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The unsung hero: Disability in the DC Universe

The comic book industry has been around for decades with DC Comics at the forefront of this thriving business, giving birth to some of the world's iconic characters; Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to name just a few. I've been a massive fan of the medium for as long as I can remember, devouring beautifully drawn page after page, my heart leaping in a single bound every time Superman's fist connects, or sitting on the edge of my seat as Batman is trapped in yet another dastardly Joker plot. But over the years, I've noticed one important fact. There are very few heroes, or storylines, involving disability, particularly in the DC Universe.

When I started this article, I tried to name as many disabled characters as I could. Ten minutes later I had four for DC (Oracle aka Batgirl, Dr Mid-Nite, Captain Marvel Jr., The Chief) and seven for Marvel (Dr Donald Blake aka Thor, Daredevil, Professor X, Puck, Iron Man, Komodo, Echo). That's eleven in all and even some of those are stretching the accepted definition of disability a bit. Not great considering DC has been around since 1934 and Marvel since 1939.

The most prominent of the four disabled DC heroes that I could think of is Barbara Gordon, most popularly known as Batgirl. In March 1988, in a storyline titled The Killing Joke, a nightmarish home invasion carried out by The Joker, results in the shooting and subsequent paralysis of Barbara. Now fully confined to a wheelchair, rather than wallowing in self-pity and allowing this hideous attack to stop her, Barbara retires the Batgirl persona and continues to fight crime with a new identity; Oracle, leader and mentor to the team known as, The Birds of Prey. She goes on to become the central hub of information in Gotham City and the go to girl for a lot of the other heroes. This shows that when the guys over at DC put their minds to it, they can create awesome, believable disabled characters. Oracle is a strong willed, intelligent leader. That's someone disabled kids can look up to and be proud of, a true role model.

Dr Mid-Nite is another example of a strong disabled character in the DC Universe, who was not only blind, but a prominent member of the Justice Society of America and well respected physician. I won't talk about Captain Marvel Jr, as he was just a side kick, but still a disabled character nonetheless. Niles Caulder (aka The Chief) was the final disabled character for DC that I could think of, but he's still a great example even if he is a bit obscure. So what's the problem? They've all disappeared. After DC retconned their entire line back in 2011 with the New 52 they made Barbara Gordon Batgirl again taking away the wheelchair. They made Niles Caulder able-bodied too. And there is no Dr Mid-Nite at all. So that means there are now no disabled superheroes in the DC Universe, despite having great ones in the past. It's a real issue.

In an increasingly changing and diverse world, it's time the comic book industry caught up with the times. Being a disabled person myself, it would be great to see more mainstream disabled characters, not only in comic books, but in TV and film too. Now, that's not to say companies should just go out and create characters just for the sake of having them. That would be wrong. Nor does it need to be a comic book focusing on disability, but one that focuses on the personalities and traits of its characters. Marvel's disabled heroes have always been more prominent and mainstream; Professor X and Daredevil being the most prominent. And nowhere in their history has it ever been about their disability. They're just disabled guys, living their lives, but with extraordinary powers that they use to save people. So, I guess what I'm saying is, if Marvel can do it, DC can do it too. Disability is everywhere and affects people from all walks of life and it's time the comic book industry recognised that, instead of deleting any trace of it in its comics.

Until next time... keep watching.