Perhaps an emotional support puppy could help Spidey de-stress.
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The superhero verse is packed with neurotic characters, from a guilt-ridden Captain America to an alcoholic Tony Stark to a Dr. Strange. But who gets the unwanted prize for the most neurotic superhero? For comic book experts at a San Diego Comic-Con panel on Friday, the answer was clear.
Spider-Man, who faced guilt and shame after his uncle’s death, has become the “neurotic superhero poster boy,” according to Travis Langley, speaker during Neurotic Superheroes and the Writers Who Love Them on SDCC 2021. Langley, author of nonfiction books like Batman and Psychology, echoed panelist Danny Fingeroth, who said the honor obviously went to Spidey.
“Spoiler alert, (it’s) Spider-Man, no wonder,” said Fingeroth, who was the longtime group editor of Marvel’s Spider-Man line of comics. “It had it integrated into its origin.”
The Neurotic Superheroes panelists and the writers who love them. Top row: Travis Langley, Danny Fingeroth, Louise Simonson. Bottom row: Bryan Q. Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, Marv Wolfman.
Screenshot from video by Meara Isenberg / CNET
SDCC went online last year in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and continued the format this year, offering free online panels on Friday on topics like the Fear Street trilogy, Rick and morty and this talk festival, where comic book writers and editors got together to discuss neurotic heroes.
Panelist Marv Wolfman, creator of The New Teen Titans comics, added that Peter Parker’s young age (aka Spider-Man’s secret identity) may have contributed to his neurosis.
“He’s going to assume that he was the one who screwed up,” Wolfman said. “It comes with how young he is, where he totally feels like he’s always being looked down upon. It’s his fault, it’s his problem.”
Neurosis is a mild mental illness that involves symptoms of stress, but it does not cause people to lose control of reality. Langley said that one definition of neurotic behavior could be when a person misuses defense mechanisms against stress. “Either they are using them too much, like constant denial, refusing to admit something to themselves, or they are not using them enough to protect themselves from stress,” he said.
Panelists who wrote comics were quick to admit that they toyed with their own problems in the superhero characters they created.
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“It’s really hard for your stuff not to flow through that person, because you think, ‘If I was in that situation, what would I do?’” Said Bryan Q. Miller, who was a writer for the television show Superman. Smallville and worked on DC’s Batgirl comics. “You can analyze that and make the character behave differently, but there is some element in those stories that has something to do with your own worldview or personal experience or neurosis.”
Langley said that in the 1960s, Marvel began bringing neurotic characters to life one after another, which was different than what people were used to in the comics. It began with The Fantastic Four in 1961, when Stan Lee “redefined comics by founding a team that struggled with recognizable problems.” Wonderful writes. Then there was Captain America, who felt guilty for the loss of his friend Bucky, then Iron Man and Dr. Strange, who both carried big egos.
Louise Simonson, who has worked on the comics Power Pack, X Factor, The New Mutants, Steel, and Superman: The Man of Steel, said she loves writing neurotic superheroes.
“If your characters have a happy life where they are just happy all day, you get bored with them very quickly,” Simonson said.
He said he believes that putting characters in difficult situations keeps the comic book reader engaged. Other panelists, including Fingeroth and DC comic writer Brian Michael Bendis, agreed.
“I always thought our job was to make people so mad at us that they would have to look at all the problems to see how we were screwing it up,” Fingeroth said. Bendis added, “(comic book writer) Greg Rucka said the best compliment you can get is when a fan comes up to you (and says), ‘Why do you hate this character ?!’ That means you are doing well. ”