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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

X-amining X-Men: Heroes for Hope Starring the X-Men #1

"Heroes for Hope"
1985

In a Nutshell 
The X-Men battle a psychic scavenger named Hungry in Africa

Story: Claremont, Nocenti, Wrightson, Starlin & Shooter
Editors: Ann Nocenti & Chris Claremont
Assistant Editors: Pat Blevins & Terry Kavanagh


Plot
One by one, each of the X-Men suffer a series of psychic hallucinations that turn their fears, hopes and desires against, leaving them feeling worn out and exhausted. Rachel is able to pinpoint the source of the attacks, and the shaken team travels to famine-stricken Africa. They stop their search for the entity attacking them in order to aid relief workers ministering to a village of starving and sick people. A few nights later, Rogue absorbs each of her teammates' powers and locates the temple which contains their foe: a psychic scavenger named Hungry. Rogue and Hungry battle, but when Rogue tries to absorb the creature, it takes over her body. As Rogue, Hungry attacks Storm, but gradually, the rest of the X-Men awaken, reclaiming their powers and weakening Hungry to the point where Rachel is able to drive it from Rogue's body, and the creature flees. In the wake of their confrontation, the X-Men accept that Hungry will always exist so long as humans suffer, but also that they, and all of humanity, must battle the despair it spreads with hope.   


Firsts and Other Notables
Heroes for Hope is a one-shot comic, the brainchild of artists Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson, in which all the profits from the issue (and the money that would have been paid to the creators involved) were donated to famine relief for Africa. Janet Jackson, whose brother orchestrated the similar charity effort behind "We are the World", designed the cover logo. The inside back cover of the issue contains an editorial from Jim Shooter discussing how the issue came about and what is being donated.


As indicated by the credits page, this is a jam issue, with dozens of creators from inside and outside the comics industry participating, with each artistic team contributing 1-4 pages of story to the issue. Notable comic book creators involved include Alan Moore (the famed British scribe, author of Watchmen), Frank Miller (who contributed to the Wolverine portion of the story), Stan Lee and John Byrne (both returning to the X-Men), while creators involved from outside comics include Stephen King, A Song of Ice and Fire scribe George R. R. Martin and acclaimed sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison.  

The villain of this story is called alternately Hungry and the Entity (not to be confused with the manifestation of Xavier's dark side which troubled the X-Men in issue #106 and the X-Men/Micronauts limited series), a psychic being which Storm believes may have evolved alongside humantity and feeds on its hopelessness and despair.

The cover of this issue is drawn by Art Adams, and the specific image of Wolverine will be lifted from this cover and used on various Marvel licensed products, including near-life size cardboard standees given to comic shops.

The Chronology Corner
Following this issue, the X-Men and New Mutants appear briefly in Secret Wars II #7, with Magneto and Kitty then appearing in New Mutants #36 before Uncanny X-Men #202. 

A Work in Progress
At one point, Colossus ends up trapped in the school's pool, and worries about drowning, despite the fact that he doesn't need to breathe while armored.


Nightcrawler teleports with five people at one time, the most he's ever teleported at once.


After spending a day distributing famine relief to starving people, Kitty bemoans the X-Men's relative helplessness, as Colossus notes they are not God and can only do so much.


When Rogue takes each of the X-Men's powers, her clothes change to reflect their various costumes, which isn't how her power works and isn't really shown again.


I Love the 80s
Heroes for Hope is one of several charitable artistic works from the mid 80s created to help spread awareness and raise funds for famine relief in Africa, such as the songs "We are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?". Though the X-Men battling a creature called Hungry is a bit on the nose and comes dangerously close to crossing the line into twee-ness, thankfully nothing in this issue is quite as sanctimonious and unintentionally-hilarious as some of the lines in "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (a song that, to be clear, is nonetheless one of my favorite Christmas songs).  

Rachel Summers, Crybaby
Not surprisingly, Rachel reliving her past, cries. Though in her defense, this time at least the villain is trying to make her cry.


Human/Mutant Relations
It is said that in the famine-stricken African village, there is no energy for fear or hatred of mutants. No word, unfortunately, on whether or not the villagers are aware of Christmas.  


Chris Claremont on the genesis of Heroes for Hope 
"The genesis of the original idea was [with] Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson. It just popped into their heads one evening, and they thought it was really neat, and they called Jim Shooter, and he thought it was really neat. He went to Mike Hobson and Jim Galton, and they thought it was really neat. At which point, somewhere in there, Starlin and Wrightson called me and said, 'Look, we want to do this book, we'd like to use the X-Men. Since you write The X-Men, would you like to be involved?' And I said, 'Hell, yes!' And they ran about collecting the artists, and I took care of the writers. And then basically, Berni [Wrightson], Jim [Starlin], Ann Nocenti and I sat down one afternoon and hammered together the basic premise of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, and then - far more slowly than I would have liked - I hammered it into a plot … we're all donating our time and the money we would have been paid. Marvel will be donating its profits; Curtis Circulation will be donating its profits, down the line. It's in the same manner that the record 'We Are the World,' was done."

Thompson, Kim."Interview with Chris Claremont." Amazing Heroes July 1985: p57.

Teebore's Take
It's tough to criticize something like this. At the end of the day, its sole existence is to generate money for famine relief, and that's a noble enough intent that the urge to sit back and pick nits lessens. Obviously, a case can be made for ensuring the final product is appealing enough so as to draw in the most buyers and generate the most relief, and while I have no idea how much money this issue actually made in the end, the final effort is at least on the level of contemporaneous comic books (and certainly rises above something like, say, the promotional X-Men at the State Fair of Texas). The story itself also manages to strike the right balance between making the real world problem this issue is trying to address apparent without offering up a quick fix to the problem that could only happen in a comic book (ie the X-Men don't punch starvation to death or anything like that).

In terms of the X-Men, its certainly another sign of the characters' growing popularity that Marvel turned to the X-Men, rather than, say, Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, to headline its big charity issue, but beyond that, this issue, not surprisingly, doesn't add much to the ongoing X-Men mythos. The real draw here (beyond the charitable motivations) is the jam itself, as it affords us an opportunity to see creators we wouldn't ordinarily see working on X-Men take a crack at the characters, whether they be authors who rarely work in comics, like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin, or artists who never otherwise got involved with the X-Men, like Richard Corben or Howard Chaykin. This isn't groundbreaking or terribly relevant stuff, but at the end of the day, there's a charming novelty to it, and a good cause behind it, and that's good enough. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, we look at the unfolding of one of comics' biggest retcons in Avengers #263 & Fantastic Four #286, followed next week by a trip to San Fransisco in Uncanny X-Men #202. 

9 comments:

  1. I remember being put-off by the book when I was a kid. Scenes like Kitty shriveling into a skeleton or that photo-realistic image of starving African children were pretty scary for a seven year-old. Magneto's nightmare was also intense.

    That said, later on I did get one major man crush on Colossus' story. I remember preening my scantily-clad, scrawny form (at the mirror) like Peter did at the end of his nightmare.

    Still, I ended up liking Ororo's story. Forgive me, but I did applaud the ending of Storm giving the pies to the children. For one moment, Mohawk Storm went back to her Earth-goddess-mother personality.

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  2. Hello Teebore,

    Thought I'd, finally, respond to one of these things. I discovered your blog earlier this year and have been hooked on your X-amining X-Men posts (as if my screen name wasn't an indicator, I'm an X-fan).

    I just had to link to an entertaining post from Jim Shooter's blog a couple years back about the development of this project -- http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/09/heroes-for-hope-and-why-i-dont-like.html -- interesting stuff. The highlight has to be Marvel's dealings with the organization that they, originally, wanted to donate the proceeds to. The representative of that organization was a bit of a douche. You must read to fully appreciate.

    I also need to correct you on one item. The Janet Jackson who designed the logo is not the one you're thinking of. There was, in fact, a, completely unrelated, production staffer at Marvel in the 80s named Janet Jackson (that'd be this lady). That point of confusion is one of the punchlines of Jim's story.

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  3. @angmc43: I remember being put-off by the book when I was a kid.

    I know what you mean. There was definitely an atypicalness to it that didn't quite sit right with me when I was kid, just because it was so different from everything else I'd been reading.

    @Cerebro: I discovered your blog earlier this year and have been hooked on your X-amining X-Men posts (as if my screen name wasn't an indicator, I'm an X-fan).

    Love the screen name! And thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoy the posts.

    The representative of that organization was a bit of a douche.

    Holy crap, no kidding! Thanks for sharing that link - it was great to read a little of the history behind it.

    The Janet Jackson who designed the logo is not the one you're thinking of.

    You know, I naturally assumed it wasn't, but then I saw a few references in other places to it being THE Janet Jackson, so I rolled with it (helped along by the fact that the Jackson family was involved in famine relief charity).

    I appreciate the correction; I'll probably edit it into the post, just as to not to lead accidentally lead anyone else astray and perpetuate what is apparently a widespread error.

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  4. I like this issue a lot. I think the first part of it is better, as the writing/art styles changing works naturally with the cutting to different characters.

    Alan Moore's Magneto sequence is a real winner. Claremont has commented in interviews about how Moore nailed the character perfectly in that sequence.

    Brian Bolland and John Bolton doing the Storm sequence was great -- two of my favorite British artists.

    Nocenti's take on Rachel is awfully good, I think. Rachel confronting Dark Phoenix is a natural for a dream sequence and I don't think it was ever done outside of this issue. Not back then, anyway.

    Byrne/Austin re-teaming to draw Colossus was really sweet.

    Making Stan Lee the first writer in the issue is a great touch.

    Harlan Ellison writing Wolverine seems like it should be awesome, but that bit disappoints me. But I love that Frank Miller draws it.

    Stephen King's bit is interesting just for being so King-ish.

    The comic kind of loses something, I think, once all the X-Men have to reunite and then it's just handing off the whole team from one writer/artist to the next. It gets a bit mushy, and the action sequence is kind of mushy. Starting out with Rogue having all the powers is neat, but of course given the premise they couldn't really do a satisfying ending to the fight. They had to get all allegorical. :)

    Still, I think the first half of the comic is really neat. I kind of wish they did more comics like this. They wouldn't necessarily have to be ABOUT a cause, even though giving the proceeds TO that cause remains an admirable idea.

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  5. Oh also, the first few pages, drawn by John Buscema and Klaus Janson, and featuring Wolverine in action ... predicts Buscema/Janson being the first regular art team on the Claremont-penned "Wolverine" ongoing series, which was only about three years away at this point.

    I feel like this might be the first time Buscema drew the character? In which case ... history-making! (Minor comic-book history, but still.)

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  6. @Jason: I think the first part of it is better, as the writing/art styles changing works naturally with the cutting to different characters.

    Yeah, that technique is better suited to the first half, rather than the second, when the individual character vignettes give way to a more linear story involving everyone.

    Making Stan Lee the first writer in the issue is a great touch.

    I've always liked too.

    Stephen King's bit is interesting just for being so King-ish.

    It might just be because I'm a big King fan (and thus have read a lot of his stuff), but during my most re-read of this issue I immediately came across that section and went "this is Stephen King's part" just based on the sentence construction.

    They wouldn't necessarily have to be ABOUT a cause, even though giving the proceeds TO that cause remains an admirable idea.

    Agreed, and you also raise an interesting question: while I get that this issue was at least in part also about raising awareness of the plight of the hungry in Africa as well as to raise money for the same, I wonder if it would have made even more money for charity if it was just a regular issue of X-Men?

    Like, if Marvel just said "we're going to donate the profits of issue #206 (or whatever) to a famine relief charity", would that have earned as much money for the charity as a special jam issue?

    I feel like this might be the first time Buscema drew the character? In which case ... history-making!

    As far I can remember you're right, so yeah, that's another little piece of history making for this issue. :)

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  7. Funny to see this posted, as I've been getting reacquainted with the X-Men lately, and pulled out this issue just this week.

    One thing I'm surprised nobody commented on was Frank Miller's Wolverine part. It obviously fit, since he drew the original mini-series. But in addition to that, each page layout predicts his Dark Knight layouts--whereas DK's are based on a 4x4 grid, each of these have the same layout for half, and a half-page panel on the other side. Even the drawing style is practically identical to DK's, as opposed to his older style on the Wolvie series. Considering the timing of this issue, I have to think he worked on it just before (or even during?) his work on DK. Which makes it even cooler.

    And imagine my surprise to see George R. R. Martin's name in the credits, who is now synonymous with Game of Thrones!

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  8. @anonymous: Considering the timing of this issue, I have to think he worked on it just before (or even during?) his work on DK. Which makes it even cooler.

    I don't know the timing of DKR exactly, but I suspect you're right, which is indeed pretty cool.

    And imagine my surprise to see George R. R. Martin's name in the credits, who is now synonymous with Game of Thrones!

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure Claremont and Martin are friends on some level, as I believe Claremont also worked on Martin's Wild Cards series.

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  9. I was a sucker for jam issues and of course the proceeds went to a worthy cause, but neither this nor the DC version (also spearheaded by Starlin & Wrightson) were more than — or even equal to, really — the sum of their parts. Quality definitely varied from section to section. It pretty much has to.

    What the F is Logan wearing in those early pages at the mansion? Oh, JRJr., your fashion blindness it is to laugh.

    I'm reading this for the first time in decades and I kept waiting for the panel where Storm or Kitty says it's a good thing Wolverine's senses told him the postman was an illusion or a robot or whatever and he says they didn't. Anyway, my point is: Shooter approved Wolverine skragging the poor guy without any lip service to how if he disappeared he must never have been real and human in the first place?

    The Byrne/Austin reunion was a bit of a treat, despite the meh Louise Simonson scripting, but it would've been even more special with Orz lettering instead of Jim Novak (who by then I think was a frequent Byrne collaborator) just to complete the veneer.

    Moore's stuff was exactly what you'd expect, in a good way. Although what Corben was given to illustrate was definitely the section of the story most suited to his style, Toad especially, I've never warmed to his work despite recognizing how good he is at what he does if it's to your taste.

    Would I ever have loved to see a Steve Rude X-Men story during the Paul Smith era! I'd still buy one set in that time, not that it'll happen, and despite the fact that the inclusion and/or exclusion of since-then continuity would drive half of everybody crazy, not to mention that I'm not sure who'd be qualified to write it at this point.

    The sequence penciled by Miller was interesting, coming after his Wolverine, between DC's Rōnin and Dark Knight, especially for being inked by Sienkiewicz — as the pair were either already beginning their Daredevil and Elektra collaborations or, intriguing to think, were paired on this by the coordinators, leading to those collaborations (probably the former, lest any rumors get started here; there was zero research done before typing that). Ellison's caption breaks are frustratingly weird, though. I don't know whether they were planned by him or by John Workman — whose lettering here is decidedly subpar for him and also casts the Miller/Sienkiewicz art in a poorer light than it deserves — or even by an editor dealing with a prose author unused to writing for comics.

    Pick of the litter to me is the King/Wrightson/Jones/Orz/Scheele pages, top-notch contributions from everyone involved.

    I know that I shouldn't find Hitler's line about Magneto being an "apt pupil" funny, but I couldn't help but flash to the fact that Ian McKellen starred in a film by that name (directed by Bryan Singer, based on the Stephen King novella).

    This is presumably a semi-canonical story at best, fitting into the X-Men saga if you want it to but not to be drawn from as continuity given the diverse hands and special circumstances. Rogue's ease of absorbing everyone's abilities, the Phoenix energy in particular, would seem to be a giant aberration. I'm curious if the story was ever referred to in the main titles.

    I would gently correct you re Janet Jackson, but Cerebro did it in a far timelier fashion.

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