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Su­per­hero Ther­apy

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - BY AUTUMN NOEL KELLY @au­tumn­noelkelly

Tom King Knows from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence how much of a toll daily ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence can take on a sol­dier. A for­mer CIA op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer who served in Iraq, King re­turned from war and had his own men­tal health cri­sis. “I was bro­ken,” he says. “I didn’t re­al­ize how brit­tle I was. I couldn’t catch my breath.”

The or­deal has given King, now a writer at DC Comics, a new out­look on the su­per­hero genre. The stan­dard hero has at least one im­pres­sive su­per­power—the Flash’s speed, Won­der Woman’s strength, Su­per­man’s im­per­vi­ous­ness to bul­lets. But these heroes also clash fre­quently, and vi­o­lently, with evil vil­lains. In the past, these en­coun­ters haven’t caused them much emo­tional dis­tress. Why not?

King’s an­swer is Heroes in Cri­sis, a new series from DC Comics that fo­cuses on su­per­heroes who are re­cov­er­ing from trauma. Most of the ac­tion takes place at Sanc­tu­ary, a cri­sis cen­ter for su­per­heroes, which helps them come to terms with the men­tal and emo­tional wounds that in­evitably re­sult from their com­mit­ment to a life of bru­tal­ity. Sanc­tu­ary was founded by Bat­man, Su­per­man and Won­der Woman; when the series starts, they’ve been op­er­at­ing the cen­ter for five years.

Although ther­apy is the main theme, Heroes is still a story about peo­ple who can fly and shoot laser beams. The ac­tion starts with a mas­sacre by an un­known as­sailant who man­ages to in­vade the heroes’ safe space. Bat­man—who had his own child­hood trauma in wit­ness­ing the mur­der of his par­ents—strug­gles with the grief of see­ing his su­per­hero friends mur­dered and his de­sire for re­venge. “Our hope for re­demp­tion is now just an­other hunt for vengeance,” he says.

Heroes in Cri­sis is a fresh look at the nor­mal­iza­tion of hy­per­mas­culin­ity, which leaves no room for emo­tional vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Mil­lions of adults in the U.S. suf­fer from anx­i­ety disor­ders, but movies and TV shows too often equate vul­ner­a­bil­ity with weak­ness. “That’s ac­tu­ally not what sci­ence tells us,” says Vivec Murthy, for­mer U.S. sur­geon gen­eral. “It’s not what elite ath­letes tell us, and it’s not what the most suc­cess­ful peo­ple in the world tell us.”

In Heroes in Cri­sis, emo­tions are some­thing you pay at­ten­tion to rather than sup­press. “You can’t live a life of vi­o­lence and not feel it deep in your heart and your soul,” King says. “My pain is my strength.” GRAPHIC VI­O­LENCE DC char­ac­ter Har­ley Quinn in King’s new Heroes series, il­lus­trated by Clay Mann.

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