The Patchwork Man: Ragman as an Avatar for Therapists

There are heroes you “get” right away, that connect with you on a level that is not just “hey, I like this character,” but rather, “hey, I see myself in this character. For instance, for me, it was Daredevil. A Catholic kid of a physically gifted single dad who, for whatever reason, cannot express himself physically in the same way, who has a strong moral code that he cannot seem to adhere to, and a temper he struggles to control? Yeah, I see that guy all the time in the mirror, thanks.

Others, however, come to you over time. You may enjoy them straight away, but that sort of molecular connection evolves and arrives over a span of time. It might even sneak up on you and envelope you until you catch on you’ve been relating to this character subconsciously for issues, for years, and the light did not click on until this very moment.

Ragman is one of those characters for me.

For those who don’t know, Ragman is Rory Regan, a Gothamite who’s family has long owned a sort of neighborhood consignment shop. In the initial Pre-Crisis incarnation, Regan’s father found 2 million dollars and attempted to put it aside for Rory so he could have a better life. Instead, gangsters tortured Mr. Regan and several of his friends to death to find out the location of the money. Rory arrives just in time to be electrocuted along with them but survives. He dons a rag suit to fight crime and finds the essences of his father and his friends absorbed into the fabric allowing Rory to tap into their skills—fighting like a boxer, tough as a circus strongman, and so on.

Just this month, Ragman has now been relaunched in the post-New 52 DCU as Rory Harper—not Regan for reasons as yet unclear—with a more Moon Knight-esque origin story. The first issue was promising but there has only been one so I have no idea if this Ragman will hold the same mirroring ability as the post-Crisis, Pre-new 52 incarnation.

That one hit stands with a brand new origin in 1991 in the version that I connect with. Instead of a suit of rags mystically endowed with the essences of five men, the costume was a kind of living being that, when donned by Rory, made him into a Tatterdemalion—think a Golem-like figure made of clothes scraps instead of clay. And the use of Golem was no accident as this updated version of Ragman was Jewish, a change from his pre-Crisis Irish American identity. Ragman now absorbed the souls of evil men into his suit and pulled power from them to make him a hero. As a result, it was a more complicated character with a higher supernatural vibe than he had previously possessed.

I came to Ragman years after his 1991 miniseries, with a passing familiarity with him through some Batman appearances and little else. However, as I entered the working world and began to accumulate more disposable income, the combination of his look and what I knew of his story drew me to him.

Around the same time, I began my life as a mental health professional. And that would prove to be the fertile ground from which the connection would spring

I was able to snag the RAGMAN limited with little effort and for extremely cheap. Shortly thereafter, Ragman joined with SHADOWPACT and became a part of the magic team coming out of INFINITE CRISIS. So when the BATMAN issues that featured Ragman proved a little hard to find, I didn’t spend much time worrying about it. I had read them before and vaguely remembered being kind of unimpressed.

Meanwhile I was going deeper and deeper into life as a therapist. Being a therapist is the kind of job that is simultaneously rewarding and spirit crushing. Helping people rebuild their lives, develop healthy coping skills, and move into the future is an incredibly experience. However, running into people you cannot help either because they are not yet ready for help, the illness is too pervasive for therapy alone, insurance issues, or any other of a myriad of obstacles, can be devastating.

Moreover, even if you do help people, there are some days you go home still feeling their experiences, their emotions, their lives on you, in you. It is a common enough phenomenon that we even have a term for it in the “biz”—vicarious traumatization. And given that my experience has as a therapist has included working with sexual offenders, sexual victims, murderers, soldiers, and addicts as well as those with more common illnesses and experiences, well, there was a high capacity for vicarious traumatization.

In the midst of experiencing my first tastes of it, I finally found the BATMAN issues, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Kelly Jones with inks by John Beatty, that saw the Dark Knight teaming up with a returning to Gotham City Tatterdemalion of Justice. But something was wrong with Ragman. He felt out of control, wild, dangerous even. He actions did not feel like his own, his thoughts even less so.

It turned out, for all the good Regan had done, he had taken in too much evil. He was no longer controlling the souls in his suit, no longer drawing power from them; instead, rather, they were claiming him. Much like myself, he had opened himself up to the darkness in a way that was leaving him battered and bruised. And while his vicarious experience of all that pain and death and abuse resulted in his suit nearly committing acts of murder against his will and mine only left me tired, flat, and with some bad dreams, the connection was clear and obvious to me.

What makes a therapist good is his or her ability to take in the pain of their clients, to hold it for them, to reshape it, to recontextualize, and then to return it. But that last step, that’s the hardest one and the one that does not always work out. And Ragman was the super hero version of that kind of therapist. He took in the “evil” of the world and it allowed him to do good. At a certain point, however, no matter how strong we are, how committed, how masterful, taking in pain hurts you if you only hold onto it. For super heroes that means losing control, becoming ineffective, and, sometimes, becoming what you are fighting against. For therapists, it means becoming insomniacs, becoming cynical, becoming great big balls of stress, and becoming ineffective at work and in the personal.

But seeing a mirror in and of itself is not always helpful. Great, I could relate to an out of control super hero. Now, I’m healed! Then, though, the book pointed the way. Rory reaches out to his mentor, a Rabbi, and asks for help, asks for support, and when he gets it, he wrangles the souls once more, he reduces their voices in his head, and he beats back their dark impulses.

Therapists don’t have rabbis handy, typically. For us, we have peers and we have supervisors. People we can reach out to for support, for understanding, to hear, “of course, we’ve all been there.” So I followed Ragman’s example and spoke up, I stopped holding on to my client’s pain and anger and hate. I stopped carrying it in my clothes.

Ragman got better and rode off into the proverbial sunset to be a hero once again. I got better and remain a therapist today.

So while a comic book super hero who commands a kind of rag Golem and a real life therapist who commands a Prius and little else might not have much in common on the surface, it turns out, in the meat of us, we were connected.

By: Tim Stevens

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