Comic books have never been afraid to push boundaries. Captain America socked Hitler in the face years before the US had even engaged the Nazi menace, superheroes have been used to illustrate countless societal ills, and Superman made it okay for people to wear their pants over their trousers.
The form has been home to countless brave editors, writers and artists who are keen to make their mark and really say something with the comics they produce. Sometimes, though, those creative teams are misguided in their choice of topic, or in the way that they go about exploring it. Sometimes they’ve not really thought through the implications of introducing heavy themes like drug abuse, incest and rape into their superhero stories. Or at least, you’d hope they hadn’t, because the alternative is that they thought it totally fine to trivialise horrible subjects, or purposefully made squeaky clean superheroes do bad things for shock value and publicity.
All publicity is good publicity, though. Sort of.
These controversial comic book storylines – featuring everyone from Batman to Tigra – have often been some of the publisher behind them’s biggest sellers, sometimes even becoming classics of their genre. That doesn’t stop them being massively inappropriate for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that they usually involve characters who are otherwise fun, colourful kids favourites.
15. Tony Stark The Lush
One of the things that has set Marvel apart from its competitors is in their humanising of their superhuman characters. Spider-Man is a goofy, bullied teen; The Fantastic Four are an average bickering family, with added cosmic powers; the X-Men are hated and feared. Iron Man, on the other hand, was principally created as a rich arms dealer because Stan Lee wanted to troll hippies during the Cold War.
So how to bring him down from that mean spirited, satirical height, and into a “real” human character? Make him an alcoholic, duh.
Demon In A Bottle is considered a classic in the comic book canon, and it certainly helped redefine Tony Stark, his alcoholism becoming a permanent aspect of his characterisation that has been referred back to ever since. At the same time…it’s a story about a drunk superhero. And one that ends with him pretty much conquering his drinking problems after a few weeks, which is hardly the most realistic depiction of a drinking problem.
Admittedly, it’s a depiction of alcoholism in a guy who has a flying robot suit, but if you’re gonna bring real life into your comic book, you’ve got to play by its rules at least a little.