Mental health often plays an important role in Marvel Comics, but not all portrayals are accurate. In most instances, a villain is deemed “insane,” promptly defeated, and subsequently locked away. Rarely do characters with mental health conditions accurately portray those conditions, intended to raise awareness. Fiction in general has a complicated relationship with psychology, and Marvel’s fantasy and science-fiction-driven plot lines sometimes reflect a dated outlook.
Vulnerability is a delicate and uncommon thing for heroes. The negative stigma attached to topics of mental health has kept those topics from appearing in comics, and many heroes went through decades of unhealthy behaviors and traumas without discussing it much. Thankfully, as science progresses and information becomes more accurately accessible, character-driven stories have been able to accurately portray mental health conditions in several Marvel Comics.
10/10 The X-Men Battled Their Repressed Fears
Teams like the X-Men with variable rosters go through phases, constantly establishing trust with one another and fighting to prove themselves to the world. X-Men Annual #11 takes a new configuration of the team and seeks to explore its heroes’ repressed motivations. When a villain called the Horde sends the team to a pocket realm, they face carefully crafted illusions.
Psylocke’s skin falls away, Longshot loses corporeal form, and Havok and Rogue are literally frozen by doubt. Each is an accurate and touching portrayal of the factors that weigh on the team’s mental health at all times. After Logan achieves and subsequently rejects omnipotence, the team returns home to face what they’ve learned about themselves.
9/10 Big Bertha’s Behavior Resembled Bulimia
Comic books have an unhealthy relationship with bodily expectations, and Marvel’s Big Bertha was especially problematic. With the power to control her body’s adipose tissue, she loved a double life for a long time, fighting with the Avengers as Big Bertha and maintaining a modeling career as her day job.
Bertha’s transformations require behaviors associated with bulimia. She doesn’t eat in excess to grow, but she must induce vomiting if and when she decides to shed the mass, which is always disturbing and likely traumatic. Before she was comfortable as Bertha full-time, Ashley’s routine of vomiting to maintain a beauty standard had striking similarities to dysmorphic disorders, despite the drastic physical change it brought.
8/10 The Man Without Fear Has Other Feelings
Matt Murdock may be the man without fear, but he has long struggled with depression. Daredevil Volume 6, written by Chip Zdarsky sees his mental health decline after a long recovery process. With Kingpin serving as mayor and daredevil imposters galore, Daredevil struggles to regain his footing in Hell’s Kitchen.
In line with depressive disorders, Matt has trouble focusing and staying motivated. His self-talk is increasingly negative, and his agility is hindered to the point that street-level thieves are able to overpower and evade him. His intense feelings of guilt and his lack of self-concern make for an accurate portrayal of depressive conditions.
7/10 It’s Realistic For Ben Reilly To Dissociate
After everything Ben Reilly has been through and all the lives he’s lived, his resilience has proven to be his greatest power. With a mind full of borrowed memories and constant uncertainty about his own identity, he’s a relatively accurate portrayal of dissociative disorders.
In Ben Reilly: Spider-Man, written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by David Baldeón, Ben’s greatest struggle is with his identity. He says he doesn’t feel lonely but seemingly refuses to make friends. Shapeshifting clones, Peter’s villains, and thoughts of loved ones he never knew drive Ben to question his motivations as a superhero and his very identity.
6/10 Luke Cage Had Temporary Brain Trauma
Harlem’s home team hero for hire is a beacon for justice and kindness, representing the goodness in everyone. He fights for peace, controls his temper, and always goes out of his way to set an example for the youth of his community. Luke Cage Marvel Digital Original #1-3 sees that change due to CTE.
What the miniseries lacks in the story it makes up for with thoughtful consideration of mental health and masculinity. Luke learns that years of fighting have irreparably damaged his brain. New erratic behavior leads to bouts of intense self-doubt that he hides from everyone, including his loved ones. A lackluster resolution undermines the message, but the bulk of the series is pretty insightful.
5/10 Wolverine’s Memory Loss Makes Sense
Wolverine is Marvel’s resident old man, and his struggle to remember his past paved the way for the MCU. There are many explanations for the walls in James “Logan” Howlett’s mind, from injuries and side effects to consensual memory wipes. Or it could just be his age.
Human brains have unmatched storage and processing capacity, but they have limits. Memory worsens with age, and in Wolverine: The Origin, written by Paul Jenkins, Bill Jemas, and Joe Quesada with art by Andy Kubert, Logan’s birth occurs in the 1880s. To retain cognitive function 140 years later, it’s “realistic” to assume his healing factor erased the oldest and most traumatic memories to make room for the future.
4/10 Sleepwalker Was A Walking Sleep Disorder
Marvel’s so-called creepiest hero started his crime-fighting career on earth in the body of Rick Sheridan. By day, Rick goes about his life as usual, but a very real alien haunts his dreams. While Rick sleeps, the Sleepwalker takes to the streets to battle whacky evildoers.
None of this is great for Rick. In the first few issues of Sleepwalker, written by Bob Budiansky with art by Bret Blevins, Rick presents all the signs of a serious sleep disorder. He falls in public but can’t get any real rest. The Sleepwalker isn’t responsible for Rick’s problems, and several dreamscape conversations lead him to a degree of control that aids the duo against some of Marvel’s silliest villains.
3/10 Hulk Can’t Smash All His Problems
Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk gave new life to Bruce Banner’s internal struggle when his personality split three ways in accordance with Freud’s concepts of id, ego, and superego. While not an accurate representation of how the subconscious works, the run has something important to say about mental health.
Hulk’s condition defies real diagnoses but has similarities to Dissociative Identity Disorder. As in some DID cases, fusing his personas together helps to treat his dissociation, but that doesn’t happen through violence. Hulk’s problems can’t all be smashed. Instead, introspection, conversation, and vulnerability save the day, and while Hulk’s actual condition may be problematic or inaccurate, the message that it’s okay to need help certainly isn’t.
2/10 Tony Stark Battled Alcoholism
Demon In A Bottle spans Iron Man #120-128, with story and art by David Micheline, Bob Layton, and John Romita Jr., and is a grounded and upsetting depiction of alcoholism. Tony Stark is a man with no superhuman abilities, leading Stark Industries and the Avengers. The pressure was already mounting and Tony was rarely shown without a drink in his hand when he was convincingly framed for murder.
What started as a few drinks to unwind became a necessity. He couldn’t work, think, or make conversation while sober. Thankfully Tony’s loved ones supported him, leading him to ditch the drink. The pressures a billionaire superhero faces aren’t universally relatable, but Tony’s path to alcoholism is a tragically realistic portrayal.
1/10 Spider-Man Dealt With Survivor’s Guilt
Many Marvel heroes have exhibited behaviors related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially those who maintain civilian identities. Peter Parker was Marvel’s poster boy for alter egos for a long time, and the amount of death and pain that surrounds him is staggering. Spidey stays friendly through it all.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Soul of The Hunter, written by J.M. DeMatteis with inks by Bob McLeod and pencils by Mike Zeck, is more than a ghost story. A funeral sends Peter into a spiral of survivor’s guilt that leads him to Kraven’s grave. He confronts his feelings and is only then able to work through the blame he feels for the deaths of his friends and enemies.
Next: 10 DC Comics That Accurately Portray Mental Health Conditions