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Substance Abusers in Comics
On today’s show we discuss Substance Abusers in Comics! You may think that the Hero always gets the bad guy, But did you know sometimes they go down a dark path like Heroin or Alcohol to cope with their own demons? Our own, sketch comedian Imran and special guest star J Hammond C are live and on the drawing boards.
Drug addiction is a tricky subject to deal with taste and accuracy in any kind of fictional narrative, much less mainstream comic books, which are meant to entertain with stories about people with powers mostly hitting things more than anything else. Having said that, addiction to substances is a real world problem, and if modern comics are going to reflect the human condition in any way, then addiction to substances is something that has to come up occasionally. Whether or not they do it well is a matter of taste, I suppose, but nevertheless, there are characters who have taken have battled substance addictions and won, and some who lost.
Marvel almost released the “Child’s Play” story without Comics Code approval, but editor Denny O’Neil objected.
What was going to be in Daredevil #167-168 originally was a special two-parter involving Daredevil and the Punisher called “Child’s Play,” that dealt with young people getting addicted to drugs. The Comics Code would not approve of the issue. However, after some changes to the Comics Code, the issues eventually saw publication (with some slight edits) in Daredevil #183-184…
However, what’s fascinating is that the comic book actually had TWO chances to still see publication before Daredevil #183-184!
First off, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter initially planned on just releasing the issues without Comic Code approval, like Marvel had famously done with the Amazing Spider-Man issues (#96-98) about drug abuse that Stan Lee had written years earlier at the behest of the federal government.
Denny O’Neil, editor of the series, said no. The whole point of the arc was to have it reach as wide an audience as possible, so he did not want the book to be just a specialty item. That turned out to be the right call, as the Code relaxed its drug standards and the issues ended up reaching a wide audience a couple of years later.
Super Hereos with Substance Abuse Issues
It’s hard to imagine that Tony Stark/Iron Man existed long before Robert Downey, Jr. Throughout the years, the super-rich genius/engineer battled countless threats and super-villains but in 1979, it was Stark’s own alcoholism that broke through his industrial-grade armor. The storyline, famously known as “Demon in a Bottle,” chronicles Stark’s descent into binge-drinking and losing his leadership over the Avengers. One of the covers is a classic, showing a sweaty, five o’clock-shadowed Tony Stark staring helplessly into the mirror. It’s less important in its stab at exploring alcoholism than it is a comic book taking a character flaw and turning it against the main character. While Stark’s troubles are conquered a bit too easily, it remains a bold statement about what comic book storytelling can accomplish.
Blind since birth, Matt Murdock/Daredevil has always lived in the dark—but there was no way for him to ever see the events of 1986’s “Apocalypse” coming. Murdock’s ex-girlfriend (and former secretary) Karen Page returns, turning his life inside-out. Karen’s revealed to have had minor success as an actress before becoming a junkie/porn star. Turns out, Karen has sold Matt’s secret identity for a fix which, in turn, gets sold to Daredevil’s nemesis The Kingpin. Over the course of subsequent issues, Murdock helps Karen beat her heroin addiction and rebuild their relationship.
Roy Harper/Speedy – Green Arrow/Lantern
With the limitations of the Comics Code and reluctance by comics publishers to tackle real-world issues, drug addiction wasn’t really handled by DC until 1971. In Green Lantern #85, by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, packed a much harder punch. In the story, Green Arrow fought junkies armed with a crossbow loaded with arrows used by his sidekick, Speedy (Roy Harper).
Green Lantern and Green Arrow tracked the junkies to find Speedy with them, but he wasn’t undercover as they first thought. He was there to shoot up. Harper managed to fight off the addiction and they took down the drug ring, but he was never the same. It hurt his relationship with Green Arrow, but also led him to become a counselor to help others fight addiction. In the end, he became even more of a hero.
“Batman” and “drug addiction” don’t belong in the same sentence. If anything, the Caped Crusader is most likely to be addicted to glowering or brooding. But in 1991, Batman went down an unexpected path. If the cover art of a bearded, out-of-it Batman surrounded by his cape and scattered pills isn’t compelling enough for you, I don’t know what is. After failing to save the life of a little girl, Batman goes off the deep end. He’s introduced to “Venom”—a steroid that makes him both aggressive and gleeful in his rage. The experimental drug is also (naturally) highly addictive. The story doesn’t pull any punches with Batman’s withdrawal or the fight for his sanity. Like Bruce Wayne’s childhood, it’s a painful and tortured experience that makes his recovery all the more compelling.
Remember that time when Captain America was taking down a Manhattan drug ring, the meth lab exploded, and good old Cap went insane? No? You don’t recall that he gets jacked on meth, beats the hell out of Daredevil, and shouts “Bock bock bock bock!” like a chicken? It’s all part of the heavy-handed 1990 storyline “Streets of Poison” that ends on one of the most obvious “Just say no” moments ever. Quite literally, in fact. While it’s not one of the finest moments in comics history, it’s still an interesting time capsule into America’s War on Drugs campaign.
Carol Danvers (Ms Marvel)
Otherwise known as Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is often considered one of the most iconic female characters in comic book history. She is also one of the most important recovering alcoholics in comics. In one story, as her powers start dissipating, her drinking problem increases. Naturally, Tony Stark sees Carol’s problem straightaway, but it’s too late. Instead of dealing with her problems, Carol does what many alcoholics do with their problems: she runs from them. She quits the Avengers and tries to make a new life for herself as a writer. However, she fails to overcome her drinking, eventually getting alcohol poisoning. In a happy ending, she ultimately finds sobriety and starts regularly attending AA meetings.
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