Originally published June 1996

full1Super-Panhandler

1971: Superman loses his powers and is “confined to a wheelchair.”
Occupation: beggar
Home: a condemned metropolis tenement
Wheelchair: box of steel

In 1971, DC Comics published a Superman story set in the 1990s. Our hero, seen cloaked and begging in the streets, has lost his powers because high-tech machinery always beats him to the punch during the resolution of crimes and disasters. No one needs him to save the world, so he’s developed a paralyzing “mental hysteria” and dropped out of society. Still, tireless do-gooder that he is, he panhandles in order to feed a leper couple, with whom he shares a condemned building. But he’s a bitter crip. “I was the world’s mightiest hero,” he says to himself. “Now I’m a shriveled hulk … a hollow shell with most of my powers gone … a cripple, ashamed to face my friends.” Incidentally, after a psychologist informs him of his psychosomatic (!) disorder, he does walk — and fly — again.


full2Bat-Gimp

1996: Batgirl is paralyzed by a bullet and uses a wheelchair
Occupation: crime researcher
Home: a sunny Gotham loft
Wheelchair: slightly smaller box of steel

Fast forward to the real ’90s: Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon) gets her spine blown out by the Joker’s gun, resulting in a permanent physical disability. She spends some time acquainting herself with depression and self-pity, but not much. She’s pissed — being Batgirl with a brown belt was a good gig — but ultimately Gordon’s not cut out for victimhood. She works hard to reinvent her identity, and asks herself how she can still help fight the war on crime. The answer? With her mind. On the Internet. Under the alias of Oracle. A new superhero is born,