Six DC Heroes That Had to Overcome Addiction
It's More Than Just Medicine
Comic book heroes are role models like it or not. While the average school boy shouldn’t emulate Superman by jumping out a window, he can learn a lot about character from the man of steel.
The thing we have to remember about these heroes is they are creations of fiction. That being said, they need to be interesting and many of them might require a tragic flaw or two. Why? Flawed characters make for a better story. There always should be a bit of that character’s personal kryptonite lurking around the corner.
Many times flawed characters have a personal addiction. For the time being, let’s use the term "addiction" as a substance or a habit that has power over the hero. A prime example of this in literature is Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle’s creation had a few substance abuse issues. However, given that the substances were cocaine, opium, and morphine and were done during the Victorian era, the term “controlled substance” wasn’t applicable yet. Holmes could simply go to his chemist or get the coca beans from anywhere and make his seven per cent solution on his own. Nevertheless, by the time most Holmes fans got a chance to read The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicolas Meyers, the great detective had a full blown addiction complete with psychotic delusions about his grade school mathematics professor.
An addiction gives a feeling of power and pleasure and, in its use, it’s destructive.
When I was doing my research for this article I had to consider a few things about substance abuse and the heroes who had it. It couldn’t be necessary medicine to survive or something to activate a power. For example, Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man used to distil Gingold elixir and drink it to activate his powers. In most people, Gingold produced a violently allergic reaction. His drinking the elixir is necessary to become his stretchy self. I also looked at characters like Mon-El from the Legion of Superheroes. He has to take a formula made by Brainiac Five to counteract the effects of lead poisoning that all Daxamites are vulnerable to.
Those are not addictions; those are necessary concoctions needed to do a job. If Ralph Dibney decided to never become the Elongated Man again, he could walk away.
Also, characters like Wolverine and the Flash don’t count. If you’re someone who can metabolize liquor quickly and race through all the phases of being drunk in thirty seconds, you don’t have an addiction problem. You have a problem that is truly pitiable – taking a shot and getting a hangover thirty seconds later is just a bummer. It’s a drinking problem in the sense that you can’t really drink.
The Martian Manhunter has a Chocos Habit
Given the seriousness of this topic, I wanted to start with the least offensive one. The Martian Manhunter’s addiction to Chocos (the DC equivalent of Oreos) sounds ridiculous.
It actually is ridiculous.
The thing with Chocos is that to humans, they're just cookies. To a Martian, they're a highly addictive narcotic substance. This is ground that’s been tread on before. Those of you who remember the show Alien Nation can recall several substances that were mundane and nontoxic but were dangerous to newcomers. Salt water was like acid to them and other ordinary substances were like drugs. Among those substances was sour milk which was like fine wine to them.
Apparently, the chemicals used to make Chocos are highly addictive to Martians. When Blue Beetle and Booster Gold pulled a prank and hid Jonn Jonzz’s Chocos, he got violent. Once he got his hands on his cookies, it took Batman to tell him he had a substance abuse problem. To exorcise the addiction from himself he literally took the contaminated cells from his body and physically destroyed the addiction.
We can laugh at this because somewhere out there a chocoholic is going crazy for dark chocolate.
If coffee or chocolate became as addictive as heroin, this would be a real issue and the government would regulate it.
Mento and His Awesome Helmet
Steve Dayton is Mento from Doom Patrol.
He doesn’t have any natural super powers other than being extremely rich. What he is, is an inventor.
He made himself a helmet that gave him amplified psychic powers. For Marvel fans, imagine a helmet that could make you as powerful as Professor Xavier instantly. The helmet gives Dayton telepathy, telekinesis, psionic shields, mind control, clairvoyance, mind reading, telepathic blasts, and intangibility.
Really, this helmet is freaking awesome.
Unfortunately, the problem with freaking awesome things is that people just want to keep doing them to the exclusion of everything else. Anything can be addictive if you love it enough. The biggest problem with the helmet is that with prolonged use, it causes things like paranoia, insanity, and dementia.
Which are bad.
The thing about Mento is we can truly sympathize with him. We live our lives very much like him. We get our hands on a device that makes our lives infinitely better and more fun and it's hard to give it up.
Don’t believe me? Take your iPhone and put it in a drawer for a week or so and switch off to that crappy old voice mobile you don’t use anymore because it’s not cool.
Let me get my stop watch.
The same thing can be said about television, video games, the Internet, Facebook, Snapchat, email, and any other modern marvels we amuse ourselves with. These things have power over us.
All Steve Dayton did was make something really useful and freaking awesome. Who wouldn’t be addicted to that?
Hourman I and Hourman II Have a Miraclo Addiction
This section deals with two heroes that have the same exact problem.
Imagine it’s the 1940s and you are a genius pharmacologist. Your job is to work on vitamins and hormone therapies.
One day, while puttering in your lab, you create a designer drug like no other. It’s perfect for that World War II thing you keep hearing about over the wireless. What this drug does is that for one hour, it adds inches to a person's height as well as pounds of muscle mass, makes you super strong, durable, bullet proof, and really, really fast. You contemplate selling it to the government. However, at the last second, your better, greedier, more practical self, wakes up and decides to keep it for yourself instead.
And boy, does it feel awesome! Granted, you can only use the drug, you dub Miraclo, a couple of times a day, but how often do you need to be a powerhouse that can kick ass on almost everyone you know?
Rex Tyler and, later on, his son, Rick, became Hourman or “The Man of the Hour” and fought for the Justice Society. While they were Hourmen, they used their drug to fight crime – which also got them addicted to crime fighting.
Miraclo’s effects became extremely addictive because of course, they would. Eventually, Rex Tyler created a non-addictive version of the drug, but not before his son also got hooked on it when he took the Hourman mantle. Nowadays, Rick Tyler wears a transdermal patch to keep himself from abusing the drug.
This entire story isn’t just fantasy; this is what the Nazis AND the allies did when they regularly gave their troops amphetamines and methamphetamines. It made their soldiers more alert and kept the soldiers awake. The Nazis used to use Panzerschokolade ("Tank-Chocolates") for the tank drivers and the German Luftwaffe used Stuka-Tabletten ("Stuka-Tablets"). This was before the government got a chance to study the long-term effects of using such drugs.
Batman Was the First Venom Guinea Pig
That’s right, you heard me – Batman had a drug habit.
Doctor Randolph Porter created a derivative of Tyler's Miraclo formula and gave some to Batman as a reward for his failed effort to save his daughter. Little did Batman know, it was Porter who placed his daughter in the deathtrap in the first place to lure Batman to him. The Dark Knight, feeling guilty that he did not have enough strength to lift a massive boulder to save Porter’s daughter, decided to try the drug (Venom).
And Venom is everything it’s cracked up to be.
Batman started to use Venom while he was working out, becoming stronger than ever. This new power began to corrupt him and made him more violent and less mentally focused. In the meantime, Porter was also experimenting on himself with a new drug designed to make himself more intelligent, with the side effect of making him more emotionally detached.
Batman realized that he’d become addicted to Venom as he was forced to make the choice between a fresh supply and killing Commissioner Gordon - and had considered doing so.
In order to purge the drug from his system, Batman (with the help of Alfred) locked and sealed himself within the Batcave for one month – with only the essentials of food and water he’d need to detox.
The detox was hellish.
Drugs like Venom and anabolic steroids are shortcuts that make a promise of strength and power. The downside might be physical damage to the brain and the possibility of kidney renal failure. Plus there’s a probability of hair loss and visible changes to the face and head. Don’t even get me started about the damage it does to the heart.
And it’s not like Batman hasn’t done drugs before.
Batman’s very mission requires that he has a strong tolerance to toxins, drugs, and poisons. There are only a few ways to physically accomplishing that without actually putting drugs into your body. In Batman: The Sword of Azrael, Bruce Wayne got captured by Biis. In order to get information out of the him, Carleton LeHah (Biis) and his men shoot truth serum into Batman which he resisted. When they asked him how he did it, he mentioned something about a misspent youth.
Batman either mastered many mental tricks for withstanding drugs or he found a way through experimentation to tolerate them.
His Venom use, however, was abuse. He did it, enjoyed it, and became addicted to it. When he had to stop using Venom, he found it difficult to stop.
The withdrawal of Venom from his system nearly killed him. It was so bad, that in the last chapter of Knightfall, Bane told Bruce Wayne that he was using Venom and he is visibly shaken.
Then Bane juiced up with it and broke Batman's back.
The Smack Speedy Gets Isn't a Blow to the Head
There are landmark comic book issues made by almost every comic book company.
For Marvel, it was The Amazing Spider-Man issues 96 – 98. The plot had to do with drug use and Harry Osborn’s eventual seduction into designer drugs. Marvel, in a clear violation of the Comic Book Code, took the code symbol off of the cover. Stan Lee decided that this was an issue that needed to be talked about and said, “Screw the code.”
There's a reason why Stan Lee is famous. It's not for his writing. It's not for the characters he and other writer/artists created. It's for the way he ran Marvel Comics at the peak of its popularity in the sixties and seventies. Stan knew his market.
In his statement of the story, Marvel Editor and Chief, Stan Lee, had this to say.
I was determined not to allow the “message” part of our story to be so prominent, so blatant, as to make it seem like a sermon. I didn’t want our readers to feel we were preaching to them just because they were a captive audience — and yet, it was important that the message come across, loud and clear. The answer seemed to be to inject the theme of drug addiction as a peripheral sub-plot which would in no way dilute the action, drama, or suspense of the regular super hero theme.
For DC, it was a Green Arrow/Green Lantern story published right around the same time. In the story titled Snowbirds Don’t Fly, it was revealed that Speedy, Green Arrow’s teen sidekick and partner, had begun a heroin addiction. In this two-parter, Roy Harper (Speedy/Arsenal) was discovered abusing the drugs and by the end of the story gave up the habit cold turkey (with the help of Black Canary) in a Trainspotting-like montage of detoxing after one of the arrested users died from an overdose.
This was a story that Neal Adams wanted to do and it’s also the story that gave Denny O’Neil the opportunity to cut his teeth on a serious issue. Later, O’Neil would write the Batman: Venom story arc as well.
This issue went on to define Roy Harper and his Arsenal/Red Arrow character. Roy became a drug program counselor as well as a drug enforcement agent for the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigations aka Checkmate).
Prior to the 52 relaunch, in a story that was completely undone by DC’s reboot, Roy Harper's daughter, Lian, was killed by the villain, Prometheus – who also severed Harper’s arm. The pain from losing his arm combined with his daughter's death drew him back into drugs. In his depressed state, he began to hallucinate that a dead cat was his daughter. When Batman found him delirious on a roof, he brought Roy in for rehab.
A true addiction is something you can't control.
It's a chink in the armor. It's something that brings you down. It's your own personal kryptonite. When you’re in its power, it takes a supreme effort of will to battle it. Many times you'll need help. And there’s no shame in asking for it.
We all have our vices. They might not be drugs. They might not be alcoholism. They could just be something legal like smoking – a vice that has a fallback rate three times that of heroin.
It also could be something like food addiction. How crazy is that? The substances we use to sustain our own lives can be abused when we overeat. It’s not funny. Habits built over an entire lifetime to “finish your plate” come back to haunt people when their plates keep getting bigger and bigger. Some people fear their current meal might be their last and continue to eat past their breaking point.
My addiction? My addiction is television.
Yeah, I know. It seems trite – and compared to drug addiction, it is. However, I’m powerless against it. Years of the television being an electronic babysitter coupled with my ADHD make the flashy boob tube impossible for me to resist. It takes a lot for me to not watch television during the day. I try to keep my television viewing hours down to primetime shows and only from the hours of 8:PM to 10:PM.
Still, I think of how much of my real life I’ve missed because of this artificial entertainment device that we’re all encouraged to watch. Seriously. All of America makes water cooler talk with whatever was on last night. Did you watch Game of Thrones? How about Mad Men? Hey, did you catch the game last night?
All of these things make television the ultimate in publically accepted addictions. Do yourself a favor and go on a television fast for at least a week. If a week sounds too easy, make it a month. Read a good book or go out with your friends instead. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish with the free time and how you can reconnect to your life.
Then there’s coffee – which is better than smoking. People will understand if you don’t function well until after your morning cup of joe, but if you smoke a cigarette or cigar near them, you should expect them to treat you like a leper.
Addictions are terrible things. Learning about them is learning about your darker self. Overcome that and you’ve achieved the greatest prize of all – your life.
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© 2016 Christopher Peruzzi