This is what we know: The world has grown dark, and while we have reasons to fear we have the strength not to. There are heroes among us, to remind us that only from fear, comes courage. That only from the darkness, can we truly feel the light.
Every hero or villain has an origin story; it is what makes them the character we love or love to hate. Whether they became who they are by mere happenstance or by a handful of life-altering events, it is not hard to read through comic books and find these moments. More often than not, tragedy serves as the foundation for these stories. A common theme among the origin stories of the Justice League members is the loss of an important person or persons in their life and how they’ve coped with it, either in healthy or unhealthy ways. Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Clark Kent, and Victor Stone were all shaped into the heroes they are by experiencing the loss of someone close to them, and as a result, suffered survivor’s remorse. We’ll look at those losses, how they affected the heroes, and how they dealt with their survivor’s guilt. We’ll also explain how forming the Justice League was really an act of self-care, showing just how important mental health solidarity is, even to the World’s Greatest Heroes.
Bruce Wayne’s arc is built on the murders of his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. He would not be the hero he is without having witnessed his parents’ deaths. It is what drives him to make Gotham a better place. Unfortunately for Bruce, this would be the first of many times he would be sidelined by death. The loss of his parents ushers Bruce into a life of solitude, notwithstanding his relationship with Alfred. To cope, Bruce adopts needy children he sees himself in to join his fight to fix Gotham. One of the kids, Jason Todd, ends up being murdered by the Joker. Haunted by Jason’s brutal death, Bruce keeps the adopted boy’s Robin suit enshrined in a case.
Twice more we see Bruce impacted by profound loss – when Zod and Clark’s fight destroys one of Wayne Enterprise’s buildings in Metropolis, and when Clark is killed by Doomsday. Bruce built his whole case against Superman on the deaths of his employees, but more so on his own failure to reach them in time. Lex, as brilliant a villain as he is, uses Bruce’s guilt and unhealthy coping mechanisms and orchestrates more death to further fuel his hatred of Superman. We also get a glimpse of Bruce’s struggle in Justice League where, although he has found Diana, Barry, Arthur and Victor, he lets Clark’s death break him even further. He thinks the League isn’t complete without Clark and so he adds him to his museum of people he’s responsible for losing.
Bruce’s character has always been important to me because of his struggle with mental health – he lives only to be reminded of everything he has lost. Letting Wayne Manor whither away is a tangible example of the pain and loneliness he feels. He is known for personifying his pain through his reckless crusades, which does not go unnoticed by the people who know him best. In BvS, Alfred calls his crusade against Superman “a suicide mission”, and when Bruce points out that he’s older than his father ever got to be, Alfred responds that it was “not for lack of trying” on his part. Bruce is the Dark Knight not because his persona is a bat, but because he holds onto his darkness in ways other heroes don’t seem to do and operates more as a vigilante than a beloved hero.
Diana of Themyscira is no stranger to loss herself, having chosen to leave behind the Amazons and her mother Hippoylta in order help the world of man. Beyond the protection of her land, we see her struggle and fail to maintain her naiveté and innocence about the world and the shortcomings of man. Diana is helpless as she is forced to watch the man she loves, Steve Trevor, die. She would later have to deal with the loss of Steve’s team, all of whom became her friends as well and, though it was not mentioned outright, she outlived due to her immortality. These losses and the resulting survivor’s remorse was too much for Diana to handle. It took her away from the world of men and into seclusion until meeting Bruce. It takes seeing Doomsday’s destruction and Clark’s tragic death for Diana to finally bring herself back into the world.
As the Last Son of Krypton, Clark experiences loss on a level the other members of the League cannot understand. He spends his whole life as an outsider here on Earth, not knowing who is he or where he comes from. When Clark finally learns the truth of who he is, it’s bittersweet. All that is left of Krypton are stories of this once great planet that Clark will never get to experience for himself. However, Clark later learns that he was not the only Kryptonian to survive when he meets General Zod and his envoy of banished Kryptonians. Zod ends up being the first life that Clark has to take. That is hard enough on a person as it is, but it’s made worse for Clark by the fact that, while justified, he had to kill one of the last known members of his people.
While Clark doesn’t outwardly express his pain it still shows in many different ways. After failing to see the bomb rigged to explode in the Capitol, Clark flies to the mountains to be alone and to decide “should there be a Superman?” The guilt from not saving all of those people drives him to solitude. While in the mountains he sees a vision his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, and comes to the realization that whether human or hero, you can’t save everyone.
Victor Stone struggles with the loss of not only his mother, but his own concept of being human. After a fatal accident left Victor barely hanging onto life, his father used a Mother Box to reconstruct his bodyin the hope of saving him. While it did just that, it also severely affected Victor’s mental state because, along with losing his mother, he now has to adapt to being more cyborg than human. He has to mourn the humanity in him that was destroyed in the accident. Angry at his father for turning him into a cyborg, Victor is alone. When Diana meets with Victor to recruit him for the League she recognizes in him the same loneliness she herself has and tells him, “We need you Victor, and maybe you need us.”
There are multiple ways we‘ve seen our heroes dealwith guilt, depression, and loss. Some cope by secluding themselves, and letting the pain simmer and boil until it’s too much to bear. Eventually the pain will manifest itself, such as when Bruce made an insensitive comment about Steve to Diana and she shoved him with her inhuman strength. Another coping mechanism is suppression – burying emotions so far down that the pain hardly exists, making pain second nature. Bruce has perfected the art of suppression, normalizing the pain so that he can use it as the only fuel that keeps him going. Whichever way each hero copes with their pain, it seems to get easier for them once the League comes together.
It’s no coincidence “Come Together” by Gary Clark is on the soundtrack for Justice League as well as the tag line being “All in”. Each member of the League has their own struggles with mental health and they all manifest it in different ways. Furthermore, you can see how forming the League affects each member in positive ways. Bruce at one point sets off on a suicide mission to give the team a window to defeat Steppenwolf and in the end we see him back at Wayne Manor, getting ready to renovate and make room for the League. Diana finds the good in mankind once again. Victor learned to appreciate the second chance at life he was given. Clark, who lost his whole home planet and people along with it, found the family he didn’t know he needed. The League became about much more than saving the world – it became about saving each other.