From Iron Man being appointed President Bush's Secretary of Defense to the release of Marvel's "Civil War" series, comic books today are bringing political issues directly to their readers. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union -- the real-world organization on the frontlines of the battle to protect civil liberties -- is putting on a mask and cape and venturing into the comic book world.

"Young people are the future of our democracy, and comic books have inspired young people for generations," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Defenders of Freedom is a new way for us to tell our stories and motivate the next generation of civil libertarians to stand up for their rights."

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Released as a limited-edition comic book in print and in digital format today, Defenders of Freedom features two original stories written and illustrated by a team of seasoned professionals. "Blue Collar," written by Jimmy Palmiotti and inked by Rick Burchett, tells of a man targeted by a racist police officer. "A Question of Obligation," illustrated by Mark Badger and written by Matthew Manning, is about what happens when the government gets in the way of civil liberties.

Defenders of Freedom also features a special introduction by Romero, written and inked by Patty Scanlon, and a back cover by Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman, who brought comic books out of the toy closet and onto the literature shelves with his masterful Holocaust narrative Maus.

Part of an ongoing effort to reach a new audience of young people, Defenders of Freedom will be distributed in a number of new ways, extending the message far beyond traditional comic book shelves. Building on the increasing popularity of web-based comic books, Defenders of Freedom is available in digital format on StandUp,, the ACLU's Web site for young people. The graphic novel, which is a limited edition, will also be handed out via "guerilla marketing" street teams in seven U.S. cities (Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Madison, WI, and Columbus, OH) and the ACLU is distributing print copies to its members and supporters to read and share with youth and new audiences.