In Avatar, Jake Sully's in a wheelchair, until a magical brain tech turns him into a running, jumping, soaring blue dude. The disabled character who regains the use of his legs is a science fiction mainstay. Here are 20 examples.
Chances are, you've come across lots of SF stories where a disabled person regains the ability to walk in some fantastical way. Usually it's a guy, and his ability to stand up on his two legs is portrayed as a reclaiming of his virility and power. Often times, the disabled hero regains full mobility along the way towards becoming super-powered — or as part of a package of superpowers.
Oftentimes, the regained mobility comes from some kind of fancy assistive technology. And yet, these stories always draw a really sharp distinction between the wheelchair (which is also assistive technology) and this other tech, which is better or more natural. Or more rugged and manly, perhaps. (Both Jake Sully and John Locke defiantly say something along the lines of, "Don't tell me what I can't do.")
So here are 20 characters from science fiction who regained the ability to walk:
Star Trek gives us Captain Christopher Pike, who's stuck in a wheelchair and unable to express himself other than by flashing a light "Yes" or "No." (As Evan Dorkin tweeted yesterday, "Nice 23rd cent tech there, btw. Beep. Boop. Stupid Star Trek.") Captain Pike's mind is still alive in there, but nobody's figured out a way for him to use Morse code, or translate his brain activity into speech. So Spock takes matters into his own hands, risking his own career and Captain Kirk's command to help Captain Pike return to Talos IV, the planet of the obscene craniums. There, Captain Pike can live in a kind of dreamworld for the amusement of the sterile Talosians, but at least he'll be perfectly healthy.
Doctor Who has had lots of wheelchair-bound characters, including the evil Davros and the vicious Collector. But the first character to rock a wheelchair in Who was actually one of the good guys — Dortmun, one of the leaders of the anti-Dalek resistance in "Dalek Invasion Of Earth." Dortmun is confined to a wheelchair due to one of his many failed attempts to devise an anti-Dalek explosive. And not coincidentally, he's a terrible leader whose super-explosives never do what they're supposed to. But then Dortmun finally redeems himself, confronting the Daleks and buying time for the others to escape — by climbing out of his wheelchair and standing to face the Daleks at last. His redeeming act of heroism is clearly linked to his abandonment of the chair. (Skip to about 2:30 in the video.)
Batman gets his spine broken in the Knightfall crossover, by the supervillain Bane. Throughout the extremely long Knightquest storyline that follows, Bruce Wayne walks with a cane or travels in a wheelchair. He searches for Tim Drake's parents, despite the warnings of a spinal surgeon that he's only making his spine damage worse and more incurable. Luckily, his new girlfriend, the altruistic Dr. Shondra Kinsolving, turns out to have magical healing powers, and she heals Batman, giving herself irreparable brain damage in the process. There's a lot of lightning involved, okay? We're all so glad to see Bruce smack around the blond imposter, we don't really care how Bats got his back back. I actually bought the novelization of Knightfall for $1.00 because I was curious to see if Denny O'Neil would make Batman's recovery make any sense whatsoever. Here's how O'Neil writes it:
"Shondra, we've got to get away from that window," Bruce said. "I can't move, so you'll have to —"
"Don't worry," Shondra whispered. "You'll be fine."
Her hand slipped over his, and her fingers tightened slightly. He felt as though she were touching every cell of his body at once — soothing, quieting, healing. The world went away, then, ebbed away from him, and he was left alone with Shondra's touch in a place where there was no pain and terror.
And that's it. The next time we see Bruce in the novelization, he's "shirtless, barefoot, moving as easily and gracefully as he ever had in his life," with the sun on his shoulders.
The X-Men's leader, Professor X, is in a wheelchair — except for all the occasions in which he's been able to get out of it. At one point, Professor X gets the Starjammers' physician, Sikorsky, to clone him a new body with no disabilities. At another point, the mysterious Xorn "heals" Professor X using his special powers over metal — until it turns out that Xorn is really Magneto, and he's just been dicking Professor X around.
Gallilee by Clive Barker features a first-person narrator, Maddox, who's been in a wheelchair for 150 years, ever since he was maimed in an accident. An apocalyptic vision causes Maddox to realize time is running out, causing him to write down his family history — and then he has a spiritual epiphany, which in turn causes him to realize he can walk once more.
The Animorphs freak out after their identities are discovered by the evil Yeerks — and they decide to recruit some more kids to join their team, in case the original members all get captured. So they decided to recruit disabled kids to be the new group of Auxillary Animorphs, because they figured the Yeerks wouldn't have bothered to infest a disabled kid. (So the Animorphs could skip the three-day screening period for new recruits.) And they figure the morphing powers would cure any disabilities. The leader of the Auxillary Animorphs, James, is paralyzed, until he becomes and Animorph and regains full mobility.
The Doom Patrol features its own version of Professor X, the disabled scientist Niles Caulder. And just as Grant Morrison got Professor X out of his wheelchair, Morrison did the same for Niles in the early 1990s. In one issue, Robotman rushes to tell Niles that somebody's shot Joshua. Niles Caulder says (from off panel) "Cliff, Cliff, Cliff. Isn't it obvious?" And as you turn the page, you discover that Niles is standing up, and revealing that he's the one who shot Joshua. It turns out that nanotechnology cured Niles, although later he winds up as just a severed head — and finally, he's back in the wheelchair, with a complete body again.
The Talents by Anne McCaffey includes a character named Peter Reidinger, whose spine is damaged after a wall falls on him, paralyzing him for life. Until Peter realizes he's actually a powerful telekinetic, and he teaches himself to walk by moving his own limbs telekinetically.
Star Wars: Commenter db4dbms points out that Darth Vader is basically a torso inside a robotic exoskeleton, since Anakin had his arms and legs chopped off.
Robot Wars Book 5: Final Battle by Sigmund Brouwer features Tyce, a 14-year-old whose damaged spine has been hooked up to a device that lets him control robots. Tyce thinks about having an operation that would restore his ability to walk (at the cost of his ability to control robots). But then his toes start to wiggle all on their own, after he kills the first woman president of the United States (by accident, I think.)
Green Lantern John Stewart left the Lantern Corps after his wife got killed, and winds up joining the Darkstars, who have much less cool uniforms. Unfortunately, John gets badly injured defending the planet Rann, and becomes disabled. Until Hal Jordan, in his identity as Assclown — I mean, Parallax — heals John Stewart on his way to reignite the sun and save everyone.
Dark Angel gives us Logan Cale, a steely eyed cyber-journalist who's secretly known as Eyes Only. After Logan is injured in an accident, he's paralyzed from the waist down, and hires a live-in physical therapist named Bling. (Who, I'm just guessing, teaches Logan the healing power of giant medallions?) And then Logan meets a guy named Phil, who has an exoskeleton and agrees to give Logan one. The exoskeleton allows Logan to walk, and say goodbye to Bling!
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card shows Miro, who's been disabled and unable to speak normally, discarding his old body and creating a new one by teleporting Outside. The new body is intact, and allows Miro to do all the things he could do before his accident. (Thanks, TVTropes!)
The X-Files episode "All Souls" features a wheelchair-bound girl, who's able to walk out of her house miraculously. Then she's found dead, in a "praying position" with her eyes burned out — and the same thing may be coming for two other similar girls, unless Scully can work out the whole faith-vs-science thing pronto.
M.A.N.T.I.S., Sam Raimi's short-lived superhero series, features a scientist who's confined to a wheelchair — until he puts on his exoskeleton and becomes the crime-fighting dynamo M.A.N.T.I.S.!
Alpha Flight features Roger Bochs, a double amputee, who can "phase" into giant robot armor, allowing him to walk around and do superhero stuff. Later on, a healer gives him actual fleshy legs. But then it turns out that the healer harvested the legs from corpses, and the graft fails.
The Cure by F. Alexander Brejcha is unusual, in that it's a story about a disabled person being cured, written by an actual disabled person. Brejcha writes, in an author's note, that he's paraplegic, while his main character is quadraplegic. Not surprisingly, it deals a lot more with the main character's insecurity and adjustment problems after nanotech restores his mobility.
Dr. Strangelove regains the ability to walk, thanks to the awesomeness of setting off a doomsday device that ravages the globe.
Lost's John Locke is confined to a wheelchair for four years after his con-man bio-dad tosses him out a window. Locke will never walk again... until he goes to the Island, where he's suddenly healed, and becomes the awesome, rugged outdoorsman he always dreamed of being. In one episode, "The Man Behind The Curtain," Ben taunts Locke that the "old" Locke was so ineffectual, he got kicked off a Walkabout "because you couldn't walk." Locke's regained ambulatory status is linked to his virility and is proof that the Island has chosen him as a special person. Ben, meanwhile, is stuck in his wheelchair for a long time, because he's evil and the Island doesn't like him as much. (Although Ben, too, gets to walk eventually, thanks to Locke's presence.)
The Rampaging Hulk features Geoffrey Crawford, a former teacher of Bruce Banner's, who's suffering from a degenerative nerve disease that has him confined to a wheelchair. Bruce visits his old mentor, seeking a cure for his Hulk-itis, and Dr. Crawford has a complicated plan, involving mapping Bruce's DNA and using a teleporter to separate him from his Gamma radiation — but it's actually a scheme to steal Bruce's powers, so Crawford can Hulk out and escape from his wheelchair. Crawford becomes the monstrous Ravage, and puts the beatdown on the Hulk. Including the great sound effect, "Snap!". Also, in Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner suffers from ALS, but then Reed Richards miraculously cures him. Then Banner turns to the reader, breaking the fourth wall, and explains there's no cure for ALS in real life and you should donate to research charities. Also, in an episode of The Incredible Hulk TV show, Banner is paralyzed from the waist down, until he Hulks out, which soon heals him.
Heroes' Arthur Petrelli is a rare example of an evil person who overcomes disability, thanks to the power of evil. I've blotted out the events of season three from my mind, but as near as I can tell, Mama Petrelli poisons Papa Petrelli, but he survives — except that he's totally paralyzed and unable to move. Until he absorbs the healing power from Adam/Kensei and becomes an unstoppable evil-eyebrow machine. Also on Heroes, Daphne has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk... until her mutant ability kicks in and makes her the fastest runner in the world, because irony.
Additional reporting by Josh C. Snyder. Thanks also to Danny Sichel.