Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where are all the Deaf superheroes?

Both the DCU and the Marvel Universes have quite a lot of superheroes/villains/supporting cast members who are disabled, but fuck all that are Deaf.  Or deaf.  Or hard of hearing.  I'm not picky. 

Peter David put a couple of lipreaders in his Supergirl and Young Justice comics and Green Arrow/Black Canary had that villain last year that was deafened by Dinah, but that's it.  Where are the rest?  We've got Babs in her wheelchair, Chunk, Professor Xavier, Daredevil, Dr Midnight, Speedy/Red Arrow, Tony Stark, Dr Niles Caulder, Captain Marvel Junior, Osiris, Crazy Jane.  I'm sure there's more, that's just what a quick google search turned up.

Where the Deaf heroes?  I'll tell you where there's one - Echo, from the Daredevil comics.  That's it.  I should be able to name more.

Echo first turned up in Parts of a Hole (soon to be reviewed over at New readers...) and I was stunned when the story actually constant reference to her lack of hearing.  Her abilities aren't linked to her Deafness, unlike Daredevil's abilities and so I felt like I did when I read Venus Envy - it's a regular superhero book about a woman who happens to be Deaf.

The book isn't about her Deafhood, but because she is Deaf she experiences life different to a hearing person, and so the story show that.  On the whole it does this well, and it also explores Daredevil's blindness well.  There's a great scene where they are in the cinema and Echo is describing the action on screen and Daredevil is describing the dialogue when the actors are off screen.

But.  (You knew there was a but coming didn't you?)  It isn't quite good enough.  The problem with having just one Deaf hero is that she becomes representative of all Deaf people and the mistakes that are made are amplified and picked upon over and over.

For example, Echo can mimic any physical action she sees.  This makes her an ace fighter.  Luckily for her she's also quite bright and so can work out how to put the moves together in order to win a fight or choreograph a dance show.  I imagine that being able to mimic physical actions must have made it easier for her to learn the handshapes and movements needed for American Sign Language (ASL).

But, this ability is used in book to explain why her speech is not slurred.  Because she can copy mouth patterns I suppose... Wait.  Just back up there one moment, what?  Most speech isn't formed on the lips.  Lip reading is hard, very hard.  If it was easy to lip read everybody we wouldn't need trained lipspeakers.  How on earth is Echo meant to see and mimic the movements of the tongue and the throat in order to produce clear speech?

Ignoring all that, the in text reasoning seems to assume that no Deaf people have clear speech.   Well, quite frankly that's bollocks.  The level of speech will depend on things like when the person lost their hearing and what speech therapy they've had.  Ooh it makes me angry when people get basic stuff wrong.

What else, oh yes, how she learnt ASL.  Apparently her father taught it to her using Native American folk stories, and possibly shadow puppets.  Well I'd be really interested to know where he learnt it and how she developed her knowledge of the language.  Because we see nothing of this in the book, she doesn't sign once.  I don't think I've met a signer who never signs when they speak.  When a sign language is your first language you tend to use it alongside your spoken language.  You just do.

Echo somehow manages to lipread people in the dark and never makes a mistake when she is lipreading.  The former is impossible and the latter is highly unlikely.  But, I guess if you had a book full of communication errors it would get a bit dull and prevent the flow of the story.  For the same reason we don't tend to see protagonists going to the toilet.  So I'll forgive them the perfect lipreading.  The rest isn't really forgivable, it's just ignorant.

This is such a shame because it's clear that the writer has done his research - there is so much stuff in the book that is Deaf aware.  It becomes an odd half and half mix.  I'm very keen to read more about her and I just hope that other issue build upon the solid base that this book gave, but improved the rookie errors.

And I want more Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing heroes.  Please.

Incidentally, Echo's sign name would either be the sign for Echo, a handprint across the face (she wears this when she performs), or possibly dancer.  Daredevil's sign name would be the devil horns on his costume.  Matt Murdock (Daredevil's civilian identity) would be lawyer I reckon.  His partner Foggy Nelson's sign name would be Fog.

1 comment:

Eyz said...

A bit more deaf characters would be nice.
I like originality and diversity in my comics!

That Green Arrow/Black Canary villain was pretty correct. A bit silver age-like, he even had his own multiple issues arc!

But I would to see some heroes, good guys, at least one as well!

Let's hope tomorrow's comic book writers will be a bit more like you^^