Sep 27 2010

A brief note on disabled superheroes…

While planning out a disabled superhero, Liquid Comics asked a group of disabled Syrian and U.S. kids which superpower they would most want to have.

“I’ve asked that question in many different groups before and the typical answers are always the ones you’d expect — flying, reading minds, or being super strong,” [the CEO] said.

“The fascinating thing about this group was that I don’t think I heard any one of those three,” he said….

[The CEO] said it was noteworthy that none of the young people wanted the hero’s power to be something that cured their disability.

Amen to that. If you’re going to have a disabled hero, I think it sort of defeats the purpose (and makes the character more bland) if the superpower essentially removes the disability. For example, Matt Murdoch/Daredevil is technically blind, but pretty much the only indication of that is that he wears sunglasses all the time. His radar senses are so ridiculously fine-tuned that his blindness is rarely, if ever, actually an obstacle.  (Indeed, I think his superpowered senses present more of a challenge for him than his vision.  He sometimes sleeps with the music turned up to drown out the sounds of Hell’s Kitchen).

This reminds me of the song Save the Last Dance for Me. The guy who wrote the song, Doc Pomus, was disabled by polio and could not dance with his wife (a professional dancer) at their wedding. Instead, he had to watch his brother dance on his behalf. He wrote the lyrics to Last Dance on the back of one of his wedding invitations. (Oof).  I think that’s the sort of dramatic opportunity an author forgoes by using superpowers to essentially cure the character. How does a character deal with being unable to participate in a really special moment?  (Or, at least, unable to participate like most other people do).

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “A brief note on disabled superheroes…”

  1. Inner Propon 27 Sep 2010 at 2:59 pm

    What about their superpower being their disability, or caused their disability. Cyclops comes to mind first, and Rogue, and other non-human looking heroes (e.g. The Thing).

    Did any of the kids think their disability gave them something special (like a wheelchair is superfast)?

  2. B. Macon 27 Sep 2010 at 7:01 pm

    First, a minor quibble. I don’t think of Cyclops or Rogue as traditionally disabled (unlike, say, Professor X or Daredevil or Notre Dame’s offensive line). I don’t think it’s as life-altering for them as, say, losing a limb or getting paralyzed from the waist down or a brain injury or becoming blind or deaf or getting transmogrified, which my spell-checker assures me is actually a word.

    If the disability is a major part of the character’s story, whether it’s caused by the character’s powers or not, I’d be careful about removing it lightly or otherwise turning it into a nonfactor.

    For example, Nightcrawler sometimes has a personal hologram device that makes him look human, which pretty much makes his disability (looking like the lovechild of Link and Smurfette) go away. If you’re doing a story where such a character faces discrimination prominently, I’d recommend probably leaving out the device because it’d probably dampen the character’s dramatic potential. If you didn’t want to work with discrimination or some other aspect of the character getting turned into a hideous blue thing, I think it’d be easier to just take the blue freak thing out rather than make it disappear with the hologram device.

  3. Wilmar Lunaon 28 Sep 2010 at 6:50 am

    This is an interesting article which instantly reminded me of the show “M.A.N.T.I.S.” The scientist who was wheelchair bound invented a suit that essentially allowed him to walk again, but when the suit lost power he would be paralyzed again. The suit kind of defeated the purpose of his paralysis, but it still played a factor when the suit would lose all its energy.

  4. B. Macon 28 Sep 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Well, at least it sounds like the suit running out of energy was a recurring concern. I don’t remember Nightcrawler’s hologram device malfunctioning or running out of power more than once or twice.

  5. B. Macon 28 Sep 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Inner Prop: “Did any of the kids think their disability gave them something special (like a wheelchair is superfast)?”

    I’m not sure, but the CEO said, “They were empowered by their own disabilities, and they should not be seen as a source of weakness.”

    I would infer that the kids did not want the superhero’s powers to cure him because they thought that it would take something away from the character.

  6. ekimmakon 11 Oct 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I’m thinking of a superheroine who’s blind, and has the power to see into the future. Basically, her power is used like this:

    She sees that five seconds in the future, if she doesn’t move, she gets punched.
    Then she sees that five seconds into the future, she leans back and doesn’t get punched.
    So, lean back in five seconds.

    Is this good? bad? totally missing the point? this is a backstory character, not one of the main ones, but I’d still like to get it right.

  7. B. Macon 11 Oct 2010 at 5:18 pm

    I like it. Five second danger-sense aside, I get the impression that the character will “feel” blind, unlike a character like Daredevil that usually knows more about what is going on around him than the average Secret Service agent. By the way, I think the five second danger-sense is an interesting take on time travel (or something vaguely approaching time travel).

  8. Sean Higginson 04 Nov 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I am planning to introduce a character loosely based off of a friend of mine who passed away last December. The character will have superhuman strength and speed, but will eventually develop cancer requiring him to remove a substantial amount of his leg muscle, making him wheelchair bound and essentially negating his abilities. He’s not going to be a main character in the series, but he will have made friends with the other heroes. I think it’ll be great character development for the other characters to react to this hero not losing his powers, but effectively being unable to use them.

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