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Clint Barton

Five Superhero Characters With Disabilities

Hawkeye #19 hit the shelves yesterday, portraying the world as seen and not heard by a deaf Clint Barton (pictured here). Through a combination of sign language, lip reading, and guesswork, readers piece together what characters are saying with as much of an idea as Clint has. The issue is a testament to the power of graphic storytelling as a means of creating identification between a book and its reader, and brings to mind some other superheroes with disabilities.

The Chief (Niles Caulder)

Did you think this list would start with Charles Xavier, wheelchair-bound schoolmaster of the X-Men who refuses any mechanical/telepathic means of walking in order to prove a point about the value of a person extending beyond conformity to the popular norm?

Well, maybe Dr. Niles Caulder of superhero misfit team The Doom Patrol can fill his chair instead. He showed up to comics three months before Xavier, after all. A genius-level intellect confined to a paraplegic body, The Chief nonetheless keeps an eye out for those who would benefit from his unorthodox treatments. He successfully saved or otherwise harnessed the powers of each Doom Patrol member who would otherwise languish in trauma: he merged Cliff Steele’s (Robotman) mind with a robot body after Cliff suffered a disastrous race car crash, recruited Rita Farr (Elasti-Girl) after her transformations ruined her acting career, and helped Larry Trainor (Negative Man) contain and control his radioactive projections, for starters. The team has seen several starts and stops through the decades –what superhero hasn’t- but Chief is always at the head of the team as a leader and mentor.

Check out: Grant Morrison’s run of The Doom Patrol, which features some of the most creative stories and characters comics have seen, including Danny The Street (a sentient place), The Quiz (his powers include anything you haven’t thought of yet), and Sleepwalk (who listens to Barry Manilow to activate her sleep-based powers).

Daredevil (Matt Murdock)

It’s easy to snark about Daredevil not being as cursed as he seems – the radioactive substance that blinded him in a childhood accident also gave him super-senses that often make him more perceptive than the average person. His blindness still affects his life, especially as a trial lawyer for superheroes, and the best writers use this fact to give him plenty of depth.

The premise can be as simple as a villain using a booming thunderstorm as camouflage, or as heartrending as Matt visiting a longtime friend with cancer and barely stomaching the odors of a hospital due to his super sense of smell.

Check out: Daredevil Volumes 1-7 written by Mark Waid, a series that is consistently pitch perfect in its humor, drama, and heroics.

Oracle (Barbara Gordon)

Barbara Gordon has been the victim of continuity longer than most heroes – originally fighting crime as Batgirl, she was paralyzed when Joker visited her apartment and shot her as part of a larger scheme to drive her father, police commissioner James Gordon, mad. These events took place in what would normally have been a standalone book, “The Killing Joke,” but DC decided to keep the event in-universe and see how Barbara develops. She continued to fight crime from a wheelchair, using her vast intellect to take on a new alias, Oracle, as she became the ultimate reference librarian for superheroes. From tracing underworld finances to hacking into Lex Luthor’s computers, “Babs” was indispensable to Batman as well as the all-women superhero group Birds of Prey.

When DC relaunched its universe as the “New 52,” Barbara’s paralysis was depicted as healed after three years’ time, though she still suffered post-traumatic stress over the non-canon-yet-canon-anyway “Killing Joke” injury. She will receive a new costume and artist in South Carolinian Babs Tarr this fall.

Check out: Birds of Prey, Batgirl,

Captain Marvel, Jr. (Freddy Freeman)

As Shazam, Billy Batson wields the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles, and speed of Mercury, but he can share all of that with others, too. Among the members of the “Marvel family” is Freddy, who gets around with crutches but can access the power of Shazam to become Captain Marvel, Jr., so named because he stays the same age after transformation.

Check out: Shazam, which introduces Billy and his foster family to the New 52.

Legion (David Charles Haller)

David’s father is Charles Xavier, and his mother is Gabrielle Haller, a Holocaust survivor he healed in a mental facility after she had gone catatonic (this backstory is from the mid-80s). David was the victim of a terrorist attack as a young child, which traumatized him at the moment his mutant power activated, which is absorbing other people into his mind. This led to the beginning fractures of his multiple personality disorder, with each personality manifesting different powers and behaviors. He has been a major force in the X-Men’s history, sometimes villainous, sometimes benevolent, but always wrestling with self-control. His situation reinforces the notion that mental disabilities, while not as visible as some physical handicaps, demand just as much attention and respect.

Check out: X-Men Legacy Volumes 1-4 written by Simon Spurrier, which follows up on the death of Xavier as Legion navigates his own mind as it is taken over by all of the personalities he’s absorbed.


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