"They're coming to take me away,
Haha, they're coming to take me away,
Ho ho, hee hee, ha ha,
To the funny farm
Where Life is Beautiful all the time
And I'll be happy to see
Those Nice Young Men In their
Clean White Coats
And they're coming to take me AWAY,
--Napoleon XIV (1966)
For well over half a century, superheroes have stood for the best humanity has to offer. As promoters of justice, fair play and civic-minded benevolence, these comic book champions were models of stable, mature adulthood.
That is, when they weren't losing their minds.
Oh, sure ... mental illness has been a common fixture of comic books since their inception, but it's been confined primarily to the supervillain community and its collection of Mad Scientists, Evil Geniuses and World-Conquerors. Their ranting, raving, robot-creating behavior easily qualified them for what mental health professionals commonly diagnose as "Crazy as an Outhouse Rat."
However, as insane as the bad guys could be, there have been many in the good guy set (including some of the biggest names) who've also gone for a ride on the Crazy Train at one time or another.
In addition to the rather obvious nuttiness of wearing garish costumes in public, superheroes have had a long, documented history of even more serious lapses in sanity. So, strap on your favorite straitjacket and let's explore this dark, forsaken ward of comic book history, shall we?
One of the most high profile heroes to pop a bolt was the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, back in Green Lantern #49 (1994). Overcome with grief over the destruction of his beloved Coast City, Hal does his best "Heeere's Johnny" Jack Nicholson face and destroys the entire Green Lantern Corps.
Of course, GL writer Geoff "Mr. Fixit" Johns recently explained away Hal's madness as the work of an ancient demonic parasite that infested his soul and warped his mind. You know, the usual reason for mental illness.
As one of the "big names" I mentioned earlier, they don't get much bigger than Batman. As vaguely psychotic as he's acted over the past several years (even decades), the cover of Batman #327 (1980) takes the Darknight Detective to an entirely new level of insanity
Then there was that other time Batman snapped, when Superman himself had to restrain "the mad manhunter" on the cover of World's Finest #182 (1969):
Judging from the packed stand of spectators in the background, preserving what little remained of Batman's dignity wasn't a high priority for Superman.
Next, we jump to the 1970s, otherwise known as The Golden Age of Crazy Covers. Perhaps taking a cue from Hollywood's new preoccupation with the darker, drearier side of the human condition, '70s comic book covers became a virtual parade of dysfunctional, mentally ill heroes.
On the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #150 (1975), the normally buoyant Spidey questions his sanity as a gaggle of supervillains descend upon him.
Web-head seems to have forgotten the 1970s Anniversary Issue Maxim that required all issues divisible by 25 to feature a portion of the hero's Rogues Gallery attacking or (at the very least) leering at him in the form of Floating Heads. As an aside, it should be mentioned that the mobs of villains appearing in anniversary issues were always much easier to dispatch, since they were typically just hallucinations or robot doubles.
Though technically not an anniversary issue, Captain America #162 (1973) finds Cap similarly tormented by a montage of supervillains (as well as his dead sidekick Bucky). Look behind Cap for the swirling concentric circles, the universal indicator of insanity!
Sadly, even the most brilliant superhero minds were susceptible to snapping, as Brainiac 5 demonstrates on the cover of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #256 (1979). Perhaps the remarkably dull cover design had something to do with Brainy's psychotic episode.
Not even gods were immune to the occasional vacation from sanity. Thor #180 (1970) shows the thunder god smashing the holy hell out of New York, with no regard for the assorted Marvel-style Hep-Cats, Dames and Everyday Joes below.
Normally cool and collected Barry Allen is awash in perspiration on the cover of Flash #256 (1977), perhaps overcome by shame having a supervillain named "The Top":
I ask you: what's more appealing than a psychotic Flash clawing at his sweat-soaked mask? Why, a funny animal in straitjacket, of course ... in this case Howard the Duck on the twelfth issue of his acclaimed solo-series (1977).
The Big Red Cheese not only gets the straitjacket treatment, but is also "analyzed" by a crew of Freud-like psychologists (and what appears to be a lone proctologist) on the cover of Captain Marvel Adventures #56 (1946).
Continuing the straitjacket theme, Justice League of America #81 (1970) features a distraught Superman dumping off a "hopelessly insane" JLA at the local Booby Hatch.
A few things to note:
- The depressingly authentic Institutional Pale Green chosen as the cover's background color.
- That adorable, tiny straitjacket on the Atom.
Though Superman appears to have escaped the madness gripping the JLA, he and his supporting cast had more than their fair share of visits to the Funny Farm.
Jimmy Olsen #102 (1967) confirms that dumping friends into the nuthatch is a common practice for Superman, though this time around Superman's diagnosis appears to be a little hasty....despite the silent approval of either Dick Cheney or Mikhail Gorbachev to his left.
Lois Lane, on the other hand, is convincingly cuckoo in this cover panel of Lois Lane #77 (1967), promoting "The Madwoman of Metropolis" story reprinted from Lois Lane #26 (1961).
Even Ma and Pa Kent went a little bonkers...okay, extremely bonkers way back in Superboy #100 (1962), believing themselves to be Superboy's Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara.
In fact, the combination of Ma Kent's bare thighs and that shockingly phallic mock-rocket has me questioning my own sanity at the moment.
While we're on the rather uncomfortable topic of phallic symbols, "Mad Killer" Supergirl is hurling what appears to be the detached manhood of some sort of giant mechanical being on the cover of Adventure Comics #420 (1972). "Jeepers, those Women's Libbers mean business!"
Moving on (mercifully), the Man of Steel had his own dark moment of the soul on the cover of Superman #321 (1978). It should be noted that the fantastic artwork of Garcia Lopez makes even the severe mental distress of a supermaniac a joy to behold.
While not specifically designated as such, insanity seems to be the only diagnosis that could explain Superman's Earth-smashing rage on the cover of Action Comics #435 (1974).
Unfortunately, this would not be the last time Superman's world would be rocked by mental illness. In fact, the most intense wave of insanity to date came over the entire Superman creative team of the early-to-mid-1990's as Superman's hair was allowed to grow to ridiculous (yet silky-smooth) lengths:
It should be noted that all four Superman titles at the time featured Super-Fabio...for well over three years!
Th-three years of my life! Room....spinning! The shame! The madness!
"They're coming to take me away,
Haha, they're coming to take me away,
Ho ho, hee hee, ha ha"