Abstract

For this article, I will be examining the relationship between stickiness and visibility in the construction of disability in The Killing Joke, Hawkeye (2012) and Uncanny X-Men, specifically looking at how the practice of retroactive continuity both erases and cements disability. I argue through the use of retroactive continuity that the stickiness of disability in superhero comic books is dependent on visible signs of disability and those without a visible sign (wheelchair, white cane, etc ) are either "cured" of the disability or it is erased via a retcon.

The format of comic books is unique because they are created by a multi-person team instead of a singular author. A single issue of a comic book is a multi-person endeavor consisting of a writer, an artist, a cover artist, a colorist, a letterer, and an editor. Each person on this team brings their own perspective on the issue. However, this team can be replaced. In being replaced, the next team can come in and re-interpret the character through the practice of retcon. One of the most powerful tools that a comic book team has is the use of retroactive continuity (retcon). To retcon is to change the past in order to fit the present. This can include anything from minor plot details to the creation of a character. However, what makes the practice of retroactive continuity fascinating is not the erasure of specific ideas but what remains after that erasure.

In this essay, I will be examining the relationship between stickiness and visibility in the construction of disability in superhero comic book literature, specifically looking at how the practice of retroactive continuity both erases and cements disability. The term stickiness comes from the work of Sara Ahmed, specifically her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion when she defines the term as "rather than using stickiness to describe an objects surface, we can think of stickiness as an effect of surfacing, as an effect of the histories of contract between bodies, objects, and signs."1 Stickiness has not been applied to superhero comic books but can help to defragment the history of comic book characters. To create a single issue of a comic book is a multi-person endeavor and everyone on the team has their own perspective. This perspective can cause characters, powers and events to be created by one team and quickly forgotten by the next team. The concept of stickiness can be used to answer why this happens to some and not to others.

A good example of stickiness can be seen in the creation of Bat-Girl. In 1961, Bill Finger and Sheldon Molodof created Bat-Girl (Bette Kane) who would serve as a love interest for Robin. She existed until 1964 when Batman-editor Julius Schwartz removed her from the series due to the character being considered silly and comedic. The stickiness of Bat-Girl negatively impacted the character of Batman because she shifted Batman away from crime fighting and towards comedy. When the new character Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) was created in 1967, she stuck because she reinforced the vigilante nature of Batman.

Or in other words, the surface of the 1961 Bette Kane (Bat-Girl) did not mesh with the surface of Batman. In discussing what sticks to what, Ahmed states that "the stickiness of that surface still tells us a history of the object that is not dependent on the endurance of the quality of stickiness: what sticks shows us where the object has traveled through, what it has gathered onto its surface, gatherings that become part of the object, and call into question its integrity as an object."2 In looking at comic book characters using stickiness, we can start to analyze why specific interpretations stuck while other interpretations were erased. For this essay, I will examine three superheroes and their relationship to disability: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle), Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Charles Xavier (Professor X).

I chose these comic book heroes for three specific reasons. The first being is that all three heroes offer a differing relationship to disability. Second is that Batgirl (DC), Hawkeye (Marvel) and Professor X (Marvel) come from Marvel and DC Comics, the two titans of comic book publishing with a combined seventy percent market share. Finally, each hero has been adapted into numerous differing formats such as film, cartoon, or video game. In adapting superheroes to differing formats, specific characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality and disability are often retconned.

In retconning these characteristics, the adaptation can directly reshape the source material. Indeed, there is a long history of comic book characters being rewritten due to the popularity of comic book movies. As more and more comic books are adapted into successful films, the comic book industry often changes the character within the comic to better represent the portrayal on film. An excellent example can be seen in the release of Iron Man (2008) starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. Within the comics, Pepper Potts was a supporting character for Iron Man but was out of Tony's life and happily married. Within the film, Potts is Stark's personal assistant and begins to be romantically engaged with Stark. Due to the success of the film, Marvel Comics retconned Potts in the printed comics to mirror the film's portrayal of the character. This cycle of the film impacting the source material can impact the portrayal of disability, for disabilities can be retconned away or inserted in the film and then retconned backwards in the source material. Moving away from cycle of adaptation back to the source material, we can start to look at the similarities in the characters I will analyze.

First, each character is not born disabled but instead becomes disabled during their career as a superhero. Second, all three have their disability used as a plot device. Finally, their various disabilities have been retconned in and out of existence as the writer and the story requires it. Using retroactive continuity, the stickiness of disability in superhero comic books is dependent on visible signs of disability and those without a visible sign are either "cured" of the disability or it is erased via a retcon. One of the most popular yet problematic superheroes is Barbara Gordon whose disability led to the creation of a brand new superhero.

The character of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) was created by writer Gardener Fox and artist Carmine Infantino and made her comic book debut in Detective Comics #359 titled "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl" on November 29th, 1966. The status of Barbara Gordon changed when writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland wanted to use her in a one-shot graphic novel titled The Killing Joke released in 1988.The graphic novel is centered on the conflict between Batman and the Joker and the idea of one bad day at the expense of Barbara Gordon. To prove this point, the Joker paralyzes Barbara Gordon by shooting her and then he sexually assaults her by undressing and photographing her. The Joker then kidnaps her father, strips him naked, and forces him to look at naked photographs of his daughter. The sexual assault of Barbara Gordon does nothing other than serving to raise the stakes for both Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Batman rescues Commissioner Gordon and stops the Joker. However, Batman is too slow to save Barbara Gordon and she ends the graphic novel in the hospital where she serves exposition for Batman. The story was supposed to be a one shot set in an alternate universe but due to the popularity of the novel, DC Comics integrated the events into the mainstream continuity. By inserting the story into the larger DC continuity, DC Comics reinforced the construction of disability as a plot point.

The story had a massive impact on the DC Universe, the paralysis of Barbara Gordon is treated as a plot point as her disability is used to raise the stakes for both Commissioner Gordon and Batman and by doing this her disability is then erased from the audience. Barbara Gordon is barely in the graphic novel only showing up to get shot by the Joker and waking up in the hospital and telling Batman what happened to her father. She has no agency in the story and the last appearance of her is when Commissioner Gordon is forced to look at naked photographs of her. While both Batman and Commissioner Gordon both gain closure in The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon is left hanging. Gordon's treatment is representative of a larger problem surrounding female superheroes and extreme violence in the comic book industry. The comic book industry is a male dominated industry and sexism has been a chronic issue that has plagued the industry for decades.

Sexism has manifested in numerous ways with one being the assumption of female superheroes as inferior to their male counterparts and another being the portrayal of female superheroes as sex objects first and heroes second. Sexism within the comic book industry intersects with ableism as titillation becomes linked with violence. To draw readers in, comic book writers need to keep the tension high and many writers turn to the maiming or death of an existing superhero. This need to kill or maim a superhero intersects with the assumption of female superheroes as inferior.

The paralysis of the character fits within a comic book trope called Women in Refrigerators (WIR), a term created by Gail Simone, a female comic book writer. In looking at female superheroes in comic books, Simone started to notice that many female superheroes ended up either killed, maimed or depowered as a plot device for male heroes "In any case, having a uterus myself, I found that I most enjoyed reading about the girl heroes, or Superchicks. And it had been nagging me for a while that in mainstream comics, being a girl superhero meant inevitably being killed, maimed or depowered, it seemed."3 In response, she created a website and sent out of letters to comic book writers to get their opinion on the phenomena. Simone named the term after Green Lantern #54 in that Green Lantern Kyle Rayner comes home to his apartment to find his girlfriend murdered by a supervillain and her body stuffed in a refrigerator. The trope itself is indicative of the assumption of female heroes as second class heroes but also of the male dominated comic book industry. This assumption helps to normalize the uneven treatment of female superheroes and the violence that they face.

In Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture Jeffrey A. Brown, when discussing the uneven treatment of female superheroes, states "male heroes can die as well but they tend to die heroically and are often commemorated and/ or magically brought back from the dead on a regular basis…the women, on the other hand are more likely to be casually, but irreparably, wounded."4 A illustration of this uneven treatment can be seen how disability is portrayed by Batman and Batgirl. In the "Knightfall" story arc, Batman's spine is shattered by an assassin during a fight and he is left a paraplegic. However, Batman was cured of his disability through telekinesis eleven months later. In The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon was shot in her house and instead of being cured became a wheelchair user for fifteen years. The Joker not only paralyzes Barbara Gordon but also mocks the librarian for her disability. "Frankly she won't be walking off the shelves in that state of repair…in fact, the idea of her, walking anywhere seems increasingly remote but then, that's always a problem with softbacks."5

After being paralyzed by the Joker, Gordon does not only feel fear but also disgust due to the Joker's positionality as a freak. Due to an accident at a factory, the Joker fell into a vat of acid that permanently disfigured him, leaving him with chalk white skin, bright green hair and ruby red lips. In response to his disfigurement, the Joker is driven insane and for Barbara there is the fear that she will be driven insane by the trauma. The Joker wants to bring Commissioner Gordon down to his level and by paralyzing Barbara, the Joker is linking her paralysis of to the death of his family, one of the catalysts that drove him insane. However, by doing this, the Joker is linking the creation of disability to death and this is represented in the absence of Barbara in the novel after her assault. Joker's identity as a freak threatens to stick to both. "Perhaps stickiness becomes disgusting only when the skin surface is at stake such that what is sticky threatens to stick to us,"6 states Ahmed. This threat of stickiness links back to the uneven treatment of female superheroes due to the assault of Barbara Gordon as a plot device for Batman.

Joker's mocking of Gordon also completely disregards her career as Batgirl, a costumed superhero in her own right. Barbara Gordon's multiple identities are effectively displaced due to her assault by the Joker as it reinforces the Women in Refrigerators trope. What happened to Gordon is simply what happens to women in the genre. In reducing the complex character of Barbara Gordon to solely her disability, Moore and Bolland reduce Gordon down to a one dimensional character in order to serve the plot.

In Extraordinary Bodies, Rosemarie Garland Thomson discusses the representation of disability in literature and states that "perhaps most destructive to the potential for continuing relations is the normate's frequent assumption that disability cancels out other qualities, reducing the complex person to a single attribute."7 Barbara Gordon is no longer a crime fighter with a Ph.D. in Library Science and a star athlete. Instead, her disability cancels out everything else since she no longer fits within the normate. Normate, per Thomson, "is the constructed identity of those who, by the way of the bodily configuration and cultural capital they assume, can step into a position of authority and wield the power"8 A week before the release of The Killing Joke, DC Comics retired Batgirl as a character. Batgirl has no superpowers other than her training and fitness but by becoming disabled, she is depowered. However, Barbara Gordon's paralysis is not the only place that disability is portrayed in The Killing Joke. After the Joker paralyzes Barbara Gordon, he takes Commissioner Gordon to a run-down amusement park. At this park, the Joker creates an inverse to the traditional freak show in that Commissioner Gordon is portrayed as a curiosity due to his status as the average man. "Ladies and Gentlemen, you've read about it in the newspapers, now, shudder as you observe, before your very eyes, that rarest and tragic of nature's mistakes: I give you the average man."9 In Joker's freak show, Commissioner Gordon's status as an average man is linked to disability.

By presenting the average man as a tragic mistake, the Joker inverts the relationship between the average man and the freak show. In the Joker's freak show, he is surrounded by the archetypes of the freak show: conjoined twins, an incredibly hirsute man, the fat lady, dwarves, and a contortionist. The freak show is led by the Joker with his bleached white skin, red lips and green hair. Due to his appearance, Joker, could be a freak. However, at that freak show, he is the normate and Commissioner Gordon, the freak. This emphasizes how the freak and the normate go hand in hand. As Thomson writes, "The figure of the freak is consequently the necessary cultural complement to the acquisitive and capable American who claims the normate position of masculine, white, nondisabled, sexually unambiguous and middle class."10 In constructing the freak of Commissioner Gordon, the Joker does not rely on physical difference but instead he relies on the differences in values between the two. He described the Commissioner as "Physically unremarkable, it has instead a deformed set of values…notice the hideously bloated sense of humanity's importance, the club footed social conscience and the withered optimism…most repulsive of all, are its frail and useless notions of order and sanity."11 After forcing Commissioner Gordon to look at naked photographs of his daughter, the Joker locks the Commissioner in a cage and laughs at his attempt to drive the Commissioner insane.

At the same time the Joker works to drive Gordon insane, Moore and Bolland tell the Joker's backstory in flashback. The Joker was a failed comic who in order to support his pregnant wife became part of a criminal plan to rob a company. On the day of the robbery, his wife dies and the robbery itself goes horribly awry with the Joker becoming permanently disfigured and insane. In becoming disfigured, the Joker inhabits the role of the other as he can no longer fit within the social order. However, in positioning Commissioner Gordon as the freak, the Joker redefines the social order. In locking Commissioner Gordon within a cage, the Joker positions Gordon not only as the other but as a deviant body. Garland Thompson in discussing the freak states "the American is mobile, entering and exiting the show at will and ranging around the social order, but the freak is fixed, confined by the material structures and the conventions of the staging and socially immobilized by a deviant body."12 Although Commissioner Gordon is portrayed as a freak in his abduction by the Joker, he is physically non-disabled and he can rejoin the normate after being freed by Batman.

However, his daughter cannot rejoin the normate due to her disability. After the release of The Killing Joke, DC Comics had no idea what to do with the character of Barbara Gordon due to the inclusion of The Killing Joke within DC mainstream continuity. By positioning The Killing Joke' as an unrelated story, Alan Moore can make drastic changes. In How to Read Superhero Comics and Why author Geoff Klock discusses Moore's positionality of The Killing Joke, stating that "Moore allows DC Comics' continuity to stand separate and unresolved at several key moments, exposing cracks in the sanity of organization, questioning the story's ability to stand without snapping under its own weight."13 The drastic changes that Moore made were now forcibly incorporated within the larger DC continuity.

In retiring Batgirl as a superhero, disabling her, and then shelving the character, DC Comics reinforced the perception that a visible disability meant that she could no longer be a superhero. As stated by Tobin Siebers in Disability Theory "owing to the ideology of ability, the more visible the disability, the greater the chance that the disabled person will be repressed from public view and forgotten."14 In being disabled, the character of Barbara Gordon was effectively erased from the DC universe as her disability no longer fit within the ideology of ability that DC promoted. However, this changed when two comic book writers decided to fix distasteful treatment that Barbara Gordon went through by creating a new persona for her.

DC comic book writers Kim Yale and John Ostrander both found the treatment of Barbara Gordon distasteful and nearly twenty years after her initial appearance they decided to create a new persona for her as Oracle. The first appearance of Oracle was in Suicide Squad #23 in 1988 penned by the duo. In 1996, Oracle: Year One in Batman Chronicles #5 served as Oracle's origin story.

Oracle: Year One take place seventy-three days after the events of The Killing Joke. The issue starts with Barbara Gordon learning about her paralysis. Batman comes to visit and Barbara chastises him for his obsession with the Joker. She also references her own assault by the Joker by stating "Do you understand how humiliating, how demeaning, that is…my life has no importance save my relation to you, even as Batgirl, I was perceived just as some weaker version of you."15 Yale and Ostrander portray Gordon as someone who is coming to terms with her disability and what that means in both her personal and professional life. One of the biggest hurdles for Gordon to overcome is her fear of the outside world. This fear itself is the manifestation of ableism and sexism

This overall fear is mobilized by her depowering and her ableist perception of herself as a burden on her father. It is due to her fear that she shuts out the world and secludes herself. "In fear, the world presses against the body; the body shrinks back from the world in the desire to avoid the object of fear…fear involves shrinking the body, it restricts the body's mobility precisely insofar as it seems to prepare the body for flight,"16 states Ahmed. Gordon's fear reflects the ideology of ability in that it excludes her from the public. To surpass her fear of the outside world and her internalized ableism, Gordon turns to the Internet.

Through the Internet, she finds a community that neither her disability nor the ableism of others precludes her from participating in. Gordon fights crime through the Internet, but similarly to her career as Batgirl she creates an alter ego to protect those who she loves. In Oracle: Year One, Yale and Ostrander pits Gordon against Ashley Mavis Powell, a corrupt financier. Gordon attempts to stop her physically but instead stops her virtually.

In constructing the persona of Oracle, Yale and Ostrander deconstructs her persona as Batgirl. As the superhero in her own right Batgirl, Barbara Gordon remains a subordinate to Batman. In trying to physically get Powell, Gordon encounters the social body, a body defined by Siebers "as the standard- presupposed but invisible – until a nonstandard body makes an appearance…then the standard becomes immediately apparent, as the inflexible structures of furniture, rooms, and streets reveal their intolerance for anyone unlike the people for whom they were built."17 She can no longer approach crime-fighting like Batgirl did due to the inhospitable environment constructed only for the non-disabled. As she states in her internal monologue, "I was a gymnast at one time, I was a dancer. I loved how my body moved…I used to walk everywhere and the traffic never bothered me. Now I'd come to a busy corner and I'd feel myself panic."18 However, in assuming the persona of Oracle, she disconnects from Batman and becomes her own hero. "I realized that the Internet could be a mask as surely as any cowl. I could assume an identity—and this time not a second-hand version of someone else…This would-be mine—my mask, my shield—my persona."19 Oracle would become the most feared information broker in the DC universe and part of the Birds of Prey (along with Black Canary and Huntress). In 2011, DC Comics decided to completely retcon the entire DC Universe and this caused Barbara Gordon to become Batgirl again making her subordinate to Batman. Within the retcon, The Killing Joke still occurred and Barbara Gordon was paralyzed. However, she regained the use of her legs via an experimental surgery. In curing Barbara of her paralysis, Oracle is repressed from public view as she does not fit within the ideology of ability.

Because The Killing Joke is kept part of the new continuity, Barbara Gordon's disability at the hands of the Joker remains stuck to the character even though the character is now "cured" of paraplegia. This stickiness is due to the visible sign of disability. However, the stickiness of the wheelchair is disrupted due to a cure. The potential cure for Barbara Gordon's paralysis renders the visible sign of disability invisible to the audience as in being cured she becomes empowered through the ideology of ability. For close to two decades, Barbara Gordon was paraplegic and used a wheelchair. In this case, the wheelchair becomes a sticky object that remains with Gordon's character through reboots, retcons, and different writers even after she no longer uses it. In retconning the DC continuity, DC Comics made a conscious choice to keep the history of paralysis and wheelchair usage. In discussing the relations of stickiness, Sara Ahmed states "Stickiness then is about what objects do to other objects- it involves a transference of affect- but it is a relation of doing in which there is not a distinction between passive or active, even though the stickiness of one object might come before the stickiness of the other, such that the other seems to cling to it."20

The next hero that I will examine is Hawkeye and he has a radically different relationship between stickiness and disability because his disability is constantly in flux. In retconning disability, Hawkeye does not lose his stickiness. Ahmed in discussing the removal of a sticky object states that "in the event of being cut off from a sticky object, an object (including the skin surface) may remain sticky and may pick up other objects"21 Due to Hawkeye's non-apparent disability, it makes it easier for writers to remove the sticky object. However, by removing the sticky object, the stickiness of the character remains.

Hawkeye/Clint Barton was originally created by Stan Lee and Don Heck and made his debut in Tales of Suspense #57 originally released in September 1964. The difficulty of using Hawkeye as an example of someone who is hard of hearing is that his disability is constantly being retconned in and out of existence depending on the whims of the writer. The character became deaf during Hawkeye #4 (December 1983) when in order to stop a supervillain, Hawkeye purposefully deafens himself and loses 80% of his hearing. However, this was quickly retconned away.

In 2012, writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja started a critically acclaimed series of comics on the character and this run will be where my analysis of the character is centered. Before I start my analysis, I want to give a brief background on the character. Similar to Batgirl. Clint Barton/Hawkeye has no superpowers. He is a world class athlete/marksman. His weapon of choice is a bow along with numerous trick arrows. Even though he has no superpowers like flight or super strength, Hawkeye does have very keen eyesight and fantastic reflexes. Hawkeye's vision is represented in the fact that he never misses a shot. The name Hawkeye comes from the idiom eyes like a hawk meaning someone with excellent vision. However, in giving Hawkeye fantastic vision it acts as a consolation prize for his deafness and this itself is a common trope in literature. His first appearance was in Tales of Suspense #57 and he later joined the Avengers in Avengers #16.

What makes Fraction and Aja's run of Hawkeye standout is how they acknowledge Hawkeye's deafness while at the same time building it into the character. Fraction reworks Hawkeye's origin story to include his deafness. Clint Barton and his brother Barney Barton grew in a family with an alcoholic father who abused Clint. This abuse partially deafened Clint and in response Clint and his brother Barney learned ASL to communicate. Fraction does not make explicit if Clint's hearing got better as he grew up but Fraction does state regarding Clint's perception of foreign languages that "Clint's still kind of reading lips so when people use accents or foreign languages he's maybe not sure what he's hearing or seeing."22 However, Clint's hearing status would become explicit at the end of Hawkeye #15 when he becomes deafened again by an assassin. Fraction and Aja examine the aftermath of the attack on Clint and his brother in Hawkeye #19.

To reflect Clint's hearing loss, the duo removed verbal dialogue and replaced it with ASL but leave empty dialogue balloons. By replacing text with ASL, it makes Hawkeye's deafness visible to the audience. This choice represents not only Barney's attempt to communicate with his deaf brother but also the audience's interpretation of what is going on with Clint because Fraction and Aja do not provide translation for the signs. In making the choice to not provide translation for the ASL, Fraction and Aja force the reader to pick up on non-verbal clues such as body language and facial expressions. However, this can also become problematic as it positions ASL as a foreign and undecipherable language.

This in turn causes the reader to become fully engaged in the specific publication. This disconnection of words and images is called interdependent combinations. Scott McCloud in Making Comics describes how "interdependent combinations keep readers' minds fully engaged because they require them to assemble meaning of such different parts."23 In the absence of oral language, Fraction and Aja exaggerate body language as Clint spends almost the entire issue with a hunched over posture looking at the ground (rendering ASL ineffective). This changes as the issue progresses from a hunched over posture to a straight up posture and it is in this change that Clint moves past his trauma of abuse. "A ramrod, straight posture, like the one seen in a lot of superhero books, will communicate strength and confidence by being symbolically taller,"24 states McCloud. Fraction, in an interview with the New York Times on using ASL in the issue, stated, "if nothing else, it's an opportunity for hearing people to get a taste of what it might be like to be deaf."25 By failing to provide ASL translations, however, Fraction positioned ASL as unapproachable. Although Clint and Barney use ASL, they are not fluent in it and make numerous mistakes while signing. This in turn challenges the common misconception of deaf individuals as being perfect in ASL.

The issue starts with Clint as a child in a doctor's office with his parents and brother receiving the diagnosis that he is partially deaf. Clint can hear something is going on but he cannot understand the words. This represented by the dialogue balloons that are muffled. By muffled, text appears in the dialogue balloons but is indecipherable to the reader. On the next page, the same scenario is mirrored except Clint is an adult and instead of hearing muffled sounds, he hears nothing— represented by completely blank dialogue balloons. In discussing the relationship between words and time, Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics states that "just as pictures and intervals between create the illusion of time through closure, words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time- sound."26 For Clint, the lack of sound is brought on by his deafness. However, Clint is not moving forward through time but reliving his father's abuse and this can be seen in flashbacks.

The use of flashback plays a pivotal role in Hawkeye #19 as Fraction and Aja mirror the two Clint's by shifting from adult to child. This is illustrated on page 18 where Aja portrays Clint and Barney fighting as both adults and children on the same page. In mirroring the fight, Fraction and Aja not only shows Clint's relationship with his brother but it also allows for the opportunity to retcon the origin of Clint's deafness. "But unlike other media, in comics, the past is more than just memories for the audience and the future is more than just possibilities…both past and future are real and visible and all around us,"27 states McCloud. In mirroring the past and the present, authors can retcon specific events of a character's life drastically impacting the character in the present day.

However, even though Clint can communicate he spends most of the issue silent even refusing to communicate with his brother who wants to help him. "Won't speak, won't sign…s'like when we were kids, he's embarrassed and got too much pride to ask for."28 Both Clint Barton and Barbara Gordon have internalized ableism when it comes to their disabilities. To help Clint, Barney must get Clint to see beyond what has happened to his hearing and Barney knows this because he had to do the same thing when Clint was a child. Per Fraction, it is Clint's deafness that amplifies his narcissistic and self-centered behavior. Throughout Fraction's and Aja's interpretation of the character, Clint is a paradox in that he helps random individuals while at the same time pushing away his closest friends and family. Throughout the interpretation, he alienates his protégé, is on shaky ground with his ex-wife and has a complicated relationship with his brother. Yet, he has no problem helping the individuals who live in his apartment building. Or in other words, Clint's creators cast his disability as a tender organ.

Tobin Siebers in defining a tender organ states that "a tender organ makes for a touchy ego – an equation that represents people with physical disabilities as the model for the narcissistic, selfish, and self-centered personality."29 Although Siebers is critiquing the relationship between narcissism, minority discourses, and disability, the relationship between narcissism and disability plays an important role in the progression of Clint's character throughout the issue. The only way that Barney gets Clint to move past himself and to look at the big picture is to fight him and as they are fighting in the present, Fraction and Aja cut back to the past where the same fight happened when they were children.

In both fights, Barney helps Clint forcibly move past his narcissism in relation to both his father and his disability as his father was responsible for the hearing damage. At the same time, Barney helps Clint to move past his hatred of the father who abused him. Ahmed in discussing the emotion of hatred states that "hate is involved in the very negotiation of boundaries between selves and others, and between communities…hate involves a turning away from others that is lived as a turning towards the self."30 By forgiving his father, Clint turns outward rather than inward. Clint's narcissism surrounding his disability also intersects with the hatred of his father who caused his disability. It is his hatred of his father that caused Clint to withdraw and become isolated. It is his disability in Hawkeye #19 that returns to the isolation that he felt as a child Specifically, Clint's narcissism is a manifestation of his hatred as it removes Clint not only from his brother but also from the inhabitants of the apartment building.

In removing himself from these relationships, Clint not only isolates himself from the inhabitants physically but he also isolates himself politically. He does not participate in their causes. In discussing the relationship between narcissism, politics and disability, Siebers states that "the narcissism of people with disabilities, then is a political formation that inhibits their ability to act politically, it isolates them in their individuality, making a common purpose difficult to recognize and advance as a political agenda."31 In moving past his isolation Clint begins to sign again and the first thing he does is to call a rooftop meeting in the building that he owns to rally the renters against the Russian mafia.

He does this by using his brother to translate his ASL. "I'm deaf and we need to talk so I'm going to sign what I have to say and I need the practice and I'm not gonna hide anymore…Barney will translate, it will be okay."32 In calling for the meeting on the rooftop, Clint states that he is not going to hide anymore. This statement is twofold in that he is not going to hide from the Russia mafia while also no longer hiding his deafness. Instead of hiding his deafness, Clint makes it explicit. In retconning Hawkeye's origin story to include his deafness instead of making it a random plot point, both Fraction and Aja shift away from the medical construction of disability and towards the social construction of disability.

Instead of trying to retcon his deafness away as seen in earlier interpretations of Hawkeye, both Fraction and Aja show Hawkeye both lip reading and signing in the last two issues of the run. In Hawkeye #21, Clint is having a conversation with Jessica Drew (Spiderwoman) and he is lip-reading but he is still missing some the conversation. "What's so different betwee (t?) [n] then and (new?) [now?], you get your stabbed in and a (swats flies?) (?/?) somewhere?"33 During the conversation, she answers her phone and turns away and thus Hawkeye cannot lip read. Due to the lack of a visible sign of his deafness, Hawkeye attempts to pass as hearing and it is implied that for most of run Hawkeye was passing due to his new origin story constructed by Fraction and the child abuse he faced. The construction of passing in Fraction and Aja's run of Hawkeye is not only centered on disability but also on being an Avenger. I bring up his status as an Avenger due to his position on the team. Out of the original seven members, he is the only one without powers. However, in fighting with the Avengers, he can then pass as a superhero instead of being an ordinary human.

Hawkeye is not the only Avenger with a disability as the origin stories of both Iron Man and Thor center around specific disabilities. The origin stories of both Iron Man and Thor use disability in the construction of their superhero identity. Tony Stark became Iron Man in response to getting a ball of shrapnel lodged in his chest and Donald Blake, a disabled medical student becomes Thor. However, in becoming their superhero alter egos, they shed their disabled identity and become superheroes. Jose Alaniz in Death, Disability, and the Superhero in discussing silver age comic book heroes and disability states "Almost universally, the superpower will erase the disability, banishing it to the realm of the unseen, replacing it with raw power and heroic acts of derring-do in a hyper-masculine frame."34 In the case of Iron Man and Thor, these disabilities have been slowly phased out of the characters. Tony Stark has gotten the shrapnel removed from his chest while Donald Blake has been retconned away. While both Iron Man and Thor become superhuman, Hawkeye on the other hand has no superpowers and Fraction and Aja illustrate this by showing Clint's mortality.

Throughout Hawkeye (2012), Clint is covered in band aids and surgical tape as he lacks the healing factor or the superpowers that would allow him to surpass his human body. The first issue starts with Hawkeye falling out of a building and landing onto the roof of a car. The issue then switches to the hospital as a doctor lists the numerous medical conditions that he acquired. "Shattered pelvis, three broken ribs, sprained your neck, cracked your tibia, left clavicle, right ulna and your spleen nearly ruptured."35 In fighting with the Avengers, Hawkeye can be a superhero and help to win the day but at the cost of the numerous injuries that he acquires. However, passing can take on many different forms.

As Tobin Siebers states in discussing passing, "on the one hand, to free themselves from curiosity, prejudice, economic disadvantage, and violence, disabled people develop sophisticated tactics designed to help them blend into society, but these tactics may also exact a heavy toll on individuals both mentally and physically."36 Although Hawkeye spends most of the run trying both as a Avenger and as a disabled individual to pass, in the last two pages of the final issue Hawkeye #22 he begins to wear a purple hearing aid that is visible to the reader. The toll that Hawkeye took in passing is in the construction of internalized ableism and the need to hide his disability. This need to hide his disability intersects with him trying to pass as a superhero.

Fraction and Aja's run on Hawkeye, although critically successful, was delayed and the next run on Hawkeye titled All New Hawkeye done by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez premiered before Fraction and Aja's run was done. In the replacement run, although not retconning Hawkeye's deafness, had Tony Stark give Hawkeye hearing aids that were not visible. Removing the visibility of the hearing aid in turn erases the visibility of deafness in the character. However, in changing Hawkeye's deafness from a random plot point to something that is integral Fraction and Aja affect the stickiness of disability to the character of Hawkeye. As Sara Ahmed states in discussing the relationship between stickiness and history, "stickiness depends on histories of contact that have already impressed upon the surface of the object."37 In retconning Hawkeye's origin story to include his deafness as a child alters the history of the character while at the same time tying it back to specific events such as his deafening in 1983. Hawkeye's fluid nature of his disability complicates the stickiness of disability. With Barbara Gordon, her wheelchair served as a visible sign of disability that stuck with her as she transitioned from writer to writer. With Clint Barton, his disability has been retconned in and away from the character. Instead of a constant sign such as a wheelchair, Barton's disability resembles more of a palimpsest in that the stickiness of Barton has remained even though his disability has been retconned. A surface remains sticky even after the removal of a sticky object. However, with a lack of a visible sign of disability, stickiness becomes complicated as seen in the character of Hawkeye.

The final hero that I will be examining offers an opportunity to analyze how the stickiness of disability intersect with race. That hero is Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X of the X-Men. Professor X was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and made his first appearance in X Men #1 released in September 1963. Professor X is the leader of the X-Men, a group of individuals who due to genetic mutations have superpowers that they use to fight evil. These individuals are called mutants. Professor X's mutation results in telepathy. Like both Batgirl and Hawkeye, Professor X was not born with his disability but became paraplegic during his superhero career. Professor X's disability intersects with his superpowers through his mutant identity. However, mutations can vary from ordinary to the extraordinary. Mutations can drastically change an individual. A good example of this change is Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler. Due to his mutation, he was born with blue skin, pointed ears, fangs and a tail. Growing up, he was imprisoned and forced to work in a freak show against his will. Wagner is not treated as human but instead is treated as a freak due to his mutation.

Throughout the numerous runs of X-Men comics, the mutant identity has consistently stood in as a metaphor for numerous social issues (race, sexuality and religion to a name a few) and the series has a consistent history of social commentary. "Fans came to read the series as a mirror for US race relations and identity politics, with mutants as the beleaguered minority struggling for inclusion in a world predisposed to fear them,"38 states Alaniz. Disability intersects with mutant via the medical construction of disability. The medical construction of mutant in the comics is centered around the idea of finding a cure and curing mutants of this disease. This plot point has played a pivotal role in the history of the X-Men as they are hated, feared and despised due to their differences. Although Xavier begins the series as paraplegic, the cause of his disability is not unveiled until X-Men #20. The issue opens with villains robbing a bank while dressed up as X-Men while under the influence of Lucifer.

Lucifer did so to provoke the real X-Men to fight the imposters in order that he could Xavier. It is through this attack that Xavier's origin story is revealed in a flashback. As an adventurer, he had heard of a mysterious walled city in Tibet ruled by a tyrant. He uncovers that the ruler is an alien by the name of Lucifer. In their confrontation, Lucifer drops a slab of rock that falls upon of Xavier, paralyzing his legs. The issue ends with the X-Men led by the paralyzed Xavier flying to confront Lucifer in the Southwest United States. X Men # 20 offers an opportunity to analyze how race and disability intersect.

In the world of the X-Men, the mutant powers they received are then conflated with their racial identity especially since there are no people of color in X-Men #20. Since the beginning of the X-Men, mutant identity has stood in for racial identity linking genetic mutations to race. Non-mutants are presented as white. A police officer trying to stop the bank robbery states, "I've never claimed to know much about this mutant business but I do know that even the X-Men aren't bulletproof."39 In having villains rob a bank as members of the X-Men, Lucifer is changing the perception of the X-Men. For mutants, their mutant powers then validate the racism that they are facing. People are afraid of the destructive abilities of mutants and that in turn justifies racism against mutants. In the issue, everyone including the mutants are white.

Within the issue, mutant identity stands in for racial identity. Within the larger X-Men universe, mutants are portrayed as their own race and they face prejudice, discrimination and hatred due to them being mutants. As scholars have argued, "racism and ableism often work in ways that are unspoken, yet racism validates and reinforces ableism, and ableism validates and reinforces racism."40 Xavier spends the issue seeking to learn who is trying to discredit the X-Men and then he is attacked by Lucifer who attempts to shut down his body.

However, due to his mental powers he can communicate with Jean Grey to tell her what is happening. "Thank Heaven – he's alive and yet, his heartbeat is so slow – he must be continuing to breathe by sheer mental effort but he cannot move,"41 states Jean Grey. Xavier's status as one of the most powerful mutants in the world due to his telepathy is often contrasted with his physical disability. Although he can tell Jean Grey what is happening to his body, he cannot physically help himself due to his paraplegia.

The comic ends with the rest of the X-Men returning home and building a distortion helmet for Xavier to fight off Lucifer's telepathy. At this point, "Xavier often appears helpless without his chair, sprawled on the ground after being thrown from it or else borne away to safety in the arms of his students,"42 states Alaniz. Xavier's physical weakness is then contrasted with the portrayal of him as an adventurer in his flashback. He avoids fireballs, numerous traps and leads a rebellion against Lucifer. This changes when Lucifer drops a slab of rock onto Xavier and, like the Joker in The Killing Joke, mocks Xavier by stating "So—-you still survive, Live, then perhaps it is fated that you and I meet again one day but remember this—it is ever the strong who are meant to rule."43 Even though Xavier is one of the most powerful mutants in the world, his paraplegia prevents him from fighting alongside the X-Men in physical combat.

Xavier's paralysis became one of the reasons why he founded the X-Men in the first place as he could no longer fight evil in a physical combat. In serving as the leader of the X-Men, he gives missions to the X-Men but he stays back as support, thus reinforcing an ideology of ability. As Siebers has written, "The ideology of ability makes able bodiedness compulsory, enforcing it as the baseline of almost every perception of human interaction, action, and condition and tolerating exceptions only with difficulty."44 In not going out into the field with the X-Men, Xavier reinforces the ideology of ability by staying behind and in turn removing himself from the public. However, Xavier's mutant identity complicates this ableist ideology due to the superhuman abilities that mutants get and how that then plays into construction of passing.

The X-Men begin the issue in street clothes back at home and it is not until they are in their uniforms that they become mutants in the eyes of the public. Their mutant ability complicates the binary between ability and disability in that they can do fantastical things that a human being could not do —like fly or shoot lasers out of their eyes. However, it is through these fantastical abilities that they face prejudice and portrayed as freaks to the public who need to be cured of their disease.

Their superhuman abilities are not only represented by the ability to fly or shoot lasers but using exaggerated motion lines. Within comic books, motion lines represent the motion of objects through space. In the issue, Kirby mixed motion lines and sound effects to exaggerate the abilities of the mutants. "Over the years, these lines became more refined and stylized, even diagrammatic even, in the hands of heroic fantasy artists like Bill Everett and Jack Kirby- those same lines became so stylized as to almost have a life and physical presence all their own,"45 states McCloud. Kirby uses the motion lines to create a dichotomy between mutants and non-mutants.

Superhuman abilities create motion lines while human abilities fail to do so. A good example can be seen in the character of Cyclops. When Cyclops uses his optic beams, Kirby exaggerates the beam by mixing motion lines and sound effects together. "Zzitt!" and "Brak!" are then merged with bright red motion lines to illustrate his superhuman powers. However, when Cyclops is forced to run away, Kirby uses no motion lines as Cyclops runs as simply a human. The abilities of mutants are viewed through a medical construction of disability in that one of the dominant narratives surrounding mutants is the search for a cure that would return mutants to the normate.

For Xavier, he uses the visibility of his paraplegia to mask the invisibility of his mutant ability. "Although people with disabilities may try to pass in the classic sense of the term by concealing their disability from discovery, they also engage in a little- discussed practice, structurally akin to passing but not identical to it, in which they disguise one kind of disability with another or display their disability by exaggerating it,"46 states Siebers. Unlike Batgirl and Hawkeye, who were created as members of the normate, Xavier first appeared physically disabled and in a wheelchair.

Throughout the comic book history of Charles Xavier, he has been given the ability to walk through numerous means. While Hawkeye and Batgirl have, their disabilities retconned out of existence, Xavier has his retconned in and out. However, the retcon for Xavier is that this new ability to walk is erased to place him back in the wheelchair. After being cursed of paraplegia, Xavier assimilates into white mainstream society due to the invisibility of his mutation. In the film, X-Men: Days of Future Past Xavier is given a drug that cures him of his paraplegia at the cost of his powers. In curing Xavier of both his paraplegia and his mutation, he then becomes a white male member of the normate. The use of the retcon then depends on the positionality of the hero at their creation and whether they were abled or disabled.

Xavier's mutant identity complicates the stickiness of his disability due to the intersection of race and disability. Within the Marvel universe, mutants face discrimination and prejudice due to the positionality of mutants as racial categories. In the character of Professor X, his racial identity as a mutant intersects with the stickiness of his disability. Ahmed in discussing the fetishization of bodies state that "this is how bodies become fetish objects: as we shall see, feelings of disgust stick more to some bodies than others, such that they become disgusting, as if their presence is what makes us sick."47 Both Xavier's identity as a mutant and paraplegic attracts feelings of disgust.

The comic book industry does not exist in a vacuum, which can be clearly seen in the adaptation of comic book narratives in numerous different media formats. In the process of the adaptation, certain characteristics are then erased in order to streamline the adaptation. One of the characteristics that is often erased is disability. In 2012, when Fraction and Aja started to work on Hawkeye, Marvel Studios was adapting the character for the film The Avengers. In adapting Hawkeye to the silver screen, his disability was erased because it no longer existed in the comics. Hawkeye's deafness in the comics was retconned away due to the lack of a visible sign of disability. On the other hand, when Professor X was being adapted to the silver screen, his disability remained due to the visibility of his disability as represented in his wheelchair. The stickiness of disabilities in comic books directly impacts the stickiness of disability in adaptations.

As more and more superhero stories and characters are being adapted, the stickiness of disability and visible signs takes on new importance as adaptations begin to directly impact the source material. Characters, events, powers, and origin stories can be retconned in and out of existence to better match the adaptation. This use of retcon can negatively impact portrayals of disability by only focusing on visible disabilities and erasing non-visible disabilities. By retconning disabilities such as deafness and other non-visible disabilities, comic book writers are creating a very narrow spectrum of disability based on visible appearance that in turn mirrors the perception of the freak. In retconning non visible forms of disability and leaving visible forms of disability, comic book teams are creating a crisis of disability that will be long reaching and have drastic impact on the comic book industry.

Work Cited

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  • Alaniz, Jose. Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. https://doi.org/10.14325/mississippi/9781628461176.001.0001
  • Annamma, Subini Ancy, David J. Connor, and Beth A. Ferri. "Dis/Ability Critical Race Studies (DisCrit): Theorizing the Intersections of Race and Dis/Ability." In DisCrit: Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education, edited by Subini Ancy Annamma, David J. Connor, and Beth A Ferri, 9-32. New York: Teachers College Press, 2016.
  • Brown, Jeffery A. Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2011. https://doi.org/10.14325/mississippi/9781604737141.001.0001
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  • Fraction, Matt and David Aja. Hawkeye #21. New York: Marvel Entertainment, 2015.
  • Fraction, Matt. "Hawkguy Question." Mattfraction.com. February 22, 2013. http://mattfraction.com/post/43761565527/hawkguy-question-at-some-point-in-the-comics
  • Gustines, George, Gene. "One of Marvel's Avengers Turn to Sign Language." New York Times, July 24, 2014. Accessed September 1, 2016. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/24/one-of-marvels-avengers-turns-to-sign-language/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&partner=rss&emc=rss&_r3&
  • Klock, Geoff. How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. New York: Continuum, 2002.
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  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
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  • Thomas, Roy and Jack Kirby. Uncanny X-Men #20 New York: Marvel Entertainment, 1966.
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Endnotes

  1. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), 90.
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  2. Ibid., 91.
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  3. "Fan GAIL SIMONE RESPONDS," Women in Refrigerators, accessed April 28,2017, http://www.lby3.com/wir/r-gsimone.html
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  4. Jeffery A. Brown, Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2011), 175.
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  5. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke: The Deluxe Edition (New York: DC Comics, 2008), 14.
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  6. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 90.
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  7. Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 12.
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  8. Garland Thompson, Extraordinary Bodies, 8
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  9. Moore and Bolland, The Killing Joke: The Deluxe Edition, 33.
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  10. Ibid., 64.
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  11. Moore and Bolland, The Killing Joke: The Deluxe Edition, 33.
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  12. Garland Thompson, Extraordinary Bodies, 65.
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  13. Geoff Klock, How to Read Superhero Comics and Why (New York: Continuum, 2002), 59.
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  14. Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory (Detroit: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 103.
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  15. Kim Yale and John Ostrander, The Batman Chronicles #5 (New York: DC Comics, 2006), 3.
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  16. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 69.
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  17. Siebers, Disability Theory, 85.
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  18. Yale and Ostrander, The Batman Chronicles #5, 10.
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  19. Yale and Ostrander, The Batman Chronicles #5, 15.
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  20. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 91.
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  21. Ibid., 91.
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  22. Matt Fraction, "Hawkguy Question," Mattfraction.com, February 22, 2013, accessed March 17, 2016, http://mattfraction.com/post/43761565527/hawkguy-question-at-some-point-in-the-comics
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  23. Scott McCloud, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 137.
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  24. Ibid., 106.
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  25. George Gene Gustines, "One of Marvel's Avengers Turns to Sign Language," New York Times, July 24, 2014, accessed September 1, 2016, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/24/one-of-marvels-avengers-turns-to-sign-language/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&partner=rss&emc=rss&_r3&
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  26. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 95.
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  27. Ibid., 104.
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  28. Matt Fraction and David Aja, Hawkeye #19 (New York: Marvel Entertainment, 2014), 11.
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  29. Siebers, Disability Theory, 37.
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  30. Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 51.
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  31. Ibid., 45
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  32. Fraction and Aja, Hawkeye #19, 22.
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  33. Matt Fraction and David Aja, Hawkeye #21 (New York: Marvel Entertainment, 2015), 3.
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  34. Jose Alaniz, Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), 36.
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  35. Matt Fraction and David Aja, Hawkeye #1 (New York: Marvel Entertainment, 2012), 1
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  36. Siebers, Disability Theory, 117.
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  37. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 90.
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  38. Jose Alaniz, Death, Disability, and the Superhero, 117.
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  39. Roy Thomas and Jack Kirby, Uncanny X-Men #20 (New York: Marvel Entertainment, 1966), 2.
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  40. Annamma, Connor, and Ferri, "Dis/Ability Critical Race Studies (DisCrit)," 14.
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  41. Thomas and Kirby, Uncanny X-Men #20, 12.
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  42. Jose Alaniz, Death, Disability, and the Superhero, 123.
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  43. Thomas and Kirby, Uncanny X-Men #20, 17.
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  44. Siebers, Disability Theory, 102.
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  45. McCloud, Understanding Comics, 111.
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  46. Siebers, Disability Theory, 101.
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  47. Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotions, 92.
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Copyright (c) 2017 Casey M. Ratto

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