Have you ever noticed that when you see someone in a wheelchair in a movie or television, they always fall into one of two categories?
They are either the character with a tragic backstory that has had their lives defined by their wheelchair or are underdogs of a sort that ultimately rise up to meet a challenge head on and inspire others.
Surprisingly, we tend to see more heroic people in wheelchairs in the sci-fi genre than any other genre. And while most of the backstory of these characters can be quite unbelievable (as is the staple of most science fiction), there is certainly something to be said about the fact that even in worlds where technology is advance and even superior to humans, the creators of these stories often place heroic and monumental characters in a wheelchair.
We can see this in the X-Men comics and movies in the character of Professor X. As the leader of the legendary X-Men, he is thought to be the most intelligent and powerful character within most X-Men story arcs.
Having been disabled in a very comic-like way (his legs were crushed by a large boulder thrown by an alien), Professor X, real name Charles Xavier, is rarely featured as being disabled. With one of the more brilliant minds in the world of mutants that the X-Men exist in, he is usually represented as a signal of strength and perseverance.
His character is also a spokesman for the rights of mutants, as he constantly tried to take advancements towards equal rights between humans and mutants. The symbolism here mirrors Martin Luther King’s achievements but could also be seen as a struggle to advance people with any sort of different lifestyles—including those with disabilities.
There have been inside sci-fi jokes linking Professor X to Stephen Hawking. And while some more recent story arcs do indeed compare X’s genius to that of Hawking’s, here again, there is no real attempt to make his wheelchair a part of his identity but, rather, his intellectual power.
What are some other characters from sci-fi or comics can you think of that represent people in wheelchairs as people of power rather than a disability?