Disabled superheroes: how many can you name?

Disabled superheroes: how many can you name?

Following on from our article about the need for books featuring disabled characters, new Disability Horizons contributor, Frank Lambert, tells us how he was inspired to introduce a disabled superhero to the world of fiction and children’s books.

“Can you name five disabled superheroes, dad?” My 12 year-old son, Mikey, suddenly asked out of the blue.

Professor X” I quickly replied. I had to think a bit before I could name another. “Err, Daredevil. He’s blind, isn’t he?” Disappointingly, that was me done, I couldn’t think of any others.

Mikey frowned. ‘I mean superhero’s who are disabled like me, you know, with a medical condition rather than disabled because they have been shot in the spine like Dr X. And I don’t think Dr X would be into The Clash or Nirvana, like me either.”

Michael has hereditary spastic paraparesis. Although he can get around on his feet a little, he is pretty much reliant on his wheelchair.

Later, we searched for disabled superheroes on the internet. I was right about Daredevil, and Professor X is probably the most recognisable disabled superhero out there thanks to the X-Men movies.

We found a few others; Batgirl who is transformed into Oracle after being shot in the spine by Joker, is confined to a wheelchair; Echo, a deaf superhero who has dealings with Daredevil. Dr Mid-Nite, another blind superhero, and Cyborg, a character similar to Iron Man who became disabled after an experiment went wrong.

Disabled fiction books | Disability and fiction | Disability HorizonsThere are others, but none like the kind of superheroes Michael wanted to read about. He was looking for a hero that is similar in age to him. One who didn’t have any superpowers like Superman or Spiderman. He wanted a hero who used gadgets and wits to overcome obstacles. A hero Mikey felt he could become, if he used his imagination – a superhero like Napoleon Xylophone who suddenly introduced himself to my imagination as we talked.

At the time, I was completing an MA in creative writing at Teesside University. One of my modules called for me to develop a creative writing workshop for a group I had an affiliation towards. Michael is an Ambassador for Whizz-Kidz, the charity that provides mobility equipment for disabled children as well as encouraging them to look beyond the restrictions of life in a wheelchair.

I contacted Whizz-Kidz and asked them if I could run some creative writing workshops at their ambassador club at Newcastle, with the aim of writing a short story about a disabled 15-year-old boy who becomes a superhero. They said yes straight away and within a month I found myself in front of a group of disabled children talking about characterisation and plot, as well as changelings, ghosts and gargoyles.

When we came up with a name for the story’s bad guy, I knew we had something special on our hands. Mandrake Ackx filled me with the drive to do more than write a short story, he made me want to tell Napoleon Xylophone’s story in full.

So pretty much a year later here we are with Napoleon Xylophone due to be published at the end of May. Our superhero is a schoolboy who has problems with bullies, a crush on a girl who also happens to be his best friend and a medical condition called HSP, which pretty much confines him to a wheelchair.

He is disabled, but the story is more concerned with his personality and the personalities of the other characters in the book. We have placed our characters in unusual situations, to see how they react, to challenge them so we can see how they cope and grow into their future selves.

Napoleon also fights wytes, gargoyles and mannequins that come to life in the underworld below Newcastle city centre.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Napoleon Xylophone is the story about a normal every day kind of boy who eventually becomes a superhero. The fact that he happens to be disabled adds depth to the story, but isn’t the main driver for how the story unfolds. This is a deliberate approach, the need for more positive disabled role models in fiction is important, but it is also important that disabled characters are not introduced just because they are disabled, that would be counter-productive.

No one involved with the workshops wanted Napoleon Xylophone to be a book about his disability. We wanted to tell a good story that would also give an insight into some of the problems young disabled children encounter in everyday life, without coming across as preachy. We wanted a different kind of role model with a different kind of voice, someone who could show that being in a wheelchair may be difficult at times, but at the same time it could also be cool and fun, especially when you begin to think about things in a different way and when you let your imagination turn your wheels into your friend.

Hopefully, that’s what we’ve achieved with Napoleon Xylophone and one day, maybe Napoleon will make the top five lists of some reader’s superhero’s.

If you’d like to find out more about Napoleon Xylophone and read his first chapter, you can do so here.

By Frank Lambert

If you missed it, check out our article on the need for more disabled characters in fiction books. Also learn about the great new children’s book, Tilly Smiles, from twelve-year-old disabled author Tilly Griffiths.

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  • Glt

    Hello – my name is Georgia Twynham and I’m the author of The Thirteenth Series 🙂 in my latest instalment I have some amazing disabled character who help to save the day. The books called Nyteria Rising and i wanted to show how the person who you least expect to be able, is sometimes the most magnificent Hero.

  • Thank you for your comment Georgia. We would love to hear more about the book. Would you be interested in writing an article for the website, talking about the book, how it came about and a little background about yourself?

  • Hi, I totally agree that there really needs to be more books with disabled characters, for both children and adults. Not just superheroes, but also everyday people who live adventurously, love, laugh and happen to have a disability.

    A story doesn’t have to revolve around the disability; it should simply be a factor that adds to the description of the character. More messages like this will stop people with disabilities being seen as ‘other’, and allow people to be inspired to live life to the full.

    Why can’t the next Harry Potter be in a wheelchair?

  • Brenda Green

    Hi There

    I have just finished reading to my son a Amazon Kindle
    book called ‘Four Wheeled Hero’ based around a young boy named Tommy who
    is wheelchair bound and his best mate Smithy. Every night I would read
    him one chapter before he went to bed, and he could hardly wait for
    bedtime to come to hear the next. The book is very funny as well as
    having a story line that keeps you glued to the book from start to
    finish. The reason why I have sent this note to you is the fact that I
    have never seen a book published where a child in a wheelchair is the
    hero of the day and as such would give that feel good feeling to any
    child in that situation who reads it, as it did my son. As a mother it
    was wonderful to see his face as we worked our way through the chapters,
    watching the enjoyment and excitement he showed as the two boys
    followed their quest. I have added a couple prints from the book that
    can explain it better than me. An excellent book for all children young
    and old. There are only a few books with disabled children in them as I
    suppose they are not seen as interesting, but this book changes all of
    that.

    This is an Amazon Kindle Book and if anyone cannot afford
    to buy the Kindle Tablet then go onto the Amazon Kindle Book web page
    where you will find a free kindle app available to download onto PC’s
    mobile phones etc. This app gives you all of the Kindle Tablet program
    to allow you the get your copy of Four Wheeled Hero as well as thousands
    of other titles, some free of charge.

    Best Regards

    Brenda Green

    This
    exciting adventure story for children will have all lovers of
    traditional fantasy ‘boy hero’ tales on the edge of their seats until
    the final word.

    The story has two young teenage heroes, Tommy and
    Smithy. But this is a children’s fantasy adventure story with a
    difference because one of the heroes, Tommy, is confined to a wheelchair
    following a terrible accident.

    The story begins when Tommy is
    sent a magical stone from his Uncle Bill who is on an expedition in the
    Brazilian Rain Forest. Bill was given the stone by a village chieftain
    after he saved his son’s life. He was told that the stone had magical
    powers so he sent it to Tommy for his stone collection.

    But it
    turned out to be much more ‘valuable’ than for inclusion in the stone
    collection for, a couple of days later, Tommy’s father, who is the
    manager of the local bank, is kidnapped by robbers when they realise
    that the alarm system has been set and they have to wait until Monday
    when it would allow the vault to be opened.

    When Tommy and Smithy
    decide to try to track the robbers down the real power of the magic
    stone is revealed. This power is that when Tommy thinks of something the
    stone makes it happen so the robbers are in for some real surprises as
    Tommy’s wheelchair develops some very unusual and effective weapons and
    powers. So, with the help of Smithy’s cat, Tiger, who more than lives up
    to his name, the robbers are taught a lesson they certainly don’t
    expect.

    This is an exuberant and exciting children’s adventure
    that will appeal to young and old alike.

  • Alice lockwood

    i really don’t care if any one has a disability because i don’t see their problem i see them for who they are, their life shouldn’t be about their problems or the wheelchair it should be just like us but with a little something else just for the sake of it

  • For those looking for an adult read with a disabled character, check out this Disability Horizons article: http://disabilityhorizons.com/2016/01/new-sci-fi-novel-features-main-character-disability/
    Part of me wishes that I’d done a YA book first, but I’ve got one planned for later in the series.