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Originally published Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 7:04 PM

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Comics: Justice League fights real-world hunger

"We Can Be Heroes" campaign, will support three aid groups working in Africa.

Scripps Howard News Service

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While comic-book-industry news is usually all about characters, creators and circulation, sometimes the real world intrudes — for good or ill. Two weeks ago, DC Entertainment unleashed its superheroes on a real-world crisis: hunger in the Horn of Africa.

At a news conference, bigwigs at Warner Bros. (which owns DC Entertainment) announced the "We Can Be Heroes" campaign, which will support three aid groups working in Africa. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League will be used to raise awareness, not to mention millions of dollars.

Both of which are needful. According to DC, the Horn countries are suffering their worst drought in more than 60 years. Some 13 million Africans are in need of critical assistance and 250,000 are facing starvation in Somalia alone.

DC's effort will extend across all of Time Warner's properties, including the use of the Justice League members as spokespeople, and exposure through Warner Bros., Turner Broadcasting, Time Inc. and HBO. If I'm understanding properly how this works, DC's goal is to raise a minimum of $2 million during the next two years through cash donations, employee matching funds and consumer matching funds, which will be split among Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps.

I'm assuming the way this will work will be advertising on all the Warner Bros. platforms that will direct people to the campaign's website, When you arrive, there's a professional video that begins with the seven founding Justice Leaguers in silhouette that segues into quick interviews with ordinary people who have contributed. The point seems to be that they have become an unstoppable force for good by banding together, like the Justice League. How's that for a snappy metaphor?

At the website you can contribute directly to the We Can Be Heroes fund, which DC Entertainment will match 100 percent, up to $1 million in total donations (which accounts for the $2 million goal). But you can also buy specially branded merchandise — We Can Be Heroes T-shirts, coffee mugs, that sort of thing — that will be matched at 50 percent. You can also join an online community and sign up for updates and information on the situation in the Horn and steps the campaign is taking.

I should note that comics have been involved in public service plenty of times before. The number of giveaway comic books featuring superheroes fighting ills like tooth decay or littering is legion. In the 1970s, Stan Lee famously ignored the draconian Comics Code to publish three anti-drug issues of "Amazing Spider-Man"in answer to a request from the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare. During World War II, you'd be hard-pressed to find a comic book that didn't urge kids to recycle metal and paper, grow a victory garden or "Keep 'Em Flying!"

But there's never been anything on this scale, and we should all salute DC Entertainment for its compassion and commitment. Oh, and throw a few bucks at 'em for a coffee mug, will ya? Tell 'em Captain Comics sent you.

They're Ba-ack!

A shudder ran through the comics industry and fandom Jan. 18 when reporter Sherri Ly of "Fox 5" in Washington, D.C., raised the alarm over "plenty of blood, sex and violence" in DC's superhero comics. The report on WTTG-TV Channel 5 begins with "most people think comics are for kids"and then concludes breathlessly that "psychologists point out the overexposure to sex and violence for young children can encourage aggression."Then it quotes various people as saying the books are "scary"or "fictionalized Playboy for kids."

This is all hooey, of course. Because most comics — like most movies, novels, magazines, video games and TV shows — are manifestly not for kids, and haven't been for decades. The comics the report denounces are quite clearly marked for age 16 and above, so virtually all of Ly's overheated rhetoric is simply irrelevant. There are comics for kids, which are also quite clearly marked, and those don't contain a lick of what Ly finds so dangerous.

But comics people find this hard to laugh off, because we've been here before — specifically in 1954, when comic books were used as a scapegoat for every social ill in America. The resultant hysteria nearly destroyed the industry, a body blow from which comics are still recovering. We can only hope that this time around Ly's trumped-up smear job finds fewer takers.

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