Sometimes I get the comment that the things I’ve been working on with the Heroic League Project are too hard for many people to understand. At it’s core, the Heroic League Project is about super heroes and costumed vigilantes. People with extraordinary powers and abilities or a sense of doing good in the world, even if that means breaking the law. But the aspects of masks creates something a bit deeper than that, and it’s important to reflect that because often times the reader is someone who can relate to a situation.
Masks are used to hide identities from authorities, to create a different persona. In the Heroic League Project there are some of the characters who don’t wear masks, such as Britannia, who lay their lives bare before the world and have no fear of reprisal. But there are others who do wear masks and hide a lot not only from the world, but also from their own friends.
Depression, living in the closet as a homosexual, lesbian, or transgender person, and many other things that people do hide from the world. These are like masks, and the people who wear them do have some dark secrets they aren’t prepared to share with the world.
Yellow Jacket, Yellow Jacket II, Bowhuntress, Canadienne, Acadia
These five characters represent different aspects of the LGBTQ community. Yellow Jacket is a closeted homosexual who takes almost twenty years to finally admit to himself about his own sexuality. He grew up reading and being inspired by the tough cop/tough private investigator. The qualities of what it meant to be a man. But never once did any of those inspirations admit they are gay, so Yellow Jacket not only wears a domino mask, but he hides his own sexuality. Not only from the world, but from himself as well.
Yellow Jacket II is a trans-woman. Born the son of Yellow Jacket, she comes to terms with her own identity at a very young age. It’s not clear sailing, to say the least. But her friends at least know that she’s trans. She’s a bit more open about it than her father was about his own sexuality.
Bowhuntress is a black woman, a Catholic, and a lesbian. She’s also a prosecuting attorney for the city of Ravenport, Maine. Her mask is sometimes a bit more difficult to see, because the one she puts up isn’t so much to the outside world, but to the institutions she has become a part of. As a member of the Catholic church, she doesn’t speak of the fact she’s a lesbian. As a black woman, she knows the hardship that women like her face everyday. Only as a prosecuting attorney does she get any respect at all. And as Bowhuntress, she’s seen as a criminal who needs to be put down, even if she is partners with Free Spirit, whom many see as an inspiration because she wears the colours of Old Glory.
Canadienne and Acadia are different types of masks. They’re both very open and accepting of their own sexuality. It may have a lot to do with the fact they are in the spot light a lot. Canadienne is the lead guitarist of a Montreal metal band, and Acadia is the band’s drummer. Canadienne and Acadia are lovers, and they do not hide this fact. But they still wear masks to hide some secrets from the world, only exposing those secrets to each other and their very close friends.
Depression, PTSD, and other forms of mental illness also have their own set of masks. Thanks to societal stigmas, mental illness is seen as something bad, something that needs to be hidden away. In comics we often get this in the criminals that are taken down by the heroes. The Batman and his rogues gallery is a prime example. Batman’s not being helpful with those criminals he takes out, because he’s not facing the real problem. That being the mental illness that many are affected by. Though, admittedly there isn’t much hope for the Joker.
One of the best examples of how to deal with a mental illness was shown in the Justice League Unlimited episode, Flash and Substance. In it, we’re introduced to members of Flash’s rogues gallery, all complaining how the Flash stops them at every turn. Even the Trickster tries to add his own distaste for this, but continually gets cut off from the others. After Flash, with help of Orion and Batman, meets with Trickster in a shady bar to find the others, Flash has a conversation with Trickster.
The Flash: James, you’re off your meds, aren’t you?
The Trickster: I’m better off without them. Take ’em if I start feeling down.
The Flash: You know that’s not how the medicine works. You’re not well.
The Trickster: I’m fine! You want to throw some darts?
The Flash: No. Listen, James, you’re wearing the suit again.
The Trickster: I am? [looks at himself] Well, what do you know?
Flash doesn’t belittle Trickster, nor does he get into a big punch up with him. He treats him with respect and treats him as a human being and shows concern for him.
The Flash: Here’s the deal: you tell me where those guys went, and I promise to come visit you in the hospital. We’ll play darts! The soft kind.
The Trickster: Okay. They’re going to ambush you at the Flash Museum.
The Flash: See? That’s all we needed.
Granted, this type of thing doesn’t work with every villain, but it causes Batman and Orion to pause and realize that not all methods work the same way. This was a good example of how to deal with a mental illness.
Villains aren’t the only ones who deal with a mental illness. In recent months it’s been revealed that people living in inner cities across North America are dealing with the same conditions as veterans returning from combat situations. They are affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One can only imagine in a comic book universe that members of the X-Men at one time or another had to feel the affects of PTSD. Some still might, considering many enter into combat situations.
I’m even opening that up in the Heroic League Project. Super heroes and costumed vigilantes who deal with mental illness on a day to day basis and wearing a mask helps them deal with it in a way. Helping people helps them heal their own mind. Or in some cases, makes things worse.
Comics shouldn’t exist in a void. The examples of story writing are all around us. It’s called real life, the greatest inspiration in the world.