4/20 Special: The Greatest Drugs in Superhero Comics
Hey. Hey guys. It’s 4/20. And in honor of the occasion, ComicsAlliance contributors Chris Sims and David Uzumeri have stocked up on Cheetos and ordered a couple of pizzas to break down a list of The Greatest Drugs in Super-Hero Comics!
Chris: Before we start, I’d just like to remind our readers that ComicsAlliance in no way endorses the use of fictional drugs. We think that people should get their super-powers the natural way: Concentrated doses of radiation.
David: Preferably through the transmission vessel of an iconic, totemic animal you can take as your symbol when you decide to beat up the less fortunate in alleyways.
Chris: Okay, here we go!
Chris: And this was created by Kirby, not Ditko? Huh. Still, it does explain why Jethro Tull remains popular to this day on the Blue Area of the Moon.
David: Well, if Ditko created them they’d probably gain the ability to recognize the absoluteness of right and wrong and then walk around being gigantic pricks.
Chris: Terrigen probably has the most dramatic side-effects of any comic book drug. I mean, even a good result is going to turn you into a fish-man or give you horse-hooves or grant you super-badass karate powers that emerge from your tiny, pencil-thin moustache.
David: Hey, there’s always the chance of becoming Crystal, where you just get sweet elemental powers and the world’s greatest natural hairdo.
Chris: But is it worth the cost of actually having to hang out with Quicksilver?
David: Maybe that’s her other secret Terrigen power. Making terrible choices in men. Who’s she been with? Johnny Storm, Quicksilver, the friggin’ Sentry? Egomaniac, pathological liar, complete psychopath. So don’t do Terrigen, kids: either you’ll end up a gigantic bear-man, or unable to speak, or you’ll be forced to bang complete douchebags for eternity.
Chris: Well, surprising everyone, her current husband Ronan the Accuser actually isn’t that bad. But yeah, it’s probably best to pass on this one.
Chris: For those of you who haven’t read a lot of late-80s DC Comics, Velocity 9 was a drug created by an immortal caveman so that he could, for some reason, fight the Flash.
David: I’ve read those issues, but I had to Wiki it to remember. After that, it apparently appeared in a bunch of bad Titans-related comics. Honestly, any drug given by Deathstroke to children is automatically the skeeviest thing in history.
Chris: No joke. But unless I’m misremembering, it was the first super-powered street drug introduced in a super-hero comic, which is an idea that’s shown up in a dozen titles since. I may not understand why Mike Baron wanted the Flash’s arch-nemesis to be Vandal Savage there for a few years, but it was a pretty good idea.
David: I can kind of see the thematic idea there — at the time, Wally was really impatient and under a bit of a death threat when it went to going too fast, right? I mean, Savage is a dude who is PATIENT and his plans move SLOW. It’s not a perfect fit, but I can see how Baron thought the two would play off of each other in an interesting way.
Chris: They totally did, but it’s a big jump to getting there, you know? Also he’s a caveman who spent 50,000 years to become a drug kingpin, which took Tony Montana less than five. This may be the only time in history when the guy who runs at the speed of light fighting an evil boomerang salesman actually makes MORE sense.
David: Yeah, it is a bit of a stretch, but not every big match-up has to be a Johnsian battle of ideas.
Chris: Anyway, back to Velocity 9: It gave its users temporary super-powers, but it didn’t prepare their bodies for the stresses of traveling at super-speed, so they ended up wasted, brittle husks.
David: I really had no idea it was the first, since it was a pretty standard superspeed drug. What came first, this or Johnny Quick? The antimatter universe/Earth-3 version, I mean. Not the dude who gets his powers from a math equation.
Chris: Well, the Earth-3 Johnny Quick came first, but the Johnny Quick who uses a drug to get his powers (which I just now realized is his version of a “speed formula”) wasn’t until Morrison’s “Earth-2.”
David: Oh, OK, I thought that detail was always there, and brilliant catch on the “speed formula” thing. Man, Earth-2 was wonderful, and that superspeed drug looked like it had pretty awful after-effects too. I guess it’s hard not to.
Chris: The thing is, though, the version that Deathstroke gave to Inertia is listed as having no adverse effects. So why doesn’t that thing get FDA approval like yesterday?
David: No short-term adverse effects, at least. Dude, Deathstroke made it. It probably gives you rapid onset Alzheimer’s after a year.
Chris: Knowing Deathstroke and his teenagers, it’s probably just a mix of cocaine and rohypnol.
David: DEATHSTROKE, the guy who distributes mind control drugs to 16-year-old girls and then sleeps with them.
Chris: I’m not seeing a lot of drawbacks, unless you count the potential arm injuries you’ll get from high-fiving everyone you meet. Keep in mind, though: Cap’s unique abilities come from a combination of the Super Soldier Serum AND Vita-Rays.
David: The super soldier serum alone seemed to work okay for Eli Bradley. After like 12 issues of questionable racial politics where he was doing street MGH, I mean.
Chris: Which brings us to…
MGH: MUTANT GROWTH HORMONE
David: Oh, and it caused Stamford. Honestly, this stuff makes Mexican-cartel crystal meth seem like St. John’s Wort in comparison.
Chris: It doesn’t necessarily come from the Owl. It can come from any mutant, which is good news for the local Westchester boys who sneak into the X-Mansion to steal Psylocke’s hair from her brush.
Chris: It took me a minute to think up a good example for that joke, but really, is there anyone who would inspire peeping toms more than the six foot tall Japanese gymnast with a British accent who never wore anything but swimsuits and thigh high boots?
David: My favorite MGH variant was Banshee in the Ultimate Universe, which was made from Wolverine (because he was the first mutant) and gave Colossus the strength to move inside his metal armor, since without it when he armored up he was completely immobile. It also turned Angel into Beak.
Chris: Wait it did what?
David: This is from Aron E. Coleite’s pre-”Ultimatum” issues of “Ultimate X-Men.” It was an astonishingly lame story.
Chris: Yeaaahhh. I’m going to pretend I didn’t even ask.
David: Probably for the best. And really, it doesn’t hold a candle to the greatest mutant-world drug of all: Kick!
Chris: Oh, well then.
David: It’s also responsible for a mansion riot, the complete leveling of Manhattan, and a dystopian alternate future run by a crazy, drug-addicted, completely possessed Beast that had to be surgically removed with a cosmic scalpel by the Phoenix. Kick sucks. But it leads to really awesome stories.
Chris: I also like that Kick is ingested with an asthma inhaler. It’s the ultimate roleplaying accessory for the nerdy child.
David: That always seemed to me like a hugely inefficient way to sell drugs. The overhead caused by needing to produce the inhalers must be a huge pain in the ass.
Chris: Especially since, like everything else at the Mansion, it’s monogrammed with the X-Men logo. Just goes to show that sentient bacteria from the beginning of time have very poor quality control.
David: Or they just have style. Also, the inhaler’s a perfect methodology to addict an entire high school. Odorless, untraceable — kids can run to the bathroom for a puff and then run back to class without a problem.
Chris: As for side effects, it makes you wear sweaters and skinny jeans and get ridiculous haircuts, which… Wait, are we sure Kick’s not real, and that is hasn’t affected the entire youth of America?
David: If it had, the nerds online who sell bootleg MAGNETO WAS RIGHT shirts would be millionaires.
Chris: The amazing thing about Miraclo is that it’s a pill that gives an old man special abilities, and yet it predates Viagra by 50 years. There’s no way it should be the perfect punchline to that joke, and yet it is.
David: They’re always married men, too. Whipped ones, even, really.
Chris: My other favorite thing about Miraclo: It totally went through the grim-’n'-gritty period where it was revealed that it was totally addictive and Rex Tyler was a pill-poppin’ junkie, but when they decided not to use that anymore it was just like “Oh hey, we made a new version that’s not addictive at all.” Why didn’t they do that from the start? My guess is because Rex Tyler is a horrible chemist.
David: Even if it isn’t physically addictive, I find it hard to believe it isn’t psychologically addictive to be able to lift cars with your bare hands.
David: So it’s totally still addictive, and everyone in the Justice Society is totally enabling Rick’s addiction because it’s convenient to have him around.
Chris: It’s also worth noting that, as Hourman predates Captain America by a few months, he’s officially the first super-hero to get his powers through illicit substances, sparking a tradition that would eventually lead to Cloak and Dagger. So thanks for that.
David: To be fair, it also led to that classic scene from Vaughan’s “Runaways.” “Wait a second, your secret origin is drugs? Don’t you think that’s sending a bad message to the kids?”
Chris: Speaking of sending the wrong message…
Chris: Well, he did get jacked up on “weapons grade crystal meth” in “Batman RIP.”
David: AND street heroin! The original Batman Venom story is amazing, especially once he grows this gigantic four-foot beard.
Chris: Really though, I like Venom a lot. For one thing, I’m pretty sure it’s been “revealed” to be a derivative of Miraclo, and for another, the most famous addict is a gigantic luchador who fought Batman.
David: Yeah, Tony Bedard did the Miraclo connection in two issues of “JSA Classified” with Scott McDaniel, I think. And Bane, you have to give them credit for Bane — he’s LASTED. It’s a great catch-all super-addictive superdrug, too. It fits anywhere in the DCU. And the first O’Neil story where Batman’s addicted to it is fantastic.
Chris: It’s even good in “Batman Beyond!”
David: My favorite venom derivative was when Lex Luthor somehow, God knows this makes no sense, mixed it with kryptonite and injected himself with it until he went so crazy he made out with Amanda Waller.
Chris: That scene alone did more to curtail teenage drug use than all the William F. Sessions arcade game screens combined.
David: Why would Lex Luthor inject himself with kryptonite when it had already destroyed the body he was born with? I have no idea. Then again, we are talking about a guy on his third body.
David: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand sold. I figured it was like the Panther’s Heart-Shaped Herb, where you just do it once and you rule for life. This is a needs-a-regular-supply thing, like Gingold?
Chris: Yeah, there are references to it throughout the series. It’s actually really neat in the way that it’s done; “Tom Strong” takes place all throughout the 20th Century, so in the ’30s he’s smoking it as cigarettes for a noirish feel, in the ’60s he has a crazy Goloka hallucination. And to be fair, he also consumed it in other ways, like drinking it as tea. And, heck, he probably baked it into brownies too.
David: I should really get over my Alan Moore prejudice that’s fostered by his recent statements and try to enjoy some of his more lighthearted work here. And besides, Alan Moore is the most 4/20 comic writer of all, since I believe Warren Ellis once testified that he smokes “spliffs the size of chair legs.”
THE ABSORBING MAN
Chris: That is completely insane. But can you imagine if this story had happened in the ’70s and involved Studio 54? You’d have The Absorbing Keith Richards and The Absorbing David Bowie. It’d be the greatest comic of all time.
David: There’s an argument to be made that it actually happened, and the Absorbing David Bowie explains his ever-changing chameleonic personae.