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, here are ten characters who have taken have battled substance addictions and won, and some who lost.
Oh, and I've purposely skipped any of those "Hey Kids! Drug Are Bad!" comics made by Marvel and DC back in the day that you'd get for free in the nurse's office in your elementary school. Despite being done by the same creators who did the real comics, they were always written at the very dumbest level for the unwashed masses, and were all out of continuity anyway. So there will be no mentions on this list of Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs! or any of those comics. Even the one where Mr. T accidentally takes LSD.
One of comicdom's very earliest superheroes is also one of its first ever drug-addict cautionary tales. The Hourman was created in the Golden Age boom that followed the one-two punch debut of Superman and Batman during the previous two years. New superheroes were coming out of the woodwork at that time, on what must have seemed like a weekly basis. Hourman debuted in Adventure Comics #48 in March, 1940. Originally a chemist, Rex Tyler created a "miraculous" vitamin that increased strength and endurance which he unimaginatively named Miraclo. Embarking on a career as a crime fighter, Tyler took the name Hourman. Maybe not the smartest move, essentially shouting to the world that his power limitation is only one hour long, but it was a simpler time after all, so let's give the creators a pass here.
Back then, having a superhero who got his powers from taking regular doses of a drug would not only have seemed perfectly okay for children's stories of the forties, but the implications of greater power through the use of substances would have gone over the heads of any parents of the time who bothered to read it for themselves. Substance abuse, especially the abuse of illegal drugs in the form of pills, just wasn't the epidemic it would become in later decades, or at the very least no one was talking about it yet if it was. The entire concept of "magic power pills" must have seemed totally innocent.
However, when Hourman re-emerged in the sixties and seventies as one of the "elder statesmen" heroes from the alternate Earth-2, comics had grown up enough to realize that a superhero who gets his powers from popping a pill every day is problematic, to say the least. In an a very early example of a comic book retcon, it was revealed that Rex Tyler was not only addicted to Miraclo, but addicted to the thrill of beating up criminals too, an early example of comics showing one of their superheroes having human weaknesses like addiction. DC would try to fix the Hourman problem in various ways, once even suggesting that the Miraclo pills were a placebo and he had a meta-gene that he could only access an hour at a time.
Eventually, his son Rick would become the second generation Hourman, and (surprise!) develop the same addictions as Daddy. He would eventually kick the habit as well, and his powers grew beyond just speed and strength for an hour, but to having precognitive flashes exactly one hour into the future, which is probably a more useful super power in a world where everyone is super strong and fast. A new version of Hourman is set to debut in the book Earth-2, and when he does, I'd bet real money that the "magic pills" are going to be a thing of the past once and for all.
9. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
I admit, I'm cheating a bit on this entry, as Willow Rosenberg was first introduced in live action television by her creator Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Originally just Buffy's nerdy sidekick and best friend, Willow began to dabble into magic and grew into a powerful witch as the series progressed. By season six of the series, she was powerful enough to resurrect Buffy from the dead, and began to become addicted to the high that magic provided. Pretty much everything on Buffy was a metaphor for something else, but Willow's addiction was as "on-the-nose" as metaphors got on that show. She even had a "magic dealer" whose inter-dimensional apartment looked like it smelled of cat pee, like a real drug dealer's place would (umm...so I hear.) Willow really went off the deep end when her girlfriend (fellow witch Tara) was murdered, and she absorbed so much black magic as to become a threat to the entire world.
The reason she is on this list however, is that Willow's adventures, as well as elements of her addiction, linger on in Dark Horse Comics' Buffy The Vampire Slayer Seasons 8 and 9 comics. In Season 8, Buffy destroyed something called "The Seed", the source of all magic on Earth, cutting Earth off from other mystical dimensions. This means Willow suddenly had to go cold turkey off of magic, and has spent almost the entirety of the season 9 storyline trying anything and everything to bring magic back to the world. At first she said it was because the Earth was "broken" without it, but later she has admitted it is more because she is the one who needs it. Sounds like someone isn't completely over their addiction just yet.
8. Patriot (Young Avengers)
Marvel's Young Avengers was a series no one thought would become a fan favorite when it was first announced back in 2005. Teenage versions of Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America? It sounded like a cheap knock off of DC's Teen Titans. But the series ended up being pretty damn good, mostly thanks to writer/creator Allan Heinberg, and characters we thought were just going to be junior versions of the Avengers ended up being much more than that.
One character who surprised almost everyone with how cool he turned out to be was Patriot. Patriot was really Eli Bradley, a young African-American kid in a Captain America-esque costume, who turned out to be the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, the African-American Captain America first introduced in the mini-series Truth: Red, White & Black.
In Truth, it was revealed that Isaiah had received his powers as part of an early Super Soldier Serum experiment tested on African-American men in an attempt reproduce the formula that was lost after being used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America back during World War II. Eli claimed that his powers came from a blood transfusion from his grandfather, which resulted in his receiving the super soldier abilities. But it was all a lie; Eli had no powers at all and was faking it, using Mutant Growth Hormone, a Marvel Universe version of steroids. Eventually, his fraud was exposed, and Eli stopped using the drugs. He was allowed to still lead the Young Avengers without powers, simply using his combat skills and natural abilities, and ended up taking a shot from a Kree warrior, saving Captain America. Gravely wounded, Eli then got a real blood transfusion from his grandfather, giving him powers for real, therefore ending his addiction to MGH for good. Although not a member of the current Young Avengers line-up, it is only a a matter of time before Patriot shows up again.
You might be wondering "when the Hell was Batman ever a drug addict?" Well, he was, at least for one story line from the early nineties Legends of the Dark Knight series entitled Venom. That particular story, written by comics legend Denny O'Neil, the man who returned Batman to his darker roots after the sixties television series, was set in Batman's early "Year One" crime fighting days, as were all the stories in Legends of the Dark Knight, at least initially. The main plot of Venom involves an early failure of Batman's that leads him to go to extreme measures to become more powerful. Sounds like a wee bit of Superman envy if ya ask me.
When Batman fails to save a little girl's life because he wasn't strong or fast enough, he begins obsessing about the life he couldn't save. But thanks to a new drug he encounters that enhances his strength and agility called Venom, he becomes stronger and more aggressive...and pretty soon, full-on addicted as well. At one point during the story, he even fights and defeats a great white shark. Seeing as how this is Batman, he eventually faces his own limitations and at the end of the five issue storyline, and kicks the Venom habit once and for all. I have to say, I do applaud DC for doing this storyline, and making arguably their biggest icon a drug addict, for however briefly a period of time it was done. It shows that even the best of us can fall prey to drug addiction, and that it is something that even our biggest cultural icons on can go through. Okay, maybe real people struggle with addiction longer and find it a lot harder to kick, but this is Batman, he's better than us at everything. As for the drug Venom, well...this being comics, this would not be the last time we hear of this made-up narcotic, which brings us to our next entry on this list...
Not long after the Venom story arc in Legends of the Dark Knight, DC introduced what could be considered the last truly iconic foe created for Batman's Rogue's Gallery in the form of Bane. Much like Batman, Bane's past is marred by tragedy. Coming from the fictional country of Santa Prisca, he was born and raised in a prison, a prison he was incarcerated in for the crimes of his father. As an adult, he was the test subject by the prison's controllers for - you guessed it - the drug Venom. The experiments performed on him using the Venom compound nearly killed him at first, but of course he survived and found that the drug greatly increased his physical strength, although he needs to take it every 12 hours, through a system of tubes pumped directly into his brain. If he doesn't do this, he suffers horrible side-effects and withdrawal pains.
Although his need for the drugs is not mentioned in his appearance in The Dark Knight Rises, in the comics, Bane's addiction to Venom remains a central factor for the character. There are instances where he seems to have kicked the habit completely, and other instances where he seemed to be back on the stuff, although you can chalk that one up to editorial screw-ups more than anything. In a storyline in JSA Classified, Bane discovers that the drug is actually a derivative of the original Hourman's drug Miraclo, thus tying Bane's origins in with DC's other most high profile addict.