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Wolverine is going to berserker rage THE HELL out of hunger (and maybe Oxfam America, too) – X-Men: Heroes for Hope #1

September 16, 2012

I always jumble the title to this mid-1980s benefit book with the similarly intentioned DC effort, Heroes Against Hunger. So that they both become Heroes for Hunger and Heroes Against Hope. Wonderful.

In my defense, it should be pointed out that the confusion is rather easy. Both comics were produced a year apart — Hope in 1985, Hunger in 1986, and both had Marvel and DC casts battling African famine, the roiling cause celebre of the time. Both had all-star “We Are the World” assemblages (with some overlap) of talent pooling their efforts to craft a meaty comic book to raise some money. So a little cerebral blending is permissible. So lay off.

And this jumbling, this natural juxtaposition, also invites an obvious question: How do they stack up against one another?

In simple story terms, both comics share similar villains, each of whom psychically “feed off human misery” or similar gobbledygook, and hence have found a bountiful feast in sad, dry, dusty, rib-protruding Ethiopia. Both books also suffer from difficult narratives, since no amount of coordination can easily streamline artistic talents (some not familiar with comics) that naturally want to pull things in a thousand directions. When you have a page like the following, that reads like an FBI map of a mafia hierarchy, you’re going to have trouble:

Hope has the X-Men coming face to face with the worst of human suffering, and the larger roster of characters perhaps contributes to the somewhat scattered feel of the story. Hunger focused on Superman, Batman and a reformed Grinch version of Lex Luthor, and that unfurled in much more linear fashion. Much of the division of labor in Hope comes by allowing the different teams of creators to depict harrowing visions caused by the X-Men’s unknown adversary, and things hence scat and bebop all over the place. Some of these digressions work. Some don’t.

But really, all of this is skipping the big story associated with this effort, one that Marvel Editor Jim Shooter recounts quite bitterly (justifiably so) here. It’s worthy of a digression. To give you the bullet point version (though I suggest you check that link, if only to savor such golden nuggets as Stephen King dropping a 5,000-word brick of a script for his three-page contribution), Shooter conceived the project and herded the cats needed to fill out the talent pool, and agreed in principle with Oxfam America, a famine relief charity, that they would receive the proceeds from the book’s sale. Things went along smoothly, the project was completed and ready to head to the printers, but Oxfam had requested to see the finished product before it was released.

And they hated it. More specifically, they were offended by it, calling it racist, sexist, and everything else under the sun. It was none of those things (maybe for someone living in a vanilla bubble), and Shooter and Marvel kindly requested that someone from Oxfam come to the Marvel offices and explain just what the goddamn hell the problem was. Oxfam obliged, sending a high-priced attorney (Shooter’s venom darts for him still have potency even at this remove of years) who amplified the idiocy and lobbed gems like accusing Marvel of stealing the book’s logo from Janet Jackson, and refusing to hear Marvel’s explanation that the Janet Jackson who designed it was their graphic designer Janet Jackson, and not the one that would one day flash a pert breast for all the world to see.

So Marvel wound up giving a pile of money to the American Friends Service Committee.

No good deed…

Back to the comic itself, just to wash that sour taste out of out mouths.

This was set during one of Magneto’s 729 babyface turns, when he was leading the X-Men in the absence of Professor X (Magneto’s mutability made him the comic book equivalent of pro wrestling’s Ric Flair — WOOOO), and the roster — Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, Rachel Summers and Colossus — was all second generation. One of the nicest features of the comic was the return of John Byrne and Terry Austin to illustrating the X-Men Universe. Here they are picturizing a Louise Simonson penned discussion between Colossus and Nightcrawler, as Colossus gives a RUSSIAN MACHINE NEVER BREAK lecture and has a Frank Drebin fight with a towel:

Of the various writer contributions, the only one that truly stands out is Alan Moore’s. He never really dug into the Marvel Universe they way that he did for DC, and his short Magneto vignette really steals the show (hey, it has Hitler!). I don’t know if it’s “worth the price of admission” good, but it’s close. Artistically, a person would likely be most taken with what Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz did with Harlan Ellison’s words. Wolverine is out in the wilderness, tracking and doing his general Wolverine thing, when he has one of those nightmarish visions just like all his teammates. IT’S NUDE LOGAN VERSUS WOLVERINE, PEOPLE. Thanks to Miller’s unique Sienkiewicz-amplified style, what follows reads like a combination of the Batman/Mutant leader fights in The Dark Knight Returns and the Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent junkyard fight in Superman III:

Just from a plot perspective, though, these few spectacular interludes aren’t enough to rescue a book that wanders around far too much and has far too little resolution of any sort. (The villain is unspeakably lame, like something sprung from the worst of the original Star Trek.) Of course, satisfactory resolution was impossible, because the X-Men couldn’t fix a famine any more that we mere mortals could, and the DC counterparts would have the same problem the next year (and they had to sit through a lecture from a Peace Corps ninny to boot). What you get instead are small, schmaltzy victories like this (Archie Goodwin, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson):

I should conclude by emphatically stating that I’M NOT CRITICIZING THE BOOK’S PURPOSE. Only it’s storytelling merits. I find DC’s later version to be a marginally better product, but that might be my anti-mutant prejudice shining through. Whatever its qualities, and outside of the money that it raised a quarter of a century ago, Heroes for Hope now exists mostly as a lesson that no good deed goes unpunished.

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