For as long as humans have lived to tell the stories of life, we have put our faith and our trust in heroes – everyday heroes whom travel seen and unseen; public heroes who face our fears in a more visible light, and mythic heroes that reveal something about human nature. On occasion however, we look to the fictitious and fantastical. We look to superheros in all their varying forms to escape from the harsh realities of life and be assured that, despite how we feel, everything will be okay. To the average person, one can read a book or see a movie and after a nice feel-good moment shut the book and leave the cinema to get on with their life. To some though, the inspiration they find in their heroes is held close to their hearts as it helps those with a harder life move forward. Not because the protagonists in theses stories are perfect, but because they have overcome things that makes them imperfect.
Much like ourselves, no character in a good story is the same. They all have trials and tribulations that hinder them from progress and their quest is to dig deep and find the will to be better. This is no exception for superheroes in comic books. All superheroes have the quest of their life to overcome, but what is especially interesting are the superheroes with various physical and mental challenges that they must overcome in addition to saving the world. Many people have been able to find immense motivation and inspiration from such heroes, particularly those who find themselves in the same boat as the character in question. There is a lot that we can learn from in these stories of triumph. Here are a select few of these superheroes and their stories to give a little perspective, inspiration, and to give those who might be looking for a hero outside of themselves.
Hawkeye – Deafness
Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye), the ultra skilled archer Avengers was not born deaf. However, his father was very abusive towards him and beat him until he was partially deaf (though he hid it well). To make matters worse, in a battle with the Death Throws, in order to escape being brainwashed, Hawkeye slipped a sonic arrowhead into his mouth to nullify the negative affects on his brain. This left him 80% deaf. Later on in Franklin Richard’s Counter-Earth, he had his hearing completely restored which was later rectified when The Clown jammed two of Hawkeye’s own arrowheads into his ears damaging his outer and inner ear causing deafness once again. Throughout all of this he communicated with others through sign language until Tony Stark created a hearing aid for him which allowed him to be able to hear again. Hawkeye has always been a ground level character who has taken the brunt of a lot of jokes. But his humanity really shows through. He’s not going to let the loss of his hearing stop him from doing what’s right. As long as he can see his target and shoot a bow (and sometimes not even that), he continues to do what is right.
Cyclone – Depression
Little known member of the Justice Society, Maxine Hunkel was the granddaughter of Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado. Maxine grew up idolizing her grandmother and her fellow teammates on the original Justice Society of America. When she was a young girl she was kidnapped by T.O. Morrow, the inventor of the android also called The Red Tornado. Maxine was injected with Red Tornado nanobytes that did not give her powers until later in life. Maxine grew up and went to Harvard with a 4.0 and 1300 SAT score. She was intelligent, bubbly and vivacious and loved musical theatre. However, through no fault of her own, her out-going, know-it-all and loud attitude isolated her from nearly everyone at the school. As an outcast she began to suffer from atypical depression, a subtype of major depression involving the regular tell-tale symptoms including becoming very reactive to environmental circumstances and rejection. When the Red Tornado Nanobytes manifest in her, she developed the ability to manipulate wind. At the suggestion of her grandmother she is inducted into the Justice Society where she met her heroes and became good friends with fellow teen superhero Stargirl. She called herself Cyclone and found purpose in her life defending Earth. For many who struggle with depression, some days are better than others. For Maxine she was able to reconcile herself with her ailments and, in doing so, improve the quality of her life by accepting a helping hand and finding hope in a better tomorrow.
Daredevil – Blindness
When Matt Murdock was a young boy he was walking down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He saw a blind man crossing the street and a cargo truck careening towards him. Matt ran and pushed the man out of the way. The truck swerved and crashed, spilling it’s contents across the street. It was carrying barrels of a radioactive isotope which splashed Matt in the eyes causing complete and total loss of sight to the boy. Initially devastated, as all who face such a misfortune are, with a little help Matt learned how to use his other senses in order to function. Matt’s father was killed soon after which orphaned the boy who was then taken into the care of his local church. With all of the influences on him and the misfortune he suffered, Matt resolved to become a better man. He went to law school to become a lawyer and fight crime in the day; and as the sun went down he became Daredevil. He became skilled in martial arts and trained in the ways of the ninja in order to fight back at those who would prey on the helpless. Matt Murdock, though he sometimes hasn’t made the greatest of decisions, is one of the greatest of heroes because in spite of being blind, always does what is right.
Oracle – Paraplegic
Young Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon, was one of the brightest students in her class. Adept at martial arts and infatuated with becoming a superhero, she became an ally to the Batman and fought along side him as Batgirl. After years of this, the unexpected occurred when the Joker knocked on her door and shot her through the spine. After the incident she was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer glide through the city as Batgirl; but Barbara could not be kept down. Using her vast technological knowledge, photographic memory, and hacking skills she became The Oracle, Batman’s personal ‘eye in the sky’ as well as a powerful ally to the rest of the Justice League. She went on to found The Birds of Prey, a team of powerful heroines operating on the street level in order to combat crime. Barbara was devastated by the physical and psychological damage that occurred to her, but she held on tight to hope. She forged onward and created a new, different type of hero that nobody expected, but everybody values.
The Hulk – Anger and Repression
When Bruce Banner was a young boy, his father was an alcoholic who called him a monstrosity and physically abused him; his father murdered his mother and was incarcerated. He grew up hating the world. But with some guidance from his aunt, he was able to overcome his childhood trauma somewhat. Bruce grew up to become a physicist, and when he was exposed to gamma radiation he became The Incredible Hulk. When he gets angry, he becomes a giant hulking green monster. The Hulk in and of itself is a metaphor for rage and repression. When somebody takes their impulses and desires, including the negative ones, and excludes them in order to feel happy, this creates a bomb waiting to explode. So to was Bruce. His anger festered inside him, and when he became the Hulk he was an unstoppable monster. But Bruce found a purpose and an outlet for his rage. When he became an Avenger, and found people who loved him for who he was, he began to flourish as a person. Like anybody struggling with a problem of the mind, sometimes you slip up; but Bruce always comes back to fight for what is right. His friends are always there for him and he can see past the memory of the monster that his father accused him of being and become the man he was always meant to be.
Orphan – Mute
Cassandra Cain was the daughter of Lady Shiva and David Cain. She was trained to become a perfect weapon for the League of Assassins, and during the course of her training she was not taught how to speak. Being raised like this she was able to become a very skilled martial artist, however she developed a form of dyslexia that hindered her ability to talk, read, and write. As she grew older and became disillusioned with the League of Assassins, she fell in with the Wayne family. It was here that she found a home, and her true purpose in battling the forces of evil; even learning a few words here and there. She became Batgirl for a time, but was later known as Black Bat. In DC Rebirth she has now become known as Orphan. Here she became friends with Clayface, a big ugly clay monster who Batman was trying to rehabilitate. Her silent kindness showed Clayface how to be a hero too. Like many on this list, Cassandra was subject to a myriad of childhood trauma which hindered her in a way that made it incredibly difficult to express herself. But in finding a family, and a place to belong she has been able to express herself in so many other ways by continuously doing good, being kind and charitable, leaving everyone in the Bat-Family just as speechless in awe of Cassandra Cain.
Jessica Jones – PTSD
There are many comic book characters suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but one of the best examples is Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones was born Jessica Campbell, and on the way back from a family trip, their car collided with a military convoy containing radioactive chemicals. The accident killed her family and left her in a coma for eight months. When she emerged from her coma, nobody really knew or cared that she had been missing for those eight months. What she discovered though was that she had the power of flight and super strength. She was adopted by Alisa Jones and was inspired by Spider-Man to fight crime. She became the costumed hero known as Jewel; her superhero career was lesser known and not as widely covered by the media as other superheroes. While stopping a fight at a restaurant she comes in contact with Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man. Killgrave gives off mind controlling pheromones and dominates Jessica’s mind and willpower forcing her into slavery. She endured psychological torture at the hands of Killgrave who forced her to do his will, including committing numerous crimes. While out for Killgrave, he becomes incapacitated and Jessica is saved by Carol Danvers, the only hero who remembers who Jessica is. Jessica is haunted by the memories of her time with Killgrave, and begins to suffer from severe PTSD. Thankfully she is given therapy from Jean Grey who psychically puts mental blocks in Jessica’s mind so that she would never be dominated by Killgrave again. Yet Jessica still suffered the mental trauma of Killgrave’s abuse and the fact that nobody really cared about her growing up. She retired from the superhero life and started a private investigation business called Alias, and met Luke Cage. They had an on and off relationship which resulted in them having a child and finally a stable relationship for Jessica. Jessica Jones endured far more mental and emotional suffering than many other comic book characters. The fact that she found her way to a loving man and a child whom she cares for deeply is a miracle, and a compelling story of one who has found a way to live with PTSD.
What We Can Learn
One might say that idolizing these heroes for overcoming their disabilities is foolish and pointless. They all overcome their problems by getting powers. But I don’t think that’s the point. These people may have been given somewhat compensatory gifts in lieu of their abilities, but what these heroes, and ourselves in turn, actually do to overcome these problems is by grasping onto hope and finding a support system to help us through life. Every hero on this list didn’t give up. They found belonging and reached out to help others and, in doing so, helped themselves. Every single character on this list suffered a great loss, found out what made them special and unique, and found friends to uplift them. Now, I don’t suffer from any major disability, but I find it personally impactful to read these stories and relate them in real life; to myself, my friends, and my family. If these superheroes who dictate the fate of the world still struggle with the problems of being human, I find that tremendously relatable, be it a blind guy beating up villains in the alley, or an out-going Harvard student finding happiness and acceptance in life.