Brubaker and Phillips create an interesting story. Unfortunately, aside from an interesting premise, there’s not much else going for this story. At 80 pages long, the story takes quite some time to get going, and when it does, there’s just not much there. The characters themselves are one-note and unlikable. Ellie herself says she is a bad influence, and Skip doesn’t have much substance other than that he’s hiding something. Although that pairing seems interesting, in the end, it just falls flat.
Regarding Ellie: She’s a character that has become obsessed with romanticizing addiction, who is forcibly thrown into rehab for her own addiction. Just as the title says, all of her idols suffered from a form of substance abuse and addiction. Yet, she completely romanticizes them as though they were superhuman. This itself would be an excellent starting point for a character in a story about substance abuse, but in all of its pages, there’s nothing really said about drug addiction, even though that’s part of the premise of the plot. Instead, we get a story told through an unlikable protagonist who glamorizes drug addiction and just isn’t all that great.
In fact, the story plays up the stereotype of addicts and people in recovery. Both Ellie and Skip run away from rehab, break into people’s homes, steal their goods to sell them for cash for more drugs, and then end up selling drugs themselves for money in an unapologetic way. Ellie herself turns out to be double crossing, using Skip for her own needs in the end. This kind of stereotype harms people who do suffer from addiction and who are trying to get better. I’m sure that Brubaker and Phillips didn’t mean to encourage the stereotype of the uncaring addict nor the idea that artists need to be addicted or in pain in order to create good art— as though their pain and suffering is for our pleasure—but, unfortunately, that’s what this story does.
Just to be clear: addiction is a harrowing disease, one that alters the chemical composition of your brain to the point that you need drugs or alcohol in order to function on a normal level. It’s not some quirk that people have; it’s a condition that can be fatal if not treated properly. The stigmas attached to addiction can sometimes keep people from receiving the help they need.
I’m sure that Brubaker and Phillips had every intention of showcasing how horrible addiction really is, but that doesn’t really come across in the story. This is further supported through the overused personal dialogue of Ellie, where she laments about her fascination with artists and addiction. Again, I’m sure there was more to be said about addiction, but the story just doesn’t go that far. It’s almost as if Brubaker originally wanted his story to talk about the dangers of addiction but found that there wasn’t enough time, so he left it on the cutting room floor. It’s a shame, too, as it could have added to the conversation, as there is currently an opioid epidemic going on in the country, affecting so many people.
One of the saving graces of the story, however, is the illustrations by Sean Phillips. They’re expressive and subtle and showcase the quiet and contemplative mood that encompasses the story. The gritty and subtle art, coupled with Jacob Phillips’ coloring, adds to the atmosphere of the graphic novel, showcasing that there can be much more on the surface. Basically, it’s really great to look at. Nevertheless, impressive artwork can’t really save the story.
In the end, we’re left with a story that doesn’t say or do much but looks amazing to look at. Although the works of Brubaker and Phillips are typically a stamp of quality, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies goes to show that, sometimes, you hit and you miss.
Creative Team: Ed Brubaker(writer), Sean Phillips (illustrator), Jacob Phillips (colorist)
Publisher: Image Comics
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