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We Are the World: The Comic Book – Heroes Against Hunger

October 16, 2011

“We Are the World” is a musical touchstone of the 1980s. The Michael Jackson-penned hit — back when Michael Jackson was still cool, long before Jesus Juice — was a well-meaning attempt to alleviate the genuine suffering of that decade’s (literal) cause célèbre, the Ethiopian famine. It seemed like every recording artist that was anything back in those days found their way to that one studio to solo a few words or lend their cords to the chorus. As with most supergroups, artistically it was a complete clusterfuck. I still laugh every time I hear Bruce Springsteen screaming his line — it’s the voice approximation of Mr. Kool-Aid crashing through a wall. And one wryly smiles at the thought of these fabulously wealthy celebrities recording a song to raise money through album sales to VASTLY less affluent ordinary folks. The song generated a lot of cash for famine relief, but one imagines that the same amount could have been found in the couch cushions of their assorted mansions.

Those folks tried to do something nice, so I’ll lay off.

Musicians weren’t the only ones to pool their good intentions in one unified bazooka blast. Enter Heroes Against Hunger, a 1986 comic that brought together a cast of thousands to script, pencil, ink, letter and color one little book:

As can be seen, most of the leading names of that time pitched in, and even with the biggest stars in the lineup one can’t make the same couch cushion critique as you could with “We Are the World.” But how did it play? Was there a Springsteen screaming into your ears at any point?

The story opens with Superman doing what he can to stop the famine, one freshly top-soiled field at a time. It’s hard work, even for a Man of Steel, and it’s not made easier when a mouthy Peace Corps volunteer (Lee Ann Layton) gives him an earful (Denys Cowan pencils — I’ll give you the penciller for selections and let you determine the script, inks etc. from the above spreadsheet):

Would anyone blame the big guy if he told this bitch off? “Ain’t got no time fo’ ya hos!” Peace Corps people… Khakied sanctimony. They can be the absolute worst. Let’s just say I had a bad experience once.

The next load of life-giving dirt is blasted out of his hands, so Superman hooks up with Batman, who’s on the continent investigating a downed Wayne Foundation relief plane. They decide to pool their efforts and look for help in a most unlikely place (Keith Giffen, whose way of drawing capes I can’t help but like):

Here’s my personal favorite artist and it seems everyone else’s personal bane, Carmine Infantino, giving us Superman’s first confrontation with the extra-terrestrial menace that’s foiling relief efforts:

Power-Suited Lex (God, I’ve always loved that outfit, even when Superman was punching a hole in it), who agrees to help fight the famine so that he can make Superman look ineffectual, has his motivations change when confronted first-hand with its horrors:

His Grinch moment, no? And I don’t think they could have given those depressing panels to anyone better suited to them than Barry Windsor-Smith.

Latter-day Jack Kirby — in his Super Powers phase — lent his talents to the cause (as well as some Kirby dots in previous panels — and Curt Swan didn’t draw over Superman’s face this time):

Remember that alien meddler? Would you want anyone other than Joe Kubert depicting his comeuppance?:

In the end, though, not even the combined resources of our three principals are enough to rejuvenate the soil. Lex’s earthy Helsinki Formula fails, and Human Shame Factory Layton stops by:

The thesis is that we all have to do our part, but after watching Superman, Batman AND Lex Luthor take a swing and miss, would it be off base to wonder just what the hell it is that mere mortals are to do? Besides open their wallets and throw money at the problem?

Let’s ignore the charitable message for a moment. The layout of the book is simple but effective. With the George Perez group handling the first and last pages, that leaves it so that every time you turn one, a new team is handling the two pages laid out before you (no ads). Does that overcome the too many cooks in the kitchen effect? Not really, but it’s the best way to go about it, and it helps. You don’t get the impression that there were dozens of scripters banging away at typewriters, and the assortment of artists makes it fun visually. It definitely stands head and shoulders above that derivative Paul Dini/Alex Ross Peace on Earth pablum.

Plus you could devise some manner of drinking game out of the myriad changes in the length of Batman’s ears. That alone makes it worthwhile if the “money for charity” aspect isn’t enough for you, you cold-hearted bastard.

Did this thing do any good? Some scratch was raised, that we know. While the crisis long ago passed the acute phase, Ethiopia and many other spots in Africa are still prone to devastating droughts. I guess that means that Layton bitch is somewhere wagging her finger in people’s faces. We can’t win ’em all.

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