In the world of comics, there are very few sacred cows.
Be it homicide, suicide, gang violence, cancer, domestic abuse, racism, sexism, or whatever other difficult to broach subject that plagues the modern world, the world of comics has probably talked about it. At length.
But one of the things that has a very stigmatized nature in our real world and has also not been as fully explored as some of the other topics I have mentioned has been mental illness.
Perhaps due to its sensitive nature, especially when you consider more severe forms of mental illness such as Schizophrenia(which I suffer from the Paranoid variety myself) or Dissociative Identity Disorder, which can literally prevent a person from functioning as a normal member of society, you don’t really see comics that really dive into the subject matter all that much.
That being said, there is have a very good example of a character who has been used as a vehicle for exploring mental illness in a very compelling way: Marvel’s Legion.
So, what about Legion, as a character, makes him so compelling?
Well, for starters, throughout the various comics that he has shown up in, we, as readers, are given very clear glimpses into Legion’s psyche. These glimpses, at least for a sufferer of mental illness like myself, give an almost peaceful reading experience. Not because seeing the inner horrors of another’s mind is a peaceful experience in and of itself, but because how it is portrayed so perfectly mirrors the real world experience that someone like myself might deal with on a daily basis.
It gives a sort of “tangible context”, as it were, to what is an otherwise mostly intangible suffering and allows one to find a bit of solace in ways that only a visual medium such as comics can. When something so nebulous and difficult to make others understand is so clearly and plainly illustrated on a page in your hands, it makes the nature of your illness seem that much easier to wrap your mind around and the illness goes from some sort of insurmountable peak to just another hill to climb in the journey for self-improvement.
Additionally, the way in which the overarching story of Legion’s development as a character has shown his growth from a young boy, almost incapable of coping (let alone controlling) the swirling maelstrom of his own mind to becoming an adult who, while not in full control of his abilities and personalities, definitely has a more firm grasp on everything that the child version of himself did.
Though it seems so simple, this incremental growth from powerless to powerful makes for an amazingly compelling character. Seeing a character grow and change for the better as they experience new things and said new things allow them to internalize experiences from their past in different ways – ways that allow them to improve – is always going to be compelling to an audience.
Growth of character and being able to see said growth is one of the most human things that we can apply to a non-fictional character. It makes the fictional almost feel real and that “realness” engages you and allows you to suspend your disbelief about a character who can literally bend time and space to his fucking will and view him as a friend going through hard times and learning how to deal with the issues he has.
And I think it says a lot about how well a character is written when you can feel bad for a guy who literally has the power of a god, so long as he can keep his 200+ personalities in order and not succumb to any of the ones who desire to take control of his body for their own goals.