Once upon a time, Batman saved my life.
It wasn’t one of those dark alley things. He didn’t swoop down from a rooftop and save me from the Joker or a crazed bad guy with a knife. But, Batman saved me. Robin was there, too. I might not be writing this today without the Caped Crusader and Robin, the Boy Hostage. Simple fact of life.
Now, some of these things I have already mentioned in my essay published in Chicks Dig Time Lords (Ed. Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis), but this is different. This is the dirty version of the tale.
I have a laundry list of issues. It’s nearly impossible to name them off without sounding like a hypochondriac or an old woman. A severe panic disorder, deep depression, a sensory processing disorder, autism, and asthma so bad I spent three weeks in the hospital when I was fourteen after it was complicated by a severe allergy attack, and it took me nearly a year to recover from. And once I destroyed every tendon in my leg playing tennis in gym class. Yup. Gym class. It wasn’t even real tennis.
That’s one part of the equation. School was difficult, nigh impossible with a sensory processing disorder, and the ability to pick up subtext around my peers. I had numerous problems at home, probably for the same reasons. I was sick, a bit of a weakling, and my depression raged out of control. And high school being as it was, I was severely lacking in the friend department. I spent most of my time wanting to cease existing.
This is the era of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the jaded Gen X-ers, and when hating things was both a sport and an artform. A perfect storm to feed my suicidal thoughts and tendencies, in a world where no one noticed me, and it seemed like no one cared. I had trouble in class, and I felt like my pain was absolutely visible on me, and no one reached out to help.
My freshman year of high school started out hopeful for a fresh start, but by my sophomore year I was teetering on the edge of self-destruction.
Right around then, DC Comics started a storyline called Knightfall. The short of it: the deconstruction of Batman by putting him through endless trials with no rest or relief.
That was something I could identify with. Heavily.
A villain had come from practically nowhere, and had brought Batman’s world into chaos. He’d busted all the inmates out of Arkham Asylum, leaving Batman to put the rogues gallary back behind bars, all the while dodging all the obstacles that the major villain had put in place for Batman. It was difficult, it was painful, it was exhausting, and it never ended.
This wasn’t just an allegory for my teenage life. I was living it. The world was too bright and loud, constantly crushing my senses. My sleep problems were perpetual and it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other every day. But Batman did it, day and night, getting psychopaths off the streets to keep them from harming people en masse. This is the first lesson taught to me by Knightfall: you can keep going, no matter how painful, if you must. Your will is stronger than the rest of you, and it can keep you carrying on well past the point when others would have quit.
It took me nearly twenty years of doing this to learn the flip side of this lesson: that while you can do this longer than you ever thought possible, human beings are not perpetual motion machines. We stop. We break; like the culmination of the Knightfall storyline, which saw Bane, the villain, breaking Batman’s back over his thunderous, muscled leg.
Sure, I had a nervous breakdown. But Batman kept me on my feet for nearly twenty years’ worth of misdiagnoses and mismanaged medications and therapies. It took me still another year to get through being broken, like Batman had gotten through. It wasn’t easy, sometimes it felt like I would never crawl out of that pit, but eventually I did. On the other side was actual real medical help for my actual real depression and debilitating anxiety.
I was finally, for the first time in my life, able to get up, and dust myself off, and move forward. Not with heavy shoes and feet that dragged across the floor with each infinitesimal step, but actually move forward. Actually walk. That’s not just metaphorical. I also got better asthma meds, and was able to finally walk a significant distance without having to use the nebulizer due to my airways constricting.
And after, like… twenty four or thirty-six issues of side-stories and actual stories, and a year of real time, Batman got up and carried on. He beat the crap out of the ally-gone-rogue who had taken his place as Batman, and he’d reinstated himself as the Dark Knight. Sure he had help from this doctor with, like, magical healing powers, but it’s comics and what do you expect? Still: Batman got back in the cowl in the end, and carried on with a new beginning.
Why am I bothering with this? A lot of reasons. I’ve said before that comics and superheroes are our modern mythology. The point of a mythology is that it resonates with us on some deep level. It makes sense to us, speaks to us, asks us to do better, and changes us. Sometimes it’s something hopeful to latch onto, or just a lifesaver to clutch onto when the stormy waves crash over us, and we’re all alone and lost at sea.
(A++, super metaphor, would use again)
What I’m saying is: I think we all need that. We all need to know we can persevere. That we can affect the world for the better. That the path to doing the right thing will not be easy, but it will be worth it. And, as in the case of Peter Parker, sometimes we create our own problems.
This isn’t just a message for white dudebro boys from the suburbs (the 14-36 target audience of comics, tv and movies), that’s a message for everyone. Everyone deserves that message. The mixed race child in the inner city needs to know there’s a Miles Morales inside of him. The latino kid in the desert deserves to know there is a Blue Beetle waiting for them. That people with disabilities can still be heroes like Barbara Gordon and Hawkeye. That they won’t be left out of being a hero if they’re LGBT. Those are messages for everyone, regardless of your race or sex or background. And it isn’t just that everyone deserves those messages. And sometimes they need those messages: the typical comic fan needs to see that people that aren’t like them can be heroes, too.
‘Til Next Time,
–Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian