10 Disabled Comic Book Superheroes

One of the great things about comics is that characters can be physically disabled, yet still be superhuman. Here are some of the great disabled superheroes.

1. Dr. Mid-Nite

This DC Comics hero was introduced in 1941, teaming up with do-gooders like the Flash and the Green Lantern throughout World War II. Originally physician Dr. Charles McNider, he was blinded by a hand-grenade explosion (the work of organized crime). Though he had to renounce the surgery, he could see in pitch darkness for some reason, so he became a crime-fighter. As well as having an advantage during the night, he wears special pitch-black goggles so he can see during the day.

2. Captain Marvel, Jr.

Well, sort of. Elvis Presley’s favorite childhood hero was in reality Freddy Freeman, a newsboy who was crippled in an attack by the dastardly Captain Nazi.

The super-hero Captain Marvel (in reality a newsboy named Billy Batson – what’s with these double-initials?) took Freddy to Shazam, the wizard who had given him his powers, and he was granted the same powers (with a bolt of lightning) whenever he uttered the hero’s name: “Captain Marvel!” Sadly, when he uttered the same again, he would transform back into Freddy, de-powered and still crippled. As they often teamed up (and Junior presumably needed to introduce himself on occasion), this must have been an awkward arrangement. Nonetheless, Captain Marvel – published by Fawcett – became the top-selling superhero, the first one to outsell Superman. Junior, riding on his capetails, was published by from 1942 to 1953.

3. Thor

In 1962, nearly a decade after Fawcett stopped publishing the highly successful Captain Marvel titles, Marvel Comics (no relation) introduced another disabled man who can transform, with a bolt of lightning, into a hero with godlike power. In fact, it wasn’t so much god-like, as Dr. Donald Blake, GP (who can only walk with the aid of a cane) was transformed into Thor, the Norse god of thunder. As punishment for showing appalling pride, Thor had been sent to Earth by his father, Odin (king of the gods), in the fragile form of Dr. Blake – and to further humiliate him, didn’t even know he was a superhero until a visit to Norway first saw him transform into Thor. One of Marvel’s classic heroes (Kenneth Branagh, no less, is currently directly a movie), he is known to fans as one of the “big three” of their main super-hero team, the Avengers (along with Iron Man and Captain America).

4. Daredevil

Marvel Comics also created Daredevil, whose origin story must rate among the dumbest in comic-book history (no mean achievement). The story: athletic teenager Matt Murdock leaps in to save a blind man from being hit by a truck. However, the truck is carrying a canister of radioactive waste material that breaks open, bombarding Murdock with radiation. He is blinded, like the man he saved. However, thanks to radiation, his other senses are “mutagenically heightened” to superhuman levels. According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (published in 1983): “His sense of touch is so acute that his fingers can feel the faint impressions of ink on a printed page, allowing him to read by touch… and he can distinguish between identical twins at 20 feet by minute differences in smell.” Daredevil uses blindness to his advantage, happily swinging over the New York skyline. As he can’t see how high he is, he earns the label “the man without fear”. But instead of sight, he has radar sense, suggesting that he’s more of a bat-man than Batman.

5. The Chief

As followers of the X-Men movies (and for 40 years years before, the Marvel comics) would know, Professor Charles Xavier is the most unusual superhero: wheelchair-bound after an accident, his telepathic and psychic powers make him more than a match for most of the tough musclemen he confronted. Less famous is the Doom Patrol, another group of oddballs led by a wheelchair-bound genius (and first published by DC Comics in October 1963, only one month before the X-Men). Their leader was the Chief, alias Niles Caulder, who built several weapons, including flame-throwers, into his wheelchair. Sadly, the Doom Patrol didn’t catch on like the X-Men, and in 1968, they all died heroically. (As often happens in comics, most of them – including the Chief – were brought back to life several years later.)

6. Puck

Introduced by Marvel in 1983, Puck was a dwarf with no superhuman powers, but great acrobatic and fighting skills – a character suggested to writer-artist John Byrne by his wife. He soon became one of the most popular members of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight, whose fans included other sufferers of dwarfism. However, comics being what they are, he couldn’t stay just a “normal” guy. Writer Bill Mantlo, Byrne’s successor, gave him a new origin story: he was previously a (very tall) adventurer, who had been turned into a dwarf by a demon. Oh, and he was immortal. Byrne was not happy with this. “The whole ‘demon inside’ thing [was] based, apparently, on the single reference Puck had made to being in constant pain, something which Bill failed to grasp was an effect of the condition – achondroplasty… which caused Puck's dwarfism.” Immortal or not, Puck was killed (along with most of Alpha Flight), and at time of writing, is still dead.

7. Oracle

Barbara Gordon was formerly Batgirl, fighting crime with martial arts and a skintight costume. She even appeared in the 1960s Batman television series, played by Yvonne Craig. By day, she was Barbara Gordon, a mild-mannered librarian with Clark Kent spectacles. This changed, however, in the 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore), when she was shot in the spine by Batman’s insane foe, the Joker. After that, her appearances focused on the tragedy of her new, wheelchair-bound life. But this eventually gave way to her new identity, Oracle. As super-smart as she was previously super-athletic, she oversees crime-fighting missions from a computer console, guiding her able-bodied (and mostly female) operatives, the Birds of Prey.

In 1993, Batman himself had his back broken by a tough criminal, and conducted his detective work from a wheelchair, replaced in the cape by an able-bodied crime-fighter. Unlike Oracle, however, his disability was only temporary.

8. Iron Man

For a multi-millionaire genius and playboy, Tony Stark has had a rough time. Wounded in the Vietnam War (though that has since been updated to the Iraq War), he designed an iron chest-plate to sustain his weak heart. Though he was later fitted with a pacemaker, his armor remains. Nonetheless, his problems continued. He has been an alcoholic, clinically dead (twice), lost his mind, and been on the run from authorities. He was also shot – not by a super-villain, but by an unhinged girlfriend. As his doctor dramatically announced, “Tony Stark will never walk again!” At first, the concept of a paraplegic superhero (while not exactly new) was well portrayed. In his secret identity, he felt helpless. Nonetheless, this was still a comic book, so he continued to fly around as Iron Man, moving his legs with the aid of high-tech armor. “I’ve only solved one problem,” he said. “There’s still a whole world I’m going to have to face without the armor.”

Writing stories around this wasn’t so easy. Within a year he was walking again, thanks to a “biochip implant” in his spine developed by a brilliant team of scientists (or more accurately, a desperate writer).

9. Echo

A Native American heroine, created in 1999 as one of Daredevil’s foes (though later an ally), Echo was thought to be mentally disabled as a child and was sent to a special school. But when she was able to replicate an entire song on a piano, she was moved to a school for gifted children. This must have been confusing, but it soon turned out that she was deaf, but has “photographic reflexes” – the ability to perfectly copy other people's movements. After study, this turned her into an amazing fighter and athlete. She also became one of the few superhero cross-dressers, disguising herself as a masked swordsman called Ronin. Readers were kept guessing for some time at the identity of the mysterious Ronin, and when Echo finally revealed herself, some of them were surprised – mainly because she had somehow hidden her deafness all that time.

10. Komodo

The Lizard, a Spider-Man villain, was really Dr. Curt Connors, a one-armed scientist who was hoping that he could regenerate his arm (like reptiles do) by injecting himself with lizard serum. This gave him an arm, but also turned him into a human lizard, taking away his mind. Fortunately, he was cured (though he never replaced his arm), and continued life as a respectable scientist, despite occasional lapses into reptile form. One of his graduate students, an amputee named Melati Kusuma, stole the serum to replace the legs that she lost in a car accident. In her case, she didn’t lose her mind in the process. Kusuma — Komodo — was introduced by Marvel Comics in 2007, as a trainee member of the Avengers.

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10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
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Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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