Alcoholism isn’t funny. But it is in funnybooks! These are ten of my favorite tosspots and druggies from comic book land. I”m posting it today, November 26, in honor of the birthday of Alcoholics Anonymous founder’s Bill Wilson.
I’ll start with some runner-ups, then make you click “next” to get to the top 10 list. Just to be a jerk about it and make you work for it.
Harry Osborn (Marvel).
Osborn’s addiction is one of the most famous—he’s one of the few comic book characters who actually overdosed—but it’s short-lived and rarely mentioned in later stories. Hence, he is not in the top 10.
Abby and Swamp Thing (DC). In Alan Moore’s epic, career-making run on this book, the two lovers cannot connect sexually or psychically without the use of an hallucinogenic tuber that Swamp Thing pulls out of his own chest (i.e., he gives her his heart). It’s the ultimate pro-drug message. I didn’t put this in the top 10 because they aren’t really addicted—they use the drug to enable what passes for sex between a woman and a plant. I know, it sounds gross, but you had to be there. It was beautiful.
Nuke (Marvel). Nuke is a Vietnam veteran turned into a drug addict who needs his pills to get his powers. Created in the greatest Daredevil story ever told (“Born Again” by Frank Miller and David Muzzachelli), the character was a military attempt to duplicate Captain America’s super soldier serum that went wrong. There are few comic book addicts whose cravings and needs are as visible as Nuke’s, but at the end of the day he was forced to be a junkie. There’s no recovery here, no struggle with addiction, just lower living through chemistry. Incidentally, this is the second cast member of Born Again on this list. You’ll have to read on to find out the next one.
Constantine (DC/Vertigo). A character so addicted to cigarettes that he smoked on top of his cancer. He’s seen smoking in just about every frame of Vertigo’s Hellrazer. Insane addiction.
Magneto (Marvel). Magneto?! He’s not a junkie! Oh, yes he is. At least in my X-canon. When Grant Morrison took on the X-Men, he introduced a terrific storyline about a drug (aptly called “Kick”) that could alter the powers of mutants. Before they retconned the shocking ending of his long arc out of existence, this story represented how drug use can change the way a character thinks and change his very motivations and alignments—turning him from chaotic good into chaotic evil, if you like. I don’t want to give away more than this, but if you haven’t read Morrison’s New X-Men stories from start to finish, you’ve missed out on one of the best X-books of all time. Everyone sings the praises of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men (and it was awesome), but don’t overlook this series.
Coach Donahue (Marvel). Everyone remembers Daredevil #183 and 184 as “the one where Punisher shoots him,” but there was also a drug-addicted, drug dealing gym teacher who left quite an impression on me.
10. Warbird (Carol Danvers) (Marvel)
Most forget the storyline in which Carol Danvers turned to alcoholism in her despair over having been depowered by Rogue and then reborn as Warbird. Busiek took the character into recovery during the “Live Kree or Die” storyline. She’d been drinking for a while, and Tony Stark confronts her about it. By the end of the story, she was court martialed and eventually went to Alcoholics Anonymous. Her life as a recovering alcoholic is largely ignored, to the point where modern Captain Marvel comics don’t even mention it. I suppose it’s possible she was an episodic drinker, who went down the path as a result of trauma and is now a “normal” person again. But most people knowledgeable about the disease of alcoholism recognize that once you’re a pickle, you can never be a cucumber again.
9. Cloak (of Cloak and Dagger) (Marvel)
Perhaps comics’ most conflicted anti-drug crusading drug addicts, Tyrone and Tandy got their superpowers from being forced to inject scientifically corrupted heroin by crime boss Silvermane. They weren’t necessarily drug addicts at the start, but the drug made Tyrone Johnson (Cloak) crave light (in the form of Dagger’s power). You can say it’s about craving the love of another, but you can also see this as a metaphor for the awakening of addiction and how it takes over your life.
Bill Mantlo’s best and most interesting creation, in a long and varied comics career.
8. Venom (Flash Thompson) (Marvel)
Best known as “the bully from Amazing Fantasy #15,” Flash’s journey into alcoholism was basically a way to reintroduce the character. It started in Amazing Spider-Man #575, when Marc Guggenheim and Barry Kitson tried to make him more sympathetic by explaining that he was mean to young Peter Parker because his dad was an alcoholic. Then, they developed his own story: A veteran of the Vietnam War who lost his legs and turned to the bottle, becoming a nasty drunk, and later getting the coolest wheelchair of all: The Venom symbiote!
Flash’s story also includes one of the few realistic alcoholic deaths: His father dies of the disease, and Flash can’t say goodbye or forgive him. Flash did later get sober in Alcoholics Anonymous.
7. Cassidy (Vertigo)
Preacher is a book with one of the strongest fanbases around. The Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon is a masterpiece of violence, rage, sacrilege, and everything that’s offensive about comic books. I know the idea of vampire-as-addict isn’t really a new one, but it’s so well done in this comic. But this isn’t the “we crave blood like drunks need booze” variety: Cassidy becomes an alkie and junkie because he can’t deal with his existence as a vampire—and even becomes a male prostitute to get heroin. His behavior, and his affects on those around him, are some of the most realistic portrayals of addiction on this list.
And all that from a vampire.
6. Sally Floyd (Marvel)
Sally Floyd was a woman whose daughter was born a mutant and died from her mutations, which led Floyd to the bottle. This occurred during the Generation M miniseries by Paul Jenkins and Ramon Bachs, but continued on in the pages of World War Hulk: Front Line, where Floyd—now a reporter with the Daily Bugle—was triggered to drink again after seeing The Hulk’s horrific attacks on Earth.
The treatment of Floyd’s alcoholism, and of her as a human character in a super-world, is one of the most realistic and textured ones I’ve seen in comics. Plus, she attends AA meetings in the comics—so Bill Wilson would be proud.
Hit “next” for the top 5!
5. Buzzkill (Dark Horse)
What if Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master was a superhero flick instead of a karate one? You’d get this comic by Donny Cates, Mark Reznicek, and Geoff Shaw. An alcoholic struggling to stay clean is called to duty as a superhero, but his powers only activate when, you guessed it, he’s drunk. The book takes alcoholism a little lightly, but that’s okay—it’s kind of a dramedy.
Oh, and it would make a great movie—in anyone in Hollywood is listening. They couldn’t really do Tony Stark’s alcoholism because that’s not how Marvel movies roll, and it would really take away from the action—but here, the drinking IS the action!
4. Hourman (DC)
Hourman dates back to the Golden Age, which makes his addiction even more remarkable. In his civilian identity, he created a “vitamin” called Miraclo that gave him super powers but had to be taken every hour. Originally, the drug was little more than a plot device. But over time, there were stories in which he was portrayed as a person with an addictive personality who was hooked not just on the pills but thrill of super-violence—to the point where it caused him to have a heart attack.
3. Speedy (Roy Harper) (DC)
Take the name “Speedy” and you’re bound to wind up hooked on something, right? Harper’s tale of addiction was one of the earliest comics to deal with drug use, way back in 1971, and one of the best. “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” (Green Lantern vol. 2, #85–86) won all kinds of awards and longstanding recognition, and the tough script by Denny O’Neil and amazing art by Neal Adams still holds up today.
And this wasn’t just a one-shot deal (pun intended)—when Marv Wolfman revived the character in the pages of the Teen Titans, he made him a drug counselor.
2. Iron Man (Tony Stark) (Marvel)
Everyone knows about Tony’s alcoholism. “Demon in the Bottle” by Dave Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita, Jr., is about as well-known as a comic can be. Subsequent tales of Tony’s drinking have not been as good—and often feel like plot contrivances, rather than organic character moments. But he’s certainly the best known alcoholic in comicdom.
1. Karen Page (Marvel)
At the top of my list is a civilian drug addict, but definitely the most important of them all. In fact, Karen Page may be the most influential non-powered character in the Marvel Universe. She’s definitely right up there with Mary Jane and Aunt May. In the throes of her addiction, she sold Matt Murdock’s identity for a shot of heroin, which led to the greatest Daredevil story of all time: Born Again, by Frank Miller.
In that comic, she sells Daredevil’s secret identity and immediately regrets it. Like most drug addicts, she is full of shame and remorse—but can’t seem to change her own behavior. In this regard, she serves as a foil for Daredevil himself—who can’t stop loving her, no matter how badly she hurts him. Together, they find God and redemption—a perfect story for Bill Wilson’s birthday, since his approach to sobriety depends on finding a Higher Power.
In later books, as part of her rehabilitation, she became an anti-pornography crusader (while she was a junkie she appeared in adult films). She also got AIDS in a pretty lame story by Jeph Loeb.