The Hard Luck Superheroes of Skid Row
“Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.
How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”
Ah, nothing like Dylan’s scornful ode to a fallen snob to buzz-kill the bright, shiny optimism of a New Year, is there?
Yeah, while I don’t subscribe to that old “We’re all just two paychecks away from living on the streets, man!” canard, Dylan’s accusatory rant is certainly a sober warning to us all that stunning reversals of fortune can happen to anyone…even superheroes! One day they’re on top of the world as the idol of millions…the next, they’re a Super-Hobo sipping soup outside a humble wooden shack on the cover of Action Comics #337 (1966).
Just as the billboard on the cover of Whiz Comics #93 (1948) asks, what could possibly reduce these once-mighty champions to such a lowly state? Just as in the real world, the reasons are many….yet depressingly familiar!
For instance, the fabulously wealthy Bruce “Batman” Wayne fell victim to a corrupt treasurer who stole his family fortune in Detective Comics #105 (1945). Note Batman’s bundled sack on a stick, the universal symbol of hobo status!
Sometimes personal ruin can be caused through the treachery and manipulation of others, as Superman and Batman found out in World's Finest #169 (1967). Oh…and rest assured, it wasn’t really Supergirl and Batgirl ruining the lives of their mentors, but the magical (and gender-swapping) mayhem of the impish Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite!
Other times, the painful rejection of family and friends can send a life spiraling out of control, as demonstrated here by the pot, pan, and produce-chucking townsfolk of Smallville on the cover of Superboy #139 (1967).
Of course, this wasn't the first time Superboy turned his back on society. In Superboy #27 (1953), he joined his local community of stereotypical hobos as "Clark Kent, Runaway".
The loss of a job can also set a guy back, as the “employment challenged” Irwin Schwab learned the hard way in Ambush Bug (Nothing) Special #1 (1992).
Occasionally, just plain old bad luck can lead to life on the streets, such as when Wally West went from the Fastest Man Alive to the Most Desperate Man Alive in Flash #20 (1988). After losing his lottery winnings, getting evicted from his apartment and his credit cards getting canceled, Wally loses his (then) metabolism-based speed when hard-core hunger kicks in. Luckily, he’s scooped up by the JLA when nine alien races simultaneously invade Earth. Yay!
In the case of Tony Stark, it was the “Demon in a Bottle” that dragged his life into the gutter, hitting rock bottom here in Iron-Man #178 (1984).
Even the blight of mental illness found its way into the catalog of causes for superhero hobos…affecting none other than the regal Sub-Mariner himself!
You see, way back in Fantastic Four #4 (1962), the young Human Torch came across a shaggy hobo in a New York flophouse. After a quick shave, he discovered the blank-eyed loner was actually the long-lost Sub-Mariner…whose memory had been scrambled by the villainous Destiny years earlier.
Some explanations for superhero homelessness…well…defy explanation. Since I’ve never actually read the issue, the reason for Cap’s status as a rat buffet in Captain America #272 (1982) has to remain a mystery for now.
Maybe that’s for the best.