Drug addiction can ruin lives, and the comics are no exception. Comic books are supposed to be a heightened reality, a reflection of the real world, and that’s why drugs have played a big role in the comics. Drug addiction is an interesting plot element because it’s one problem superheroes can’t punch their way out of, which may be why it’s been so popular. In the early years of comics and superheroes, drugs came up as just another plot device, but rarely acknowledging the problems they caused. When the Comics Code Authority was established in 1954, comics were actually forbidden from showing drugs. Things changed in the 1970s when the Code was updated, and drug abuse became a plot device again.
Several superheroes have found themselves in trouble because of drug addiction. Some were handled with dignity and respect for the true consequences of drugs, and others have been almost comical. Some of the addictions have ranged from lasting for years and causing major changes or a brief period of time with long-lasting effects. A few superheroes are defined by their drug use while others have actually been forgotten. CBR is here to review 16 times the lives of superheroes were changed forever because of drugs.
16. FLASH THOMPSON
While Spider-Man has many enemies like the Green Goblin and Venom, his alter ego Peter Parker had Flash Thompson. A bully throughout high school who picked on Peter every chance he got, Flash was redeemed later on during Parker’s college years when they became grudging friends. He later enlisted in the Vietnam War (retconned to the Iraq War) where his experiences drove him to alcohol.
His alcoholism haunted him for years, causing him to suffer brain damage in a drunk driving accident caused by Norman Osborn. This disastrous life was retconned as well after “Brand New Day,” where he lost his legs fighting in Iraq, but still led to alcoholism. He was given the chance to bond with the Venom symbiote and to walk again as Agent Venom.
15. MOON KNIGHT
Marvel’s superhero of the night is Moon Knight, a caped vigilante who uses moon-shaped weapons to fight crime. First introduced in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32 by Doug Moench and Don Perlin, the former supervillain-turned-superhero has never been exactly stable. He maintained three different identities that eventually became split personalities, causing chaos in his life, but drugs thrown in didn’t make it any better.
In 2006, Moon Knight #1 (Charlie Huston, David Finch) introduced a new version of Moon Knight who had broken both knees because of a fall during a fight with his archenemy, Bushman. While trying to recover, he sank into abusing drugs and alcohol. It took a long time to rebuild himself and return to being the hero again.
Starfire was created in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, first appearing in DC Comics Presents #26. She’s a former princess on her home planet of Tamaran, where she escaped to Earth and joined the Teen Titans. She’s been a popular and shining star in the DC universe for decades, especially with her appearances on the Teen Titans TV shows.
In the New 52 DC Universe, a very different Starfire appeared in 2011’s Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. The new Starfire was a free spirit, promiscuous and a drug addict. In Red Hood and the Outlaws #36 (Scott Lobdell, RB Silva), Starfire went to a truck stop, paid some strangers and got high on unknown but probably alien drugs. It didn’t look like it was the first time, either. Luckily, her characterization largely rolled back to her tamer, more well-known personality.
13. IRON FIST
Danny Rand is known as the superhero Iron Fist, but he’s not the first to wield the power that comes with that title. In 2007’s Immortal Iron Fist #1 (Ed Brubaker, David Aja, Travel Foreman), we learned of Orson Randall, an earlier Iron Fist. Randall was actually born in the same mystical city of K’un-Lun after his father’s airship crashed into it. He was adopted as a member, trained and finally defeated the city’s champion to become the Immortal Iron Fist.
He left the city to travel the world as an adventurer with a team called the Confederates of the Curious, but fell into an addiction to opium that consumed him. He was once thought to be dead, but really just indulging his addictions anonymously in Thailand.
12. ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Allan Quatermain started out as the hero of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines, but he was adopted (along with other literary characters) in 1999’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Written by Alan Moore with art by Kevin O’Neill, the miniseries was about a group that included Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Mina Murray from Dracula. The five worked together to stop Fu Manchu from stealing an antigravity metal and using it to destroy London.
Quatermain didn’t fare too well as he had grown older, falling into an opium addiction. They had to drag him out of an opium den and clean him up, and even then he jeopardized the team by going to get laudanum. He finally was able to break his addiction and save the world many times over.
Here, we use the term “superhero” more loosely, because we’re talking about DC’s Ultraman. Ultraman is the leader of the Crime Syndicate on Earth Three, an alternate reality where evil is good and good is evil. That means he’s technically a superhero in his own reality, and a supervillain in ours. Anyway, he’s really a version of Superman if he broke bad.
Ultraman has all Superman’s powers, but he gets his strength from kryptonite, instead of being weakened by it. In 2013’s Forever Evil #1 (Geoff Johns, David Finch), Ultraman would crush kryptonite, use his heat vision to vaporize it and snort it like cocaine. He’s getting high on pieces of his home planet; that’s hardcore evil. His addiction is a problem because it constantly leads him to find new sources of kryptonite, which was already in short supply.
In Captain America #153, Steve Englehart introduced Monroe as a boy who had adopted the identity of Bucky during the 1950s, along with a man who turned himself into Captain America. After awakening from suspended animation, Monroe became a sidekick to the real Captain America who quit when he felt Captain America wasn’t tough enough. He became his own hero, Nomad.
At one point, Nomad adopted a baby girl from a drug addicted woman and nicknamed her Bucky, but when her real mother took her back, Monroe was so devastated that he turned to alcohol. While drunk, he was captured by the supervillain Dr. Faustus who turned him into a Neo-Nazi. That ended up with him leading a team of skinheads against Captain America, who helped him snap out of it.
9. CLOAK AND DAGGER
Cloak and Dagger were created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan in 1982’s Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64. The lives of teenagers Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen changed forever thanks to drugs, although in this case the drug use was forced onto them. The two were runaways in New York City who became friends, and were kidnapped together by a scientist who was developing a new street drug and tested it on them.
When injected by the drug, they developed new powers of darkness and light. As Cloak, Johnson existed as a portal to the Darkforce Dimension, and Bowen became Dagger because she could throw “daggers” of pure light. The two dedicated themselves to stopping drug dealers like the ones who had taken them, but they could never lead normal lives again.
When it comes to having lives destroyed by drugs, not all the drugs have to be illegal to have negative effects. Sometimes, it’s a medical drug that causes major problems, and that’s what happened to Henry McCoy, known as the member of the X-Men, Beast. With his brilliant mind and agility, McCoy would have had it easy, except for his large hands and feet.
The drug that changed McCoy’s life was his own creation, a serum to temporarily activate latent mutations. When he feared someone would steal his discovery, he drank the serum, turning him into a furry, clawed monster. The effects became permanent, leaving him trapped in a beastly form. Over time, the mutations have gotten worse, turning him into cat-like forms and more.
McCoy’s research led to the drug Mutant Growth Hormone, which allowed people who had no powers an easy way to become superhumans. One young man who suffered from its effects was Elijah Bradley, a teenager descended from Isaiah Bradley, an African-American soldier given an experimental Super-Soldier serum and became a black Captain America. Elijah seemed to carry on the family tradition when he appeared in 2005’s Young Avengers #1 (Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheun) as Patriot.
Unfortunately, it turned out he had no powers of his own. Instead, he turned to MGH to give him the powers he never inherited. When his deception was discovered, Patriot quit the Young Avengers in disgrace. He was able to get real powers from a blood transfusion from his grandfather, but he carried the shame of his deception.
6. CAPTAIN AMERICA
Technically, Captain America (Steve Rogers) is on drugs all the time because he has the Super-Soldier serum inside him, giving him enhanced speed, strength and agility. That hasn’t really messed up his life, though. Quite the opposite is true. However, there’s a more appropriate drug-related moment in Captain America #375, where Cap dealt with the crystal meth epidemic in a tasteful and educational way. Just kidding. It was a disaster.
In 1990s, Mark Gruenwald and Ron Lim brought Captain America up against a meth lab that exploded, giving him a huge dose of the drug. The meth bonded with the Super-Soldier serum, making him super-high. He beat up Daredevil, ate the Kingpin’s dinner and generally gave himself a lousy reputation. In summary, Super-Soldier serum, good. Crystal meth… not even once.
Yeah, this is another loose definition of “hero,” though this scoundrel has fought for the side of the angels on occasion. Bane was a ruthless prisoner on the island of Santa Prisca, and was introduced to comics by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and artist Graham Nolan in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 (1993). When he became a subject of an experimental trial of a new form of Venom. Bane used the drug to give himself enhanced strength to go with his genius, broke out of prison, and set out to take control of Gotham.
In the “Knightfall,” storyline Bane released prisoners from Arkham Asylum to wear down Batman, so Bane could then easily break his back. Batman survived and returned, and Bane broke his addiction to Venom to become an antihero, even working with Batman at times. Yet Bane has come back to Venom again and again, just as he has recently.
4. IRON MAN
Tony Stark has always been a playboy with a drink in his hands, but things took a downward turn in Iron Man #124 (David Michelinie, John Romita Jr.), the beginning of the classic “Demon in a Bottle” storyline. When Justin Hammer caused Iron Man’s armor to lose control, the despair drove Tony Stark into alcoholism.
Things got so bad that he gave up his company in 1983’s Iron Man #169 (Denny O’Neil, Luke McDonnell) to his pilot and friend Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes, and had Rhodey take over as Iron Man while he lived on the streets. It was a dark time for Stark, and he even faked his own death to put himself in suspended animation and heal the damage, but he came back to put on the power suit again.
When it comes to drug-powered superheroes, Captain America isn’t alone. In 1940, Adventure Comics #48 by Gardner Fox and Bernard Baily, Rex Tyler discovered a “super-vitamin” he called Miraclo. Miraclo let Tyler move faster, be stronger, and heightened his senses, but only for one hour. Using his new drug, he became the superhero Hourman, and later a member of the Justice Society of America.
Over time, Miraclo became an addictive drug that he struggled to free himself of. At one point, the toxicity of Miraclo even caused his heart to fail, requiring Dr. Fate to purge the Miraclo from his system, the substance (or lack thereof) led him to retire. He tried to keep his son away from Miraclo, but Rick Tyler used it during the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event to become the next Hourman, and the cycle continued.
Batman has fought everything from intergalactic tyrants like Darkseid all the way down to drug pushers in the streets of Gotham. He’s always hated illicit drugs and would seem to have nothing to do with them, except for one brief moment, which was one of the worst moments of his life.
In 1993’s Legends of the Dark Knight #16 (Russell Braun, Trevor Von Eeden, Denny O’Neil), Batman was tormented by his failure to save a girl. When a scientist offered him a mysterious drug that would make him stronger, he agreed to take it. That drug was Venom, and it led Batman to spiral out of control until he had to lock himself inside the Bat-cave for a month to detox. When he came out, he was ready to beat the drug dealers to a pulp. That’s the Batman we love.
1. ROY HARPER
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.
What do YOU think is the worst superhero drug addiction? Let us know in the comments!
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