Fictional Characters, Real Life IssuesApril 2, 2014
In a world where super villains like Thanos and The Mandarin exist, how could your average comic book reader ever relate to the protagonist? Comic books have been a great source of escaping over the years on adventures we never face at home, but what happens when our favourite superheroes deal with real life issues?
Let’s look at Tony Stark for example. When he is in his suit he is Iron Man and nothing can stop him, but outside of that suit he is simply Tony Stark. He’s a human being with bigger problems that a metal suit just can’t fix. In 1979, The Invincible Iron Man writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton took the character on a nine issue story arc that proved that Iron Man truly wasn’t invincible. The Demon in a Bottle arc ran from issue 120-128, and takes Tony to a dark place when his Iron Man suit is taken away from him during an investigation of the accidental death of an ambassador. Without his suit, Tony turns to alcohol to deal with his problems. We all know that eventually he pulls through, but during his downward spiral, he nearly ruins relationships with The Avengers, his best friend Rhodes and even his trusty butler Edwin Jarvis. Stark’s alcoholism certainly isn’t over; it remains a defining characteristic of Tony Stark, and is often revisited in Iron Man stories.
Tony Stark’s issues don’t just stop at alcoholism, and they carry over to the current Marvel movie universe. If there is anything that 2013’s Iron Man 3 portrayed correctly, it’s the mental health issues that Tony suffered from following the events of The Avengers in New York. Throughout the film Tony suffers from panic attacks brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder. The film portrays his panic attacks near perfectly and doesn’t make a mockery out of mental health issues, which seems to be a reoccurring issue not just in movies but in real life. Tony remains to be a fan favourite, and I can only hope that they use his new found fame to spread awareness of some of these issues and continue to write these great storylines for the character.
Stark wasn’t the first comic book hero to deal with addiction though; in 1971, Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil brought us the two-part anti-drug story Snowbirds Don’t Fly. When our favourite best friend superhero duo Green Lantern and Green Arrow are investigating a group of muggers and junkies, they are surprised to find Oliver Queen’s young protégé Roy Harper, also known as Speedy, among the junkies. Originally the story of Roy Harper getting addicted to drugs was turned down because the Comics Code Authority prohibits the use of drugs in comics, but eventually the code was rewritten to allow them to release the award winning story. The O’Neil and Adams runs of Green Lantern and Green Arrow not only tackled addiction, but issues like over-population and racism in the 70’s.
Sometimes the comic companies don’t handle touchy subjects properly and end up finding themselves in some trouble. DC Comics Batwoman is a series that is lead by a lesbian character. In late 2013, the creative team of the series quit due to an editorial decision. Writer’s W. Haden Blackman and JH Williams III had plans for Kate Kane/Batwoman to marry her police detective girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. The writing team fought just to get them engaged, but in the end they were told that no marriage could ever result. DC claims that it would compromise the character and the series.
Lastly, I couldn’t write this article without mentioning Spider-Man. I don’t think any comic book character is more relatable to the average reader than Peter Parker. From being bullied as a teenager to his adult life where he faces the difficulties of holding a job and being on time for dinner with MJ, Peter may not be a drug addict but his life isn’t made any easier after developing super powers. With great power comes great responsibility, a responsibility that Peter takes seriously and often prioritizes and hurts the people he loves.
We might not be Spider-Man, but I’m sure we can all relate to the everyday issues that Peter Parker faces and I’m sure most of us at least know someone who has suffered from some of the more serious issues like Tony Stark or Roy Harper. The truth is nobody is invincible, and we all have our villains to face.