Diving Into The 'Very Special' Anti-Drug Superhero Comics Of The '70s
At times it can feel like everything is wrapped up in some kind of messaging. This week at Cracked, we're taking a closer look at propaganda and how it has shaped the world in ways that may not be so obvious.
Over the decades, Marvel and DC have ended up publishing the same weirdly specific story ideas within months or even weeks of each other, either due to cosmic synchronicity or a generalized lack of originality, depending on how cynical you're feeling. One of the most historically significant examples of this happened in 1971 when both Spider-Man and Green Lantern faced the same fearsome enemy: drugs. Or, a non-drugs-using comic book writer's idea of drugs, anyway.
Marvel's side came about because the Nixon Administration asked Stan Lee to do an anti-drug comic starring whoever the kids happened to like the most. Since Marvel didn't own the rights to Sophia Loren or Columbo, Lee went with Spider-Man, but he knew that his readers didn't like to be preached at, so he decided to make the anti-drug message as subtle as he could. That's why the story starts with Spidey running into a kid who got high and decided to walk off a rooftop.
In the next issue, we find out that Peter Parker's friend Harry Osborn has been buying some shady pills from a guy with a handlebar mustache who, like all the best drug pushers, straight up tells him that he'll get addicted to them. Again: subtlety.
Of course, Peter soon finds Harry overdosing on his Flintstones vitamins or whatever that was, and he spends the following issue trying to deal with that situation while fighting the Green Goblin. Eventually, the Goblin realizes that the OD'd kid is his son (to be fair, who can keep up with Marvel continuity?), which makes him stop being evil and forget that Peter is Spider-Man. Perhaps a more logical storyline would have been to reveal that that guy was on drugs the whole time.
Since this storyline was commissioned by Uncle Sam himself, Marvel went ahead and printed it without the permission of the Comics Code Authority, which specifically forbade any mention of drugs in comics, good or bad. This really pissed off DC, which had been planning its own anti-drug comic for some time but was holding it back because of the Comics Code. The story was part of the ongoing saga in which Green Lantern and Green Arrow decided to go on a road trip to see the real America and take on everyday issues like racism, pollution, and a psychic little girl version of Nixon (you couldn't go out without being jumped by six of those in the '70s). In the obligatory drug-themed episode, Green Arrow is surprised to find his sidekick, Speedy, shooting up some smack, so he reacts by delivering a smack of his own.
The story involves GL and GA being defeated by junkies and drugged at no cost by a particularly generous dealer. The villain turns out to be a pharmaceutics CEO who is secretly a drug kingpin. Actually, scratch that -- the real villain is society, man. Which, okay, fair enough. Overall, these issues have aged a lot better than the Spider-Man ones because they do a better job at showing the drug users' perspective. Speedy even gets to return the punch at the end:
Somehow, addicts continued to exist after the publication of these comics, and it's generally acknowledged that drugs won the war on drugs. But nice try.
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
Top image: Marvel Comics, DC Comics