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Sunday, March 24, 2024 

Arizona college student believes there's a need for better representation of disabilities in comicdom

The Arizona State University news site wrote about a student who believes renditions of disabled in past comics isn't good enough:
In the 2000s, when many young people were spellbound by a book series about a wizard named Harry Potter, Maya Sarraf was captivated by comics — specifically those featuring characters like Oracle (formally known as Batgirl) and others with disabilities.

For a student like Sarraf, who has dyslexia, ADHD and OCD, the comic books were an easy read and more relatable.

These days, the Arizona State University fourth-year student continues to be connected to comics — albeit in a more academic way.

Sarraf is developing a project centered on the portrayal of individuals with disabilities in comics — an apt undertaking to explore during Disability Awareness Week, March 18–22.

Sarraf’s disability studies capstone project will draw attention to inaccurate, dismissive and stigmatized portrayals of comic book characters with disabilities.
Here's where she gets into what she means, and not all of this is helpful:
Part of the impetus behind Sarraf's study is that she doesn’t often see her disabilities depicted in the comics she reads.

“Especially OCD,” she said. “I never see an accurate — well, I shouldn't say never — but there's rarely an accurate representation. That's one of the reasons why I think a project like this is really important.”

Sarraf acknowledges that there are many characters in the comic panels with other disabilities. Marvel Comics' Daredevil is blind, Hawkeye is deaf and Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, is a prosthetic user. In DC Comics, Oracle is a paraplegic.

Sarraf says that the problem with the disabled characters in pop culture comic books is not that they don’t exist — rather that they are represented in ways that reflect attitudes and stigmas surrounding disabilities.

Sarraf discovered a pattern of ignorant and often dismissive portrayals by long-term comic writers without disabilities.

“Disabilities that are being represented (in comics) are oftentimes inaccurate,” said Sarraf, who is majoring in forensic psychology and minoring in disability studies in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

“That can be really harmful rhetoric to a disabled person reading it and a nondisabled person who might start attributing these tropes or stereotypes to the disabled people in their lives,” said Sarraf, who is also majoring in neuroscience at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Take Oracle, for example. When Batman’s protege was left paralyzed by the Joker, there was a lot of talk about making her a fringe character or writing her out of the script completely.

“Which is harmful language in itself,”
said Sarraf, who graduates in May. “(It implies) that disabled characters aren’t included after they become disabled.”

New writers will often erase the disabilities or try to treat them. In the case of Oracle, authors came up with a chip that miraculously removed her need for a wheelchair.

“The stereotype is that a person with a disability needs to be cured,”
Sarraf said. “That either disabled people are not happy with their lives or that they're looking for a cure. That's not necessarily true and yet it's a very prevalent rhetoric.”
It sounds like she's saying not a single man or woman in a wheelchair would want to cure their situation. What about the late actor Christopher Reeve of Superman film fame, who tragically became quadriplegic as the result of a horse-riding accident? He may have continued working on films and TV in some capacity, but it's not like he was happy he'd had his movement destroyed, which is far worse than his film career suffering the same. He spent his last years seeking to learn if his sad state could be cured, and did regain some minor movement towards the end. And years before, I watched the late Raymond Burr's role on TV as Ironside (1967-75), his 2nd most famous role after Perry Mason, where Burr played a former police inspector who lost his leg use after being shot in the back by a criminal. In the pilot episode itself, it was clear he wasn't happy to hear he could no longer walk, even if he was still able to continue in a crimefighting career wheelchair-bound. I will say, however, that as far as turning Babs Gordon into a "fringe" character is concerned, there was, unfortunately, potential evidence - the late writer/editor Len Wein favored disabling Barbara in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke GN, but what was really reprehensible was that Wein said, "cripple the bitch", when he gave his approval, suggesting it was more a case of personal dislike for a fictional character instead of wishing to try a direction accompanied by character development and drama. Much as I appreciate Wein bringing us Swamp Thing and Wolverine, 2 of the most important creations of the Bronze Age, it's regrettable Wein apparently took such a condescending view of Barbara Gordon that he'd approve of the direction from the Killing Joke in such a vulgar manner. That's simply not how to run a business.

And maybe the biggest complaint of all, viewed within the context, is that the college student's not taking issue with how Babs went from point A to point B via editorial in a way that may not have originally been altruistic. It may not be right to turn characters into disabled figures out of intention to marginalize them. But that doesn't make it right to cripple them in the first place either if the intentions were poor. Shouldn't that be criticized?

It's interesting though, that the student's taking issue with a direction taken by Gail Simone, quite a far-left ideologue herself, for reversing Babs' paraplegic state, though it only led later to the reinstated Batgirl becoming a platform for woke propaganda. So somebody potentially leftist isn't pleased with Simone's work, even though as time went by, Simone went further around the bend and made clear she wasn't worth reading. Also, since we're on the subject of the wheelchair-bound, I don't think even Charles Xavier in the X-Men was ever depicted literally enjoying his disabled state to the point he'd want to end that way. I think in the Silver Age, it was established a villain called Lucifer threw a big rock at Xavier, crippling his legs. That may have served as a driving factor for the character's dedication to justice, but is it acceptable that a villain just take somebody's walking ability away? Of course not.

I think disabilities can be an important subject for comicdom as much as any other medium, but to make it sound like they shouldn't be cured is absurd and insulting to plenty of people whom you can be sure will confirm they're sad to lose walking power, along with hearing and sight ability. And it's honestly disappointing to see the college paper bringing up the forced resurrection of Bucky Barnes, just so he could later all but replace Steve Rogers as Captain America. Today, even that isn't enough for the wokesters at Marvel, and it can only be a POC like the Falcon to replace Steve. Maybe most problematic of all is how superhero comics keep becoming the subject of these articles, instead of recommending the creation of indie comics that could serve the topic far better. Why won't these college papers consider that for a change?

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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