Comic books have a long and difficult relationship with disabilities. For all my love of Batman, his rogues’ gallery is filled with people suffering from mental disabilities. Rather than treating them with empathy, they’re just villains to be punched and thwarted. Two-Face has dissociative personality disorder. Joker has a rotating id. Harley struggles with antisocial personality disorder. Most of the rogues are sociopaths or psychopaths. You get the picture. Rehabilitation isn’t even on the table when you need them to break out of Arkham Asylum for another story.
But comics also do disabilities right sometimes. Let’s face it, my early attachment to comics was a form of wish fulfillment. I was able to imagine myself as someone greater, someone with powers, someone who wouldn’t get picked on. Disabled people have wishes that need to be fulfilled as well. They deserve to see themselves represented on the page, fighting injustices, and sometimes even turning their disabilities into advantages.
There are superheroes and supervillains. There are graphic memoirs and brilliant manga series. From blindness to paralysis to mental illness, disabilities are everywhere in comics if you know where to look. Here are 12 graphic novels, manga, and comics with great disability representation that you need to read right now.
Superhero Comics with Great Disability Representation
Age of X by Mike Carey, Clay Mann
Legion is a very powerful mutant with reality- and time-altering abilities. He also suffers from dissociative identity disorder, so each of his personalities demonstrates a different set of powers. While not all of his stories have represented this well, Age of X painted Legion as a hero, even if his subconscious created the alternate timeline.
Birds of Prey by Gail Simone, Ed Benes, Michael Golden
I have a lot of issues with Batman: The Killing Joke, including the paralysis of Barbara Gordon. However, her tenacity and ability to pivot to becoming Oracle instead of Batgirl is inspiring. Barbara showed that her mind is her greatest strength, and that was on full display in Gail Simone’s run of Birds of Prey.
Cyborg (2015) by David Walker, Ivan Reis
Victor Stone had a troubled youth that resulted in him becoming a multi-amputee. In classic cyberpunk fashion, though, he has become one with advanced technology and become one of DC Comics’ biggest heroes. This 2015 series is one of his best.
Daredevil: A Touch of Typhoid by Ann Nocenti, Fabian Nicieza
You knew Matt Murdoch was going to be on here, right? He’s everyone’s favorite blind, crime-fighting lawyer. His sort-of sonar ability doesn’t hurt. There were a lot of different stories I could have chosen, and A Touch of Typhoid is one of my favorites.
Daredevil: Parts of a Hole by David Mack, Joe Quesada
Maya Lopez made a big splash in the recent Hawkeye miniseries, but she got her start in the pages of Daredevil. She’s deaf but never lets that slow her down. She can trade blows with Daredevil any day and even lead parts of Kingpin’s organization. Parts of a Hole is a key story in her history.
Hawkeye (1983) by Mark Gruenwald
Not everyone knows that Hawkeye deals with hearing loss. Not every comic book story even includes it. This 1983 miniseries tells the story of how he lost some of his hearing, and it’s also a great little comic.
Manga with Great Disability Representation
I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino
Inspired by her friends who had hearing loss, Yuki Fumino wrote this beautiful love story about Kohei, who is usually distant due to his hearing loss. But when he meets Taichi, he slowly learns to find joy and even love.
Shino Can’t Say Her Name by Shuzo Oshimi
Disabilities aren’t always obvious or even easy to diagnose. In this story, anxiety renders young Shino partly mute on her first day of high school. As the title implies, she can’t even say her own name. How does a young woman cope? She finds music and slowly begins to make friends.
A Sign of Affection by suu Morishita
Yuki is a college student who lives a pretty full life. She has friends and loves fashion. She’s also deaf and accustomed to using sign language and her phone to talk to people. At least, that’s what she does in Japanese. When she is asked for directions in English, though, she doesn’t know what to do until a handsome stranger steps in. Could love be in the air?
Graphic Memoirs with Great Disability Representation
Dancing After Ten by Vivian Chong
Vivian Chong lived a “normal” life until she developed a rare skin disease called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, or TEN. In the aftermath, she was also left blind. Teaming up with cartoonist Georgia Webber, author of Dumb: Living Without a Voice, Chong tells the story of how she has gone on with her life dancing and singing after losing her sight.
Everything is an Emergency: An OCD Story in Words and Pictures by Jason Adam Katzenstein
People throw around the term OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) too easily, not realizing that there are people struggling with the actual disease. In this book, New Yorker cartoonist Katzenstein uses vignettes to paint the picture of a life living with OCD. Sometimes funny and often poignant, this book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand OCD.
A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex and Disability by A. Andrews
Sex can be a difficult subject to talk about. Bodies are messy and often cumbersome. How do we talk about bodies with disabilities, particularly when it comes to sex? A. Andrews has the answers in this funny and informative educational comic.
I know there are so many more comics and so many more disabilities not included on this list. Who are some of your favorite characters with disabilities? What are their must-read stories?