The historical context of DC’s ‘We Can Be Heroes’ Initiative
Today, DC Comics announced its new “We Can Be Heroes” campaign to benefit Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. According to the press release, the initiative is a two-year, multimillion-dollar humanitarian campaign featuring the Justice League’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.
While the initiative was unveiled just this morning, this is not the first time comics publishers have used superheroes to help benefit charities seeking to end hunger and famine in Africa. Although organizations have been collecting donations for famine and disease relief in Africa for decades, one of the worst famines in recent memory occurred in Ethiopia in 1983-1985, which inspired the charity singles “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” from the music supergroups Band Aid and USA for Africa, respectively.
Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson picked up on the “jam piece” idea for comics: a book featuring numerous creators to raise money for East African famine relief. In 1985, Starlin pitched Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who recruited Uncanny X-Men editor Ann Nocenti and writer Chris Claremont, and from there, the project continued to expand. Titled Heroes for Hope, the comic featured the X-Men in an adventure that eventually brought them to Africa, where they faced a god-like entity who feeds on human despair. In fact, Starlin details the entire process in a September 2011 blog post that includes a full list of the creative team, which included Stan Lee, John Romita Jr., Harlan Ellison, Frank Miller, Stephen King and Alan Moore.
According to Shooter, the initiative raised more than $500,000. The money was originally intended to go to Oxfam, but because of a disagreement with an Oxfam America representative, the money instead went to the American Friends Service Committee.
In 1986, DC Comics released a similar book, Heroes Against Hunger. The story, called “A Song of Pain and Sorrow,” featured Batman and Superman teaming with Lex Luthor to fight a new villain named The Master, who, much like Marvel’s villain, drew his power from human misery. Starlin and Wrightson were once again instrumental in the organization of the book, with Starlin contributing the overall plot. Heroes Against Hunger also boasted an all-star creative team, including Neal Adams, John Byrne, Howard Chaykin, Jerry Ordway, Andy Kubert and Barry Winsor-Smith. In the 48-page comic, every two pages were handled by a different creative team.
While there are no details on a tie-in book for DC’s current “We Can Be Heroes” initiative, the press release indicates there will be merchandise for sale through WeCanBeHeroes.org, with 50 percent of the purchase price going to famine relief.