As you read this right now, the 2016 Paralympics are taking place in Rio de Janeiro. The world’s greatest handicapped athletes have to come together to prove to the world that they are not restricted by their physical or mental limits. Superheroes who possess their own disabilities strive to overcome similar roadblocks, but like the paralympic athletes, they have their own special skills and superpowers to rely on. For Smalltember, we honour seven of the best handicapped heroes in fiction; characters who refused to be someone’s charity case and strived to make their mark on the world.
7. Barbara Gordon
This years animated adaptation of The Killing Joke was received with mixed feelings for several reasons. However, the comic itself is considered one of the best. Barbara Gordon is fatally shot in the spine by the Joker, leaving her wheelchair-bound. While her days as Batgirl were behind her, Barbara did not sit by and despair. She was still an ally to Batman and driven by her virtuous nature (and as both a superheroine and the daughter of a cop), Barbara became the DC Universe’s greatest hacker: The Oracle. Though she can’t walk, Barbara is a genius, and skilled in computer science and hacking, as well as maintaining the mind of a detective she had crafted as Batgirl.
6. Cassandra Cain
While we’re on the subject of Batgirl, another character to don the namesake was Cassandra Cain. The daughter of a pair of assassins, Cassandra was not taught to read or write, but instead trained from birth to become the ultimate assassin and bodyguard for Ra’s al Ghul. Cassandra became a master of martial arts, and developed an ability to read and predict body movements of her opponents. However, while an effective fighter and assassin, Cassandra was left a mute, illiterate, and incapable of socialising. She manages to overcome her disabilities, making friends along the way, and Cassandra remains a skilled warrior and superheroine.
5. Edward and Alphonse Elric
The two heroes of Fullmetal Alchemist have unusual handicaps, not born with them or through an accident, but rather gained them through their own actions. Trying to resurrect their mother using alchemy backfires on them, causing Edward to lose an arm and a leg, and Alphonse’s whole body. To rescue Al, Ed binds his soul to a suit of armour, keeping him alive and turning him into one fearsome, fighting machine. However, it also renders him unable to eat and sleep, and if exposed to water, the seal binding his soul could wash away. Edward is inspired to get prosthetic limbs and joins the military to find a way to make amends, proving to be a prodigal alchemist, genius, and fighter. And there is his habit of breaking his prosthetic limbs, much to the rage of his mechanic Winy Rockbell. Both make an unbreakable team, and two of the finest brothers in fiction.
The downside of being a Mutant is that you never know what the superpower lottery will give you. In Scott Summers’ case, it is unending optic blasts fired from his eyes. This renders him unable to even open his eyes unless wearing his iconic visor or ruby-tinted sunglasses. The inability to control his mutation was caused by either a head injury or a subconscious childhood trauma from his parents’ deaths. Though Cyclops can control his powers through his visor, there is still the fear of losing control, as explored in the comics, films, and other media. Despite this, Cyclops is an effective leader, comrade, and loyal to his friends and fellow X-Men, remaining one of the most popular Mutants.
3. Toph Beifong
Toph is awesome. The definition of badass, and one of the best heroes that is not held back by her disability. Toph Beifong is a protagonist in Avatar: The Last Airbender, blind since birth, and considered helpless by her overprotective parents. Toph is by no means helpless. She is a magnificent earthbender, able to sense the rocks around her, her feet serving as her eyes, and she has enhanced mechanoreceptors. Her earthbending is something to behold, and she serves as Aang’s earthbending teacher on his own quest to master the four elements. Toph is a rough girl, very snarky, argumentative and independent, more connected to earthbending progenitor Badgermoles than humans. And then there is the fact she invented Metalbending, able to detect the very metal in the ground and control it to her will. And the rest, if you have watched The Legend of Korra, is history.
2. Professor X
Perhaps the most famous character who happens to be bald and in a wheelchair, Professor Charles Xavier is leader of the X-Men and one of the most powerful Mutants in the world. Becoming a paraplegic through various means depending on the continuity, Xavier becomes wheelchair-bound, but sometimes uses a hover chair. Xavier makes up for his paralysis with his psychic powers, able to link to everyone on Earth using the Cerebro computer, and also happens to be a leading authority on genetics and mutations, runs his own school of mutants, and is one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. He acts as a leader and a father figure to his student, and a prominent figure in the civil rights of mutants, hoping to see his own kind and normal humans live in harmony.
The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and the Man Without Fear, Daredevil is the most iconic of heroes with a disability. Losing his sight as a child, Matt Murdock developed a sixth sense called his “radar sense”, boosting his other senses to superhuman levels. Doubling as a superhero and a lawyer, Daredevil uses his senses to his advantage. He can even serve as a polygraph, able to detect when a person is lying based on their heartbeat. His radar sense also serves as a form of echolocation. However, his radar sense has also boosted the natural weaknesses of his other senses, able to paralyze him if exposed to loud noises and certain aromas. Using his powers, Daredevil has overcome his blindness and become a skilled martial artist and superhero.
Which disabled superheroes are your favourites? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.