Over the years, there have been many comic book heroes who are/have been disabled. Here’s the thing, though: as we all know, what dies in comic books (even if it’s the use of a body part), doesn’t always stay “dead”, and it pisses me right off. Let me give you some examples.
Charles Xavier / Professor X
Who DOESN’T know about Professor X??? Through the use of his superior intellect, political pull, skills as a tactician (and of course his mutant power of telepathy), Professor X strove for the rights of all mutantkind, and the inclusion of mutants into the world of humanity.
The founder & leader of the X-Men, and one of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel Universe; Professor Charles Francis Xavier lost the use of his legs when the alien known as “Lucifer” dropped a huge stone block on him. Since that time, the image of Xavier’s paraplegia has changed very little – the main difference being only the wheelchairs he has used – and the character has become one of the most widely-used symbols for overcoming disability in all of comicdom.
However, Professor X’s paraplegia hasn’t always stayed a constant in the Marvel Universe. For instance: in the very same issue in which Xavier became paralyzed, Beast built a “distortion device” which actually negated the professor’s extensive injuries; thus allowing him to walk (a silly trope, but it was a sign of the times). Additionally, near the tail end of the X-Cutioner’s Song story arc, Apocalypse cured Professor X of the Legacy virus (after being infected by the mutant known as Stryfe), which temporarily granted him the ability to walk again.
Widely regarded as the first character in comic books to have a physical disability (his first appearance was in All-American Comics #25 in 1941), While operating on a witness who was set to testify against the mob, Dr. Charles McNider (Dr. Mid-Nite’s first alter-ego) was wounded by a grenade thrown into the room by a mobster, resulting in his “inverted vision” – meaning he cannot see in sunlight, but has superhuman vision at night/in the dark.
The mantle of Dr. Mid-Nite/Doctor Midnight has been assumed by 3 different individuals in the DC Universe (Charles McNider, Beth Chapel, and Pieter Cross). Each of them has been blinded in some way, resulting in them taking the titular name, and fighting crime while using roughly the same abilities.
Per comic norms, however, Dr. Mid-Nite (the Pieter Cross version) was cured of his blindness by the god known as Gog, in the Justice Society of America book, Thy Kingdom Come. Unlike other times that “cures” have happened, however, this one came at a price. As a direct result of his sight being restored to “normal”, Dr. Mid-Nite was unable to perceive the injuries of a member of the JSA as well as he would have with the help of his inverted vision, and the soldier died from his wounds.
Oracle / Barbara Gordon
Probably the most highly visible disabled comic book character, the former Batgirl lost the use of her legs when she was shot in the spine by the Joker in Alan Moore’s famed book, The Killing Joke. Rather than succumb to the depression that so often plagues victims of paralysis borne from an accident or crime, Barbara Gordon steeled herself & proved to the world that she was still able to fight crime – albeit in a different capacity – as the brilliant computer hacker & information broker known as Oracle.
Author T. James Musler wrote a book called Unleashing the Superhero in Us All, in which he said of Barbara Gordon’s transformation into Oracle, “No longer is a handicap overwhelming, a person can live a strong good life, handicap or not”. Also, in The Superhero Book: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Comic Book Icons and Hollywood Heroes, author Gina Renée Misiroglu called Oracle, “the most empowering disabled superhero”, because she rose above her disability and become a huge asset to Batman through the use of her intellect & caring personality. Nthat Oracle also serves as an illustration that disabled women can be beautiful and intelligent.
In 2011, however, DC decided to reinvent many of their characters for The New 52. This resulted in Barbara Gordon regaining the use of her legs, and taking up the mantle of Batgirl once again, after 3 years of being wheelchair-bound. This revelation ended up being quite controversial in the Batman fan community. There were a lot of readers who really wanted her to remain DC’s highest-profile disabled character (journalist & blogger Jill Pantozzi called the move “the most disrespectful I’ve seen in a long time”), and others who thought that she should go back to being Batgirl, as she was the most famous.
Let’s examine what we’ve seen here. Superheroes with disabilities are an important representation of a minority population. They give readers who have disabilities something to identify with. Therefore, taking away the one thing that separates them from the rest of the superhero community only serves to alienate that fan base. I, for one, would love to see this trope go away permanently. As a person with a lifelong disability, I want characters who represent what it means to have a disability, and to not be forced to swallow some garbage about a magical “cure” that breaks the immersion of the character. As Oracle is fond of saying, “Don’t let the wheelchair fool you. [She] can still kick your ass”. So, I urge all comic book fans in the disability community to contact the creators, writers, and artists for your favorite disabled heroes, and demand that they keep them the way they are: PERFECT.