That Time Iron Man was Captain Marvel’s AA Sponsor
Pop quiz: What do Tony Stark and Carol Danvers have in common? Aside from the fact that they have both headlined game-changing superhero films, can beat the crud out of almost any opponent, and struggled with daddy issues, they are also both alcoholics.
Iron Man was the first to develop an addiction, in the groundbreaking “Demon in a Bottle” storyline in the late 1970s. In the end, he admitted he had a problem and got sober.
While Tony stayed on the wagon for a while, he has fallen off on a semi-regular basis. The first time came in Iron Man #167, and he ended up losing his money, his company, his home, and even his armor. It took a long time for him to get his life back. He very nearly lost it again in Iron Man #308, when an AI took over his body and indulged his craving for alcohol within about 10 minutes. Tony quickly expunged the AI, but he still had to deal with the fallout.
That brings us to the late 1990s. The Avengers had just reformed, and both Iron Man and Warbird (as Carol was known at the time) made the team. But while Tony was firmly sober, Carol was struggling with fluctuations in her power levels, as well as the aftereffects of having her memories stolen years earlier. Instead of telling her teammates about her troubles, she drank to take the edge off.
Needless to say, drinking the pain away is not so great, as far as coping strategies go. It began to backfire in Avengers #6 when Warbird, plagued by insecurities, lashed out at teammates and accused them of trying to undermine her. Iron Man recognized the signs of alcoholism and told the others to leave her be so he could help her privately.
Tony dutifully went to Carol’s house in Iron Man #7 to check up on her. He even revealed his secret identity to her in an attempt to show his sincerity and concern. But the second he even hinted she might have a problem, Carol took it, uh, bad. As in, “get drunk, crash into another person’s business, expose the evil aliens hiding out there, and put the whole world at risk” bad.
This is the moment when Carol realized that all of her excuses for drinking so much — including that her powers allowed her to handle it — were just that: excuses. Still, she buried herself in denial and continued on a reckless, arrogant path until the Avengers had to court martial her. When it became clear the vote wasn’t going her way, Carol rage-quit before they could finish.
After that, Carol moved from Boston to Seattle, hoping for a fresh start. By a happy coincidence, Tony was also living in Seattle at the time, and they ran into each other in Iron Man #18. Once again, she tried to fight drunk, and once again, she put others in danger as a result. But this time, she had a very different reaction.
I don’t know if it was intentional, but the near-mirroring of the dialogue from Tony’s own moment of clarity was a nice touch.
After that, Carol stopped drinking and, with Tony’s help, stayed on the wagon for several weeks. Nevertheless, she still exhibited embarrassment about her condition and a determination to prove herself. She insisted that, aside from Tony, she needed no help in recovering, despite Tony’s repeated suggestions that she accompany him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
At this point, I’d like to say that, while Alcoholics Anonymous has been very helpful for very many people, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with addiction. Furthermore, AA is a spiritual organization, which, again, is not for everyone. Tony’s insistence that Carol attend AA meetings just because they helped him specifically strikes me as needlessly pushy and narrow-minded. Still, his larger point — that there’s no shame in getting help when you need it, and that a strong support system is essential for long-term success — is solid.
Sure enough, a few issues later, Carol starts drinking again. This time, instead of letting her fight while intoxicated, Tony pulls the old “look, behind you!” trick and knocks her unconscious. When Carol comes to, she gets full-on blackout drunk and goes on a murderous rampage.
I’ve noticed that Carol is much more violent when drunk than Tony ever was. He certainly did a lot of damage and made a lot of bad decisions, but he never actively tried to kill anybody, let alone his friends. I’m sure that says something about them, personality-wise.
Warbird chucks Iron Man through the wing of an airplane, nearly killing everyone aboard, then has just enough time to snap out of it before passing out from alcohol poisoning. Thanks to her powers, she recovers, but a doctor warns her that if she ever drinks again, she’ll die.
Carol is about to ignore the warning and go to a bar. Instead, she sees Iron Man fighting a giant robot on TV and goes to his aid. Naturally, he is reluctant to let her help at first, but she ultimately persuades him she is sober and remorseful.
Her dialogue here — “I won’t let you down. You’ll see!” — is very telling. This whole time, she has desperately been trying to prove her worth and capabilities to others. Warbird is clearly dealing with a lot of insecurities for many different reasons. She longs for validation, even as she pretends not to need or care about anyone else — and when she doesn’t get it, she drinks.
After defeating the giant robot in Iron Man #25, Carol finally attends the AA meeting that Tony invited her to.
Thus endeth the saga of Carol’s descent into, and eventual recovery from, alcoholism.
The MCU all but ignored Tony’s drinking problem — the party scene in Iron Man 2 barely brushed up against it — and if they wouldn’t acknowledge the most famous alcoholic in all of comics, I doubt they’ll acknowledge Carol’s addiction in the upcoming The Marvels. (There’s no hint of it in the trailer, certainly.) It’s a shame, in a way, because this is something I really love about superhero stories. Sure, I enjoy seeing our heroes beat up giant robots as much as anyone, but I also like it when they help each other through more human problems.
Keep your civil wars and your infinite crises where heroes do nothing but try to kill each other. I’ll be over here watching my heroes provide unconditional emotional support…while also sometimes trying to kill each other.