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Comic Books and Heroes Focus on Real World Issues

If you think comic books and superheroes are only about stopping alien invasions, giant monsters and evil villains, think again. Countless comic books and publishers have confronted real world issues.

To start, “Unknown Soldier,” from Vertigo Comics, dealt with the issue of child soldiers and the civil war that plagued Uganda in 2002. The character was updated from his WWII-roots by writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli. (This was the second time Vertigo published a comic featuring the Unknown Soldier following a 1997 four-issue miniseries by writer Garth Ennis and artist Kilian Plunkett.)

Running for 25 issues, the series dealt with Dr. Moses Lwanga, who returned to Uganda after being born there and raised in America, as he and his wife, Sera, helped refugees of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

One day, Moses is brutally attacked, but doesn’t die. Instead, he wraps up his wounds and hears voices that tell him to fight the evil and injustice of his homeland by dealing with it head on as the new Unknown Soldier.

The entire series was not only a good read but raised awareness of what happened in this country and those responsible. “Unknown Soldier” even confronted Joseph Kony in the series finale.

According to the New York Times, in addition to library and Internet research, “Mr. Dysart decided that ‘if I was going to deal with the absolute worst aspect of these people’s lives, I was going to have to go there.’ He visited Uganda in early 2007, months after a cease-fire was declared the previous summer. Mr. Dysart spent time with the Acholi and visited the cities of Kampala and Entebbe.”

The site also reported that Dysart brought over “1,000 photographs that Mr. Ponticelli could use as references for the illustrations.”

However, comic books don’t have to just feature superheroes or fictional beings to discuss problems in the world. Sometimes, if an issue needs to be addressed people will develop a way to talk about it, which is what the United Nations (U.N.) has done. They used the comic book medium to raise awareness on global issues such as poverty in the comic book titled, “Score the Goals.”

According to, “The 32-page educational comic book features 10 football UN Goodwill Ambassadors… who become shipwrecked on an island on their way to playing an ‘all-star’ charity football game in support of the U.N. While on the island, the team has to tackle the eight MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] along their journey towards being rescued. The MDGs are targets aimed at slashing global poverty by 2015 by combating hunger, disease, illiteracy, environment degradation and discrimination against women.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time that the United Nations has worked to discuss issues through comic books. In 2007, they worked with Marvel Comics to produce a story that featured heroes like Spider-Man working with the organization. According to the Financial Times, upon announcement of the comic, “The comic, initially to be distributed free to one million U.S. schoolchildren, will be set in a war-torn fictional country and feature superheroes such as Spider-Man working with U.N. agencies such as Unicef and the ‘blue hats,’ the U.N. peacekeepers.”

While having iconic heroes like Spider-Man helps the U.N. spread their message to readers and children worldwide, it wouldn’t be the first time that a superhero has brought attention to a serious issue.

One example would be “Batman: Death of Innocence,” by writer Denny O’Neil and artist Joe Staton, which focused on the danger of landmines left over in war torn countries. The comic book was composed of two parts with the first being a story of Batman trying to prevent people from dying by landmines. The latter portion includes stories from people who constantly face the threat of these devices.

The danger of landmines was also discussed in another DC story titled, “Superman and Wonder Woman: The Hidden Killer.”

Still, when it comes to dealing with real world problems, the buck doesn’t just stop with comic books and superheroes tackling the issues.

Today, DC Entertainment is doing just that with their new initiative, We Can Be Heroes. Posters and advertisements for the project feature a silhouette of the new Justice League (i.e. from DC’s New 52 reboot) standing against an image of Africa.

Here the publisher is using its iconic heroes, which include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, to channel everyone’s hero to stand up and help stop hunger in the Horn of Africa.

According to DC’s Blog, “The Source,” on why they chose these heroes, the site reported, “Each of these characters is a super hero in his or her own right, but when they band together as the Justice League, they become an unstoppable force for good and right in the universe—a key message of the We Can Be Heroes campaign. While many individuals may feel powerless to effect change on their own, as part of a global campaign such as this, their efforts, combined with those of other donors, can create a world of change.”

These comic books and projects are just some of the ways that writers, artists, and publisher have brought awareness to global issues today and in years past. It just goes to show that in a medium of fantasy, people aren’t that disconnected from reality.