May 4, 2011

Comics and Addiction (About That PRISM Award)

Just a note going in - as many of you are aware, my professional background includes work in both chemical dependency treatment and prevention. I also know several people who are in recovery for addictions, so consider this the perspective of a well-informed bystander.

I always have a slight interest in how addiction is presented in the media - much of it still tends to operate in the "After School Special" range. However, I was a little taken aback when I read DC Comics' announcement that they had won the PRISM Award for the best depiction of addiction and mental health issues for both Greek Street  and Justice League: the Rise of Arsenal.

To quote Chris Sims, yes, that Rise of Arsenal.

Rather than go into a litany of how rotten the book was (and besides, the above link goes straight to that litany), I would like to talk a little about how, well, DC created the comic equivalent of the punk rock episode of Quincy, M.E.

But Gordon, you're probably thinking, Why are you getting worked up about this? In the end, isn't it just about comics? 

Let me just say - Greek Street got it right. Its portrayal of a soldier with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome was a very strong tale, and if you haven't read it, pick up the trades. But I'm not the only person who finds the PRISM Awards rationale a little...well, questionable.

Addiction is never as clean cut in "real life" as it is in pop culture...or even on Celebrity Detox. Relapse is never just a clear cut "I-had-a-bad-day-oh-to-heck-with-sobriety" - in fact, many of my peers who have relapsed in their recovery could easily claim that they mentally relapsed (fell into old patterns) before they began using again. (If you would like a more formal introduction to relapse issues, try reading Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention by Terence Gorski). However, The Rise of Arsenal turned much of this into nothing more than melodrama...and really bad melodrama at that.

Many people who are recovering - and who identify themselves as addicts - will disclose that they don't take their sobriety for granted. It's a neverending struggle that they manage through connecting with others, working with appropriate groups, and more importantly, seeing themselves as more than just an addict. When the idea of a superhero sidekick as addict was written in the 1970s, it was meant to push comics into a much more realistic - and recognizable - area of storytelling.

However, all Rise of Arsenal has done is taken old cliches and given them a 21st century spin...and sadly, they've been rewarded for it.

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