For the Doris Day Animal Foundation’s second Comics for Compassion publication, we decided to contact Marvel Comics and see if they would produce an X-Men comic for us promoting humane values to children (this seemed a good fit to me since Marvel’s mutants have historically been used as metaphors for a variety of oppressed groups and so many X-Men have animal-inspired names and/or powers). I was ecstatic when, rather than agreeing to create a custom ordered comic for our organization to distribute, Marvel decided to address the issue of animal cruelty in one of its regular ongoing X titles.
X-Men Unlimited #44 was published on April 16, 2003. It contained the story “Can They Suffer?” written by Chuck Austen and illustrated by Romano Molenaar (the story title is taken from a quote by 18th-19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham). While Marvel distributed its normal print run for the title to comic book stores across the country, DDAF purchased its own print run of 75,000 copies to distribute free to parents, teachers, and humane educators. The DDAF copies differed from the direct market edition in that they had the organization’s logo on the cover where the bar code would normally appear, and a special letter of support from then Marvel President Bill Jemas was on the inside front cover.
I especially enjoyed the experience of working with Marvel. Not only did I get to visit their Manhattan headquarters (as I had visited DC’s when I worked on Superman for the Animals), but after the project was over, I received a pair of original sketches from Romano Molenaar and two autographed copies of the comic book signed by virtually everyone who had worked on the issue including Bill Jemas and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. But the best part came a year later when X-Men Unlimited #44 became the first comic book to win a Genesis Award in the program’s then 18-year history. The Genesis Awards are held annually by The Humane Society of the United States to honor media outlets that bring public attention to animal protection issues. Because both my wife and I worked for DDAF at the time, we got to go the the 2004 ceremony in Los Angeles where Chuck Austen and editor C.B. Cebulski accepted the award on behalf of Marvel Comics (it was presented to them by Kelly Hu, who played Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2: X-Men United).