Illegal narcotics are always an instant go-to when it comes to PSAs, so it's no surprise that there are countless examples in the world of comic books. Today we're looking at Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs, it was a two-issue series that Marvel published in conjunction with the FBI.
The choice of using Captain America as a champion for the war on drugs is hilarious, if not ironic. If you're not familiar with the origins of Captain America, take a gander at these panels from Captain America Comics #1 published back in 1941:
That's right kiddies, Captain America's powers came from drugs. I get that he's a symbol of patriotism, but using him for your drug-free comic is like using Fat Man to promote tourism in Japan. But hey, whatever, the FBI knows what they're doing right? I mean, the US government has spent over a trillion dollars to stamp out the scourge of drugs, and that totally worked! So why not this?
Anyway, anti-drug comics usually come in two varieties of PSA's: The first is the down-to-earth story where the hero gives advice to a kid with a bright future ahead of him or her. The second is usually a battle with a ridiculous super-villain that is based on whatever the subject matter is. In the case of Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs, it does both!
Issue #1: High Heat
This story is written by the legendary Peter David, who is usually pretty good at spinning a super-hero yarn about a serious subject. He probably had the most, uh, progressive stance on the AIDS epidemic of the 90s during his epic run on Incredible Hulk. So even though this is a PSA comic about drugs, you know that the writer is decent.
The Drug Test
The story begins with aliens called the Tzin, who are planning to take over the planet Earth. Their chosen method is enslaving the population of a given planet. But, after watching Captain America break up a drug operation, they question if annihilation would be the best option. This is because they witness that human beings have a strong will.
However, after observing children being lured into the seedy world of drugs, they decide to run an experiment. To test the viability of their plan, the aliens decide to find a youth with the most potential and sap his will with drugs. If they succeed they will continue with their invasion plans.
They target a teen named Mitch Baskin, who is the star player on his high school baseball team. His budding drug addiction causes his performance to drop, worrying his friend Keith Wilson. Wilson has a direct line to Captain America and writes him a letter expressing his concerns that Mitch is on drugs. Apparently it was a slow day for freedom, because Cap decides to go down to Columbus, Ohio, to check the situation out.
Right Out of the Park
That night Mitch meets his local drug dealer and is given some new, more powerful drugs. On the day of the big game, Mitch is hopped up on goofballs so bad that it is visibly noticeable. Despite this, the coach still lets him go out and play. As a result, Mitch throws a pitch that hits the batter in the head, knocking him out. That's when Captain America arrives on the scene to lend a hand because timing is everything.
When Mitch admits that he is high on drugs, he is chastised for almost killing a dude with his fastball. Later, Mitch confronts his drug dealer about the drugs. But when he hits his pusher in the face, his seemingly human appearance shatters revealing one of the aliens trying to take over the Earth.
Naturally, when he runs into some local kids with baseball bats screaming about aliens selling him drugs, this lynch mob begins beating on him for hurting their friend. Captain America comes in again and saves Mitch from a severe beating. He then gives the kid one of the worst lectures about drugs I have ever heard:
From here, Captain America goes on to tell Mitch that everyone feels sad sometimes and that they don't need to do drugs to be happy because being happy all the time isn't normal. After this rather tepid pep talk, Mitch thanks Cap for his advice and goes on his merry way. The story ends with Captain America finding the shattered face mask on the ground.
That it. That's how the story ends.
Why This PSA Fails
First and foremost, let's talk about the aliens in this story. Much like Prodigy in that Spider-Man Sex-Ed comic, they're going to some pretty insane lengths to take over the world. For aliens who have faster-than-light travel, they sure don't know a lot about proliferating drugs. You come from another planet across the universe and your best plan is to hand out ambiguous packets to one kid? Here's a pro-tip to any potential alien overlords out there: If you know humans can get addicted to things, you could gas the entire planet. Getting people high one person at a time is incredibly inefficient.
Also, let's talk about how Captain America doesn't show up on time for anything in this story. He's concerned enough about a kid getting hooked on drugs, but doesn't arrive in time to stop horrible things from happening. He is in the crowd, watching a drugged up kid play baseball, but doesn't change into costume and get involved until said teen almost kills a guy on the other team. Later, he arrives a little late to save Mitch from the lynch mob that is beating the shit out of him with baseball bats. I get that this kid needs to learn that his actions have consequences, but this is ridiculous.
Also, we never really find out what happened to Ricky, the kid who gets hit with the baseball. Does he die? Does he suffer brain damage? Is he okay? No answers from anyone since people are more concerned about Mitch and his drug habit.
Mitch doesn't really learn anything other than "people have feelings so don't do drugs." I'm sure Ricky is going to feel better about Mitch's life affirmation once he gets out of the hospital and learns his parents can't afford baseball anymore because of his medical bills. However, credit where credit is due, that was one hell of a fastball. I say put this kid in the Majors, it's not like a mean pitch and a drug habit ever stopped anybody.
If you thought this was a bad PSA, we haven't even gotten into the second issue yet. Join us next time to find out how much worse it can get from here.