared beings in the Marvel universe. Along with her twin brother Quicksilver, she shares the DNA of her father, the powerful mutant Magneto. Scarlet Witch draws many of her abilities form chaos magic; this gives her the ability to use hexes and manipulate probability, as well as flight, telepathy and many more. She has even been known to cross dimensions! All of this makes Scarlett Witch a hero not to be messed with.
However, her mental state and her grasp on reality have long been questioned, by hero and villain alike. The abandonment by her father at such a young age and her mutant powers that rely on control and equilibrium, often create a struggle with in her. This is one of the reasons that Scarlet Witch has been known to switch sides between good and evil. Never knowing where she fits in, as she is unique, upsets her emotional and ethical state. This point was proven with a story arc in which Scarlet Witch wiped out mutants with just three words. “No more mutants.” She is unstable to say the least.
6. Hank Pym
Creating the “Pym particle,” Hank Pym is able to manipulate atoms and change their shape and size. As Ant-Man, Pym became and integral part of the Marvel universe as he and The Wasp became the founding members of The Avengers.
Hank Pym has always struggled with an inferiority complex and often felt inadequate; especially compared to his fellow heroes such as Thor, Ironman and Captain America who each possessed more power than him. This lead to several absences from The Avengers, as Pym tried to find peace within himself. It didn’t last long and Pym craved to be back in the hero game. However, each time he returned he adopted a new persona, each one with its own powers, personality and character traits. From Ant-Man to Giant-Man, Goliath to Yellow Jacket, Pym constantly tried to re-invent himself in order to fill his emotional void.
It wouldn’t be long until his different personas started to separate themselves into individual people, leaving Pym on the brink of schizophrenia and split personality disorder. In particular, it was his incarnation as Yellow Jacket that broke Pym’s psychosocial state of mind. Having left The Avengers again, Pym returned as the cocky Yellow Jacket, claiming he had killed Ant-Man and wanted to replace him in The Avengers. When Wasp realized it was Hank Pym all along, Yellow Jacket’s mental problems started to turn to anger. Later he would strike Wasp which would lead to his ultimate demise, being expelled from The Avengers and suffering a complete mental breakdown.
5. Professor X
The leader of the X-Men is often thought of as the voice of reason and compassion within the X-Men universe. As the mutants and humans often engage in war and conflict, Professor X is often in the middle, striving for peace and equality.
Charles Xavier’s mental condition can partly be blamed on traditional means. Suffering from severe depression after his father died, it worsened after his mother re-married and Xavier was emotionally abused by his step farther and step brother. As well as having a traumatic childhood, Xavier also suffered from heartbreak. After meeting fellow genetics student Moira Kinross, he fell hopelessly in love and the two planned to marry. That is until she broke it off! After such a rough ride in life, depression would be a natural state of mind.
However, for a man that has power over other people’s minds and psyches, it can often take control over his own mind, manifesting itself as serious split personality disorder. This is what happened when Professor X created the alto ego Onslaught. Onslaught completely took over Xavier, making him devious, secretive and a sociopath without any regard for anyone else. He even had detailed files on how to destroy any hero and mutant.
4. Iron Man
The poster boy and face of The Avengers, Tony Stark is the billionaire philanthropist who wants to make the world better and safer.
As well as being a complete egomaniac and possible sociopath, as he often puts others at risk by charging off to face the villain, Stark also suffers from a severe case of Existential Dilemma. His constant battles with higher or more powerful beings leaves him with a sense of inadequacy that he can’t shake. This pushes him harder and further to develop more advanced high tech weapons in order to feel safe.
Thinking also about his own mortality and legacy, Stark’s ethical views and desire to control the world around him often push him to make the wrong choices. Add to that an estrangement with his parents, in particular with his father, you then have a man who spends most of his life inside a solid metal suit. After all, it’s the only place he can feel safe.
3. The Incredible Hulk
Taking inspiration from the Super Soldier serum that was used on Captain America, Bruce Banner used gamma radiation in an effort to advance the process. However, the experiment went wrong and Banner was exposed to the gamma radiation which transformed him into the unstoppable Hulk.
We have a classic case of repression and split personality disorder here. When a young Bruce Banner is constantly mentally and physically abused by his alcoholic father, it leaves emotional scares within Banner, causing him to avoid conflict and represses all emotions. Not only that, but signs of an early split personality can be seen in a young Banner. It seems that this is the only way he can deal with his childhood.
With the aid of a gamma radiation, Banner literally goes “bang,” creating a serious split personality in which one side is meek, quiet and emotionally repressed, while his alto ego is pure anger and rage, with no thought or understanding of what is going on around him. The two sides to Banner aren’t just different personalities but they are different people, neither one having memories or feelings about or towards the other. Hulk’s childlike state and simple way of thinking is also Banner’s repressed childhood coming to the foreground.
Firstly, some may argue that Deadpool isn’t strictly a hero. That’s certainly true in the traditional sense of the word. However, as he often teams up with such hero groups as the X-Men, it’s only fair that Deadpool is included. The “merc with the mouth” has the power of regeneration and puts those powers to good use as a hired mercenary, an assassin and very occasionally, a hero.
If there’s one comic book character that epitomizes what it means to have psychological disorders, it’s Deadpool. With a life that has involved deadly government missions as well as being tortured to the point of death in order to activate any mutant genes he may have, Deadpool has been pushed to the very brink, both emotionally and physically. With all of this, you may well forgive Deadpool for losing his mind slightly.
However, the psychological state of Deadpool ticks every psychologist’s panic boxes, with serious schizophrenia, multiple personalities, psychopathic tendencies and more emotional baggage than you can shake a stick at! However, with the ongoing mental struggle that Deadpool goes through, he finds it difficult to cling onto any kind of reality. Resulting more often than not in harm or even death, to his fellow mutants.
Probably the most famous and popular comic book character of all time, the most notable thing about Batman is the fact that he battles with criminals and even super powered villains, without the aid of super powers.
When a young Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents being murdered, it made him fearful, scared and all alone. Post-traumatic stress and depression are expected after such an ordeal. However, how Bruce chooses to deal with that is not a typical response.
Adopting the lifestyle of a nocturnal loaner, he pushed further away from humanity at a time when he needed it the most. Vowing for vengeance on the criminals who took his parents, Bruce learned all the skills necessary to take his vengeance. However, the life of a vigilante that’s fuelled from such a dark place is going to have an effect of your psychological state.
His depression grew and his alienation from the world became more distant. Seemingly the only contact and relationships he could maintain were as Batman and not Bruce Wayne. Batman became a more dominant side to him, resulting in a mild split personality disorder. As well as this, Batman may also suffer from Munchausen bi-proxy. As he struggles to connect with people, the only way he knows how to is to save them.
Unfortunately this can have a damaging effect, as Batman often pushes his companions into situations they can’t handle in order for him to save them. This was the case with Jason Todd. The second incarnation of Robin faced the Joker alone and was beaten to death with a crowbar. Batman was too late to save him, but it was Batman that pushed Todd into that situation in the first place. Maybe a stint in Arkham could help the Dark Knight?
Sources links: dccomics.com, marvel.com, psychcentral.com