Disabled Comic Book Characters
Is there room for more disabled or handicapped characters?
Writer: Malphunkson Images: Marvel Comics & Sōsuke Tōka
Couple weeks ago a friend messaged me and asked whether I had thought of creating a disabled superhero or a character with disabilities.
"Hey just had a thought. It's not quite original but something that would be very popular for you r brand potentially. Super heros who are not able bodied. Heroines. Characters whose disabilities don't limit them but give them super powers"
My response, "I think the already have a series of them. I have thought about including them in a world I am building tho. Just not everyone but a couple."
I hadn't thought of writing about this topic at all, nor had given further thought to it. But, this past week I missed out on a purchase of the 1st appearance of Forge in Uncanny X-Men. I asked a friend if he had a spare copy since he has twice the comic book collection that I have, in the of chance he had one.
I recieved a message back saying that he did and I was welcome to it. Which, of course I was only too willing to take off his hand.
Another reason is that I came across by chance an anime called, Ousama Ranking
which I found out is about a child prince who can't hear nor speak. Based on the Ranking of Kings (王様ランキング, Ōsama Rankingu) is a Japanese fantasy manga series by Sōsuke Tōka. It has been serialized online via Echoes' user-submitted Manga Hack website since May 2017 and has been collected in eleven tankōbon volumes by Enterbrain. I saw a trailer for it and I was going to write a quick post on our Comic Trade pop culture page on Facebook about it as part of the daily pop culture posts but, I decided to write this blog instead.
So lets talk about comics and disability.
The first time I read about a disabled comic book character was, Charles Xavier (X-Men) and then Forge (X-Men).
Both these characters have had such an impact on my life, so much so that I hold them dear to my heart. I have loved the way that Chris Claremont wrote them during his run on the Uncanny X-Men in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
To this day I do not remember who actually brought the comics to my attention, or if I just saw it on the bookshelf of a second hand shop or my local bookstore, or the comic shop in the city where I had moved to work and live as a 17 years old teenager.
I was a huge fan of 2000AD magazine and Judge Dredd, and Conan paperbooks, which would mean I would search for the old preloved paperback for $1 at antique and 2nd hand shops any chance I got.
I also read the original Valiant Comics books but, I think as a 15-16yrs I didn't find myself really captivated by them as I did with Mega City One or the Mutants. So, I didn't stick with that book. Though, I loved the Superman movie and even lost my front tooth trying to fly as a child during an accident, I didn't feel pulled into the Metahuman or the Superman and Batman Universes.
Though in the 2000s and since then I have come to love Batman very much and he has take the number one spot in my superheroes chart.
Back to the topic, there is something amazing that the two characters mentioned earlier that really spoke to me a lonely, 17 years old, away from town and family. The father figure that a wheelchair-bound elderly white male that is Charles Xavier, who casts upon the Mutants at his school was brought to life by Claremont in the most elaborate and caring way, while at the same time thrusting the Mutants into various forms of villains and endless perils.
Genosha sticks in my head as one of the most amazing storylines in the X-Men lore. The trials and tribulations of Mutants in a slavery country where Mutants are nothing but resources has always stuck with me of how a dystopian hell looks like.
Who is Forge?
Forge, A middle-aged Native American who is without missing and arm and leg due to war who doesn't let that stop him from being a source of resource to the students at the school as well as the X-Men team.
Though, Forge appeared years before I began reading the X-men, with his first appearance in The Uncanny X-Men #184 (Aug. 1984) I was able to buy get my hands on back issues at the time even in the 80s/90s. So, I was able to read the old X-Men comics the were released earlier.
Forge is a mutant with an innate superhuman talent for invention and an intuitive genius. He is a Native American of the Cheyenne nation. Although he was trained as a medicine man, he has primarily relied upon technology rather than mysticism to accomplish his tasks. This rift between Forge and his elder teacher, Naze, made Forge leave his past behind and join the military.
While in the army, Forge served in the Vietnam War. After rising in the ranks to become a sergeant.
During his second tour of duty in the Vietnam War, his comrades were killed by enemy troops; in anger, he used their spirits to summon a band of demons to destroy the opposition. Forge, concerned about his former comrades, decided to order a B-52 bombing on his position to close the portal from the world of the unliving. The bombs destroy the spirits, but he is injured as well, losing his right leg and right hand.
Years later, Forge creates cybernetic replacements for his lost limbs.
He has develops a relationship with Storm, who leaves him after finding out that he had created the device which removed her powers, after she falls into a river.
Ignoring Forge for stereotypes.
There is a rich fictional history about this character that I feel is not used today to the fullest of his ability in the current decade old run of X-Men and Mutant centric comics as a whole by current Marvel Comics writers.
Why would they not utilize such a well developed Disabled Native American character with the abilities to create any technological prowess? Instead they make up new characters that don't work or are just too silly to even mention.
Its hard to create a disabled character in today's culture because the environment is rife with expectation to make a character that will end up as a stereotypical character despite all well-meaning intentions, as seen with the New Warriors debacle from Marvel Comics.
In trying to tick and cross all the right boxes, one ends up making a mockery of the very thing that he/she is trying to elevate.
I have an entire universe of characters for a comic book series that's sitting on my computers hard drive that I hadn't thought about all this year until my friend mentioned the idea of disabled superheroes.
We often think of superheroes as normal abled bodied humans going about doing their "hero" thing after they come upon, or receive some sort of new ability or an ability that awakens within them at a certain age.
But, we don't usually think of them without limbs, speech or hearing.
The people of the kingdom look down on the young Prince Bojji, who can neither hear nor speak. They call him "The Useless Prince" while jeering at his supposed foolishness.
However, while Bojji may not be physically strong, he is certainly not weak of heart. When a chance encounter with a shadow creature should have left him traumatized, it instead makes him believe that he has found a friend amidst those who only choose to notice his shortcomings. He starts meeting with Kage, the shadow, regularly, to the point where even the otherwise abrasive creature begins to warm up to him.
Kage and Bojji's unlikely friendship lays the budding foundations of the prince's journey, one where he intends to conquer his fears and insecurities. Despite the constant ridicule he faces, Bojji resolves to fulfil his desire of becoming the best king he can be.
The sign language depicted in Ousama Ranking is supervised by the Tokyo Foundation of the Deaf.
My closet friend, who happens to also be one of the three people who owns Plunge Enterprise is disabled and has been since he was a baby. I, myself have had to use a cane to get around for over 12yrs due to a car accident and head injuries which means I am in constant pain
So, as someone who has such uncomfortable life situations creating or writing about persons in our situations doesn't seem to be too appealing to me. Now, someone would think that's the best person to write about these topics or creating characters with similar situations. And, I can't say I would disagree. After all, "write what you know" is a common expectation of writers and advice usually given by the professionals.
But, the strange think is that I would rather read about characters with disabilities or handicaps than write about them myself. Because, like acting, actors play roles that aren't them. We give them awards for pretending very well.
On the other hand, there are characters already in existence, like Forge, Charles Xavier and now Prince Bojji in manga and anime.
But, having said that there is always room for more as my friend said to my message, "Some is better than none."
So, hopefully in time we will see more characters like Forge with the hope that aren't stereotypes of their culture or their environment as my own experience and my friend has shown me, that all we need is understanding and respect and nothing more or less.
And, as long as the stories are good and characters are well developed than the more the better.