When it was first pointed out to me that Daretti, Scrap Savant was in a wheelchair, I didn’t quite realize the significance of this. It’s nice to have privilege! In my case, it’s the privilege of being relatively free from physical impairment. And when you’ve got that sort of privilege, it can be easy to overlook the importance of representation, particularly in a game that is not as purely mental as it could be.


See? Charles Xavier style wheelchair! It’s easy to notice, but definitely there.

There’s no better icon of the differently-abled than DC’s Oracle, and it’s interesting to look at how this works better than she did. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Oracle began as a misogynistic chat between Alan Moore and his DC editor at the time. Barbara Gordon was Batgirl at that point, and Alan Moore wanted to paralyze her to make The Killing Joke dark and edgy. He asked his editor about it, and the editor’s response was, “cripple the bitch.” Not a great basis for a character.


The shame of it was that there’s some really great stuff packed in with a ton of unnecessarily dark and edgy flair. The Joker’s backstory is interesting, and his point that a bad day can send anyone over the edge is worth considering. But the salacious violence, BDSM regalia, and little people are all way over the line.

But then DC did some major rehab work on the character, and gave Babs room to be useful for her brain, not just for her body. They turned her into Oracle, superhero operator and super hacker. She faces down some of the biggest threats in the comics, including Braniac and the Joker, and her differences don’t weaken her, they allow her to show her inner strength in how they handle her. And they even put her in a position to mentor a younger nemesis who ends up paralyzed in one of the other books, bringing her around to the light because Babs knows where that angry young woman has been.


This is the cover to the issue where Babs finally gets to kick Joker’s ass. As opposed to the time she calls his bluff when he’s threatening to nuke NYC… the Joker doesn’t have the best win-loss percentage, which is half the reason his character has drifted so far over the years.

Of course, DC being DC, they went back on all this character development come New 52. It was bad storytelling, and it was another way that comic book diversity was slashed by their revamp. But for a while, Oracle was the ideal. And considering how shady her history was, this more reflects the dearth of positive role models than the exceptional nature of the character itself.


That’s what’s cool about Daretti, Scrap Savant. Unlike Oracle, or a host of other similar stories, there’s no convoluted explanation about how he ended up in a wheelchair… or, at least, I hope there isn’t. Because those stories always portray these issues as major losses. For some people, that resonates, but by keeping the backstory neutral this character can also speak to people who were born with impairment, and for whom it’s not a loss, merely a fact of their life.


I’m actually a little worried that he might not be in a wheelchair in this picture. I can’t quite tell, though? So I’m just going to keep hoping that Wizards has been brave here.

I imagine it’s frustrating for people who face disability in their daily lives to navigate the game of Magic. I could talk about the shuffling, or the physical endurance required to maintain focus over a ten round tournament, but that’s focusing on the people who are dealing with impairment, and not the conduct of the rest of us. Because, let’s face it, able Magic players put up with a lot of frankly unacceptable issues that are a pain for us to navigate, and impossible for someone who doesn’t have our privilege.


For example, the layout of local game stores are usually set up to maximize playable space. This regularly means that the stores are completely in violation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. In New York City, that’s almost unavoidable. Enforcement is so lax, and the grandfathering aspects so complicated, that I can’t think of a single store I’ve seen that has the proper spacing between tables. And that’s without even addressing entering the store in the first place, as many stores are up stairs, or using the bathroom, which are almost always without grab bars.

Why isn’t there more push for this? Those bathrooms look palatial! You guys, if we band together we’re all going to win here!


To the privileged among us, these things are inconvenient. We press up against each other in close spaces, we suck up the fact that everyone in your row needs to get up if you have to use the bathroom, and we expect a certain level of decrepitude in features as integral as stairs. But imagine for a second these are not things you can just put up with. That the expectation of ability these decisions represent actually shuts you out of playing this great game face to face. That’s gotta suck! It’s the least we can do to show people on the other side of this divide that we see them, and we care, even if it’s just enough to put a Goblin Welder in a Charles Xavier chair.


As with many things, Marvel was ahead of DC on this one. Although, again, it’s brought lower by the complicated story of loss they weave into and around it.

How do we fix it? We can’t. At least not easily. The solution is bigger than Magic, as so many of these issues are. The solution is the government spending more money to update our infrastructure, public and private, so that the burden to be a decent human being and provide access for everyone doesn’t solely fall on the person most incentivized to cut those corners, to minimize those costs.


And that’s not going to happen, because we couldn’t even get our government to spend more money on highway infrastructure after that bridge collapsed out in Minnesota, and that was an incredibly visible event. Getting together the political will for infrastructure spending on a small percentage of the population who is being kept out of the public eye by our very failure to invest in this needed infrastructure… it’s not a winning political argument, even before the election results come in tonight and the GOP inevitably takes over the Senate.

Vote: because these days, not everyone has that privilege.


But it certainly doesn’t hurt that now people dealing with physical impairment can look at a planeswalker and say: “hey, that guy is like me.” That’s always going to be powerful; I think Wizards’ decision to put Daretti in a wheelchair was a brave one, and needed.


Jess Stirba tried to use appropriate terminology in this post, because respect is important.


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