Rose Wilson

The Fall

Addiction is a sensitive subject that comics are no stranger to. Many of our favorite steadfast heroes have battled the disease and raised awareness through their stories. Some of these stories are full of healing and hope. Yet anyone who’s intimate with addiction knows that stories like that often aren’t the norm. Recovery is a long, hard-won battle and no part of it is glamorous.

It’s important for hard, somber stories of addiction to be written. When we see our heroes suffer, it gives us perspective and makes our own struggles valid. Rose Wilson’s story is one of these stories.

READ: Curious about how other comics are handling the topic of addiction? Here’s our piece on OUTCAST!

 Harsh Beginnings

Rose is the daughter of the infamous villain Deathstroke. While growing up, she was kidnapped, tortured and witness to the murder of her eventual foster parents. In her adolescence, she was reunited with her estranged father who, in an attempt to maker her his apprentice, drugged her with a serum that enhanced her physical capabilities. Unfortunately, the side effects of this drug caused her to suffer from psychosis and, at one point, she gouged out her own eye. While her battle with addiction didn’t show up until later in her adolescence, the foundation of her life was rich for the disease to take root.

Like many sufferers of addiction, Rose’s dependency serves an immediate purpose. In her case, she learned that epinephrine inhalers enhanced her ability to see into the future. She relies on that key side effect in combat and in her day-to-day life as she makes choices. However, this isn’t the only side effect. Epinephrine is a powerfully addictive drug.

READ: What’s Deathstroke up to these days? Take a look at one of his latest adventures here!

TEEN TITANS #71. Image courtesy of DC.

Fresh Hell

In “Ravager: Fresh Hell,” which collects TEEN TITANS #71-82, Rose leaves the Teen Titans and embarks on a journey to find herself. She straddles a thin line between hero and antihero and, because of that, struggles to find her place in the world. The story unfolds by forcing her to face her morals head-on as she’s constantly torn between being the killer she was taught to be and the hero she’s tried to prove herself as with the Titans. An important parallel starts to take shape when examining how her addiction informs the story arc.

READ: If you’re interested in this piece, take a look at our analysis of Venom as a metaphor for addiction!

On the surface, Rose displays all the indications of addiction. In TEEN TITANS #72, Rose realizes she’s built a tolerance to the drugs and needs more and more to get the same results. She also ignores some serious health concerns when the dangerous side effects of her dependency begin to take a toll on her body. Using the drug gives her what she feels she cannot live without. Her need for immediate rewards is stronger than her fear of long-term consequences, as is true of many people who suffer from addiction.

Teen Titans #73
TEEN TITANS #73. Image courtesy of DC.

Self-Worth & Addiction

There is more to Rose’s addiction than merely what’s on the surface, however. Her self-worth is a topic visited at great lengths over the course of “Ravager: Fresh Hell.” Throughout the story, she tries to decide what kind of person she wants to be and seems to frequently return to the idea that she could have the strength to be a hero. Yet, despite her infamous bravado and tough girl attitude, it’s clear that Rose has never thought very highly of herself.

Teen Titans #72
TEEN TITANS #72. Image courtesy of DC.

After an abusive, harrowing upbringing, it’s no surprise that Rose’s self-worth would be abysmal. There are instances in the story that emphasize how she believes that being a killer is just in her blood. She associates killing and the impulse to murder with her father and what he made her. There are times Rose thinks fighting the instinct to kill is useless. Yet she does fight it. At least, she tries. The easiest way for her to do that seems to be by distinguishing herself from her father’s legacy. She believes showing restraint and adopting a no-kill policy will help her achieve that.

WATCH: Want more Deathstroke? Here’s our interview with his creator, Marv Wolfman!

Teen Titans #74
TEEN TITANS #74. Image courtesy of DC.

These moments of rebellion against her preconceived notions of herself are especially important when paired side-by-side with her fighting her addiction. In TEEN TITANS #74 she spares the lives of the men she’s fighting. Soon after, she also successfully avoids the temptation of stealing a hospital’s supply of epinephrine.

Teen Titans #81
TEEN TITANS #81. Image courtesy of DC.

READ: What other comics tackle the subject of drugs? Take a look at our analysis of CLOAK AND DAGGER for more!

Ups & Downs

Her eventual downfall from her moments of victory is traceable. So it’s important to connect her dependency with her mental health to understand why. Rose is terrified that she truly is the selfish, brutal monster people think she is. This rings true after a conversation she had with Cassie Sandsmark shortly before leaving the Titans in TEEN TITANS #71. Cassie accuses her of being a murderer who often goes too far and has zero remorse. After saving a group of young women from slave traders, the ringleader of the operation capitalizes on this common theme in Rose’s life and accuses her of only hunting them down to get revenge. While this is untrue, Rose’s insecurities allow the sentiment to sink in.

Teen Titans #81
TEEN TITANS #81. Image courtesy of DC.

The Fall

Those who suffer from addiction have as many moments of triumph as they have pitfalls. Recovery is just about adding those triumphs together until they outweigh the bad. Unfortunately, that’s never an easy process. It’s also very easy to assume that small rebellions are signs of winning the war. These small moments of hope in Rose’s story are important, but they shouldn’t be mistaken for true recovery. Ultimately, her story in “Ravager: Fresh Hell” emphasizes the futility that can come with addiction.

Addiction is cyclical, and the path is tenuous. Sometimes after one small step forward, a trigger can send someone a hundred steps back. The same is true of Rose. The slave trader planted a seed of uncertainty. When Rose learns that one of the young women in her care died from her injuries, the spool unravels. The next panel shows a broken window where Rose has stolen the bottles of epinephrine she previously resisted.

READ: Rose isn’t the only character who suffers from addiction. Here’s our critique of Iron Man’s treatment in the MCU!

Then, after an entire arc of struggling to keep herself from killing to prove that she’s a good person, she finds the slave trader, cuts out his tongue, and drowns him. She takes a hit of epinephrine while musing about her newfound outlook on life. In short, she doesn’t care what people think of her, and she’s going to do what she thinks is right. The sentiment might be powerful and uplifting if it weren’t punctuated by images of her still at the mercy of her addiction.

TEEN TITANS #82. Image courtesy of DC.

The Parallels

This isn’t a radical new outlook on life. This is Rose trying to let go of conflict. By refusing to acknowledge the parts of her that try to be good, she gives into thinking that those parts of her don’t exist. She decides it must be impossible for her to be good, so she might as well stop caring. Of course, the world isn’t that black and white. Rose wouldn’t have been able to happily pick being all good or all bad even if she’d been making choices of her own free will. So the fact that she makes this decision to push down this dissonance while she’s so obviously still in a great deal of pain is heartbreaking. It seems to outline the theme of the story: futility.

Her inability to face herself seems futile, just as escaping from her addiction seems futile. The two go hand-in-hand with one another and leave us feeling exhausted at the end of her story. While some may be resistant to this sensation, I believe it’s an important one to have. We need to see stories of failures, especially from our superheroes. Addiction is a terrible disease and recovering from it takes time, patience, and support. While stories of recovery are great, we need to see stories of suffering as well to put it in perspective. When we see that superheroes aren’t immune to this disease and that breaking the cycle can be just as hard for them as it is for people in the real world, we gain clarity.

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