Friday, January 25, 2013

True Heroism of the Comic Book

Perhaps it's just that I've never noticed before, but seems that comic books and graphic novels have made their way into pop culture, reaching out from their comfortable subculture following and into the mainstream. This is due in part, I think, to the slew of comic-based movies and TV shows that have been released in the past few years. Many of them, of course, are based off of classic stories and heroes who were widely known to begin with, like Batman, the Avengers, and Iron Man. But even lesser known graphic novels and comic book series, like “The Walking Dead” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, have become extremely accessible to a widespread audience. Though I can't seem to get into the superhero-style comics, I recently joined the comic-reading masses after having read Neil Gaiman's “The Sandman” and John Layman's “Chew” and decided to explore comic books and their heroes in this blog. Being new to comic culture, I had never realized the extent and importance of disability in terms of plot and character development.

Protagonists with disabilities are beginning to show up more frequently in movies and television, but they seem to have been thriving in the comic book genre since the early 1960s. Quite a few comic book characters—big characters, not obscure ones—have faced disability in a variety of forms. For example, both Oracle (previously known as Bat-Girl) and Professor X are heroes with paralysis. Doctor Mid-Nite has been around since the 1940s, and he was the first blind hero, predating Daredevil by more than 20 years. Even so, I still love the idea of the relationship between Daredevil and Echo, a Native American heroine who was originally thought to be mentally disabled but turned out to actually be deaf. I am partial to Echo's story because she had always been deaf, whereas many other characters acquired their disabilities later in life, often after they had already become heroes in some aspect or another.

My girl, Echo!
In 2011, a new comic was released with the hope of not only bringing attention to disability rights and freedoms, but also to ease the tensions between the West and the Muslim world. “The Silver Scorpion” was created by a group of young disability advocates from the US and Syria, all of whom have disabilities of their own. They were asked to create a superhero who depicted everything they wanted to see in a comic book. It was a pretty awesome endeavor, and an important one in terms of both diplomacy and disability activism.

But one might ask why it is important to have superheroes with disabilities. After all, superheroes are...super. They aren't representations of real humans. Den of Geek!, a website for all things geek culture, answers that question fantastically:
“[M]edia affects how we feel about ourselves and people who are different from us. Hawkeye is a perfect example of a superhero with a Disability and why it matters. In 2012, a 4 year old boy began to refuse to wear his hearing aid. He argued with his mother that superheroes don’t wear hearing aids. Well, his mother wrote to Marvel, desperate about what to do. Marvel was wonderful and did the right thing by creating a superhero named Blue Ear who uses a hearing aid. Just like this 4 year old boy. But even better, Marvel pointed out that Hawkeye is Deaf and uses a hearing aid. We hope that this little boy became a Hawkeye fan that day. Though we were disappointed that this was glossed over in The Avengers (2012) it still shows that superheroes matter to all of us. Hawkeye is very capable marksman, fighter and archer. And perhaps for a little Deaf boy, Hawkeye is someone to look up to.”

Well said! So, thank you, comic books, for showing the world the badassery of the disabled community and for giving people of all abilities heroes worth celebrating.

Do you have any favorite comic book heroes? Tell me about them and why they're your favorites!

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