For much of their history, comic books were the “uncool” domain of the young and young at heart. But with San Diego’s own ComicCon selling out within minutes each year and blockbuster superhero movies bringing in billions of dollars at the box office, comics are now at the forefront of pop culture for everyone to enjoy—especially people with disabilities, who rarely see such positive representation in fictional media at large.
Comics have a long history of including disabled characters as both villains and heroes. Here’s a list of several superheroes that have appeared over the years, proving that anyone—with a slick costume, of course—can save the world.
Barbara Gordon is best known as Batgirl (and Commissioner Gordon’s daughter), but when the Joker shot her in the spine, she didn’t let her new life in a wheelchair stop her from fighting crime. Instead, she adopted the identity of Oracle and cultivated a vast computer network, becoming the top information broker for several DC superheroes including Batman, Robin, Nightwing, the Birds of Prey, and the Suicide Squad.
Deaf Native American heroine Echo was originally created as a villain but later became a superhero thanks to her ability to perfectly copy other people’s movements—a gift that transformed her into an amazing athlete and fighter. She was also one of the few superheroes to double-up on identities, often disguising herself as the masked swordsman, Ronin.
As the leader of the X-Men, Professor X (aka Charles Francis Xavier) is considered a “mutant” for his psychic and telepathic powers. However, he’s also a globally respected expert on genetics that happens to use a wheelchair. The origins of Professor X’s disability have changed over the years (and through adaptation to film), but it’s most notable for not being the most important part of his identity. It’s not even limiting, as his powers make him a formidable match for his enemies.
An NYPD officer before losing an arm in a thwarted bomb attack, Misty Knight transforms into a superhero thanks to a bionic arm with super-human strength created by Iron Man himself, Tony Stark. With the ability to crush nearly anything in her fist and punch with intense force, of course she’d use her weaponized prosthetic to fight crime. In later years, Misty Knight upgraded with an arm made of adamantium (a fictional metal that’s near-indestructible) that also functioned as a freeze-ray and robot army controller.
Captain Marvel, Jr.
After newsboy Freddy Freeman was crippled in an attack by the evil Captain Nazi, Captain Marvel took the boy to a wizard who granted Freddy the superhero’s own powers whenever he said, “Captain Marvel!” Saying the name again turned him back into his original self, but in the meantime, he and Captain Marvel teamed up to fight villains from 1942 to 1953, when the comic ceased publication.
Out of all the injuries and accidents that serve as superhero origin stories, Daredevil’s might be the most ironic: Teenager Matt Murdock saves a blind man from being hit by a truck, only to be hit instead and blinded by the truck’s radioactive waste. However, the radiation heightens his other senses, allowing him to fight crime. Still, he uses his blindness to his advantage, jumping and swinging around the New York City skyline with his radar senses—and without a fear of heights.
Leader of the Doom Patrol, The Chief (alias Niles Caulder) also uses his disability to his advantage, decking out his wheelchair with a variety of weapons including flamethrowers, grappling hooks, ultra-sonic emitters, machine guns, antiaircraft rocket launchers, and a giant steel claw. Unfortunately, the Doom Patrol didn’t catch on with comic aficionados like their similar contemporaries, the X-Men. Though the comic seized publication in 1968, The Chief is still revered as a superhero that inspired many with his heroic acts in the face of adversity.
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