The Problems With Being “Hero”


Trigger warning: Mental Health

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, help can be found at or by calling the Helpline at 988.


“Torch Titan, how does it feel to know that you’ve saved the city once again?”

Smile. The expression is practiced, a twist of two little stretches of muscle. A testament to years of the spotlight.

I hope they don’t notice my lip shaking.

He bites down on it momentarily to still it, hoping that the cameras are positioned just far away enough not to catch it. They always are. Teams of PR people and government advertisers always on retinue, a shield to keep the public from seeing that maybe their perfect heroes weren’t so perfect after all. When he went on air, he wore two masks- the one made of shining fabrics, and the more important one that was created with the help of willpower and a daily dose of diazepam. Both stretched over a chiseled face that led down to a costume-clad, equally chiseled body.

That smile stays stretched for a moment too long and he panics, anxiety kicking in as he tries to look serious, to not be caught momentarily imperfect by the reporters clustered a few feet away. Almost to distract, he winks at them, lighting one fist on fire to give a more impactful thumbs-up.

“I’m just glad I can keep the people safe.”

That’s a good enough answer. They won’t think I’m faking, right? They’ll stay confident that it was perfect, that nothing’s wrong, that their reliable hero is still here…


“Mr. Grimes, how do you feel after today’s incident?”

Smile. Not practiced. Natural. An instinctive reaction to try and cover the awkward spate of thoughts that popped up in response to the question.

A light smell of lavender, a cool, comfortable leather chair, a perfect 72 degrees and the man across from him, holding the stereotypical clipboard that he barely wrote on.

Mr. Grimes, known to the world as Torch Titan, was one of the early instances of superpowers cropping up. The phenomenon had quickly become an issue of national security, and the governments of the world had started drafting superhumans as a sort of police. Mr. Grimes had quickly been recruited as the “Torch Titan”, a man blessed with superhuman durability and flaming fists to boot.

He had also quickly proven that a specialized position needed to be created: the position of a well-trained, highly skilled superhero therapist.

The expectation of the mask in public, the persona. The inability to have a family or many friendships outside of the profession. The expectation to always be ready to use their lives as a shield between “evil” and the lives of millions of civilians.

The expectation to kill that evil if necessary.

“Mr. Grimes?”

He smiled again, almost mockingly.

“Horrible. You can’t imagine the smell of burning flesh, the screams, the realization that you did this. Even if they’re evil, monstrous killers blessed with power they should never have tamed, that all goes out the window when you watch a person curl up on the ground as their skin becomes ash and they scream their life away at you like you’re the monster.”

He was a man who was burnt out, cynical, anxious over his public role and terrified over his private thoughts. An hour of talking every few days would never be enough; the line of pill bottles on his counter wouldn’t be either. It was as though the world had thrown him a boat and failed to give him enough fuel to get back to land; what little the ship had on board barely moved it.

The hour ended the way it always did. He stood, the smallest of cracks coming from a back that had seen far more stress than its years demanded.

“Thank you.” A token phrase to be tossed to another token of the hero system’s self-preservation.

The therapist smiles. Replies the same way he always does, the way everybody involved knows that he’s told to say to try and prevent unpleasant events.

“My honor, Mr. Grimes. I’m just glad to try and keep you safe.”

There’s a sharp undertone, a message buried in that pleasantry. The intonation that the therapist was the defender, the line between the all-too-human heroes and the madness of death.

Grimes considered it now, staring out the glass panes that lined the wall. The office was on the eighth floor. Plenty of distance for a man to fall…

He shook his head, almost physically ridding himself of the idea. An acrid smell came from his side, and he realized that his hand had lit while he contemplated the drop, putting burnt holes in the houseplant that failed in its attempt to make the otherwise cold, functionally austere hallway interesting.

A body came around the corner, barely registering in time for him to put the flame out before it became a problem. Thicket, still in her uniform of rough green and gray, a small violet orchid meandering its way over her shoulder and along her back.

“Unusual to see you here.” Since you always get assigned to support. You don’t have to see or do anything horrific…

Grimes didn’t intend the words to be as harsh as they sounded, but Thicket wasn’t in a state to notice.

She shook her head.

“I’ve been making the wrong plants bloom as of late. Put a cactus in a civilian’s bandage instead of aloe… the higher-ups said to try the medication and the therapy before you cause us to go down in flames. Can’t have a symbol of peace and safety causing relations with the public to get prickly. Ha.”

The orchid curled, its roots digging into the fabric of her uniform as though it were hungrily searching for sustenance.

Grimes was also too tired to notice the tone, too tired to offer a nuanced response.

“Good luck.”

Then, just like anyone else, the “hero” clocks out and heads home.


A bowl of spaghetti in a store-bought sauce, some frozen meatballs and shredded cheese. Not much, but it was what he could stand to make. Even the urge to cook, something he’d loved before becoming a “hero”, seemed to have been sucked out of him. 

What was left was a symbol of justice and hope slumped on a couch, staring at himself on the TV screen. The living room was in that place between lived-in and a mess, curtains drawn over the windows to keep the light out. The couch was a testament to long hours spent on it, the lone chair’s back stiff with lack of use. On the wooden counter that ran the length of the room stood small empires of pill bottles, vying for territory against the general clutter caused by lack of motivation to clean- the pens and receipts, flyers and a small stack of books he hadn’t yet read. The mask that made him “Torch Titan” hung discarded on a small hook stuck to the wall, the kind you could get for cents at any hardware store. The rest of the costume stayed in a locker back at headquarters, but the talking heads had decided that keeping the mask nearby would be a “good reminder of what the heroes were fighting for”.

The news kept playing, a bunch of people who couldn’t say anything about his life praising him. Another attack by some “villain”, some comic-book horror smashing up buildings and demanding unmarked bills.

A ruin of a wall, clusters of criminals in black masks running in and out with whatever they could grab…

A villain with blades sprouting across their shoulders and arms, chopping a way further into the building…

Ruins of humanity on the floor, beyond saving, far beyond it…

Screams from the back of the building, more he couldn’t save…

The villains falling under his flame, the horrid screeching filling the air as they twisted into blackened lumps on the floor…

The reporters and crowds cheering, excited that he’d done it all, none of them knowing about the sleepless nights, the nightmares, the pressure to be perfect and the crushing feelings that came along with it…

A high voice took his attention back to the TV, a little kid on the screen cheering for his heroes, the rest of the family huddled close behind as though they were eager to be together or terrified to be apart.

Smile. Natural. Not a defense mechanism. A hero smiling at a boy who smiled at the hero, who idolized him, who could keep smiling because of him.

Tomorrow the hero will wake up and have to fight for motivation to get out of bed. He’ll down his meds with a meager breakfast, fight for the motivation to go to work, fight against the fears and anxieties plaguing him that the work only exacerbates.

Still, he’ll make it to work. He’ll go through hell to keep other people able to reach for heaven. He’ll put on a show of being perfect, strong, everything that anybody could ever need.

He’s not perfect. He has his problems, some small, some more immense than the average citizen can imagine. They don’t need to. He’ll shoulder them so that everyone else can smile freely, even if he feels he could die. He’ll go out and save people, he’ll inspire them, give them hope.

Somehow, he’ll find it in him to make it through the day.