9 Comic Book Characters Whose Powers Basically Came from Steroids
There are endless varieties of otherworldly powers that have been bestowed upon superhuman beings by comic book writers, ranging from flight and invisibility to intangibility and teleportation. Yet, it’s stunning how many heroes and villains get by on a simple combination of chemically magnified strength and speed. Even more significant is the number of prominent comic-book personalities whose strength and speed are administered through either a single dose of a mysterious chemical agent or several such rationings.
Basically, for every comic book character who received their strength from an exotic animal bite or exposure to a rare form of radiation, there are half a dozen who chugged a vial of some unregulated serum and started using tanks for dodgeball. In short, many comic book characters’ powers are thanks to the ingestion, imbibing, injection or topical application of what is essentially a magical dose of anabolic steroids. Here are a few of the standouts…
Of all the characters on this list, Bane’s placement is the most straightforward. DC Comics has directly labeled Bane’s super-strength-granting “Venom” formulation as a “strength-enhancing super-steroid.” In fact, Venom is so fast-acting that according to some accounts, it causes Bane to gain up to 200 pounds of solid muscle (not to mention an extra foot of height) in seconds.
It’s precisely that sort of hormone-enhanced mass that’s granted Bane fame as the supervillain who has successfully broken Batman’s back in every version of comic continuity. Frankly, Batman’s reputation for being untouchable is so well-established that if your steroids enable you to not only injure the Dark Knight, but to cripple him, you know you’re acquiring your drugs from the right dealer.
The Super-Soldier Serum allowed Steve Rogers to become the pioneer of comic book super steroids. Mere moments after drinking the Super-Soldier Serum, Steve packs on slabs of muscle with the astonishing and suspicious speed of a Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension advertisement straight out of the 1940s.
Perhaps due to Captain America’s unrivaled wholesomeness, Super-Soldier Serum has generally been given a pass with respect to what it truly was — a permanent shortcut to the uppermost limits of speed, power and muscle definition. It’s no wonder then that it seems like half of Captain America’s exploits across multiple mediums have involved his less scrupulous enemies trying to reverse engineer the formula to Secret-Soldier Serum so that they can drink it themselves.
As Hourman, Rick Tyler literally carries a bottle of pills called Miraclo around with him that grant him superhuman strength, speed and stamina for an hour at a time. This depiction closely resembles a glorified super gym bro, who walks straight into the gym with a bag full of pills and powders and downs them all before going to work. In his case, Tyler swallows the elevated equivalent to a magical steroid mixed with a highly aggressive pre-workout supplement and transforms into a star that burns brightly and fades rapidly.
In a very self-aware move, DC Comics actually ran a storyline where Tyler became legitimately addicted to the rush of Miraclo, while also suffering from the hormonal toll it imposed on his body. To cement Miraclo even more squarely in the steroid column, DC declared that Bane’s Venom was an upgraded version of Miraclo’s formula. This would definitely earn both drugs a placement on the NCAA’s list of banned substances.
The Black Panther gets his abilities from the Heart-Shaped Herb, and the bulk of the powers he receives are indistinguishable from those provided by the Super-Soldier Serum. The Black Panther’s abilities are generally listed as enhanced strength, speed, stamina and reflexes, and all as the result of the chemical enhancement provided by Wakanda’s most potent herb.
Different methods for absorbing the strength-granting properties of the Heart-Shaped Herb have been depicted in print and film, but the most interesting is the topical application, where a team of handlers slathered a concoction based on the herb on the Black Panther’s abdomen. This makes it highly reminiscent of the Cream, a testosterone-infused ointment prescribed by BALCO Labs, and distributed to several star athletes who attempted to skirt the rules, Barry Bonds chief among them.
Elijah Bradley claimed to have genetically inherited his peak-human strength from his grandfather Isaiah Bradley, the retroactive Black Captain America. Everyone took Eli’s claims at face value, but then it was later discovered that Patriot acquired his power from a street drug known as mutant growth hormone. It was a fictitious and exaggerated take on human growth hormone, which has a reputation for being an untraceable workaround for anabolic steroids.
In essence, Patriot was committing the comic-book equivalent of sophisticated juicing, but the Young Avengers writers gave him a rapid upgrade. Eventually, Patriot received a blood transfusion from his superheroic grandfather to spare his life, resulting in Eli no longer needing to rely on doses of MGH to provide his strength. And so, Eli transitioned from a hormonal street drug to a top-of-the-line comic book steroid acquired straight from the tap.
Calvin Zabo’s Mr. Hyde is a classic case of a mad scientist who drinks a potion and grows into an oversized monster with superhuman strength. On its own, that might have been sufficient to land him on this list. However, what’s really intriguing is the version of Mr. Hyde from Marvel’s Agents of Shield TV series. In describing the ingredients of his strength-granting formula, Zabo cites “anabolic-androgenic steroids” as the first ingredient. He then throws in “various metabolic enhancers” and “gorilla testosterone” for good measure. So case closed, and no speculation necessary.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that Asterix is the French equivalent to Mickey Mouse. The beloved, undersized Gaulish warrior became famous for his fictional exploits against the occupying armies of Ancient Rome. The secret to his success? A magical potion cooked up by the druid Getafix, which imbues anyone who drinks it with superhuman strength.
That’s enough to land Asterix on our list in and of itself, but Asterix at the Olympic Games established a legitimate connection between steroids and the Gaulish magic potion when Asterix lured his Roman competitors into drinking the magic potion, and then baited them into exposing their use of the potion to enhance their performance, resulting in all of them getting disqualified for drug use.
Kraven the Hunter
Kraven the Hunter was an underrated inclusion in the first wave of Spider-Man villains, and he enjoys regular rations of Calypso Serum, which invigorates Kraven with enhanced strength, speed and endurance, along with boosted senses. Like Captain America, Kraven also resembles a 30-year-old man despite being touted as an old codger who’s at least in his 70s. This makes Calypso Serum sound like the world’s best anti-aging and testosterone-replacement therapy.
As if that wasn’t enough to make Calypso Serum sound like a steroid, Marvel’s official entry for Calypso Serum states that it’s also known to impair judgment and induce violent rage. If this doesn’t sound tantamount to a superhuman episode of roid rage, I don’t know what else would qualify.
The Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation
In a storyline half a decade ahead of its time, it turned out that nearly every in-ring performer in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation — except for The Fantastic Four’s ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing — was receiving regular doses of what were essentially super steroids from The Power Broker. Somehow, no one was suspicious as to why so many unregistered athletes simultaneously turned up with the ability to lift five or more tons with ease.
In real life, WWF owner Vince McMahon was indicted in 1993 on multiple charges related to steroid distribution. Although he was ultimately found not guilty, it was substantiated that several wrestlers who previously wrestled for the WWF during the 1980s did receive steroids from Dr. George Zahorian, the WWF’s former ringside physician. A highly interesting case of a comic book writer accidentally depicting a semi-accurate account of behind-the-scenes chicanery years before it was exposed to the masses.