Nothing gets me crazier than superheroes. While others in my family are known for being ‘the literature ones’ I’m known as ‘the superhero one’. I’m never as popular with my family or friends as when we’re watching a superhero film because they know I’ll give them all the comic book facts and explain the comic book jokes. From the pictures taken of my room below I think it’s pretty clear that I am a rather obsessed superhero fan:
I started reading comics when I was around twelve after I had grown up watching superhero shows for children such as Young Justice and Justice League the animated series. Since the moment I read my first comic, I’ve been head over heels in love. I guess it’s because I love stories and each superhero has their own one which intertwines together to make an entire universe made up of fictional events. It was like getting lost in someone else’s vast and intricately-detailed imagination, sort of like reading a book series such as Lord of the Rings but superhero worlds are even bigger with more sides to them. And, of course, I’m a sucker for anything containing superpowers, special abilities or awesome fight sequences.
As a preteen, the disabled superheroes I read about were particularly cool. I loved them so much because they were proof that people like me could still be awesome. My first favourite disabled superhero was Oracle, so she’s always had a special place in my heart. I loved the bat family, so it was so cool to see a disabled superhero there, especially one that was so highly respected.
I also used to design my own disabled superheroes after I realised there were three main points that I wished I could change about most of the ones I saw. So, I picked up a stylus and sharpened my graphic-designed skills to have my own shot at designing disabled superheroes:
The first point was definitely the need to always give disabled superheroes backstories for their disabilities. Most disabled superheroes have a reason that they’re disabled and most of those reasons are tragic accidents: whether it’s being blinded by a radioactive substance or being shot and paralysed by the Joker. There’s nothing wrong with this, almost all superheroes have tragic backstories, but not EVERY disability needs an explanation.
An example of this is the Marvel character Puck, a member of the superhero team Alpha Flight who has dwarfism. He has no powers but is an extremely skilled fighter and a great hero who became especially popular among fans with the same disability. But then Marvel had to ruin everything by giving him a ridiculous backstory where he used to be a tall adventurer who was turned into a dwarf by a demon. Seriously?! They had to give an explanation for his dwarfism?
On the other hand, you have disabled heroes like Box (a.k.a Roger Bochs, also from Marvel) who has both of his legs amputated below the knee. I’ve always liked him because we never find out why he doesn’t have legs, and the truth is, we don’t need to know for him to be an awesome disabled superhero. When I was younger, I also really liked Echo a.k.a Maya Lopez, a skilled fighter who was simply born deaf.
- By not giving some sort of supernatural explanation for disabilities, you also help to make your hero that little bit more relatable. The sad side-effect of this need to explain superheroes’ disabilities is also that you don’t see many superheroes who are just born disabled. It’s almost as if people don’t know that it’s possible to simply be born this way with the amount of writer’s (in other literature as well) who always feel the need to create a backstory or a tragic car accident past to explain their character’s disabilities. So, I wanted my disabled superhero to simply have been born disabled with no explanation for her disability needed.
The second point was how some of these comics handled their superhero’s disabilities. One of the most common things that I see is writers unintentionally erasing their superheroes’ disabilities. Admittedly, it can be a difficult trap to avoid when it comes to creating characters within the supernatural world of heroes.
An example of this is Dr. Mid-Nite from DC who is blinded after an explosion. He soon finds out that he has the ability to see in the dark and therefore constructs infrared/pitch-black goggles which allow him to see during daylight too. The problem is, now this character can basically see again, during night and day, and therefore isn’t truly blind anymore. Despite this, Dr. Mid-Nite is often praised for being a great example of disabled representation in comics which I can’t quite understand.
I’ve always been on the fence about Daredevil too, a blind Marvel hero who can probably ‘see’ a lot better than your average blind person (or even most able-bodied people) using his other enhanced senses. I guess Professor X is a popular example of a hero’s power not erasing their disability: his psychic powers don’t change the fact that he’s in a wheelchair (although it does depend on when and which version of the character you read. You know comics, they can be confusing)
- So, I wanted my disabled superhero to not have a power that seemed like a ‘fix’ to their disability but rather another separate piece of who they were.
The third point was about the representation of minorities or underrated people in the growing superhero film genre. One of the biggest shames with some of the popular superhero films that have come out recently with female leads is that the creators of such films seem more interested in having a female superhero instead of a superhero who is a female. Instead of making them a character who happens to be female, they tend to base the character largely around their gender alone while they simultaneously constantly try to show their female strength in almost every moment as if the whole film is just supposed to prove something.
- My dream is to have a disabled superhero who is female, black and permanently in a wheelchair who would make a good main character in one of the big, mainstream superhero films that are coming out these days; one where the film isn’t based around their disability, one where it doesn’t even need to be mentioned much. I wanted the character to be human and relatable, someone who is fairly young, who is still able to be excited by the world as she makes her own way and someone who makes mistakes as she goes along. She doesn’t have to be a perfect pillar of strength or a Superman-like Mary Sue of morals. If a film were to be based on my character, it should be your average intelligent action film but the only difference is that the lead is disabled.
My final result was Miss. Sentient (name still under review 😊). I based the design for her wheelchair on one of Oracle’s but the character still would work just as well with your average manual or electric wheelchair (I haven’t finished her logo yet either). I also based her largely off myself because she has my same disability meaning that she can’t walk and has limited finger mobility.
Melissa Ashmore has been disabled all of her life and has had a fear of mannequins since childhood. One day, while at a rollercoaster park (basically the Efteling), her friend tricked her into going onto a ride which goes through a tunnel full of animatronics. However, while Melissa was in the middle of panicking from being surrounded by automated mannequin puppets, the animatronics started coming to life and chasing the park guests. They ran outside only to find a snake-shaped rollercoaster come to life and slither off the tracks along with all the other dolls and statues in the park.
That was when Mel discovered her ability to control any inanimate object with a basic anatomy. For instance: dolls, mannequins, Lego characters, character trinkets made of china or any other model of people or animals. She is basically the living incarnation of The Night at the Museum. She not only uses her powers to make objects come to life to help her defeat crime, she also uses the mannequins she commands as her carers who she can control to do tasks such as carrying her up stairs if need be.
She still needs a lot of work but I’ve had fun making her as well as the universe she belongs to, her villain and a lot of superhero friends to help her out. You should probably expect me to mention superheroes again sometime, they are my daily obsession and a big part of my personality. Also, I’ve wanted to design my own comic book for quite a while so I’ll keep you guys updated with the progress of that project if I decide to go through with it. That’s pretty much it from me! Who’s your favourite superhero or superpower? I’d be open to suggestions for Mel’s superhero name or what you think her logo should look like. See you next week!
Image Citations: https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/468655904943729444/, https://comicvine.gamespot.com/roger-bochs/4005-31581/, https://alchetron.com/Puck-(Marvel-Comics), https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/71283606579933983/, https://www.writeups.org/doctor-mid-nite-jsa-dc-comics-mcnider/