Have you seen the latest superhero to join the ranks of comic book greats? Sure, like all superheroes, he has extraordinary powers, such as a "mathematical mind, artistic gift and an abundance of compassion." And like all superheroes, saving the world from heinous villains is all in a day's work. But there's one crucial distinguishing difference about Michael—he has autism.
The new series by Face Value Comics has taken an overdue, groundbreaking step in featuring a character with special needs. I'm only surprised that it took so long.
“Because some kids with autism may lack sufficient eye contact, they miss subtle cues growing up in life,” said Michael's creator, Dave Kot, who "gets" all the nuances of ASD, because he happens to be Autistic. “This is an opportunity for kids to have a hero like themselves.”
Illustrator Sky Owens exaggerated the facial expressions of the characters in order to help kids decode the emotional interplay between Michael and the other players.
“When he was sad, who comforted him and how? Or why were they sad? How did other people respond? Can I do that, too, with my friends?” said Kot. “In those small steps that a lot of us take for granted are very basic social building blocks.”
Because one of Michael's strengths is understanding his feelings, it's hoped that his ability will help kids become more cognizant of their own emotional barometer.
Fans, like Brian Rasmuson, are truly digging the new superhero, who finds himself "in a Steampunk world with aliens & robots...& LOTS of misunderstanding." (Because misunderstanding is something to which kids with ASD can totally relate.)
“I think these comics help people see that autism isn’t just a disability,” Brian said in the clip below. “It’s not all of who you are, but it’s a special part of who you are. Whenever I read this comic I think of that part of me.”
So much of the time kids with autism are being taught to do things differently—to essentially *be* different in order to fit in with the status quo—that it's refreshing to be told they are not only OK as they are, but that they are special in ways others are not.
Empowering kids on the spectrum in no way diminishes their struggles and challenges. But it goes some way to levelling the playing field so that children have a better awareness of their strengths and gifts. It gives kids who tend to be bullied and robbed of their self-esteem early on a chance to reawaken a sense of pride in themselves.
In Michael, kids finally have a relatable role model—one who isn't simply a robotic, geeky stereotype, but who has something unique and worthwhile to offer. A hero in his own right.
Frankly, I'm bummed that my five-year-old is a little young for the series, which is aimed at kids aged eight and up. But maybe in a few years, there will be other Michaels.
The bad news? Issue No. 1 has already sold out. The upshot? You can still nab a digital copy here while you order one from a good comic store near you...
Photo credit: Face Value Comics