Art is essentially a representation of reality. An artist sees reality, then perceives it with their own interpretation, putting them on paper or screen. This work is then reality seen through a person’s eyes, a point of view. But the final stroke is not done until people besides the artist experiences the art; with that, a prismatic effect transpires, with a singular point of view branching out to multitudes, as each and every one puts different meaning to the intended art. And all of it is true, so art is real, just not reality.
In comics, specifically superhero comics, an example of this literal representation is Darkseid. Darkseid is a fictional character created by the late Jack Kirby for DC comics in 1970. He is the quintessential supervillain. He is the devil. He is evil. Over the years, many writers have tackled this character in myriad ways, most notably Grant Morrison, who first coined the term “Darkseid is.” in 1998’s JLA Rock of Ages, and Tom King, who popularized it in 2018’s Mister Miracle.
It means many things to many different people. Some can interpret the term as Darkseid being God himself, “He Who Is.” But to me, those two words mean something more grounded. To me Darkseid is an omnipresent dread emotion; he exists as the evil in our lives, the chaos beyond our control, the dark desire within us all — Darkseid gives us a way to cope by being all the bad things that happen to us in real life — he is everything wrong with the world, the feeling we let in every time we notice our work’s way past deadline, the moment we realize our love is rejected, the hopelessness we embrace after we lose someone close to us; he is to blame, and we created him.
Fiction is real, they are not reality, but they are true — in their unique way. One of the main uses of fiction is escape, fleeting entertainment to distract us from the real world. But many works of fiction, including comic books, give us another use for its medium — a multidimensional mirror — giving us a way to see the real world from an outside perspective, not as a player, but as an observer. When looking at superhero comics, we look into these micro lives living an intricate fabricated reality that teaches us something about our own.
The same with language being real and representing real things; saying the word “sadness” creates images, feelings, in our hearts and minds, that are real and true. Darkseid is real and a symbolic representation of humanity’s self-hatred, self-destruction, self-deprecation. In the comics themselves, Darkseid’s sole purpose is to seek the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical key to submission, to dominating the entire existence to him — factual proof that reveals how faulty free will is, how better everything would be if only we would give in to his will, how life is all worthless, and how self=Darkseid.
How many of us have felt this urge, this demented darkness to give in, to give up? How many of us have wondered how easy it would be to let go?
The feeling doesn’t seem to ever leave. Sometimes evil feels immortal, forever. Sometimes all the truth we can see is that pain persists. But just like art, just like fiction, reality is relative to our perception, our interpretation, our point of view.
So what if Darkseid is?
He only is because we let him.
It’s easy to blame a “higher” power for all the troubles in life, to give a name to evil, but the truth is… real life just isn’t as simple as comic books. There are no clear supervillains, no reason nor equation that proves why we continue to fail, fall, and hurt. Comics are mirrors of our world, a lower dimension, things are rightly simpler there, and while we are cursed to cope with a more complex and frightening existence, we can choose to see this curse as a gift.
Call it mental illness or whatnot, I’ve felt depression, both long and brief. I’ve felt the loneliness of constant comparing with others, I’ve felt the self-hatred of being rejected job after job, and all the thoughts that people say are fake and lies were real to me… and the feeling that arises every time I realize that, this disconnect, is real as well. But I find we can learn from these superheroes; I’ve felt “Darkseid’s” grasp on me — the hole in things — the ever-encroaching void tragedy that birthed when I was. And in that moment I almost fell victim to “the Anti-Life Equation.” But heroes always win in the end, through struggle and strife, through unity, hope, love, and will; no matter how childish it seems to the real world, these things truly happen in the dimension of comic books. So I fought on, like they would, like they always do.
In 2009’s Final Crisis, Darkseid’s fall from grace as an idea god into material reality brings the final end to all things. Yet Superman simply sang a song of hope to the miracle machine that literally caused the story “to be continued.” Darkseid is omega, the end, and we are at the bridge between life and death, in a constant tug of war. I didn’t really realize that until I saw everything from the outside looking in; from above, the truth doesn’t seem so big and painful anymore, everything — even him — seems small.
So I’ve learned to fight depression like Superman has, with unyielding hope, and outsmart it like Batman has, with allies, partners, and perseverance. Now to answer the question of how comic books helped me cope with depression and even the nature of existence, it’s simple:
Darkseid is universal.
Mental illness is universal.
Pain, discrimination, hate, is everywhere, everywhen. It is.
But so is love, hope, compassion, joy, family.
Darkseid is depression. Darkseid is anxiety. Darkseid is loneliness. Darkseid is loss. Darkseid is.
But as the adopted Son of Darkseid/Super Escape Artist/Superhero/Mister Miracle said so nonchalantly: “We are too.”