The X-Men in: Heroes For Hope!

In 1985, the superstars of Marvel Comics got together for their own fight against famine.
August 15, 2006
As far as causes célèbres go, there's none bigger than that of African famine relief in the mid-80s. Oh for that golden age of the American empire, when the biggest international concern was starvation in Ethiopia, and the Western world could assuage its collective conscience by paying lip service to famine relief, and then retreat to the empyrean, electric world of Nintendo, Back To The Future, and Nike shoes.

In late 1984, Bob Geldof organised the now legendary 'Band Aid' supergroup of British pop musicians, whose charity fundraising ditty "Do They Know It's Christmas?" became the top-selling UK single of all time, a record unbroken for the next 12 years. The song has since become a permanent fixture (along with John Lennon's "Happy Xmas - War Is Over") on Christmastime radio. It just ain't Christmas until you've heard "War Is Over" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" on your car radio while you're rushing around the city filling your backseat with consumer electronics and seasonal food. It sure makes you feel guilty about the materialistic excess of the season. Who likes melancholia? I do!

The success of Geldof's project led to a similar charity team-up of American biggest pop singers, suggested by Harry Belafonte and spearheaded by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. "We Are The World" was recorded on the night of the 1985 American Music Awards (January 28), and was released on March 7 of that year. The song was a success on all fronts, raising a reported $50 million dollars for Ethiopian famine relief and sweeping the Grammys.

Not to be outdone by a bunch of pop stars, the folks at Marvel Comics decided to do their part against famine by gathering together a superstar team of writers and artists for what they called a 'jam' book. I believe Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter coined the term, which is probably a manifestation of his desire to be all cool like a musician. Anyone who's ever read a Bullpen Bulletins page from the 80s knows that Jim Shooter tried really hard to be hip and 'with it'. It's part of his charm. I think I'm both the biggest and only Jim Shooter fan in all of comics fandom.

As an aside- just like the US pop artists had copied the concept of a benefit supergroup from their UK counterparts, DC Comics later jumped on the bandwagon with their 'Heroes Against Hunter' special. It's hard to be critical when it's for a good cause, though.

Jim Shooter's letter explaining the genesis of the project. He was always writing these lengthy epistles to the fans.

The concept initially came from horror comics legend Berni Wrightson, and was largely executed by writer/artist/all round GOD OF COMICS Jim Starlin, Jim Shooter, and the man who needs no introduction, Chris Claremont.

Let's take a look at the credits page just to see what an awesome line-up they managed to put together.

There are some really fantastic teams there. Stephen King and Berni Wrightson is a dream come true for any horror fan. Harlan Ellison and Frank Miller is a weird one. I've never been a big Harlan Ellison fan, but it is interesting to see him working in a medium he's not native to.

Alan Moore and Richard Corben is another awesome pairing. Alan Moore writing the X-Men? Fuck yes!

You have to feel sorry for poor Ed Bryant and Brent Anderson. They get stuck with doing the one page fillers between the superstars.

The one that excites me the most is Bill Mantlo and Charlie Vess. Bill Mantlo is one of the most prolific writers in Marvel history, and also one of the most underrated. His steady contribution to the Marvel mythos in the late 70s and throughout the 80s speaks more to me of the general brilliance of Marvel in that time period than most of the superstar creators. And Charlie Vess is an art legend.

It's fitting that they would bring Stan Lee in to script the first few pages. That's like getting Cy Young to throw the first pitch at an all-star game.

Hold on a second- Logo design by Janet Jackson?!?! Did Janet have a career as a commercial illustrator that I'm not aware of?! Just kidding. It's a funny coincidence, though, considering Michael Jackson's role in "We Are The World".

Now, before we go on with the review of the comic, I want to try something. Whip out your media player of choice and make a new playlist with the following songs:

Tears for Fears - Shout
A-ha - Take On Me
Simple Minds - Don't You (Forget About Me)
Phil Collins - Sussudio
Oingo Boingo - Weird Science
Prince & The Revolution - Raspberry Beret
Phil Collins - Don't Lose My Number
Starship: We Built This City
John Parr - St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)
Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Huey Lewis & The News - The Power Of Love
REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling

And, of course:

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?
USA for Africa - We Are The World

If you don't have any of these songs, give yourself a big punch in the face from me, and then go acquire them. Legally, bien sur!

That's a nice selection of some of my favourite pop hits from 1985, just to set the mood while you're reading through the article. I call it the 'Article Jukebox'.

It's funny that I've already written like a bajillion words, and I'm only now getting to the cover of the actual thing I'm writing an article about here.

Pretty standard cover here, with that New Teen Titans/New Mutants #1 tableau of the superteam running out from centerpoint of the cover.

I really like the title, "Heroes For Hope". It's nice to have superheroes for something, rather than against it. Reminds me of the whole 'war on poverty' and 'war on drugs' thing. Positive messages are good.

Nice splash page. Rachel Summers pokes her head out of the Xavier Mansion to grab the mail, only to be confronted with some horrible sight.

That's pure Stan Lee gold there. Why is this girl screaming, Stan? I bet you're gonna show us!

The rest of the X-Men get to the entrance on the double to see that the reason for Rachel's bloodcurdling and stylistically brilliant (it's as if Hitchcock were a comics letterer...) cry is that the Institute has somehow been transplanted into the middle of a barren desert.

After retrieving the comatose postman (rain, hail, sleet, snow, or blistering desert heat!), Wolverine decides to do his usual thing and claw him in the face. Buuuuut it turns out that it was all an illusion. I like how the script didn't include any exposition about Wolverine knowing the postman wasn't real because of his heightened sense of smell. That's just a given now. If Wolverine claw-punches someone in the face for no reason, it's because 'they don't smell right'.

The X-Men go back to business as usual after this fiasco. Just another morning at the X-Mansion, right? WRONG.

The story calls for a series of psychic assaults launched on each X-Man in turn. Typical 'our heroes are subjected to their greatest subconscious fears' type stuff. It's a pretty good structural idea considering the nature of the project, allowing for each writer to do his or her thing without the need for all that time-consuming and confusing collaborative synthesis.

First up is Colossus, who is mocked by the advent of some steely apparitions of his team-mates. I'm surprised that in the 90s, when Toy Biz was mining the X-Men franchise for anything they could possibly render in cheap plastic and sell to the kids, that they didn't release a line of 'Metal X-Men' based on this. Just dunk some regular figures in chrome primer, and cha-ching $$$!

This is more than Colossus can bear, and he curls up in the foetal position, sucking his thumb and crying whatever the Russian word for mother is.

With their biggest powerhouse reduced to a snivelling baby, the leadership are still in tete-a-tete mode. Magneto does his emo routine, in his stupid costume. It looks like Wonder Man's costume upside down, and with Jessica Rabbit's gloves thrown in for good measure.

No great importance to the review in this picture, I just like it cos it has a picture of Wolverine eating a banana. That's an awesome symbol of the obsession with minutiae in Chris Claremont's X-Men.

Oh, and Nightcrawler makes a fat joke about Kitty Pryde. What a fucking asshole.

This is one of my favourite sequences in the issue. Stephen King and Berni Wrightson. Oh yeah. Kitty goes to grab herself a chicken wing or something from the fridge, only to be surprised by an evil Death-type being in a cloak.

I know you can't see the text, but you don't need to. I just wanted to showcase this awesome Berni Wrightson layout.

So Kitty's "greatest fear" is going hungry. Wow, why don't they just draw an arrow pointing the words 'FATTY FATTY FAT FAT' at her?

Nightcrawler finds the wizened old hag, which leads to his own Twilight Zone experience.

As you would expect with an intrusion into Nightcrawler's psyche, it's all about Christian imagery and moral dilemmas. A good artistic flourish here from Charlie Vess shows one of the reasons I like the 1980s Marvel/DC 'house styles' so much. Rendering the spirit woman in plain yellow is an effective, simple way of communicating her etherealness (ethereality?). These days there'd be all kind of crappy Photoshop filters applied to achieve some kind of effect, but back in those days that kinda stuff was done very simply and beautifully.

Kurt is offered the chance to sacrifice himself so that one other person might breath the air and eat the food he would. He declines, and thinks himself a coward for it. I think he did the right thing.

The next to fall prey to the spiritual onslaught is Magneto, a task given to Alan Moore and Richard Corben, probably the writer and artist least 'in sync' with the X-Men in this entire thing.

He is offered a glimpse of a world where his dream of mutant supremacy has been realised, and of course finds it's not all it's cracked up to be.

I like the confuzzled tone there. "Yes. Yes of course. All glory to Magneto." It's as if he's been asked by a waiter if he'd like the pepper grinder, not become the undisputed ruler of the planet.


And now Magneto Rex is overrun by the risen bodies of all those slain to achieve his post. I just really like this panel. Richard Corben sure likes drawing teeming masses.

It's Rachel's turn once again, and you know that means she's going back to the future. She's confronted by a horde of look-alike mutant-hunting Hounds, reminding her of her part in that dystopian future.

Forget about all Rachel Summer's monologues on not repeating the sins of the mother. As soon as she gets into the slightest spot of trouble she opens a can of Phoenix Force on these suckers.

And, speak of the devil, Jean Grey arrives for a nice Freudian moment.

I'm not even going to write about this one. It's Harlan Ellison and Frank Miller on Wolverine, but I can't be bothered. It's just the same old tension between Wolverine's human and animal sides.

Finally we come to Chris Claremont writing Storm's encounter, and boy- is it a doozy.

Storm is confronted by a carnival ringmaster type guy, who invites her to 'step right up' to the Hall Of Mirrors. I guess this is supposed to lampoon Storm's perpetual seriousness. Yeah, lighten up, Ororo.

Nice layout by Brian Bolland there, with the panels becoming the jagged, distorted mirrors. Storm is shown various images of her possible self, each one more hilarious than the last. I would love to give this issue to a diehard feminist.

Storm's had enough of this nonsense, and attempts to take control of the situation until-- cream pie bukkake! Chris Claremont, you devil.

Storm gets drawn into the crazy carnival games, and in probably the first concrete appearance of the theme of this story, she realises that it's wrong to waste food. Nice work by Brian Bolland here.

Having defeated the psychic attacker by feeding illusionary cream pies to illusionary people, Storm returns to her compadres for some more discussion.

Wolverine won't stand for it, though. He's done with talkin'. Wolverine is always done with talkin'. Imagine pizza night at the Xavier Mansion:

COLOSSUS: Then it is settled! One ham-and-pineapple, one supreme with none of the, how you say, anchovies, and one half pepperoni/half cheese.

NIGHTCRAWLER: Nein. I would like some anchovies.

KITTY PRYDE: And I should really be watching my weight-- do they have any low carb options?


Here we get a nice crazy backwards over the shoulder look from Wolverine, thanks to Steve Rude.

Wolvie's outburst galvanises the X-Men into action, so they hop into the Blackbird. Cue Batmobile music.

Courtesy of Rachel's powers, the X-Men track the psychic presence that's been harassing them to the continent of Africa. Upon arriving, they are met with this horrible scene of deprivation:

I hate to inject levity into a situation of such gravity, but their outfits are just so ridiculous. 'Logan of Arabia'! He actually looks like a really bad Bob Kane sketch of Batman.

Before long, a fleet of DC-17s arrive, full of supplies. I like to imagine that these are the supplies paid for with the proceeds from "We Are The World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?", just to tie everything together nicely.

Despite being the strongest on the team, Colossus takes a few minutes for a breather. He's caught out by the ever-vigilant Wolverine, and then makes up some bullshit about being disillusioned with the whole affair. Yeah right, Colossus. You're just lazy.

That night, masochistic Rogue becomes so frustrated that she hasn't had her turn of psychic punishment yet that she flips out and decides to hunt down the evil being herself. Either that or she links the terrible famine with the same guy behind the torment of the X-Men. I'll go with the first one.

Nice montage/collage of Rogue sneaking around the campsite stealing all her team-mates' powers here. And with that, she becomes:


Storm's not impressed with this, however, and calls Rogue out on it. If you're wondering why Storm hasn't been subjected to Rogue's kiss of death, it's because at this point in X-Men history she is without her powers. Probably should've explained that earlier.

Using the purloined psychic powers of Rachel Summers, the Rogue hybrid traces the presence of the X-Men's harasser to this desert hideaway. And it's on. You know it's on. Look at how she's standing. It's so on!

Upon entering the crypt, Rogue is jumped by this Dungeons & Dragons reject, presumably the avatar of the psychic being.

The sheer power of this being allows it to become the dominant personality in the new hybrid.

Luckily, Storm tracked Rogue here, and having observed the gruesome synthesis...

... launches into some frenzied kung-fu fighting!

As all good villains are wont to do, the creature tells Storm its life story.

Turns out it's a primeval god-force that feeds on human despair. Yeah, we've heard all that before.

While the god-thing was chatting up Storm, the X-Men awoke from their Rogue-induced slumber and decided to lay some smack down. Gotta love hubris, the fatal flaw of any decent villain.

Even while being attacked by all of the X-Men, the creature is still able to engage in some traditional combat dialogue. "I have seen your pathetic compassion." I just love it when aliens or mysterious ancient beings talk about their fascination with some aspect of human nature or culture. "Oh yes, I am familiar with your 'donuts'."

While the creature is distracted talking, Rachel launches a dazzling display of mental power to exorcise it from Rogue's body. You know it's a dazzling display of mental power, because her eyes are floating in the background. That's how you know.

After the evil spirit is given the heave-ho, the X-Men engage in the time-honored tradition of the post-battle wrap-up conversation.

Wolverine's like a goddamn kid out of some educational show here. "Well what's small, likes cheese, and is cute?" "A mouse!"

Nightcrawler has another moment of existential crisis. What a whiny bitch.

After having returned to the village, the X-Men struggle to get a young man to eat his soup as he nears death's door. Wolverine decides this is a nice metaphor for the fight against famine, and indeed any human struggle. Ya gotta have hope.

Storm takes Wolverine's theory and runs with it. You can tell she's proselytizing, because she's gone extra-panelicular. The only reason for a character to grow to gigantic proportions and exist outside of a panel is if they're soapboxing about something.

Kitty/Shadowcat breaks up the philosophy session with the observation that she can feel the evil despair entity is still there. Just stick to the phasing, Kitty, and leave the psychic stuff to the Summers girls. Wolverine delivers another of his trademark 'fuck yeah' moments.

And as the X-Men discuss great existential questions into the night, we zoom out to behold the nighttime campsite scene, and the final delivery of the message of hope. Awwww.

Daniel85 hopes you enjoyed this article!

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