The Brave & the Bold 

On September 11, the world needed superheroes. It found them not in comic books, but in real life.

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Thirty-two years later, Scott McCloud abolished the entirety of the Manhattan skyline, bit by agonizing bit, beginning with Wall Street and the World Trade Center. He worked his way north, obliterating Washington Square Park, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building...all of it, ground into a wretched, twisted heap of smoke and devastation. McCloud insisted it was all in good fun: "meaningless, overblown violence, mayhem and destruction," were the exact words on the cover of Three Dimensional Destroy!!! in 1987. And the very week of the attacks on New York and Washington, DC Comics published an issue of Adventures of Superman in which Lex Luthor's Metropolis headquarters--the LexCorp building, looking exactly like the WTC--were depicted as smoldering tombstones jutting out of the landscape. The image was prophetic and eerie--a two-dimensional snapshot of what television was revealing as three-dimensional atrocity.

Around the Manhattan offices of Marvel and DC, editors have been meeting since September 11 to discuss just how their medium will react to such real-life horror. They wonder if they will ever again be able to blow up a building without conjuring still-fresh memories and grief. Even as their film and television counterparts hold and edit moving pictures dealing with mass destruction and terrorism, comic-book companies likewise postpone releases. DC is holding up publication of a paperback that will collect several issues of Goddess, in which skyscrapers are destroyed and airliners are crashed. The company is also delaying release of The Authority: Widescreen, in which a huge section of Manhattan is devastated, forcing costumed heroes to search the debris for survivors.

"It's just not appropriate to put [those titles] out while people are reacting," Levitz says. "You don't want to add to anyone's nightmares."

At Marvel, Quesada has postponed publication of at least one title that deals with the Middle East and domestic terrorism, and one writer has asked that the World Trade Center be removed from a forthcoming book; the author wants the Twin Towers "conspicuous in their absence," the editor says. Quesada also says that scripts submitted for the relaunching of the Captain America title, which will feature a new creative team, have been scrapped at writer John Ney Rieber's request. But Marvel will also be the first company to deal directly with the attacks: Amazing Spider-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski says Marvel asked him to write a story about the bombings because Spider-Man is a native New Yorker. (Indeed, most of Marvel's action takes place in Manhattan, not the thinly veiled Gotham City or Metropolis of DC.) He penned his story in 24 hours. "The whole thing is one lengthy meditation on the tragedy," Straczynski explained last week in an Internet posting.

"Look, the entertainment business does what it does, and Marvel's in the entertainment business," Quesada says. "But I feel that we have the ability to tell some very poignant stories and to lead by example."

In a post-September 11 world, even the phrase, "Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!" sounds different; its awe has been replaced by shock and revulsion. The sense of escapism comic books have provided no longer exists; the fantasy world must give way to the real one.

On comics-related Web sites, such as and, comicdom's best-known illustrators and writers have been posting their thoughts on the direction in which their industry must head. Many are sickened by what longtime DC editor Denny O'Neil refers to as "the pornographic use of violence" in comics and other entertainment media. Neil Gaiman has said he hopes the industry will realize violence must now come with consequences and no longer be used "as a simple plot mcguffin." Influential creator and publisher Jim Steranko has gone online to offer the most damning criticism of the industry of which he's been a large part for decades.

"I'm repulsed by the plague of violence and death ravaging our nation and feel frustrated, even helpless, to combat it," Steranko wrote in a posting on "I find it particularly disturbing that the artistic form with which I'm most closely identified has seemed to turn its back on the virtues upon which it was built...Today's comics are possessed by brutality, destruction, depravity, cynicism and obscenity." The debate has only begun to rage and does so in plain sight.

Comics always served an important function during wartime; they've rallied support for the troops and raised money for savings bonds. Superman fought grotesquely caricatured Nazis and Japanese soldiers; Joe Simon's Captain America was duking it out with Hitler months before the United States entered World War II. And the medium has never shied away from incorporating topical issues into its panels and word balloons; in the 1960s and '70s, even superhero comics were populated by drug addicts, battle-scarred Vietnam veterans and racist hate mongers. Like all media, it reflected--and distorted--the horrors of the everyday. But that was before war struck our shores and claimed thousands of innocents. It was before movie producers, such as Jerry Bruckheimer, started wrapping crass nihilism in jingoistic red, white and blue. It was before millions, if not billions, were made off catastrophes marketed as populist "art."

On September 10, violence sold. On September 11, you couldn't give it away.

"You just try and use what strength you have to tell a story that will make the world a better place," says DC's Levitz. "People need different emotional messages. People need different entertainment messages. Writers and artists, in whatever medium they're working in, try to respond to that by telling stories that add meaning to life. Violence has certainly been a tool in that. Anything that affects people's lives with drama or comedy has been a tool in that, and you just look at each circumstance as the world evolves, and you try to deal with the best ways that as a storyteller you can use your tools for what people need.

"This is not only an act of war come home to our shores, but whether you live in New York or the most remote town in America, it came into your living room. I don't know what that does to the world, and I don't know what that does to our role as storytellers. We have to search that out, and it will be a difficult task."


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