WASHINGTON - Along with millions of Americans, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada struggled to find a way to help after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Quesada and the other staffers in Marvel's New York City office gave blood and donated money. But it didn't seem enough, especially because the attacks killed the father of a Marvel staffer and a firefighter friend of Mr. Quesada's family.
Within hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, fans of Marvel comics began sending e-mails urging the company to respond by publishing special comic books featuring the company's trademark heroes, Spider-Man and Captain America.
Mr. Quesada knew putting together such comic books would take weeks; he and other Marvel staffers wanted more immediate action. Mr. Quesada also didn't want to trivialize the work of what he saw as the real superheroes - the firefighters, police officers, and other rescue workers at Ground Zero.
Then Michael Raicht, one of Marvel's assistant editors, came up with the idea of producing a special magazine featuring one-page artistic tributes to the rescue workers by the best artists in the comic book world.
“It was like a bolt of lightning for me,'' Mr. Quesada said. “The word for the title - “Heroes” - immediately came into my mind.
“And I knew it would be a natural thing to do and probably a better way of communicating the message'' than a regular comic book.
Alex Ross was the artist for the cover of 'Heroes,' Marvel Comics' tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11.
Mr. Quesada put out word of the project to Marvel's regular artists and others who had not worked for the company. Submissions arrived at Marvel's offices the next day.
A week later, a 64-page, full-color book was filled with illustrations representing a wide array of artistic styles, from literal images favored by many comic book artists to more abstract pieces.
“We've never done something quite like this before. There was a real sense of immediacy and urgency,'' Mr. Quesada said. “Everything was donated, including the printers' time. It was really a wonderful effort - our way of lifting bricks and mortar.''
The result is an intense and moving tribute to the real-life heroes who refused to give in to fear when the terrorists' planes slammed into the World Trade Center. While a few of the images and bits of the spare text seem emotionally overwrought, “Heroes'' is, overall, a powerful pop culture response to the attacks.
Given the vivid images of destruction in “Heroes,'' Mr. Quesada said, the book is aimed more at adults than children. “I really don't think this book is for an 8-year-old, unless they page through it with a parent. Used that way, I think it could be a very important tool to teach about the evils of terrorism and the wonders of heroism.''
Most of the $3.50 cover price of “Heroes” will be donated to the Twin Towers Fund set up to aid the families of rescue workers who died in the attacks. It's already clear that “Heroes'' will raise a substantial amount of money. The initial 100,000-print run is about to sell out, and Mr. Quesada is making plans for a second printing.
That's remarkable, he says, because “Heroes'' is available only from comic book shops. “We're hoping that in the second printing some of the bookstores will want it, and newsstands as well. But people aren't really even aware of it yet,'' he said.
In asking for submissions for “Heroes,'' Mr. Quesada was adamant that artists either avoid depicting fictional superheroes or show them in the context of the heroic efforts of the real-life rescue workers.
As a result, only about one-fourth of the 64 pages of “Heroes'' feature superheroes. And, in those images, the superheroes are generally shown as somehow battered or diminished in power. One striking image, printed on page 3, shows the nearly-prostrate Incredible Hulk surrounded by rubble and meditating on a firefighter's helmet.
Another illustration shows Captain America, ready to spring back into battle despite his ripped uniform and his heavily damaged shield. Another illustration shows a weeping Captain America being comforted by a young girl and his mother while firefighters and police officers rush past them into danger.
Some of the most moving illustrations, however, are those depicting real-life heroes. One black-and-white illustration echoes the famous photograph of the Marines placing the flag on Iowa Jima, and depicts a Sept. 11 photograph showing a group of firefighters struggling to plant a flag on the rubble at Ground Zero.
Mr. Quesada collaborated with artist Todd McFarlane, the creator of the popular comic “Spawn,” on another illustration, which portrays an exhausted firefighter sitting on an ash-covered bench, one hand covering his face, the other clutching his helmet. On the ground near his feet, there is another helmet, this one aflame.
There's only one visual reference to the terrorists, but it's a stunner. Artist Igor Kordey shows the scene inside United Flight 93, the flight that crashed near Shanksville, Pa., as hijackers tried to fly it to Washington, as a group of passengers rush the hijackers, one pictured wielding a knife.
With the success of “Heroes'' assured, Mr. Quesada is considering the possibility of putting together a second volume, beginning with about 15 submissions that weren't used for “Heroes.''
In December, Marvel also will publish “Moments of Silence,'' a special project that will offer four text-free stories about the attacks. And the next volume of the adventures of Spider-Man, also published by Marvel, will show the superhero responding to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Quesada believes that producing “Heroes'' has been “cathartic'' for the comic book industry. “Our mandate, especially here at Marvel, is that we tell stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things under extraordinary odds and prevailing. Seeing these people at Ground Zero has made that mandate that much stronger.''
Copies of “Heroes” are available by calling 1-888-COMICBO to find a local comic book store. Comic book stores also may take mail orders.