Lost Imaginations

Read. Write. Rest.

Hero vs Villain


In “Power Like This,” Action Comics #1054 (2023), the villain, Metallo (John Corben) has kidnapped the Super Twins and threatens to kill them as revenge for losing the only family he has left; his sister, Tracey. However, this Metallo is different from the villain fans are used to reading in DC Comics. Instead, he is a supped up version of his former self, allowing him the ability to control inanimate metallic corpses.
            Upon arrival into Corben’s death den, Superman immediately notices a difference in not only Corben’s abilities, but also his behavior. Rather than enter the room swinging fists to save the War World refugees, Superman tells Metallo, “Something’s affecting your mind. Maybe even controlling you. Let the kids go. I’ll help y--.”
Witnessing Superman’s concern for his well-being rather than anger for the actions of the villain makes Corben more enraged. Metallo drops the twins from his grasp and yells, “This is your fault! You’re no hero! Nothing like us ever could be! No livin’ thing’s supposed to have power like this! Don’t you know that?! No matter that good-guy act you put on; how pretty your stupid face is; how many people cry for you to save’em; you’re just as much a monster as me!” Yes, this is a fictional story in a superhero comic book. However, the interaction between Superman and Corben is very representative of differences between the thinking of victims and survivors.
While both survivors and victims have been victimized, survivors seek healing, not only for themselves, but often for others as well. Victimization can cause feelings of shame and negative automatic thoughts that they are dirty, ugly, and incapable of being anything more than a villain because of what was done to them. These individuals can also suffer the cognitive distortion of “all-or-nothing thinking,” believing that all individuals who have been victimized in the same manner as themselves must also view themselves in the same way. These thoughts can make it nearly impossible for victims to believe that healing is possible for anyone who has been victimized. This view of themselves as victims can be seen in the fictional words of John Corben when he says, “Nothin like us ever could be,” a hero. Meaning no one like us can ever heal. No one like us, who has had our innocence stripped away can ever be anything more than a victim or a villain.
Unfortunately, perpetrators can also use the same language in an attempt to keep their victims under their influence of control. Perpetrators attempt to make those they have victimized into believing they are, “just as much a monster as me!” Healing, growth, and love are all off the table because as a perpetrator they may have also been victimized and never allowed the opportunity to heal. The words of perpetrators and the cognitive distortions of those have been victimized may appear at face value to be true, but they are not. Healing is possible and everyone deserves the chance to heal from their past trauma to become a survivor. Everyone. This does not mean refusing to hold individuals accountable for their pat actions. Instead, it means allowing everyone the opportunity to heal from their past trauma in an attempt to break the cycle of abuse and become better versions of themselves. This belief is what Superman embodies as a hero. Yes, Corben did something wrong by hurting others and deserves to be held accountable for what he has done, but everyone also deserves to make amends for what they have done.

Dear Susan: Mr. Moral

Hey Susan,
I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but these classes have been pretty draining. I drive by your office (at least where your office used to be) on Mondays and Tuesdays on my way to class. Each time I think about how I made the trek across the city once a week to sit in your office and try to feel better. To not hate myself. I still need some support and this seems like the best way to keep in contact with you, whether you’re here or not.
A lot has been going through my mind these last few months. Things I’ve wanted to talk about with you, but kept pushing it to the back burner. Hopefully, we get a chance to discuss all of them before the end of the year.
First, I’ve wanted to talk to you about Kendrick’s latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. I know you’re probably wondering who Kendrick is (with yo old ass). Kendrick Lamar is a West Coast rapper. He’s probably not your style of music. You definitely seem to be more of a Fleetwood Mac sort of girl. Lol. Just messing with you.
Anyway, in this album, Kendrick talks about sexual abuse of males, breaking the cycle of abuse, and being viewed as a savior. He begins to address the sexual abuse of males and breaking the cycle of abuse in his song, “Mr. Morale.” He raps in the chorus:
Shit on my mind and it’s heavy
Tell you in pieces ‘cause it’s way too heavy
My diamonds, the choker it’s way too heavy
More life to give on demand, are you ready?
Who keep ‘em honest like us?
Who gotta heal ‘em all? Us (Us)
When there’s no one to call
I’ve often felt this sense of grandiosity that Kendrick is describing here. It seems he is saying, he’s begun the healing process and has gathered a lot of information about what is needed to break the cycle, but feels the pressure of feeling as though he has to save those around him; his loved ones, his culture, his race. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s one I can relate to. It’s the definition of man vs. society. It’s a heavy lift that can drive any person crazy, but he attempts to heal himself and give information to others the only way he knows how; through his music. I’m sure it still does not feel like enough for him, because as a teacher and other it doesn’t feel like enough for me. It’s like yelling at a mountain to move while the ocean continues to rise, drowning you one millimeter at a time. It can be maddening.
He goes on to state, “Tyler Perry, the face of a thousand rappers, using violence to cover what really happened, I know somebody’s listening.” Tyler Perry was sexually abuse and assaulted as a kid and he has often talked about it, but what’s interesting is that Kendrick is saying the music industry is filled with male survivors who don’t / can’t / won’t talk about their abuse. All of them covering up their trauma in culturally acceptable ways of what it means to be a “real” black man. This means hurt those who hurt you, have a lot of sex, and embody what it means to be a purely sexual object rather than an individual who has the ability to be an intellectual, father, and so much more than the box they have been forced into.
These stereotypes are what kept me from getting the help I needed for so long. I didn’t need therapy or medication because I was stronger than that. I didn’t need to talk about my depression because who would listen anyway? And why talk about the sexual abuse when I spent the majority of my time telling myself it didn’t happen. All the while I questioned when did I lose my virginity and whether or not I was going to hell for having my virginity taken. Other black male survivors have been made to believe that having their virginity taken by an older woman is what makes you man and good at it later on. All of it makes me see how impossible it is to change the idea of male sexual abuse, assault, and rape.
Anyway, there was more I wanted to say about another song, but we’ll have to save that for next time. I have to plan this lesson for my students. We’ll talk more later.

Dear Susan (She-Hulk Episiode 4 Sexual Abuse)

Hey Susan,
            It’s been busy. Like, too busy, but not overwhelmingly busy. Actually, I take that back. Most definitely overwhelmingly busy, but that’s life, you know. If I don’t get it all done the world won’t end. I’ve seen when the world ends, multiple times, and the world still doesn’t end, you know. Even if the world ends the universe continues to expand. And if it all retracts into the Big Crunch, or it all comes to a screeching halt in the Big Freeze, then – well, who cares? Life will find a way.
            Anyway, have you been watching She-Hulk: Attorney at Law? I know you haven’t but it’s rude not to ask. I know you’re more of a Batman kind of girl. The reason I ask is because the fourth episode was really interesting. Well, Jennifer Walters, is trying to get a date. She creates an on-line dating profile and goes on one date with a guy who is completely narcistic. He looks at his phone she talks about her job as a lawyer, doesn’t acknowledge her when she states that she is She-Hulk, and makes her foot the bill. Finally, when she realizes she is not going to get any attention on her dating profile, she creates a profile as She-Hulk and suddenly is getting a lot of attention. The only problem is, all the guys she dates as She-Hulk are the same as the guy she went on a date with as Jennifer Walters. They are not as narcissistic, but they don’t care about having an honest conversation let alone an honest relationship. One wants to know how much she can bench press, another just wants to know about her powers. None of them want to get to know her, except one, Arthur.
            Arthur is a doctor who is attractive, attentive, kind, super buff, and honest. Everything she is looking for in a man. They hit it off so much they head back to Jen’s place to get more “comfortable.” While they are talking, Arthur accidentally spills some wine on his shirt, gets up to clean off the couch, and She-Hulk hides his shirt, making him continue the conversation in his tank-top. Unfortunately, she is called to go handle a demon problem with Wong (it’s better if you just watch the episode if you’re looking to understand the plot) and has to leave. When she returns, Arthur is reading a book about feminism on her couch. She drops down on top of him and without asking picks him up and carries him into the bedroom like a baby.
            The real kicker is when he wakes up the next morning, She-Hulk is gone. There is only Jen Walters, a person he has never met before that moment telling him that they had sex the previous night. She asks if he wants to stay and Arthur immediately leaves.
            What I found interesting about the episode is that Jenn treats Arthur the same way the narcissistic men treat her. She lies about who she is in order to get him into bed. She does not portray her true self, or let him know that she is also another person before having an intimate relationship with him. And when she reveals her true self after lying to get him into bed, he leaves and she is surprised and disappointed. I hesitate to say that this is an example of sexual abuse, but it’s damn near close. And it’s only Disney+! If this is the way sexual abuse is portrayed throughout society then we have a long way to go. And if we have this long of a way to go then what impact am I going to have on the conversation?
            Maybe this was intentional. Maybe the writers intentionally wanted to portray this scene in this way so that other would have this conversation. Maybe…right…. Maybe?

Dear Susan

Dear Susan,
Today did not go as planned. You remember those panic attacks I used to have early in the morning? Well, they’re back. I mean, not like they were early on, but I’m getting the shakes a bit in the morning from the anxiety of having to get up and do work that I don’t want to do, or don’t feel like doing right then. You know how I’m used to getting up early to either write, do school work, or workout. I’ve always been an early bird, but lately, I’ve just been so tired, you know? Before, I used to want to sleep just to push away the day, but now I come home and just want to take a nap. I guess that’s what it means to get old like you. Joking. But not really.
            I ended up not getting up at 4am like I used to. Sarah says I probably need to change my schedule and she’s probably right.
            It was raining and we got out the door late, but the difficult part day was when I got the email back about my classes. Nothing seems to be going right, you know. I thought I could take classes to become a psychologist and still teach, but now I’m having second thoughts. I mean, who am I trying to change what I am. The time of the classes doesn’t work out, I’ll fail if I’m late too many times, my schedule at school can’t change, and no one can cover my last period class every Monday. Yeah, they said they can switch me to a different class, but what about next semester? I know I’m fortune telling, but how is this going to work out. AND THEN eventually I’m going to have to miss an entire day of school for an internship, and then end up out of the classroom altogether for a semester? How is that going to work out? I know how you feel about education so I know what you’re going to say. Forget em.
            I don’t know, Susan. I feel pretty worthless and overwhelmed. Like I’m trying to do too much. New school, classes, writing, father, husband, and now probably helping with speech and debate. What am I doing?

Leaving My Paradise Island (Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman)

Leaving My Paradise Island (Autobiographical) [Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman]

“They say I have been so many things to them I never meant to be. But I am grateful all the same.”

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #750, “To Me” (2020)

Journaling has always been a part of my healing process. As a child, I consistently wrote about my thoughts on love, relationships, life, and trauma. Writing has always provided me an escape toward understanding myself and others. This first autobiographical chapter explains my exit from the Paradise Island of my childhood and the creation of my trauma mastery in an attempt to cope with the adverse childhood experience of my childhood sexual abuse. This chapter also includes the thoughts of my wife, Sarah, as she helped guide me toward the path of healing rather than coping with the trauma of my childhood trauma in adverse ways. This is done to help caregivers and survivors know that healing cannot be accomplished alone. Without Sarah’s guidance, this book (and all the others) would never have been written. She explains how, similar to Wonder Woman, she answered the call to help me battle my demons, leaving her Paradise Island to become my Wonder Woman.


I am a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse. At eight years old, I was sexually assaulted by my thirteen-year-old sister. For two years, while my parents believed I was being babysat while they went to work, or spent time with one another, friends, and family, I was being groomed through the use of pornographic videos and raped in the basement of our home. In my memoir,
Raped Black Male, I explain how for two years the sexual assault continued, until one day, after church, she told me, “We can’t do that anymore. It never happened, and if you tell anyone, you’ll get in trouble.” Afterward, I was confused, angry, and lived in a constant state of fear. For over twenty years of my life, I kept this secret hidden away and worked at building an armor of protection in the form of perfectionism, hypervigilance, workaholism, and humor in an attempt to feel safe.

On the outside, I lived under the façade of perfection. On the inside, I felt like anything but a hero as I battled anxiety and depression while attending Peoria High School, college at Bowling Green State University, and into my career as a secondary educator in Baltimore, Maryland.

After marrying Sarah and moving to Baltimore, the trauma of being raped as a child began to take its toll on my mental health. I remember morning panic attacks that would leave me incapacitated on the floor of the bathroom of our two-bedroom apartment, crying and repeating, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” Sarah would hold me in her arms, attempting to stop my body from violently shaking. Those mornings, I would force myself to put on dress pants, a button-up shirt, tie, dress shoes, and walk out the door to teach at-risk boys and girls who looked like me.

At the time, there were numerous reasons to not give up as a secondary educator. Although the job was difficult, I believed it was my responsibility as a husband for my newly formed family of choice to stick it out, no matter how difficult it was to work. Second, as a male teacher of color who suffered from the effects of an adverse childhood, I knew the high stakes of my job. I knew there was a necessity to be at school every day with an engaging lesson and a safe learning environment, because for most of my students, school was the only respite they had from a society that viewed them as an adult when they were only an eighth-grade student. School was their opportunity to eat a (usually) healthy breakfast and lunch. It also provided students with the opportunity to succeed, fail, and act with the carefree nature that should be the right of every child, rather than the responsibility of being the man of the house. These thoughts are what developed my attempt to master my own childhood trauma.

At the end of the workday, I would return home exhausted but also relaxed, knowing that for at least a few hours, the pressure of needing to perform the role of a man who had it all together could be locked away until the new day. At the time, I was in denial of my poor mental health and panic attacks from the previous morning. Sarah would attempt to coax me into discussing the severity of the previous morning, but I would refuse, claiming, “Everything’s fine. I’m fine.” Instead of discussing my emotions, I would visit the gym to relieve accumulated stress and anxiety. The lifting of weights and running on the treadmill would succeed in making me numb until the next morning when the cycle began again.
This was the cycle for the better part of the first years of our marriage. Over time, Sarah began insisting I visit a therapist. Rather than agree, I insisted we did not have enough time or money. To calm her down, I would say, “I’ll find one over the summer, I promise.” A promise that was never fulfilled, because with the heat of summer came the relaxation every teacher strives to reach throughout the haze of standardized tests, SLO’s, lesson plans, and parent-teacher conferences. For three months, the panic attacks would subside. The necessity of needing to relieve accumulated anxiety through the incessant running of miles on the treadmill would be no more, making the need for a therapist obsolete—that is, until the approach of September and the beginning of a new academic year.

For three years, I lived in a state of denial, perfection, hypervigilance, and workaholism that placed more strain than necessary on our marriage, causing my mental health to decline until it completely collapsed shortly after the purchase of our first home, the completion of my master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, and the birth of my daughter, Mirus.

As a child, I was sexually assaulted by my sister from the age of eight until I was ten, the victim of the domestic abuse and alcoholism of my father, and homeless following the foreclosure of my childhood home, all before the age of eighteen. Since then, I lived in a state of fear, coping with my childhood trauma rather than healing from it. This is because healing cannot take place in an unsafe environment. The uncertainty of my future as a college student and young adult caused me to exhaust my energy while attempting to survive. However, in 2013, that all changed. The purchase of our first home and a career that provided a livable salary made it possible to address the adverse childhood experiences of my past, and Mirus ensured I no longer lived in a state of denial.

With Mirus’s birth, there was no longer time available to spend hours in the gym numbing my emotions, afternoons lying in bed battling depression, or mornings on the bathroom floor battling severe anxiety about the unpredictability of teaching a new unit to loving (but very difficult) class of teenagers. Mirus needed to be fed, changed, bathed, rocked to sleep, entertained, and loved. Sarah, who is also an educator, had her own lessons to teach on top of the responsibilities of being a mother. Placing more pressure on our marriage due to my trauma and mental illness was not an option, but rather than talk about my emotions and seek help from a therapist, I suffered a mental breakdown.

Severe depression and thoughts of suicide left me unable to get out of bed. Unable to be ignored any longer, Sarah’s support guided me towards finding a therapist, getting on medication, and beginning the process of healing from my childhood sexual abuse. Over the years, I have learned to communicate with Sarah about how I am feeling, and we both are better at communicating with the other about what we need. We learned to lean on one another following the loss of her younger brother, TJ; the passing of our son, Cassus; the infection of the pericardial sack around my heart resulting in a viral heart infection; and stress-filled work environments leading to anxiety, burnout, and compassion fatigue. This guide is meant to help people like my wife and Susan Todd, my therapist, who are the wonder women in the lives of so many others who are battling to recover from the traumas of their past. I hope they find the support needed to take care of themselves while also helping others to heal and grow.