The comic book industry and especially Marvel Comics have been tied to New York City since practically their inception. Gerard Raiti reports on how Marvel responded to the attacks of September 11th.
In the year since September 11, Marvel Comics has produced three tribute comic books and three new comic book series, under the group title The Call of Duty, inspired by the heroes of the Twin Towers tragedy. Marvels publication of these tribute comics, namely Heroes, A Moment of Silence, and The Amazing Spider-man #36, has garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Twin Towers Fund. While the aforementioned tribute books have raised relief funds for the families of victims, The Call of Duty provides emotional relief to thousands of youths each week while reminding them of the honor and dedication of our nations emergency personnel. All covers to Marvel tribute books and comics featuring superheroes in New York City also bear an emblem featuring the Twin Towers with the American ribbon wrapped above them.
September 11 has been the most significant event of the 21st century. It was a globally unifying tragedy whose ripples were felt throughout all walks of American life. It seems that no one, even in the remotest corners of our nation, escaped unscathed without knowing someone or being somehow connected with at least one person who suffered from the carnage that took place on that day. September 11 pierced the emotional fabric of our country in such a way that the effects are inevitably visible within the various sub-genres of the entertainment industry.
New York City is a world capital and the comic book industry has been integrally tied to the Big Apple since the days of R. F. Outcaults Yellow Kid in The New York World all the way back in 1894. More recently, New York City is the headquarters for comic book industry leaders Marvel and DC. Unlike DC Comics characters who reside in fictitious cities like Metropolis, Blüdhaven and Gotham City, most of Marvels characters dwell in real world locations. Manhattan has been home to a host of comic book superheroes in the Marvel Universe including Spider-man, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and Daredevil. Thus, of all the facets of the entertainment industry, perhaps Marvel Comics was uniquely poised to respond to last years tragic events. In the words of Marvels editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada: It would have been callous and irresponsible for [Marvel Comics] not to respond to the attacks.
For the Children
Yet despite the comic book industrys adamant insistence that the medium is not tailored toward children, the bedrock of the industrys audience for the last century has been children and teenagers. Moreover, in the last fifty years, comic books have been both an exciting collectible serial and a monthly emotional outlet. Within the confines of a comic book, good always triumphs over evil; heroes are ever-present to protect the innocent from havoc. Consequently, the comic book industry had the responsibility to the children, to their fanbase, to produce material that would tackle the grave emotional issues of September 11.
In the days following the attacks, as an intense fear diffused throughout our nation, there was at least a remote solace in the mettle of our countrys emergency workers, the heroes of New York City. Ideas quickly spawned at Marvel Comics to produce something to help New Yorkers and Americans. The problem quickly arose that comic books generally have a lead time of about three to six months, says Quesada. We knew we wouldnt raise as much money if we brought something out in six months. Someone in the office came up with the idea of a poster book. As soon as I heard poster book my ears perked up. We could tell a story with just pictures. It would be a tribute to the heroes. Thus, the brainchild for Heroes was created.
Heroes and Beyond
Heroes was Marvels response to September 11. It was a 64-page poster book that was released five weeks after the attacks. The comic is also a Whos Who of Marvels artists, who united to depict Marvels superheroes mourning for our nations great loss and honoring the real-life heroes who saved so many lives that day, while risking their own. Nearly all proceeds from the books sales went to the Twin Towers Fund. Its first printing, in excess of 100,000 copies, sold out almost as quickly as issues hit the shelves of Americas comic and hobby stores. Marvel seldom publishes second printings of its comics, but the publics and the medias penchant toward Heroes propelled Marvel to return to the printing press to help raise more money.
The next tribute book Marvel released was The Amazing Spider-man #36. This comic is extra special because Heroes and A Moment of Silence were one-shots while the continuity of Spider-man s storyline was interrupted to reveal the introspection of Marvels flagship superhero, one whos very superhero status is habitually marred by the curse that his own gifts cast upon his loved ones. The comic featured a special all-black cover, and the break in the storys continuity was a first for Marvel.
Nevertheless, the regular creative team of J. Michael Straczynski, formerly of Babylon 5, and John Romita, Jr. guided readers through a cataclysm that even Spider-man could not prevent within the confines of the Marvel Universe. The Amazing Spider-man #36 allowed adults and children to witness the devastation through the eyes of everyones favorite neighborhood Spider-man. Its script is succinct, yet as is the case with many great works of poetry and prose, less is often more. The opening pages read: Some things are beyond words. Beyond comprehension. Beyond forgiveness. Straczynskis language pervades a scholarly psychological wisdom that is often erroneously unassociated with comic books. In the weeks following the attacks in which The Amazing Spider-man #36 was written, I still marvel at Straczynskis acumen to verbalize such atrocities. Page 7 reads: The sane world will always be vulnerable to madmen, because we cannot go to where they go to conceive of such things. If anyone has ever questioned the power of comic books as a medium to derive meaning, to convey emotion, and to move us like the greatest of Shakespearean iambs, The Amazing Spider-man #36 is a testament to the puissance of colorful pictures and text.
The Call of Duty series was developed to explore the individual stories of New York's rescue workers. The Brotherhood, the first title in the series, is devoted to firefighters, and sold out in a day. Shortly after, Marvel published The Precinct featuring the NYPD and The Wagon (EMS).
Since both Heroes and The Amazing Spider-man #36 were so successful, Marvel published a third and final tribute book, A Moment of Silence. This comic, written by Bill Jemas and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna, follows 72-year old Tony Savas, a Port Authority building inspector, on September 11. While Heroes mourned the fallen emergency personnel and The Amazing Spider-man showed an introspective view of the attacks, A Moment of Silence elucidated the tragic events through the eyes of a courageous, yet fictional, victim. Perhaps the best evidence for the publics supporting Marvels September 11 tribute books is that then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani agreed to write the forward to A Moment of Silence. Although the comic also sold excessively high quantities, upwards of 50,000, it was the least successful of the three Marvel tribute books. However, when charity is concerned, there is no least successful.
Following the Call
At the beginning of 2002, the editorial staff at Marvel decided to start three comic book series devoted to the heroic exploits of those in New York who follow the duty of public service. Hence, three comic book titles under the heading The Call of Duty were created for each of New York Citys emergency personnel: The Brotherhood (firefighters), The Precinct (police), and The Wagon (emergency medical service). The Brotherhood, released in June, was the first title Marvel published; the others debuted in July and August respectively. None of the sales from The Call of Duty, however, go toward the Twin Towers Fund. The Brotherhood #1 sold-out on its first day of release though according to Quesada, it was mainly due to comic book shops under-ordering the title. Rather than go to a second printing of The Brotherhood #1, Marvel re-released a special collectors reprint edition on standard paper rather than the original printings glossy stock, which also contained some supplemental material. The Call of Duty is also part of Marvels PG line of comics, so the language and content is less appropriate for young children. Nevertheless, the PG rating is necessary in order to aptly display the daily travails of the characters. Lastly, although the three titles are currently independent, rumors are already circulating at Marvel that a crossover will eventually occur, the culmination of which will be a unified series simply titled The Call of Duty.
In short, Marvel Comics response to the events of September 11 was a simple one that hallmarks the very success and imperativeness of comic books in our youths culture: Superheroes are not cool because they have fantastical powers or because they skulk across moonlit rooftops in colorful tights. Children adore superheroes because of their honor, because of their unwavering willingness to lay down their own lives to save others, to save the innocent. Although Marvel has spent decades painting stories of daring deeds by superheroes, Marvel is now telling stories about the heroes just down the street from you: the local police, fire department, armed forces and emergency workers. Children can sustain the affirmation that they are safe, for our nation is one populated with heroes, and not just those featured in The Call, but every American who strives for the betterment of others. They are our nations X-Men, our Fantastic Four, our Justice League. Above all though, these books and series salute those who took up The Call in New York City and sacrificed everything.
Donations can still be made to the Twin Towers Fund. Checks can be mailed to: Twin Towers Fund 575 5th Avenue 2nd Floor Atrium New York, NY 10017
Gerard Raiti is a senior at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where he is majoring in English, Music, and Computer Science. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Currently, he is interning as a Business Intelligence Research Analyst for ClientLogic. In 2000, he earned the diploma of The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, UK in classical piano. He has been writing about animation for various publications since 1997 because he loves animation and all things Disney.