by Miranda on 11/05/2015 | Consumption Opinion

FROM POPEYE TO THE SUPERHEROES: MARIJHUANA AND OTHER SUBSTANCES – PART III

Analysing all the characters and superheroes that have appeared throughout the history of comics is a monumental task that, due to time and space constraints, we won’t be able to take on. However, we can continue to focus on some of the most popular ones to ascertain the relationship they have with both legal and illegal drugs and how they appear, whether openly or covertly, in a large number of stories, reflecting our own historical, social and cultural zeitgeist at the time of their publication.


Analysing all the characters and superheroes that have appeared throughout the history of comics is a monumental task that, due to time and space constraints, we won’t be able to take on. However, we can continue to focus on some of the most popular ones to ascertain the relationship they have with both legal and illegal drugs and how they appear, whether openly or covertly, in a large number of stories, reflecting our own historical, social and cultural zeitgeist at the time of their publication.

SPIDERMAN

Sensi Seeds Blog - Superheroes
Spiderman appeared for the first time in the sixties (riptheskull)

In 1962, Stan Lee, who has admitted to regular use of marijuana and insists that it was important as part of the process of creating the world of Marvel, and Steve Ditko created one of the most innovative characters of the history of comics. When Spiderman appeared for the first time in the sixties, teenage characters in comics had always been relegated to the role of the hero’s sidekick. Stan Lee broke from that tradition. Readers could instantly identify with Peter Parker, a very intelligent teenage secondary school student and Spiderman’s alter-ego, because of his shy and retiring personality and his seeming inability to fit in with other young people of his age. Peter Parker acquires his spider powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider that had been exposed to the drug “OZ”, a steroid injected and absorbed through the skin. (Photo 1)

In 1971, the Spiderman comics were the most popular among young people. Because of this, the president of the President of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare suggested to Stan Lee, who was the scriptwriter of the series at the time, the idea of publishing a Spiderman comic that warned about the dangers of drugs. Stan Lee accepted and published the trilogy in which drugs appeared as a theme, by presenting Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s best friend, as an LSD addict.

THE HULK

Sensi Seeds Blog - Superheroes
The Hulk appears mainly due to fury, excitement, and fear, i.e. states potentially caused by substance abuse (pitgp)

1962 saw the first appearance of The Hulk, another character created by Lee and Kirby, as writer and illustrator, respectively. The scientist Robert Bruce Banner inherited mutant genes from his father, which form the basis of The Hulk’s innate characteristics. Years later, when Bruce tries out one of his latest inventions, the Gamma Bomb, there is an explosion and he is fully exposed to radiation. Lethal exposure to the gamma rays in conjunction with the activation of the mutant genes, or nanomeds, make Bruce able to transform himself into The Hulk from that moment on. The story of The Incredible Hulk is directly inspired by The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), by exploring the dichotomy that exists between Dr Banner’s well-developed intellect and the simple and emotional mind of The Hulk. As in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, good and bad co-exist within the same person. This idea for the novel came to Stevenson after a nightmare he had while under the influence of cocaine, and he finished the novel in six days. (Photo 2)

In the first stories, the transformations occur only when the moon comes out but as the series progresses, The Hulk emerges mainly due to fury, excitement, and fear, i.e. states potentially caused by substance abuse. The Hulk is a monster with superhuman strength who is continuously persecuted and attacked by the army. Here we find a transformation that can be dangerous, like drug abuse, and certainly with this persecution by law enforcement, the anti-drug crusade.

DAREDEVIL

Sensi Seeds Blog - Superheroes
Despite his blindness, Daredevil uses a kind of radar similar to that used by bats, called echolocation (pitgp)

Daredevil, the Man Without Fear, is one of Marvel’s most popular characters and was created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964. Having lost his sight in an accident when he was little, Daredevil’s four remaining senses developed to superhuman levels as a result of radiation. Despite his blindness, he uses a kind of radar similar to that used by bats, called echolocation. He has prodigious hearing which allows him to detect whether words used by people speaking to him are true or false by listening for variations in their heartbeat. His sense of touch is also acute and he possesses superhuman strength. When he combines his sense of touch with echolocation, he turns his club into a terrible weapon, with which he demonstrates incredible accuracy. (Photo 3)

All of these characteristics are reminiscent of the experiences had when consuming psychedelic substances. Psychedelic drugs started to be investigated in 1897 when the German chemist Arthur Heffter managed to isolate mescaline, which is the psychoactive substance of peyote and a psychotropic. The main effect of this is to alter the brain’s mental processes and the mind’s perception. This means that psychedelic drugs can help access and develop the untapped potential of the human mind. Psychedelic drugs reached their pinnacle of popularity in the decade of the 1960s and the beginning of the ‘70s when drugs such as LSD were central to the ‘hippie’ subculture in Western Europe and the United States.

THE X-MEN

Sensi Seeds Blog - Superheroes
Society views mutants with fear and hatred and attacks them with violence, as occurs with the discriminated minorities in the United States (elacechantenocturno)

The X-Men are a team of superheroes from the Marvel universe created, once again, by Lee and Kirby in 1963. The story now sees a disabled character: Charles Xavier, a man trapped in a wheelchair but with an extremely powerful mind, because he is a mutant with extraordinary telepathic abilities. A mutant is an organism (generally human) that possesses a genetic feature called Gen-X, which enables the mutant to naturally develop superhuman powers and abilities. Charles Xavier creates a School for Gifted Youngsters for young mutants, which served as a smokescreen to keep their identities secret. Society views them with fear and hatred and attacks them with violence. They represent the discriminated minorities in the United States. Some authors say that the mutants are a metaphor for the black population of the United States, and digging deeper, Xavier’s “dream” could be a reference to Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. (Photo 4)

In this case, we’re not talking about the appearance of one or various specific substances in the X-Men stories but about how hard drugs such as opiates, which were consumed to a lesser degree than soft drugs at the time, play an important role in the countercultural movement of the time, as they are used by the system to control the revolutionary tendencies of the rebel social subject. At the time, the black minority was associated with the use and trafficking of heroin and it was in 1967 in the USA in Detroit, when members of the Black Panther Party accused several heroin traffickers of selling the drug to members of its organisation for below its street value. The Black Panther Party fought against drug trafficking in deprived neighbourhoods in which the black population lived, as they believed heroin to demoralise more, on a social level, than poverty itself. It was discovered that some of the traffickers selling the drugs to the black population were undercover FBI agents who participated in a strategic operation against the Black Panthers with the aim of depoliticising the social movement of the African-American population.

In 1967, The Black Panther appears. The Black Panther is a Marvel superhero, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and appears in the pages of issue 52 of the Fantastic Four. This is the first black superhero in the history of comics, although it must be underlined that the character was created prior to the Black Panther party, which was founded in October of that same year. As time has gone on, the number of black characters has continued to rise.

Sensi Seeds Blog - Superheroes
During the Vietnam War, heroin-use among the population and the soldiers posted there was very high (manhhai)

We cannot finish without a mention of the Vietnam War, a conflict fought by the United States of America between 1959 and 1975 to halt the reunification of Vietnam under a Communist government, which was joined by characters such as Flash and Spiderman. We now know that the American soldiers posted in Vietnam consumed large quantities of drugs, which came from trafficking controlled by the CIA and its private army in Hmong and Laos. We also know that armies have used drugs for soldiers since time immemorial, from alcohol to new synthetic drugs. (Photo 4)

A study conducted by Helzer et al, published in 1985, demonstrated that close to 20% of Vietnam War veterans had becoming dependent on heroin and other derivatives of opium. Cannabis-use among American soldiers in Vietnam was very common, especially since 1968 when more than 50% of American soldiers consumed some type of drug. In 1970, this went up to 65%. In 1974, Edward Kennedy made the following declaration: “we are fighting a war on two fronts, against heroin and against communism. And we are in danger of losing both”.

Now to 2015, and we have skipped several decades and many other characters that emerged throughout these, because of time and space constraints but sadly, the War on Drugs as contradictory as that may seem, goes on to this day. It is a losing battle that is in need of new policies. It is clear that the use of substances can’t be halted by force because it would be wrong and ludicrous not to admit, or to try to conceal, the nature of human behaviour, the history of mankind, the therapeutic basis of medical science or the reality of the “other wars” this “war” conceals. This war is a covert way of controlling a society that did not succeed in attaining the objectives set by Nixon in 1971.

Nowadays in the 21st century, the comics industry continues to fight to gain the status it deserves, and it does so with the support of its loyal fans, more numerous than people would think. Those who think that comics are only books with pictures are committing a grave error and I hope that this article has helped raise awareness of that.

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