In Brightest Day: When disabled really doesn’t mean disabled

I was surfing the internet today, as I usually do when I’m taking breaks from writing, and came across an archived forum on Comic Book Resources. In it, forum members were listing disabled characters in both the DC and Marvel universes. One post brought up Matt Murdock, otherwise known as Daredevil, mentioning that he fights crime despite being blind.

However, another poster questioned whether Daredevil’s blindness, along with several other characters’ disabilities, was actually disabilities.

Merriam-Webster defines disabled as someone who is “incapacitated by illness or injury; also : physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education.” In that vein, is Daredevil disabled? Yes, he cannot “see” in the normal sense, but his other senses are so heightened that it actually makes him super-human. If I look at the Merriam-Webster definition, Daredevil isn’t actually disabled. What?

As I read more and more, I found more and more occurrences where a superhero’s physical disability either wasn’t a disability or the disability was cured through some magical method.

Remember Spider-man bully-turned-Venom host Flash Thompson? He was shot in Iraq and the damage was so severe that both legs were amputated below the knees. And while he is a paraplegic outside of his union with Venom, when he’s connected with Venom, he’s cured and able to fight crime with the Secret Avengers.

How about Barbara Gordon? The former Batgirl was shot and paralyzed by Joker. She stayed strong, turning in the cowl for a computer to become the badass Oracle. She was a great role model for those in wheelchairs. Then, she found a cure for paralyzation in Africa, because legs rule!

The X-men? Yeah, moving on…

You see my problem? I want to not argue about this, but my world may be shattered.  Are there any true physically disabled comic book characters? Mental is one thing, but what about physical?

I honestly don’t think there is, and that saddens me. When Barbara was Oracle, she saved Batman’s life more times than Bruce Wayne would like to admit. But was that worthless because she couldn’t walk while doing it?

If that’s the case, that needs to be fixed. I’m not asking for a super-wheelchair that transforms into a fighting robot, but I’m asking for something. I think there are people out there, both disabled and not, that would like to read a story about a physically disabled person who does not get magically cured in Africa.

5 thoughts on “In Brightest Day: When disabled really doesn’t mean disabled

  1. Maybe we need to find a new word to describe people who don’t fit the mold but are not in any way disempowered by their differences. Matt and co. could definitely be considered “able”. 🙂

  2. Daredevil is most definitely disabled. I think the reason readers so often argue that he isn’t stems from a poor understand of what disability actually entails. In this case, people also tend to assume that just because Matt Murdock can’t be classified as totally blind (from a purely functional standpoint) that somehow makes him fully sighted. I have written extensively on this topic on my own site, see (some of) the articles linked below:

    “My other senses more than compensate”
    Assistive technology in Daredevil
    Daredevil really is blind – “For Dummies”

    There are many, many limitations to Matt Murdock’s way of “seeing” things, something which Mark Waid has done a great job exploring in the current series. Anyone who spends five minutes really trying to imagine what going through a day as Daredevil is really like must realize that this would entail frequent complications that are not that different from those experienced by real people with various degrees of vision impairment. Daredevil has a massive advantage fighting villains in alleys and on rooftops, but he can’t read any kind of signage, see anything on a screen, or even effectively shop for clothes unassisted. (Imagine yourself going into a clothing store and trying to orient yourself when you can’t read anything, and all the ill-defined blobs of fabric are the same color.) And I’m really just scratching the surface here. Of course, the comic book itself rarely explores these arenas (though there are notable exceptions) which is why many readers rarely think about them. But that doesn’t mean that this reality can’t be inferred, logically, by reading between the lines.

    I think Daredevil’s power set is amazingly cool, and surprisingly believable. It makes sense that he would be good at precisely the kinds of things he is good at. But his heightened senses do not come anywhere near fully compensating for his blindness. Writers may have suggested that they do, but that notion simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      I think you may have missed my point. Barbara Gordon was a symbol for those in wheelchairs. She showed that you could still be a superhero even without the ability to walk. It was a great message for children.

      And then she had experimental surgery to fix that. However, from what I know about curing paralysis, there are very few ways for your average child to undo their paralysis.

      • I wasn’t reacting to the bit about Barbara Gordon, what I was reacting to was “If I look at the Merriam-Webster definition, Daredevil isn’t actually disabled. What?” as well as the over all conclusion (with Daredevil being invoked to make the point that there are no disabled comic book characters):

        “You see my problem? I want to not argue about this, but my world may be shattered. Are there any true physically disabled comic book characters?”

        So yes, while I agree that there are few (too few?) genuinely disabled comic book characters, Daredevil isn’t one of those whose disability isn’t actually a disability. It is. Not as severe as it appears to people who think he’s an average blind guy, but quite “real” nonetheless. In fact, the Merriam-Webster definition (which doesn’t sound particularly modern) would definitely include Matt Murdock. It is precisely in settings like education and employment that he would face the biggest challenges. They are not so big that he can’t get around them (people with a vast array of disabilities can and do go to college and find work, blind lawyers aren’t even that uncommon).

        Your overall point – i.e. that there are no truly disabled characters in comics – is what I’m disagreeing with, using Daredevil as an example (though there are others, like Flash Thompson mentioned above). Sorry if I came on a little strong. If you meant to say that there are disabled characters in comics and Daredevil is one of them, my apologies. 😉

  3. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Barbara Gordon wasn’t really disabled because she had the chance to walk again and then took it.

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