Lack and erasure of neurodiverse representation in comics

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dorkseid
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10 Mar 2022, 4:30 pm

I like comics, particularly Marvel and DC.

Like much of the media nowadays, despite their commitment to diverse representation; DC and Marvel continue to exclude neurodiversity from their representation.

In recent years, both companies have put out many diversity-focused comics, like the Marvel Voices and DC's Pride and Heritage specials. And I do applaud them for that. I want to emphasize that I have no complaints about what's present, but rather what is absent; neither company has ever published any neurodiversity specials.

While both Marvel and DC have been making strides to create and highlight minority and LGBTQ characters, neurodiverse characters remain neglected and forgotten if not erased outright.

Reed Richards mentioned once, in a book that wasn't even part of mainline Marvel continuity, that he is on the autism spectrum; but that was immediately forgotten about.

When she was initially introduced in DC Comics, Cassandra (Batgirl) Cain was a non-verbal savant who struggled to connect with the people around her; but in recent years, DC "fixed" her so she is now a fully verbal teenager going on joyrides with her besties.

When Barry (Flash) Allen's father-in-law was first introduced, he was depicted as an absent minded college professor who was constantly so enamored by his field of study that he rarely noticed anything else happening around him. But DC later retconned the character's backstory to explain that his absent mindedness was the result of a traumatic brain injury rather than a characteristic of neurodiversity. Now he is a neurotypical cop.

Peter Parker was initially portrayed as an aspie in the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man. I've already talked about how Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko exhibited all the classical sign of AS, and that was how Peter was portrayed as long as Ditko remained as the artist on the book. But as soon as he departed, Stan Lee and John Romita immediately reimagined Parker as a brilliant but down on his his luck neurotypical.



Dillogic
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10 Mar 2022, 6:05 pm

Most can't really identify with mental illness/disorder and disability, hence ableism tends to be an everlasting thing. "Race" casts a wide net, so money is made there. "Gender" too.

At least the Batman villains tend to be...mentally disabled in various ways. :P



dorkseid
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10 Mar 2022, 6:26 pm

Dillogic wrote:
Most can't really identify with mental illness/disorder and disability, hence ableism tends to be an everlasting thing. "Race" catches a wide net, so money is made there. "Gender" too.

At least the Batman villains tend to be...mentally disabled in various ways. :P


Not just Batman villains. Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man), Atomic Skull, Toyman, and Cyborg Superman (Superman), Mole Man (Fantastic Four), Gladiator and Typhoid Mary (Daredevil), Heat Wave, Magneta, and Murmur (Flash), Doctor Polaris and Black Hand (Green Lantern), and Big Sir and Multi-Man (Justice League International) are just some examples of comic book villains whose evil deeds are directly attributed to a diagnosed mental illness. Spider-Man even fought a guy called the Schizoid Man, if you can believe that sh!t.



Dillogic
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10 Mar 2022, 6:41 pm

It's somewhat sad that they tend to make the villains more obviously mentally ill, and it's often intertwined with why they're bad. Which is ableism all the same, albeit I find it more amusing personally because stigma never changes, and it also makes interesting villains to be fair. There should be an equal and opposite though. Say, a villain with OCD, but also a hero; that'd actually be an interesting story, where both the villain and hero are afflicted with the same condition and both need to overcome it to do what they do, but it shows that the personality is what determines "good" and "bad".



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10 Mar 2022, 6:44 pm

Usually when there's neurodiversity people get offended by whatever stereotype they may display, whether it's harmless or not.

I don't read comics anyway.


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HighLlama
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10 Mar 2022, 6:54 pm

Dillogic wrote:
Most can't really identify with mental illness/disorder and disability, hence ableism tends to be an everlasting thing.


This is one of the things I find funny with autism on TV. For example, Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds. (Yeah, it's a sh***y show, anyway, but that's beside the point.). He's autistic, but has no problem flying all over the country without warning, and interacting with strangers all the time? Not bothered by light, sound, the smell of corpses? :lol:



Dillogic
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10 Mar 2022, 7:29 pm

Autism and entertainment is a funny thing. A similar thing happened in Hannibal.

The dudes just threw the label on Graham and did nothing with it other than making him asocial. :? Maybe they tried to do something with the hyperfocus, but I got the feeling they didn't intend that to be part of the autism. There was nothing there with autism and it was quickly forgotten about, likely because there was nothing there in the first place. :| They decided to throw anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis on for some weird reason, which to be fair, they did a better job with than the autism.



dorkseid
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10 Mar 2022, 7:48 pm

Dillogic wrote:
It's somewhat sad that they tend to make the villains more obviously mentally ill, and it's often intertwined with why they're bad. Which is ableism all the same, albeit I find it more amusing personally because stigma never changes, and it also makes interesting villains to be fair. There should be an equal and opposite though. Say, a villain with OCD, but also a hero; that'd actually be an interesting story, where both the villain and hero are afflicted with the same condition and both need to overcome it to do what they do, but it shows that the personality is what determines "good" and "bad".


Well, a character like Batman clearly struggles constantly with mental health issues. The Hulk and Moon Knight both suffer from Dissociative Personality Disorder and are extremely unstable, but they are both arguably as dangerous as the villains.

HighLlama wrote:
Dillogic wrote:
Most can't really identify with mental illness/disorder and disability, hence ableism tends to be an everlasting thing.


This is one of the things I find funny with autism on TV. For example, Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds. (Yeah, it's a sh***y show, anyway, but that's beside the point.). He's autistic, but has no problem flying all over the country without warning, and interacting with strangers all the time? Not bothered by light, sound, the smell of corpses? :lol:


I remember an episode of CM that had a teenage boy who was fighting a strong urge to kill prostitutes, despite not wanting to do so. He sought out the team to ask for help. Jason Gideon said it was only matter of time before he'd become a killer. What a horrible message for people struggling with their mental health!

I noticed many TV shows that feature clearly autistic characters never acknowledge their autism or neurodiversity. Examples include the aforementioned Dr. Reid, Dr. Brennan and some other characters from Bones, and the entire cast of the Big Bang Theory with the exception of Penny. I recall that the producers of BBT even refused to comment when they were asked about the neurodiversity of their characters on social media. I've heard the term Queer Baiting used a lot in the LGBTQ community to refer to works that heavily hint that certain characters are queer while refusing to openly acknowledge it. I feel this is a similar situation.



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10 Mar 2022, 8:16 pm

The problem with Batman is that it doesn't affect him in most instances; his struggles are rather minute compared to his successes. It's fiction, yeah, but it tends to go the other way with disability. Struggles outweigh the successes or are more even.



HighLlama
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11 Mar 2022, 5:31 am

dorkseid wrote:
I noticed many TV shows that feature clearly autistic characters never acknowledge their autism or neurodiversity. Examples include the aforementioned Dr. Reid, Dr. Brennan and some other characters from Bones, and the entire cast of the Big Bang Theory with the exception of Penny. I recall that the producers of BBT even refused to comment when they were asked about the neurodiversity of their characters on social media. I've heard the term Queer Baiting used a lot in the LGBTQ community to refer to works that heavily hint that certain characters are queer while refusing to openly acknowledge it. I feel this is a similar situation.


This is a great point. I think some works of fiction (such as The Remains of the Day) illustrate autism well without naming it. But, these other fictions present an NT version of autism. They portray the desired traits with a tolerable, maybe cute, level of awkwardness.

Of course, we can't expect NTs to fully understand or portray us. It would be great to see more autistic people show individual autistic experiences in fiction.



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11 Mar 2022, 6:22 am

I would not want us to be getting exploited as badly as some of the other diversities. Sensational sells, but it does not heal rifts.



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11 Mar 2022, 10:59 am

dorkseid wrote:
Dillogic wrote:
Most can't really identify with mental illness/disorder and disability, hence ableism tends to be an everlasting thing. "Race" catches a wide net, so money is made there. "Gender" too.

At least the Batman villains tend to be...mentally disabled in various ways. :P


Not just Batman villains. Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man), Atomic Skull, Toyman, and Cyborg Superman (Superman), Mole Man (Fantastic Four), Gladiator and Typhoid Mary (Daredevil), Heat Wave, Magneta, and Murmur (Flash), Doctor Polaris and Black Hand (Green Lantern), and Big Sir and Multi-Man (Justice League International) are just some examples of comic book villains whose evil deeds are directly attributed to a diagnosed mental illness. Spider-Man even fought a guy called the Schizoid Man, if you can believe that sh!t.


DC & Marvel have a pretty bad track record for how they portray mental illness. How they portray academics is also a huge (and overlapping) problem. Unless it's a medical doctor (i.e. Dr. Strange - Marvel) anyone who has a "Dr." before their name is a villain. I mention this because jobs in academia do, and perhaps always have, boasted a disproportionately high number of people on the spectrum relative to other jobs with similar salaries and social prestige. Villianizig scientists who are "too obsessed with their research", or who seem 'bizarre' or who cannot relate to 'normal' people, is, I think, ASD-coding. Just like queer-coding. It's a covert way to raise children to see people with these differences as evil, without them getting in trouble for saying it directly.


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11 Mar 2022, 11:09 am

dorkseid wrote:
Like much of the media nowadays, despite their commitment to diverse representation; DC and Marvel continue to exclude neurodiversity from their representation.


Until they get neruodiverse writers and illustrators on their team, I don't think you'd like the way they depict neurodiversity though.

David Mack is a comic book artist/writer who in the past has self-identified as being an Aspergian (he said so at a panel I attended once). He worked for a time on Daredevil, before going off to make is own series (Kabuki). Although he never outright depicted neurodiverse characters, there was a scene in Kabuki: The Alchemy, where he wrote himself in as the person sitting next to the main character on a plane, telling her about his childhood interests. I really liked it.


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11 Mar 2022, 12:43 pm

They are not accurate about AS, but that is a very minor matter compared to how they make real-life villains, who generally wear business suits, invisible to many people.



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11 Mar 2022, 3:21 pm

dorkseid wrote:
But DC later retconned the character's backstory to explain that his absent mindedness was the result of a traumatic brain injury rather than a characteristic of neurodiversity.


You have a very different definition of neurodiversity than I do. I don't really think it matters how you wound up with a brain that works differently from the norm. If your brain works differently, even if it's only because part of it got damaged, you're neurodivergent in my opinion.



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11 Mar 2022, 11:29 pm

Ettina wrote:
dorkseid wrote:
But DC later retconned the character's backstory to explain that his absent mindedness was the result of a traumatic brain injury rather than a characteristic of neurodiversity.


You have a very different definition of neurodiversity than I do. I don't really think it matters how you wound up with a brain that works differently from the norm. If your brain works differently, even if it's only because part of it got damaged, you're neurodivergent in my opinion.


A fair point. But regardless, the character has been completely reimagined a neurotypicals cop on the CW.