While comic books haven’t always been known to include a diverse cast of characters, there seems to be an outsized amount of amputee superheroes. However, it’s doubtful that the trend of comic book characters with missing limbs has much to do with inclusivity - instead, it’s almost certainly a result of how dramatically dismemberment comes across on the page.
Whenever a writer wants to reach for an extremely bleak and hopeless moment for their superhero of choice, they can always choose something that costs that character a literal arm and a leg. The very nature of comic books means that, unlike in the real world, any such injury can always be reversed whenever necessary - and, in the meantime, high-tech robotic prosthetics are readily available to anyone who wants one.
The character of John Walker, a prominent Captain America replacement now known as the USAgent, wasn’t a household name until he made it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe via The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - but he’s a long-established veteran in the pages of Marvel Comics.
After a long stint as one of Steve Rogers’s primary antagonists, Walker reforms and goes on to join several superheroic teams, including the Mighty Avengers. It is as a member of that team, in Thunderbolts #142, that USAgent battles Norman Osborn’s dark forces and their attempted Siege of Asgard - which leads him directly into a fight with the super soldier Nuke. Partway through their brawl, Nuke obtains Gungnir, the legendary spear of Odin, and uses it to slice Walker’s left arm and leg right from his body.
This gruesome incident leads Walker to temporarily retire from the superhero game, instead becoming a warden at the Raft. An encounter with a symbiote years down the road manages to restore Walker’s limbs, and he’s now back in the field as the USAgent once again.
- Photo: DC Comics
Roy Harper has gone through many epithets in his journey from the Green Arrow’s sidekick to a legitimate hero in his own right - Speedy, Red Arrow, and Arsenal. It is in the latter role that Harper experiences a moment that would come to define his character for years to come, via the gruesome events of Justice League: Cry For Justice #5.
While working with the Justice League, Harper confronts Prometheus, who is essentially an evil Batman. During the fracas, Prometheus cuts Arsenal’s right arm off at the bicep, intending to cause him lethal harm - but he survives thanks to the medical intervention of his fellow heroes.
To make matters worse, Prometheus blows up Star City in that same event, resulting in the demise of Harper’s young daughter, Lian. He eventually gains a high-tech prosthetic arm - and then a brand new one altogether via a continuity reboot - but nothing could ever replace the loss of his child, and the character goes down a dark path for many years after this incident.
When Jean Grey comes back to life for the first of many times, the original five X-Men get back together under a new name - though it’s not exactly a happy reunion. In X-Factor #14, Warren Worthington III gets caught up in the “Morlock Massacre,” a slaughter of sewer-dwelling mutants by the merciless Marauders. Angel does his best to defend the Morlocks, but ends up “crucified” with his wings violently pinned to a wall for his troubles.
Only the intervention of Thor saves Angel’s life, and he’s in dire need of medical intervention. Unfortunately, Worthington’s friend, Cameron Hodge, reveals himself as an anti-mutant bigot by forging evidence of serious infection in Warren’s wings, leading to them being amputated by doctors.
The loss of his most distinguishing feature - and the source of his mutant identity - sends Angel spiraling into depression. He ultimately gains an upgraded set of wings and abilities, but at a terrible cost - by becoming Death, a Horseman of Apocalypse!
Eugene “Flash” Thompson is an interesting case, because the loss of his legs comes long before his time as a superhero - and before he can be considered much of a good guy at all. Best known as Peter Parker’s high school bully, that changed with Amazing Spider-Man #574, when Flash sacrificed his limbs, and nearly his life, in service of his country and to save his fellow soldiers.
When Flash returns from war, he settles in as a supporting character of Spider-Man, but it isn’t long before he gets his own chance to play costumed crusader. A government agency recruits Thompson to experiment with a sedated version of the alien symbiote that Parker himself once wore, and the result is Agent Venom - a new identity that gives Flash both the use of his legs and the ability to keep on fighting the good fight.