The History of Alcoholism in Superhero Comic Books
We tend to think of superheroes as untouchable “people” with abilities beyond compare. But, many heroes in the Marvel and DC universes have a lot of real-world problems, including mental health issues such as alcoholism. These issues help to make the superheroes in comic books, on television, and in movies more relatable, but it can also make light of a serious problem affecting the U.S.
Alcohol abuse is a huge problem, especially when it comes to binge drinking. The CDC has reported that 1 in 6 adults tend to binge drink four times each month. That can lead to mental health issues like depression, or physical conditions like liver disease or problems with the immune system. Binge drinking is also often associated with drunk driving accidents. In 2008 alone, there were 37,261 traffic fatalities. Drunk drivers caused nearly 12,000 of them.
So, are the depictions of alcoholism in comic books, movies, and television glamorizing this problem, or simply bringing some realism to these otherwise perfect heroes? To find out, it’s a good idea to look at how alcoholism is portrayed by some of the most famous heroic faces, and how it’s affected their lives over time.
From Iron Man to Captain Marvel
Superheroes are often under a lot of stress, so one might understand why they might turn to the bottle for some comfort. But, far too often, alcohol has become a problem for some of the most famous faces in these supernatural universes. One of the most notable figures to struggle with alcohol in comic books is Tony Stark, the business magnate known as Iron Man. Iron Man’s problems with alcohol became a large part of the comic’s plot in 1979. He even ends up heading to Alcoholics Anonymous, where another now-familiar face can be found: Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel may have been a huge box office hit this year, but the comic book version of Carol Danvers had a very different story arc. Danvers was first introduced in 1967, but she didn’t take on the identity of Captain Marvel until much later. Throughout her story arc, she had to deal with a wide variety of traumatic events, including kidnapping, brainwashing, memory loss, sexual abuse, and more. On top of that, Danvers is a military veteran who suffers from PTSD. So, it can be easy to see why she turned to alcohol in order to cope.
As you can see, the idea of alcohol abuse in comic books isn’t anything new, dating back to the 1960s. But the depictions of alcoholism found in these stories is often much darker and grittier than what we typically see in the heroes found in movies and television shows today. Let’s take a look at some more recent depictions of alcohol abuse from these box office successes:
Movies and TV Shows With Alcoholic Heroes
The most recent depiction of binge drinking in a superhero movie happens in “Avengers: Endgame.” After experiencing the trauma of losing some of his closest friends and fellow heroes, Thor takes to the bottle to ease his depression and go “numb” to everything he’s lost. While his fellow Avengers poke fun at his excessive drinking and even his weight, it’s obvious that the Norse god has been in a dark place for a while, which is a common reason why people turn to alcohol.
Other dark, yet accurate depictions of alcohol on the big and small screen include Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” and Wolverine from X-Men movies. The overall look and feel of Jessica Jones’ show is dark and gritty. It makes no apologies for the fact that the lead heroine is dependent on alcohol to simply get through the day.
Wolverine’s dependency on alcohol carried over from the comic books to the X-Men movies, which isn’t extremely common. To contrast this, “Iron Man 3” was supposed to have a plotline that talked about Tony Stark’s problems with alcohol — but Disney ultimately rejected it. As a result, we’ve never been able to see that arc from the comics come to life on the big screen.
The Mental Health Struggles of Superheroes
So, is alcoholism supposed to be portrayed as something glamorous and intriguing in comic books, television, and movies? It doesn’t appear to be. It’s important to take a look at exactly why these powerful heroes are turning to alcohol.
Again, heroes live stressful lives. But, the ones who seem to struggle with the bottle have gone through exceptionally difficult things. Thor lost many of his close friends and went through a lot of emotional trauma. Jessica Jones struggles with PTSD. Wolverine lost the love of his life and is trying to find a way to cope with the pain. Each of these scenarios mirror real-world situations that lead individuals down the road of alcoholism.
Alcoholism and depression are frequently linked. It seems that even in a world where superheroes end up saving the day, they’re not immune to common mental health issues millions of people face on a daily basis.