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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.

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