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Friday, September 29, 2006 

Supervillains as drug addicts?

There were two storylines in the past year or so that struck me as rather contrived, and considering that these are rogues gallery villains I'm talking about here, that's one more reason why I don't see what it adds to them. From Spyder-25, here's a review of the Marvel Knights Spider-Man #16 (and that line has since been discontinued):
The issue picks up from last issue with the Absorbing Man (Crusher Creel) and his mysterious female partner high tailing it back to the Owl’s office after being attacked by the Punisher during his brief cameo in issue #15. The Absorbing Man must remain in his metallic form in order to survive being shot by the Punisher. Needless to say the Owl and the mystery woman are becoming increasingly annoyed with the ineffective drug addled Crusher Creel devising a rather creative way to eliminate him. Hudlin’s portrayal of Crusher Creel as a shiftless drug addict is an interesting and different take on the character. I don'’t recall if this was his status in previous appearances but it’s different. I like it.

Creel has the potential to be a major threat but his drug addiction prevents him from achieving his full potential. It’s this kind of real world spin that I believe the Marvel Knights line is supposed to convey. Rather than being a bank robbing bland villain Crusher Creel seems like someone you may have went to high school with, great potential, feel into drugs, and now he’'s looked upon as a loser.
Gee, I don't recall ever going to high school with anyone who was a junkie. If any student where I went got into that crap, the school board would expel them ASAP.

And while I never got to read the issue in question here, that won't keep me from saying what I think so far - I'm not impressed with the idea of turning costumed criminals into drug addicts, yet that's what was done even with the second Mirror Master, Evan McCulloch, in Flash #212, and the only reason I can think of there that they'd do it for was shock tactics. Did it add to the character? I don't think so, and it's one of a few things that frightened me away from the Flash at the time, as I began to realize that Geoff Johns was going downhill.

When Denny O'Neil wrote his run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow in the early 70s, what made things work so well from a reality based perspective was that he used realistic criminals without any costumes or superpowers, ditto the long famous story where Roy Harper (Speedy/Arsenal) became a junkie. But here, as in Reginald Hudlin's story, and certainly the Flash story by Johns, it doesn't seem to add up to anything, adds nothing to the villains except perhaps to make them even less appealing than they already are, and only reinforces the notion that today's supervillains must be darker than ever.

In fact, now that I think of it, costumed criminals, at least in terms of DC, seem to make up more than 80 percent of the adversaries seen in the DCU today. In the MCU, it's been almost the opposite, certainly in Spider-Man, without even being very engaging or engrossing. Not much creativity either.

Whether the villain's got a personality, considering that they're less realistic than common street crooks, and certainly less believable than the heros, that's why it comes off more contrived for a costumed crook to be snorting coke and crack. One can only wonder if the companies will find it as easy selling any toy action figures based on these supervillains if anyone knows that Crusher Creel and McCulloch have become addicts.

Another problem I see in this is something that may have affected the movies and TV as well in recent years - overfocus on the personalities of the criminals, and not enough on the heros, if at all. That's almost what Johns work on the Flash suffered from too, that it was more interested in the villains than the hero's own life and personality (the Rogue War story certainly suggested that in its first two parts), and must've thought it could get away with it by first trying to generate sympathy for the villains, then destroying it later on. (This entry on K-Squared talks about how the villains were written with childhood traumas, which I think was overdoing it too.) In fact, the biggest problem with Identity/Infinite Crisis is that they had a whole case of Stockholm Syndrome running around, and cared more for the villains than the heros.

In any case, turning supervillains into drug addicts is silly and stilted at best, and does not have wide audience appeal to it, one more reason why I think that turning Creel and McCulloch into junkies is a big botch.

Also, notice that the reviewer says, "I don'’t recall if this was his status in previous appearances"? Well I'm not familiar with every story featuring the Absorbing Man (or even his wife, Titania), but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when he debuted in the Silver Age, he most certainly wasn't addicted to drugs back then. His profile as given on Answers.Com* says that he'd been spending time in jail for aggravated assault while working with an extortion racket when Loki, looking for a way to defeat Thor, selected him as an unwitting but still very delighted subject. And that makes more sense.

Seeing that the MK Spidey story was written by a man of the movies, Reginald Hudlin, just like Geoff Johns himself was at one point, I think this could be another case of moviemakers using their status to exploit the franchises for all they're worth, and to put in yet more of their needless personal ideas that don't fit the story in a plausible sense. And that can make yet another argument about why moviemakers do not make the best of comic book writers.

* Given how unreliable Wikipedia, from which most of it was taken, can be, because anyone, good or bad, can edit an entry, that's why I really like the Marvel Directory profile of Crusher Creel better.

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