Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Paralympic Pledge from Alpha Flight's Box - Part Two: Handicapped Heroes and Wheelchair Wonders

Hey there comicanuckers! Box here again -- Alpha Flight’s man of metal.

We’re continuing on with our Paralympics inspired look at handicapped comic book heroes. Check out part one, A Paralympic pledge from Alpha Flight’s Box – Part One: Differently Super-Abled Superheroes.

Last time out we talked about amputee avengers and paralyzed protectors so let’s check out super dudes and dudettes on two wheels!

For most of comics history, we only saw a hero in a wheelchair when the writer needed us to see the hero at rock bottom. The hero is completely physically incapacitated. See? He or she’s even in a wheelchair! It provides a potent visual for the hero literally getting back his or her feet, like Moon Knight here.

Wheelchairs also provided a terrific source of emotional turmoil for seventies love comics! Check out this post over at the awesome Sequential Crush - DC's Pity Party!

Wheelchairs also serve to show how bad-ass a hero is when they can kick butt from a rolling wheelchair despite their injuries. Jonah Hex here is classic example!

Sometimes all it takes to show how wicked wheelchair-bound characters can be is a way-cool toy like these two Prof. X action figures.

Or you might prefer the new Avatar Jake Sully action figure, which are augemnted with some very wild technology, as described over at

"These Avatar toys use augmented reality, something that I have referred to as the Coolest Gadget ever. It works when one of the toys is placed in front of a webcam. Software provided by Total Immersion then takes over, and the monitor will display information about the character, 3-D animations of the character, and even more pictures. There is also a plan for bonus features for the “deluxe figures”. These are figures with a 3-D tag, or i-TAG, on the back of them. Scanning these guys will cause them to come to life on the user’s monitor, and placing two i-TAGs together will have them interact."

The two grandfathers of wheelchair-bound heroes would be the dueling professors -- DC Comics' Niles Caulder of the Doom Patrol and Marvel’s Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men.

Prof. Charles Xavier started out a terrific visual metaphor -- A harmless looking, paralyzed man of peace who had one of the most powerful mutant brains in the entire world. There have been so many X-Men adventures over time that Charles has grown to become an interesting, if inconsistent character by default.

Out of that mountain of tales it's only natural some terrific Prof. X stories emerge.

Prof. X's character is all about his mission: to lead mutant-kind into a peaceful partnership with mankind. The chair is almost never his motivating factor and that makes him far more interesting and compelling. That said, his chair can also be pretty cool. Especially this steampunk version designed by Daniel "Smeeon" Valdez.

Dr. Niles Caulder, aka The Chief,
beat Professor X to the printed page by several years and he was a dark character from the beginning. Caulder tricked and teased his way into the lives of three misfit freaks who had suffered traumatic accidents and gained tremendous powers. Niles Caulder felt responsible for their situations and for the many horrifying inventions his research had set lose on the world. He had a lot to make-up for and a short temper to boot! And best of all, ALL of the Doom Patrol were murdered at the end of their series run.

Unlike The Chief and Prof. X, some superheroes are not limited in their abilities when they’re in their heroic disguise. Daredevil’s previously-mentioned radar sense is a great equalizer, as is Dr. Mid-Nite’s blackout bomb.

Marvel Comics Navajo hero,
Jesse Black Crow was paralyzed in a construction accident and had vision of the plight of American Indians. When the ancient spirit from that dream transforms him into a mystic warrior he has full use of his limbs and a multitude of magic powers (transforming into a lightning bolt or crow, summoning fog, limited telepathic ability) at his disposal. When his job is finished, Jesse returns to his normal form and loses all that magic mobility.

There's another completely paralyzed character who gains full mobility when his powers kick in. He’s the bringer of death for Jack Kirby’s New Gods and always a threat to take gold on the slopes – the Black Racer! Sgt. Willie Walker, a bed-ridden Vietnam War Vet, first appeared in Jack Kirby’s New Gods issue 3.

After Darkseid brought his war of the Gods to Earth, Walker was in is hospital bed contacted by the Source, a semi-sentient shared consciousness power in the DC universe. When a New God is near death, he Source transforms Walker into the deadly and inescapable Black Racer, who takes their essence to Hadis (Kirby’s Fourth World version of Hades).

In Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers version of Mister Miracle, the Black Racer is not Willie Walker, he’s a Caucasian man in a wheelchair. Man, Kirby and Morrison. Two very wild creators firing on Bizarro batteries.

Paul Grist’s ongoing series Jack Staff introduces a new, marketable character every three or four panels it seems. Like my own Alter-ego Box, Tom Tom the Robot Man from Paul Grists's Jack Staff series, is in fact a large robotic suit piloted by 11-year old wunderkind Patricia Carthy. Paralyzed in the explosion that killed her inventor parents, Patricia used their robot suit (designed for Space Exploration initially) to become the mechanical defender of Castletown.

The one character to challenge for Professor X’s crown as the most interesting comic book character with a handicap is Barbara Gordon. For years she fought crime on her own and alongside the dynamic duo as Batgirl until The Joker shot her in the spine in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman graphic novel, The Killing Joke.

Much was made of Barbara being one of a long line of female characters attacked or killed simply to motivate a male protagonist. But Moore was attempting to write a definitive Batman story and wanted to give the Joker’s madness punch and weight. He wanted to really test Batman’s resolve not to kill. In other words, the people crying out where pretty much right!

But was Barbara really a fully fleshed out character when all she did was dress up as a female version of Batman? Was she really more than attempt to guard DC’s copyright to any bat-related character? I don't’ think so. And the proof is in what DC did with her character after the traumatic event. Barbara used her Detective skills and upgraded her computer tech to became Oracle, a hub of superhero and villainous information for the DC universe.

In the hands of writers like Gail Simone, Barb has been treated (generally) like a woman with intellect and personality first and foremost. Her handicap is a fact of her existence, not the defining feature. And she can still beat up toughs with the best of them!

Barbara Gordon/The Oracle -- has taken on a much greater symbolism and power by fulfilling a unique niche in the DCU, not being defined by a costume and being a good role model for all the wonderfully imperfect people reading her books – be they men or women and be they handicapped or fully functional... with multiple points of articulation like Babs’ action figure included in the Birds of Prey action figure set below.

We've managed to make a fairly impressive list . But since this blog is unabashedly Canadian, let's end it with a couple of Canucks. You could be forgiven for missing the first and only appearance of this next, all-Canadian Superhero...

In the early nineties, Marvel produced five “Kids in Trouble” Spider-Man comic books for the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police, the Alliance of a Drug Free Canada and a host of sponsors, including, hilariously Shopper’s Drug Mart. Over three million comics were handed out to Canadian children by Police Officers and teachers. So I’d have to call that campaign pretty successful.

The series debuted with a highly touted Todd McFarlane cover featuring the least subtle portrayal of the dangers of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and needles ever committed to a the comic book page…

The various adventures find excuses for Spider-Man to travel through Canada and interact with local semi-celebrities like the Montreal Expos and The Toronto Blue Jays and Herb Carnegie, the almost NHLer who was blocked due to fifties racism turned community servant. Spider-Man gets caught up in kid’s lives while he fights a who’s who of Marvel’s third-tier villains. Various streetproofing themes are touched upon in the five books, like say no to drugs and bike safety, thanks to one or two panel appearances by the Canadian bike safety brigade, the Right Riders.

All five issues were under the Amazing Spider-Man banner but each had an individual cover title. Skating on Thin Ice followed Spidey as he tracked Electro to Winnipeg and helped a kid named Alan avoid alcohol and drug abuse. Double Trouble moves the action to Fredericton for more anti-drug speechifying. Hit and Run sees Peter Parker in Toronto covering a Jays/Yankee baseball game, bike safety and tracking a drunk driver with the help of the Ghost Rider (who, unlike Spidey, chooses threats over speeches to reach the kids!)

The fifth issue, Deadball, finds old webhead in Montreal fighting off the Green Goblin.

But it’s issue four where the magic happens, in a tale by Canadian artist Jim Craig and Scott Lobdell (he of the worst coming out story in comics with his ridiculous, insensitive and borderline incompetent outing of my Alpha Flight comrade, Northstar). In an issue entitled Chaos in Calgary, we finally meet -- Joline Cargill, aka TURBINE! (SOLEINE to our French compatriots!)

Hey, Boxy! Can't I tell I tell my own story? Please, please, please, pleeeeeeeease? I get even less spotlight time than you do and you’re all dead and stuff!

Oh sorry, Joline. Sure, go right ahead. Tell everyone how cool you are.

I hear the sarcasm, Mr. I-Went-Crazy Pants. Well, my story IS cool. Really cool. So there! Yeah, I’m paralyzed from the waist down but that doesn’t keep me from being awesome! So my Dad, who’s like a doctor and stuff but apparently has no first name buts till won a Nobel Prize, right?

So Dad took to me to the Calgary Stampede, but not like any Stampede, one that was totally celebrating the city’s anniversary, right? And people were wearing cowboy hats and pretending they weren’t actually just cubicle drones at some bank or oil company, right? And Marvel’s western super-team the Rangers where performing.

Anyway, my Dad is there and we meet this totally cute photographer named Peter Parker, right, who’s like covered in awesomesauce with a side of nice buns, you know?

Joline, can you rein in the hormones a litttle? It's a family blog and you’re what, thirteen or something?

That’s what you think! The story actually never tells you how old I am so I could be anywhere from eight to fifteen! So there. I’m a woman of mystery and I’m totally smart for my age too.

Anyway, the Frightful Four (In this case, the Wizard, The Trapster, the Dreadknight and the Man-Bull) tries to kidnap my Dad in broad daylight in front of thousands of witnesses. Which makes me think their leader, Mr. Wizard, should kinda rethink his name. So in the fight, the bully Man-Bull dope wrecks my wheelchair so cutey-pattotey Parker carries me back to my Dad’s van. Sigh!...

But what nobody knows is that my Dad made me a solar-powered turbine cycle that flies and everything and hid it in our van, right? It moves superfast, flies kinds facing down, and generates really powerful winds. Not like that boy in my class, Gabriel says he can do I mean, real, strong, non-stinky wind.

Then I totally fought the Frightful with the Rangers and Spidey. I blew Dreadknight’s horse over and rammed a Trapster trap. Did you know he used to be called Paste Pot Pete? Gross.

And in the end Spider-Man totally congratulated and promised to look me up when he got back to Calgary. I’m still kinda waiting to hear but it’s not like he took down my e-mail or anything. Same with Peter McMagicMuffin. Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them. Anyway, that’s my tale!

What about my tale? I’m a handicapped hero too!

Hey! Get out of here fellow handicapped superhero Takashi “Taki” Matsuya, alias WIZ KID! You're way less super than I am! This is a Canadian blog and you’re totally American!

You can't make me leave, Joline: also known as Tur-WHINE. After all, you totally stole my flying wheelchair bit.

Oh yeah? Well you totally stole your whole, manipulating-machinery mutant power from Alpha Flight member Madison Jeffries! So there! And flying chairs were around for Jack Kirby’s New Gods with that creepy Metron guy – the New God’s ultimate science nerd.

You’re just jealous because since my first appearance in X-Terminators #1, I’ve appeared in more stories than you. I was in X-Factor!

Yeah? And look where it got you.

You're lost in limbo without a regular comic now, just like me.

Well get this, not only did I lose my parents and my ability to walk in a car accident, I’m also dyslexic, which is a very hot handicap right now. So I’m due for a revival any time.

And my origin is way more awesome than yours! When my mutant friends were kidnapped by the demon N’astirh my mutant ability to rearrange machinery – herewith referred to as “technoforming” burst forth and I turned my wheel chair into an awesome flying weapon and sweet ride. I also know computers inside and out and I’m a Rank 13 Field Marshall in WoW (World of Warcraft).

Well, so what? You were totally depowered on M-Day and you’re still stupid for never letting me ride your stupid hovering wheelbarrow or whatever you call it.

You-you’d… like to ride on my chair?

Maybe. It's kinda cool I guess. And you're kinda cute under that dorky helmet.

Look who's talking!

Okaaaaay. Well, as young love works its magic I'll end our salute to the spirit of the Paralympic as seen in comic books.

Let's end this on a bang with the greatest handicapped hero ever in the history of anything!!! And he's Canadian character to boot (which rhymes with out).

Yes, the mother of all, "I have to read this to believe it" characters comes from our golden age of Canadian comic books -- MAJOR DOMO AND JOJO!!

Created by artist Avrom Yanovsky for Bell Features in the forties, ex-Paratrooper Major Domo was a special agent for UNIB, the United Nations Investigation Bureau. He was aided by his moustachioed, powerful dwarf assistant, Jo Jo. In addition to Jo Jo's extremely bushy moustache, he also had the biggest pupils ever given to a non-manga cartoon character.

As you can see, the Major was extremely handy with his feet in a fight. The funniest thing about our hero is the fact that he was an undercover agent! Nope. Major Domo didn't let a little thing like having no arms keep him from donning a disguise and entering the criminal underworld.

In fact, his ace in the hole Ace on his back?) was Jo Jo, who would ride on Domo's back under his coat, pretending his overlong, powerful arms were Domo's! Yet no criminal ever noticed the sizable hump on Domo's back!

Seriously awesome!

I promise to do a more extensive post on Yanovsky and Major Domo in the future because they both occupy a unique place in comic book history.

Coming up next week: We'll present a final (I promise) Olympic and Paralympic wrap-up post and also bring you the second part of "Speed Savage: Murder Has the Puck!"

Beavers Up!

A Paralympic Pledge from Alpha Flight's Box - Part One: Differently Super-Abled Superheroes

Hey there all you Comicanuckers! Roger Bochs comin’ atcha! But you probably know me better as Alpha Flight’s original living robot -- Box! Get it? Oh wait, you might think, this being a Canadian blog, that my name is pronounced the Frech way,“Bow-SHAY”. But it’s not. It totally sounds like “box”. Now get it? Come on, work with me here.

Our comicanuck March Olympic madness continues with a celebration of the 10th Winter Paralympics, the first to be held in Canada, which began this weekend in Vancouver. So naturally I’m a shoe-in to host this post about it.

Though you can’t tell from my handsome robotic picture, I’m disabled -- or differently-abled. Well, technically I’m dead, but how dead does any comic book character ever really get, right? I’m a brilliant mechanic and engineer whose legs were amputated years before my first comic appearance in the first issue of Alpha Flight (a cameo before my real debut in issue 11).

Being so mechanically-inclined I naturally looked for ways to use my talents to increase my mobility. But new legs weren’t enough for me after watching Saturn 3 like, fifty times (who wouldn’t love a spacewoman Farrah Fawcett?) so took it to the extreme by building a powerful, humanoid robot. That’s when I hooked up with Alpha Flight.

You see? I’m a capable, card-carrying, saving the country and sometimes the world-type. B-List superhero. Heck I once went toe- to toe with the Incredible Hulk. Sure, he smashed my legs clean off, causing me to flash back to losing my legs the first time and revealing a fragile psyche that writers with no idea what to do with me would later use to drive me mad and kill me off brutally. But I’m not a bitter guy by nature.

My point is, despite my so-called disability I can compete with the elite. My original Box body could press 40 tons, was pretty much indestructible (if you ignore the Hulk thing). At first, all I needed to control the body was a psycho-kinetic helmet (kinda like Bruce Willis in Surrogates, except I skipped the fake looking toupee) and I could also ‘see’ and ‘hear’ everything the Box bot did.

With a little help from fellow Alphan Madison Jeffries, a mutant who can control and construct machines with his mind, I built a new, more powerful Box robot that I could “phase into”, passing my own body into the armor to control it from within. And it flies too! I can stay inside the robot for a few hours at a time or I might end up trapped inside forever!

Pretty awesome huh? You bet your back bacon butt it is. And so are the Paralympics. I know… sweet segue, Rog. This article in Friday’s Toronto Star, Paralympics: Second Class Games No More, says it much better than I could.

“While Canada's goal at the outset of the Olympics was to top the medal standings, the target for the Paralympics is more modest. Coming off a 13-medal – five gold, three silver and five bronze – performance in Turin, Italy, that was good enough for sixth place four years ago, Canadian officials are looking to move up to third in the standings this time.

But the Paralympics are about much more than winning medals. They are about athletes proving to themselves – and especially to the public at large – that they are not people with disabilities to be pitied for what they supposedly have lost but elite athletes to be admired and respected for the work they have put in and the skills they have developed.

Born out of the rehabilitation of British soldiers after World War II, the Paralympic movement grew into an Olympic-style competition for those with spinal cord injuries in 1960. In 1976, which was the year the first Winter Paralympics were held in Sweden, Toronto hosted Summer Games that included the blind and amputees for the first time. By 1988 in Seoul, the Paralympics were using the same venues as the Olympics.”

Believe me, these athletes are the real deal. There were plenty of inspiring stories to come out of the Olympics, but the Paralympics are all about inspiring stories! Journalists should beware of overindulging in the smorgasbord of piping hot, heart-warming stories available or they might choke on their own inspiing metaphors. As another Toronto Star Olympic story, Zelkovich: Paralympics worthy of record TV coverage, noted on Friday…

“One of the highlights of the CTV-Rogers consortium's coverage of the Vancouver Olympics was the depth of heart-warming and inspiring stories the athletes had to tell. But finding those stories, such as moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau's relationship with his brother, or Clara Hughes' inspiring Olympic legacy, wasn't always easy. When the 2010 Paralympics open Friday in Vancouver, the consortium will again focus on athletes' stories. But this time, the challenge will be trying to decide which stories to leave out.

"There are so many incredible stories," said Rick Chisholm, the consortium's executive vice-president of broadcasting. "Every story is so inspiring."
That's one reason the consortium has committed itself to world-record coverage of the Games. That's not hype, either. The International Paralympic Committee said the total of 57 hours of television coverage – 27 English and 30 French – is more than anyone has ever done. That total includes unprecedented live coverage, all of it focusing on sledge hockey. In the past, the Paralympic packages were shown a week or two after the event, with small daily highlight packages. This time, Canadians will get 90-minute highlight packages on a 24-hour tape delay in addition to live sledge hockey.”

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of TV coverage but it is a lot of the Paralympics and there will be a ton of online coverage too. It’s a growing phenomenon worthy of our support and respect. Athletes like blind cross-country skier can compete with anyone in the world, even if his coaches don’t think so. So keep the Olympic spirit going for all these extraordinary athletes, okay?

Comics never seem to be quite sure how to handle disabled characters. Most of the time our personalities are centered around the disability only and we’re given little, if any, further motivation. Even more annoying, we’re often written out of the book or killed off once that limited direction has played itself out.

Other times, disabled characters are mere walk-ons, or wheel-ons, in my case). We’re trotted out to provide a visual aid or act the mouthpiece to draw attention to an issue and then be packed away for the big fight scene.

I think
it’s a testament to John Byrne’s considerable talent and professionalism in the early eighties, how well treated I was under his stewardship of the Alpha Flight title. Byrne has made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want to do the book. So he challenged himself to make his book and his characters as unusual as possible – an Inuit goddess, French Canadian twins, A Sarcee shaman, a hoser dwarf acrobat and a former pro-footballer scientist with an ability to turn into a bigfoot.

Byrne made a poignant point to reference the pain that can accompany Puck’s achondroplasty (the genetic disorder that is a common cause of dwarfism). That gave his joy for life an emotional power that was sacrificed for lame complications by follow-up writer Bill Mantlo, who attributed Puck’s condition to his body being inhabited by an ancient sorcerer, the Black Raazer.

Mantlo was famous for his crazy, anything-goes plots and prolific scripting for Marvel. Trust me, if you read a Marvel comic in the late seventies and eighties chances are a few of you favourite books and a few of your least favourites were written by Mantlo. But while his Black Raazer yarn made for a wild tale, it sacrificed an element of real humanity in Puck’s character.

Of course, that was nothing compared to how I ended up! My creator, John Byrne established that I had a handicap and but wrote me like a person who happened to have no legs. But after suffering emotional trauma from the heavy damage inflicted on Box by the Hulk my character decisions were almost based around my handicap.

My Box robot served as a home for Walter “Sasquatch” Langkowski’s lost spirit after he was killed by our Alpha Flight teammate Snowbird. Meanwhile, I moped and wondered if I’d ever get to use Box again. Then I was given new legs and an Olympic worthy body by Madison Jeffries brother Lionel, aka Scramble, who could manipulate flesh the way Madison manipulated machinery. Once I had the new legs I became a complete asshole and Aurora’s lover, all to prove my newfound manhood and show off my manly new bod. Then my legs deteriorated when it turned out they’d been made from dead flesh and I went crazy. Lionel merged his body with mine creating an insane monster that Madison eventually had to kill.

Tell me, is there a single plot point or character decision in there that wasn’t about my handicap? Nope. Nada. Darn it! I had a lot of potential as human being and as a hero. But for my writers that wasn’t an option. The whole “no legs” thing had run its course. Pun intended. So in their minds I had to go.

But I have the spotlight here and know and I'm going to use it to celebrate our favourite handicapped heroes!

Let’s see, Daredevil is probably the big handicapped hero that comes to mind. I sometime wonder if he counts, since his radar vision essentially lets him see better than most of us! But in comic book terms the dude counts. Daredevil's character has benefited from a long, unbroken run since the late sixties. It's allowed writers to explore many sides of his character. He's know known more for his soap opera life than his blindness. Recent writers have pushed the Marvel Universe's former most honorable man (after Captain America) down a much more shadowy, conspiracy-laden road - creating a life as dark and murky as his vision.

DC's Dr. Mid-Nite was the earliest blind superhero, having a good twenty-years on Daredevil. In another fluke accident caused by gangsters, Dr. Charles McNider and later, Pieter Cross, were blinded but discovered an ability to see in extreme darkness. The current Dr. Mid-Nite focuses not on his blindness (or his half-blindness) but rather on his unique position in the DCU as an expert metahuman physician. It positions him as a useful character for DC Comics. Marvel has tons of superhuman scientists to help an injured hero. DC, not so much.

We also have have fellow amputees like Misty Knight, who lost an arm and had it replaced with a bionic one, ala the Six Million Dollar Man.

You've got yer Aquaman, who lost a hand and went around sporting a harpoon hook and acting badasss.
Laterm the harpoon was replaced with a hand made of magic water.

We’ve got a founding member of the New Teen Titan -- Cyborg -- who replaced his missing parts with powerful, robotic limbs.

Though his creators Marv Wolfman and George Per├ęz did deal with his handicap, they spent a lot of time giving him his own personality and other concerns. The result was a character who has maintained a huge following for the company. Of course, any time you have a character who is part mechanical, eventually you will have storylines based on the human side being taken over and Vic was no exception. After spending time as the villain Cyperion, Vic was eventually given a mostly human body once again and ended up mentoring his own team of young heroes.

The man who revitalized Daredevil, Frank Miller, gave us a powerful handicapped sci-fi samurai in his graphic novel Ronin. Billy Challis was born without any limbs due to a genetic defect (one of the rare comic characters to have their condition from birth). Billy's psionic abilities are groomed by the artificial intelligence that cares for him and uses his powers. Billy's vivid dreams of a nameless Ronin and a demon called Agat. Billy uses his powers to refashion himself into the Ronin of his cyber dreams.

In PART TWO, we'll check out handicapped heroes on wheels. Beware the chair!

This public service announcement was sponsored by Am-Can Petroleum Company. Drilling Canada's sweet spot for over fifty years.

Beavers Up!