Ragman is a strange character. Some heroes you “get” right away. Ones you connect with on a level that’s not just, “hey, I like this character,” but rather, “hey, I see myself in this character.” 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.

Others, however, come to you over time. You may enjoy them straight away, but that sort of molecular connection evolves and arrives much later. It might sneak up on you before you catch on that you’ve related to this character for years. Rory Regan is one of those characters for me.

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The Beginnings of Rory Regan

For those who don’t know, Rory Regan is a Gothamite who’s family owns a neighborhood consignment shop. In the initial Pre-Crisis incarnation, Regan’s father found two million dollars and attempted to put it aside for his son. Instead, gangsters tortured Mr. Regan and several of his friends to death to find out the location of the money. Rory arrived just in time to be electrocuted along with them but survived. He donned a rag suit, finding he’d absorbed the essence of his father and friends, 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 with a more Moon Knight-esque origin story. The first issue was promising, but I have no idea if this Ragman will hold a candle to the Post-Crisis incarnation.

Ragman
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Ragman and I

The one that hit stands with a brand new origin in 1991 is the version I connect with. Instead of just a suit of rags, the costume was a kind of living being that, when donned by Rory, made him into a Tatterdemalion. Think of a Golem-like figure made of cloths scraps instead of clay. The use of a 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 drew power from them. As a result, it was a more complicated character with a greater supernatural vibe than he previously possessed.

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I fell into Ragman years after his 1991 miniseries, gaining 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.

Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Voices and Ghosts

Meanwhile, I was going deeper and deeper into life as a therapist. Therapy 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 incredible experience. However, running into people you couldn’t help, either because they’re not 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 emotions inside you. It’s a common enough phenomenon that we even have a term for it in the “biz” — vicarious traumatization. Given that my experience as a therapist has included working with sex 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.

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In the midst of experiencing my first tastes of it, I finally found the BATMAN issues, written by Doug Moench with art by Kelly Jones and John Beatty, that saw the Dark Knight teaming up with the Tatterdemalion of Justice. Something was wrong with Ragman. He felt out of control, wild, dangerous even. He actions didn’t feel like his own, his thoughts even less so.

Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Mirror Into The Soul

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. 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.

Something that 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. That last step, that’s the hardest one, and it doesn’t always work out. Ragman was the superhero 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 superheroes that means losing control, becoming ineffective, and, sometimes, becoming what you’re fighting against. For therapists, it means becoming insomniacs, cynics, great big balls of stress, and ineffective in as well as out of work.

Help Is Never Out Of Reach

So seeing a mirror in and of itself isn’t always helpful. Great, I could relate to an out of control superhero. Now, I’m healed! Then, though, the book pointed the way. Rory reaches out to his mentor, a Rabbi, and asks for help. When he gets it, he wrangles with the souls once more. Rory 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 and 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 clients’ pain, anger, and hate.

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 superhero who acts as a rag Golem and a real-life therapist who owns a Prius and little else might not have much in common on the surface but, it turns out, there’s more to us than what’s on the surface.

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