Did you ever notice that most comic book superheroes are “sick?” That what makes them different is actually what gives them their powers?
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know a ton about comic books. I’ve watched cartoons and movies and I LOVE superhero mythos, but there are enough blogs out there dealing with how intimidating it is to actually start getting in to the original comics so I won’t dwell on that here. Just know that I am enchanted and in love with the idea of superheros but I’m no expert.
I even draw my own comic book, which is too dorky to explain right now but if you really want to read it you can do so here. Here’s a picture if you just want to see what I call “drawing.”
Now I can’t say any of the characters in my comic have a cool invisible illness parallel because I started writing this as a healthy care-free high schooler and it’s about a world of Marching Band as government so….yeah, few ties to reality.
So let’s look at some more main stream Superheroes and their possible ties to illness.
As his name suggests, Spider-Man got his spider powers from a spider bite. SPIDERS!
That’s a Nostalgia Critic joke there. But anyway, Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, was bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider-like powers like climbing walls and web-slinging from the incident. Peter is lucky enough to not feel any adverse reactions to the bite other than the initial pain and irritation. But it does change his life forever and result in the loss of everyone closest to him – which, not to be depressing, happens a lot with illness.
But Spider-Man still finds many people who care about him deeply enough to stick by him through all his unique troubles, which is also true of illness. Whenever I’m asked for dating advice with illness, I always say I think it’s a great advantage. You’ll weed out the flakes and fakers pretty quickly, because only quality relationships can survive illness. While Peter Parker may be the king of angst, he still manages to have a love life.
Now, Spidey may not have been born with his illness, but there are many invisible illnesses that are contracted through bites, particularly from tics – lyme disease being the most commonly heard of and easiest to pronounce. I hope that the tic-borne disease community accepts Peter Parker as one of their own.
THE X MEN:
First, that’s a picture of Banshee, played by Caleb Jones, in X-Men First Class. I just want to put out there that we went to high school together and I co-starred in a play with him. Just for public record.
Now, the X-Men are a really great example of living with chronic illness. It’s a group of people with (dis?)abilities, some visible, some not. They’re all very different from each other and their “symptoms” differ wildly, but they’re united in how different they are from the “normal” people. The issue of “stigma” is the heart and soul of the x-men stories. It captures beautifully all the highs and lows of being “different.”
The Hulk is the poster child of bad flares. Whether you have a chronic pain condition, a gastrointestinal problem, fatigue issues, or even mental illness, you know how it feels to be fine one moment and have one little thing turn you into…well, a totally different person.
Speaking of mental illness, Batman is definitely the poster child of that one. There’s a good case to be made that Batman has almost any mental illness you could name – Post-Traumatic Stress from loosing his parents, anxiety disorders and a severe phobia of bats, multiple personalities (but all Supes have to wrestle with that one), and depression come to mind.
Batman is arguably the world’s favorite superhero right now. The thing that makes him so great is that he acknowledges that he has all these problems – he admits his fears, failures, and emotional instability, and he uses it all to rise above and be awesome. In everything he does and everything he is, he uses his mental issues. Fear of bats? Call me Batman. He turns his “illness” into “strength.” The one hero with “no powers” turns all his weaknesses into powers, and gives us hope that we can do that too.
Alright, I had to include something from Watchmen because it’s one of my favorite stories – plus it’s a comic that is easily accessed without walking into a comic store, so it’s one of the few I’ve actually read. But the point of it is to be really gritty and harsh and the “heroes” aren’t exactly great role models so I was worried I might offend someone. But I think Dr. Manhattan is a great example that’s not offensive at all, so here we go.
Dr. Manhattan used to be a normal boring guy of course, until one day he exploded. Not kidding. He worked for a nuclear power plant…or something….and got stuck in a thingy where he got all his atoms separated. SCIENCE HAPPENED, I don’t know how to explain it. But he was still conscious in all his atoms and was able to slowly and painfully rebuild himself – a feeling I think any chronically ill person can sympathize with.
But I think he draws the greatest parallel to people who have Chemical Sensitivity, which despite it’s mild-sounding name is actually one of the most devastating chronic illnesses anyone can have – and we’re all at risk of getting it. Basically, we’re all exposed to tons of chemicals every day. Fragrance, soap, cleaners, etc. And no one knows how much chemicals it takes to set off “chemical sensitivity,” but once that trigger is pulled one quickly becomes unable to tolerate any chemicals. Since almost everyone wears deodorant or uses lotions with scents, that means you cannot be with people. You can’t go places where people are. That limits you quite a bit.
Dr. Manhattan was exposed to radiation that exploded him, which is a lot what chemical sensitivity feels like at first. After slowly rebuilding himself, he found he no longer belonged in this world. He didn’t look like everyone else – he was glowing blue, but people with chemical sensitivity can no longer wear makeup, dye their hair, or wear a lot of common clothing and shoes. He no longer thought like everyone else or lived like anyone else, and he ended up isolating himself alone on Mars. With chemical sensitivity, isolation is unavoidable.
But, like any superhero, it’s the things that make Dr. Manhattan different that make him great. And even though it isn’t easy and it takes a great toll on himself and the people he loves, he fights the good fight every day. And yeah, since this is a dark story sometimes the battles he chooses are questionable. But the point is that he doesn’t just hole up on Mars. Though he’s lost all connection with mankind, he chooses to continue caring about them and helping them. And most people I know with chemical sensitivity are doing the same thing – trying to protect people who don’t understand them from the chemicals that made it that way. And that’s heroism right there, folks.
So what do you think? What Superheroes do you think are using their disabilities as abilities? Who would you add?
One in particular that I encourage you to check out is a new hero named Max Gamer – a boy with Aspergers. This awesome new comic is written by “aspies” as they affectionately call themselves, for aspies. Max’s superpower is Aspergers – and that is an awesome viewpoint. The comic is written for younger kids and teens, but that didn’t stop me from thinking it was just about the coolest comic ever. Tell me what you think and spread the word!