Good news Everyone! Modern psychiatric medicine has clearly solved all the real world issues and can now start to tackle the world of comic books. Forensic psychiatrists H. Eric Bender, Praveen R. Kambam and Vasilis K. Pozios have used an opinion piece published in the New York Times to call on DC Comics to use the New 52 reboot/relaunch as a means to change the way mental illness is portrayed in funny books. It is an interesting, if not weird, read that focuses on the heart of madness in the DC Universe. The Batman family and it’s bat crap insane cast of characters:
“Comic books have long relied on mental disorders to drive their most memorable villains. Consider the Batman line, in which the Joker, Harley Quinn and other ‘criminally insane’ rogues are residents of Gotham City’s forensic psychiatric hospital, Arkham Asylum.
Introduced in 1974, Arkham grossly confuses the concepts of psychiatric hospital and prison. Patients are called ‘inmates,’ decked out in shackles and orange jumpsuits, while a mental health professional doubles as the ‘warden.’ Even the antiquated word ‘asylum’ implies that the patients are locked away with no treatment and little hope of rejoining society.
Contrast that with real-world forensic psychiatric hospitals, where patients are typically incompetent to stand trial or judged not guilty by reason of insanity. These individuals are not inmates, since they have not been convicted of crimes and are not incarcerated.”
Well now, that would sure put a damper on the rather popular video games Arkham Asylum and its forthcoming sequel Arkham City. Witness, thrilling bullet time word association action! Can you administer the proper dosage of Zoloft® to the Mad Hatter before TV time? Witness the daring self-check out of Mr. Freeze after a successful 3 month treatment for his separation anxiety!
This dynamic trio also go after the past 75 years or so of comicdom for misdiagnosing or misrepresenting various mental disorders and using the catch all term ‘lunatic’ to explain why someone would, say dress up like a calendar and commit crimes:
“What’s more, when contemporary psychiatric terms or disorders have been used in stories, they have been misapplied to explain villainy. As Grant Morrison, a well-known comic author, wrote recently, ‘The rest of Batman’s rogues’ gallery personified various psychiatric disorders to great effect: Two-Face was schizophrenia.’ But Two-Face’s central quality, a split personality, isn’t characteristic of schizophrenia. Similarly, the Joker is often called ‘psychotic,’ despite a lack of hallucinations or other symptoms of a psychotic disorder.”
Alright, maybe this is a good point. Good research is a writers best friend and only helps tell the story. Rather than saying the Joker is a clown painted psychopath, list Antisocial Personality Disorder at the top of his laundry list of looniness. (That last bit is the first time I have ever used 3 years worth of Psychology classes, thank you Bachelors degree!)
So, how can DC Comics right decades of wrong dolled out to the innocent reader looking for more realistic depictions of mental illness?
“To start, writers should stop overemphasizing a link between violence and mental disorders to explain criminal behavior.
“Moreover, accurate portrayals of symptoms should be paired with correct terminology to describe them. For example, writers might refer to the Joker, frequently depicted as lacking empathy and being a pathological liar, as ‘psychopathic,’ rather than ‘psychotic.’ In comics, these and other psychiatric terms are casually interchanged; in psychiatry, they are drastically different.
“And disorders should not always define the character. For DC’s Starman, schizophrenia was just one aspect of this superhero’s life. More balanced depictions should show characters with mental illness coping with concerns common to us all, hero or villain.”
Fiction has long used mental illness as a bit of a MacGuffin for villains and heroes alike. Would you be ready for a more clinical approach? Batman’s clear obsessive–compulsive disorder gets to the point where every time he walks into the Batcave he has to flick the light switch on and off 3 times, just so the latest Robin doesn’t die? Superman, gripped with agoraphobia remains in the Fortress of Solitude for weeks at a time? A manic depressive Bane, poised on finally placing all of Gotham under his booted heal… if he could just get out of bed in the morning?
Nah, that’s just crazy talk.