early depiction of Professor Charles Xavier – owned by Marvel – used with respect to the artist and creators

One more time, I’m indulging my geek side, so bear with me again.

I’ve written before about just how much of a comic geek I am. Not a complete encyclopedia of all things Marvel and DC but I can still talk my way through the hoops of comic book universe continuity and that makes the modern era of comics a gold mine for me. From great movies to well conceived TV shows, we are mostly in an era where comics are finally being taken seriously as the literature and art that they’ve always been. Ok…not always…the 90’s were pretty bad for comics…don’t get started on the Spiderman Clone Saga. Of course, with my own change in life perspective, I’ve begun to notice more in my comics history, and recent events on one comic based TV show brought an intriguing question to light.

Why do comics insist on “healing” their disabled heroes?

Now don’t get me wrong, there aren’t a lot of them and I am focussing on heroes on wheels. I can think of three off the top of my head. Professor X, Charles Xavier, the founder of the X-men is well-known for both his wheelchair and his baldness. Being the most powerful psychic of the Marvel Universe allows a man in a wheelchair (sometimes a hoverchair) to still be a superhero. Of course, that’s in between the times he’s been cured (I think once by the alien Shi’ar, but let’s not dwell on that). Over the in DC Universe we actually have two more that come to mind, the most famous being Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl and now back to being the present Batgirl…her story is a bit…weird. Her disability happened in one of the most iconic comic books ever written, “The Killing Joke”, when she became a paraplegic. The Joker shot her, severing her spine and in her recovery she became a different kind of hero. Oracle, hacker for the heroes at large and still able to kick ass from her chair. She was the leader of the all female Birds of Prey and an actually in-depth and intriguing character. She’s not Oracle anymore mind you, nor is she a paraplegic…please don’t ask me to explain how that happened with the launch of the new 52, just roll with it and know she’s back to being Batgirl (not Batwoman…that’s another woman and another fantastic lesson in diversity). Finally, there is one that most people either didn’t know about or forgot about. John Stewart. No, not that Jon Stewart, the Green Lantern one. US marine and architect…yes he was also a Green Lantern, oh and…he destroyed a planet. That eventually led to him becoming a paraplegic, losing his power ring for a while before finally realizing his paralysis was in his head and taking back his ring to walk again.

Recently, there has been one more, although she isn’t a titular hero (spoiler alert incoming!) . In the TV version of Green Arrow, the character of Felicity was recently injured and paralyzed. Given that she had basically been playing the role of Oracle in that TV universe, it wasn’t all that crazy a turn of events. Now I admit, I’m a few episodes behind, but as far as I can tell she hasn’t been healed…yet. Given Arrow’s penchant for the supernatural, I expect that her paralysis won’t be permanent, and it will be a moment of heroic triumph when she walks again through barely plausible comic book logic. This is common in comics where injuries and even deaths of characters can be re-written or written out with the change of writer. You don’t even want to know how often Jean Grey of the X-men has died and been resurrected (or cloned…or had her younger self brought into the future…or….no wait, don’t get me started.) Now, I am several episodes behind on Arrow (and truth be told it’s been losing me to the way superior The Flash), so perhaps that healing has already taken place.

Thus we reach my question. Why? I’m not going to rail on about the lack of disabled characters in comics, or how they tend to be sidekick even if they are there (the computer expert, the comic relief friend). No, this is about that need to heal them. Ignore “comic book logic” for a moment, as there is always a sci-fi reason that can be made up for how the healing works. My question is why the writers seem to feel a need to heal them at all. Why can’t their stories be told not through a lens of their disability and expand on their heroics as they are. Oracle was perhaps the best at this for a while (she could truly kick ass, even from her chair). Is it a lack of understanding how to tell stories for those who are disabled? Or is it meant to fall into the trap of trying to be inspirational…of how these heroes beat their disability, a long-winded bit of roundabout inspiration porn for geeks.

I don’t have an answer, but I’d be curious to hear from writers like Gail Simone, who wrote Oracle and Batgirl at various times to hear the reasoning. Oracle was an incredible example of strength and ingenuity in a disabled character. She wasn’t just a genius computer hacker. She was a tactician who commanded the respect of Batman, an able fighter from her chair and most importantly, in the right hands of a good writer, she came off as a believable woman with real interactions that weren’t standard superhero fare. I suspect this is a question that can even cross over into a debate raging in the SCI community right now. Is it better to accept life in a chair and make the most of it or should one always be fighting for that elusive “cure” and not “accept” your current state of health. Yes, this is a real debate in some areas of the para and tetraplegic community, and I can only imagine it applies to many other disabilities as well. Do you accept what you are and make the most of it or do you seek that cure? There isn’t an easy answer for that…but it seems that all too often the writers take the easy way “out” of the dilemma of a major character being disabled.

** And yes, I do know I’m missing out on other disability…whether it be blindness in Daredevil, Stick or Destiny, muteness in Black Bolt and even Hawkeye was nearly deaf for a long period of comics life (during the mini-series that introduced Mockingbird actually…wait…I’m getting lost in continuity again).

*** Also hilarious how much of this the spell checker insists aren’t real words 🙂