Within the superhero genre, comic books have always strongly connected notions of difference with unique abilities. Villains and heroes alike often find their motivation and power through origin stories that speak to difference or a process of change. Alice Wong wrote a great piece exploring how the mythology behind superheroes is relatable to many disabled people and those who grew up on the outside looking in.
It was our shared interest in disability representation in comic books and the recent expansion of Marvel into television that prompted a back and forth between Alice and I around disability and difference in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the show first framed itself as an opportunity to view the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D. — the so-called “normal” folks who work behind the scenes in this superhero filled world — it was clear from the beginning that the show was pulling on powerful threads about change, difference, and otherness. While this is not unusual where superheroes are concerned, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. applied these same dynamics to the bureaucracy behind the Avengers. In the first season Phil Coulson’s return from the dead — and the differences in him that resulted from this process, as well as Skye’s mysterious origins — were front and center.