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Remembering the Comics Community's Response to 9-11

By Shawn DePasquale

Remembering the Comics Community's Response to 9-11

In the days, weeks and months after September 11, 2001 no one felt safe. American’s sense of security was shattered and to this day the looming threat of a terrorist attack lingers over the country like a thick cloud of smoke in a dingy bar. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy many people turned to art as therapy, channeling their emotions into creating works of art that either captured their own personal feelings, or tried to capture those of all Americans.

The impact of the attacks probably hit Marvel Comics the hardest, both fictionally and not. Unlike the fictional cities of DC Comics, many Marvel heroes live and work in New York City. Suddenly Marvel creators and editors were forced to contend with the reality that the city they had set so many superhero stories in was attacked by two planes and no costumed heroes stepped in to prevent the tragedy. Wisely, Marvel acknowledged the incident by addressing it directly and soon after the attacks they published two comics that, combined, raised close to $1 million dollars. While other companies did their own fundraising none were as successful (or received as much attention) as Marvel’s efforts.

Marvel published Heroes -- a collection of pin-ups and short stories by various creators -- in December 2001. The overall concept of the book was to take classic Marvel characters and honor the real-life heroes of the day: police, fire and rescue workers. This resulted in 64 full-color pages of moving reflections and images of superheroes helping, holding or sometimes crying with survivors and rescue workers. Everyone from Stan Lee to Alan Moore had something to contribute and Heroes was put together in about a week and a half.

Later in the year, Amazing Spider-Man writer John Michael Straczynski would dedicate an entire issue of that series to exploring how Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and even villains like Doctor Doom and Magneto reacted in the aftermath of the attacks. It was a moving and cathartic piece of writing in which Spidey and the other express their sorrow at not being able to prevent the attacks. Much like America had lost a sense of innocence that day, superhero comics did too and this book acknowledged as much. The overall message was one of hope, but the subtext was apparent: there are some thing even superheroes cannot save us from.

Finally, in February of 2002, Marvel published a second book dedicated to honoring the fallen titled A Moment of Silence. This book contained no words and focused solely on powerful images by some of the top creators in the business, with a gorgeous cover by Joe Quesada and Alex Ross. Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, John Romita Jr., and more all contributed to the one-shot which raised additional money for the The Twin Towers Fund -- a charity that ultimately distributed $219 million to families of first responders.

Marvel wasn’t the only publisher that rushed to put together a moving tribute to those lives lost on 9-11. Creators around the world contacted their publishers to offer to contribute any way they could to help raise additional money for the various charities dealing with the fallout of the attacks. Dark Horse, Chaos! And Image Comics all teamed up to release 9-11: Artists Respond, Volume One with a large cross-section of old and (at the time) new creators. Among them? Will Eisner, Tony Millionaire, Jim Mahfood, Joe Casey, Robert Kirkman, Marti Noxon, Dave Gibbons, Dave McKean, and Eric Powell. DC Comics released 9-11: The World's Finest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember, Volume Two and indie publisher Alternative Comics released 9-11: Emergency Relief.

At the time it felt like there would never be a sense of normalcy ever again. The thought of life returning to how it was prior to the attacks seemed impossible, and while nothing was ever exactly the same as it was, life did eventually resume. For many of us, the comic book community banding together -- to both raise money and tell stories about the things that matter most – was a helpful step towards that.

Images: Marvel Comics