It pretty much goes without saying at this point that Brian Michael Bendis is a guy with a lot going on. For years, the writer has been juggling multiple monthly books, creator-owned titles and special event series at Marvel, plus a rapidly expanding slate of TV, film and video game projects.
Currently, he’s winding down his eight-year Avengers run with Avengers Assemble, a book designed to be accessible to audiences fresh from seeing the billion-dollar-and-rising film, plus the Avengers and New Avengers tie-ins toAvengers vs. X-Men — the 12-part event series he’s co-writing with Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman. He’s also working on several creator-owned series, the still-developing Powers TV show for FX, lending a hand with upcoming films at Marvel Studios, working on Marvel’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game and serving as consulting producer for the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, while continuing his 12-year-plus run on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.
Yeah, that’s a lot. And we talked to Bendis about nearly every inch of it, in a massive three-part interview beginning right here. We start things out discussing the recent appearance of Thanos in Avengers Assemble, and last week’s newsthat the Guardians of the Galaxy will soon be appearing in that book — plus lots of talk about Avengers vs. X-Men, the Avengers movie and what Bendis does as part of the “creative committee” at Marvel Studios. Courtesy of Marvel, we’re also debuting new art from Avengers #27 and New Avengers #27, both AvX tie-ins.
Newsarama: Brian, the news that you’re bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy toAvengers Assemble caught some people by surprise, since you’re not traditionally associated with the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe — something you acknowledged and were having some fun with the other day on Twitter. Was it a matter of, since you’ve been writing at Marvel for 12 years now, you were looking for some new territory to tackle?
Brian Michael Bendis: Here’s the thing. There’s not much at Marvel that I’m not a fan of, that I didn’t grow up on, that I don’t have a real passion for. The work of Jim Starlin and all the cosmic stuff was a big part of that. I just never swung around that way. It’s funny, because even though Secret Invasion was very Earth-based and very conspiratorial in its nature for a big part of it, it did kind of, I thought, send a big flag that I loved this stuff. And I’m the one who brought Killraven to the Avengers, and other bits and pieces that I can point to.
When DnA [Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning] were working on the cosmic stuff, there wasn’t anybody at Marvel who wasn’t just like, “stay out of their way.” They clearly have an opus, let them do it. It was only until way after they had wrapped up that it became clear we all have a lot of affection for the characters. When we started talking about what we can do with them, and how sometimes they feel relegated to their own little corner of the Marvel Universe, sometimes like the X-Men do, you’re like, “Let’s bring them in!” Let’s get them into the main circle, the Avengers circle, and have some fun.
I’ve been working on the Avengers movie, and the whole time it was in production I knew that Thanos was coming. I was like, “Hey, is anyone using it?” It certainly seemed like a fantastic villain for Avengers Assemble, and a villain I hadn’t really done anything with yet.
Obviously, the reason we didn’t want to tell people Thanos was the villain in Avengers Assemble is because we didn’t want to spoil that he was in the movie. Also, it’s nice to have a secret sometimes. It’s so hard. So we kept it a secret. It made it almost impossible to market the book, but we kept it a secret and happily people were pleasantly surprised to see him both in the movie and in the comic. And for those who are reading this and I just spoiled the movie, hey. It made a billion dollars. Sorry, person on Newsarama who hasn’t seen the movie yet. The connection between people who read Newsarama and people who see the Avengers movie? We’re looking at 100 percent overlap in audience.
Nrama: Using the Guardians of the Galaxy in Avengers Assemble actually seems like a natural fit to me, since the Guardians of the Galaxy as we now know them is actually a pretty recent concept, and you have a history of taking recently created Marvel characters and concepts and keeping them in circulation, like The Hood and The Sentry.
Bendis: Some of the characters are recent, and some of them are decades old. I think Peter Quill has one of the great origin stories of all time at Marvel. A writer would kill to come up with an origin story like that.
All of the characters have a very strong voice and a very interesting point of view of the universe, and they’ve all got a lot to answer for, and a lot to live up to ,and that’s my favorite kind of characters. There’s a very strong connection between the Avengers that I’ve chosen for the Avengers teams and these characters.
There is always a feeling with me that I’m going to rip up tracks and go to town and rape the head of a character that someone loves. Everyone’s all, “That’s it, Drax is dead.” That’s why I was teasing the other night, because some people were just really upset and worried about, literally, nothing that’s happened. You’ve seen nothing but a picture of them smiling heroically as they jump into action. It’s like a Rorschach test. People look at it and go, “uh oh.” Really? You got an “uh oh” from that? Because I look at that and im just thrilled that [Mark] Bagley can draw Rocket Raccoon well. He draws him fantastically well. Not everyone does.
It was the same kind of pushback I got when we announced Ultimate Spider-Man — I got this exact thing. When we announced Avengers — I got this exact thing. When we announced Miles — we got this exact thing. So I’m looking forward to this being a huge success, because every time someone yells at me it means usually we do alright. [Laughs.] I have a lot of affection for the characters and their history and their potential in the Marvel Universe, and that’s why I am writing them.
Nrama: So it seems like even though there’s an element of movie tie-in, this is an instance where it was fairly organic, and you were interested in the characters already — it wasn’t someone saying, “You have to put this in the comic”?
Bendis: I raised my hand, and said, “You know what I haven’t done, I haven’t done the Zodiac and I haven’t done Thanos, and I’ve got an idea that connects the two of them. It’d be really interesting, because Joe Casey killed the original Zodiac,” and I needed to come up with a new one and I had a reason and a what for.
When there are movie connections that are even slight, there is always paranoia that there was a forcing, or a shoving, and it never happens, almost to a fault. There has been times where someone goes, “Hey, if you have an idea for Thanos, that would be great,” and I’ll think about it, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, but no one goes, “Well, if you don’t have one, you better get one.” It doesn’t happen. I like these characters, so, easy stuff.
And now that people have seen the movie, I’ve been invested in the movie language and characters as a member of the creative committee the whole time the movie was in production, so the feeling that everyone has right now about that movie I’ve had for about a year and a half. So when I was offered to write the Avengers Assemble book I was more than honored to do it because I could feel in my bones what to do, and what would be fun for people coming out of the movie. “Here’s something that hopefully you’ll like it if you like the movie.” Same cast, different adventure.
Nrama: As you wind down your eight-year run on Avengers, something like Assemble seems like it might be kind of a fun endcap for you, since it’s not only the movie cast, it’s also somewhat more of what people consider an old-school Avengers book.
Bendis: A little bit, and Mighty Avengers was a little old-school there for about a year. The books kind of waved through all kinds of different themes and tones. There have been times when they’re happy books, and conspiratorial books, and dark books, and emotional books, and silly books. That’s why I loved writing the Avengers for so long on so many different titles, because the idea of the Avengers allows all of that if you’re open to doing so. I think the reason I’ve been allowed to be on the book for so long is because I have veered off course into different territories as often as I could, as long as the story allowed it. Avengers Assemble and both Avengers and New Avengers are going to allow me, over the course of the next few months, a great many ways to sign off in style, and ways I think I’ll be proud of at the end of the day, hopefully.
Nrama: Already right now all three books are on very different paths.
Bendis: Which I’m very proud of. I know it’s annoying to some, but when you see the whole story, hopefully you’ll go, “Oh, OK.” Or not. [Laughs.]
Nrama: You’ve mentioned in the past that Avengers Assemble would contain a big hint towards what you’re working on post-Avengers, so can we not infer that you’re going to be doing even more cosmic stuff past what you’re doing in Avengers Assemble?
Bendis: Hey listen, I can’t stop you from inferring. [Laughs.] It’s going to be a lot of Groot. Lots of Groot. Dark Groot. Mighty Groot.
Nrama: But he’s not on the cover to Avengers Assemble #6.
Bendis: He’s in Drax’s belt buckle, in the back, kind of sticking out of his butt a little bit, like MacGruber.
Groot will be, for those who need more of that joke, in Avengers Assemble.
Nrama: You mentioned the Marvel Studios creative committee — I think people know you’re involved, but the details of what that exactly means are kind of vague. What does that job entail, exactly, for you?
Bendis: It’s a great job, and I’ve been doing this, officially, since Iron Man 2. I consulted on Iron Man, and they filmed it for the DVD — if you check out the extra features, there’s me and Mark Millar and a bunch of other people yapping it up to Jon Favreau. After Iron Man, and our connection to it, they came up with this idea to make a creative committee which would be people from around the company who had a very strong sense of the characters, and the truth of the characters, kind of the mini-version of the conversations we’ve been having at the retreats. Alan Fine, who is our uber-president, leads the creative committee with Kevin Feige, and it’s me and Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley and selected producers and creative people involved with each individual thing. With Thor we worked with Kenneth Branagh, with Iron Man we worked with Jon Favreau.
They have us go through every outline of every draft of the script as they come in, and we give notes, and then meet on the phone or in person for hours at a time, sometimes just by ourselves, and sometimes with the filmmaker — and that’s a lot of fun for me, personally. Kenneth Branagh was really into the creative committee, he really saw us as a very positive tool, and had us down quite often. I quite liked that about him.
Me and Joe particularly have known Joss [Whedon] for years on and off. Every time I see him I remember him coming up to me like, 12 years ago, at San Diego, at a restaurant, and he started acting out a scene from Powers — and I had no idea what he was doing, because I don’t remember what I wrote. He goes, “Powers #4!” That was very cool. He’s always been very supportive. He’s one of us, without a doubt, so that was easy.
But let it be known, clear as I can make it, that the writers of the film are the writers and the directors are the directors and we are just an extra ear and an extra set of eyes. And then they go off into production, and then after production, when the edits are beginning to assemble, they have us down to LA to have these private screenings, and we get together and talk about what worked and what didn’t work, or what was very satisfying, and what have you. Then they keep molding the edit. The most successful first edit I’d ever seen was Avengers. We really had high hopes for it, and the script was really funny. Since I was like 5 years old, I’ve read maybe 8 million scripts. I literally seek out scripts before the movie comes out and read them and try to imagine it in my head, and sometimes you’ll see it and go, “Well, that wasn’t as good as the movie that was in my head.” And really for Avengers, you were like, “Can he pull this off? Can he do this?” When he did, it was like, “Oh, wow.” It was pretty spectacular to be so satisfied in its earliest, earliest state, when the Hulk is like a green stick figure, and it’s still working.
It’s an excellent gig for me. My whole life has been about seeing movies before my friends, and reading scripts before they come out, so being paid to do so is quite nice. I’ve been on a quest my entire life to seek out knowledge about writing and storytelling from every direction I possibly can, and it’s a perfect opportunity to meet really great storytellers and pretend that I’m a peer, but really I’m just sucking their brains out. It’s been really helpful to me. I’ve been teaching college the last couple of years — sometimes I go right from the creative committee, and I’m home that night, and the next day in class. It’s all connected in a very nice way for me.
What’s coming next is always very, very exciting. While everyone’s excited about Avengers, we’re working on Iron Man 3. Meeting Shane Black, who I’ve been a huge fan of my whole life, was pretty exciting. He was pretty cool. It’s always funny having someone like Shane Black coming into the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: That all sounds a little more extensive than I think people might expect.
Bendis: It is and it isn’t. What I’m describing to you is a very concise thing that goes on for years sometimes. We worked on Thor for years, but total, maybe I worked on it, four days? I don’t want to overstate what we did. When something is successful, a lot of people like to take credit for it, and that is certainly not the case. It was Joss’s movie. Joss delivered everything he was supposed to deliver, and nothing’s cooler. It was just fun to watch.
Nrama: How cool was it for you to see Maria Hill on screen?
Bendis: It was very nice. Some people thought it was my suggestion to put in Maria Hill; it wasn’t, I’m happy to say. It was very cool. My two babies in the movie are Maria Hill and Avengers Tower.
What’s funny is, my name’s in the credits, and my daughter says to me what she says to me at the end of every Marvel movie — she sees my name and goes, “Hey, what did you do? Did you do something?”
And then of course, now people who peripherally understand show business think I have a billion dollars. So that’s been happening a lot. I do not have a billion dollars.
Nrama: Let’s talk a bit about Avengers vs. X-Men — in your career, you’ve written a lot of both events and event tie-ins, and this time you’re doing both. Do you have a personal preference between main action and quieter moments, like Protector saying goodbye to his girlfriend?
Bendis: It depends on my mood, but at the end of the day I do always seem more satisfied with how the quieter moments come out. They always seem more pure, even though I know I was annoying Walt Simonson with that scene. He wanted to draw Thor, and he goes, “Who is this? What is this?” So I have to make sure I give him a lot of Thor on the back-end.
I had done quite a few “events,” even though each story feels to me like an event while I’m writing it —and that’s not just talk, they all seem equally important after leaving the computer. But I do feel that with House of M and Secret Invasion and Siege, I had done a myriad of “events,” and I felt like I’ve done that. That had been done. When I’m writing the tie-ins, it always feels like a very new idea, like this is a new challenge in front of me. Where is the truth for these characters in this situation?
I just found a thing with the Red Hulk that I would never have found if not for him being put in this situation. The thing that happened with Luke Cage during Civil War. I always enjoy [tie-ins]. With Secret Invasion I loved my tie-ins, because my tie-ins really got to show you how much we meant it and how much we put in, and that was very satisfying. The tie-ins, when done right, always seem to service something more than you’re ever going to get anywhere else in fiction. For that reason alone, I enjoy them quite a lot.
Nrama: There’s probably an argument to be made that the effect these events have on characters, and the result of it all, is the real fun of blowing stuff up — showing what happens after all that, and how people react to it.
Bendis: Yeah, but I do not want to take away from how much I love blowing stuff up. It really is a lot of fun. You can really find a way to tear into the place. I miss those Nazi robots from Fear Itself; I’m sorry, I miss ’em.
Nrama: In working with Walt Simonson, I remember during the conference call that originally announced he’d becoming onto Avengers, you described it as something like a childhood dream coming true.
Bendis: Absolutely. And it continues to be.
Nrama: How would your describe the collaboration, a few months into it?
Bendis: What an honor and a treat. Over the course of the spring I’ve been hearing from like, college friends of mine who I’m not in contact with so much, “Wait, wait, you’re working with Walt Simonson now?” Because all I would talk about was Walt Simonson, constantly. So it’s very surreal.
I’ve known him, he’s a classy guy, and he really gives a crap, and really cares, and loves how much everyone has been so affectionate towards his work recently. So the duty on me is to give him things to draw that he wants to draw, that shows him in the best light, but at the same time, not just doing a greatest hits package. So I’m trying to do both things at once. There were like 85 emails this morning from him, and you can just tell, boy, does he care. And in all the good ways. Just, what an honor.
Nrama: Then New Avengers, with the story of the Phoenix and K’un L’un, has been more of an unconventional tie-in…
Bendis: Yes. That’s French for “annoying,” but yeah, OK. [Laughs.]
It’s one of those stories where the connection between the Avengers and this will reveal itself. What we’re into in the tie-ins is the meat of what got me really excited about Avengers vs. X-Men. Somebody asked the question, “It’s going to more than the Avengers and the X-Men that want this Phoenix force.” We’ve got a Marvel Universe arms race on our hands. Certainly the Kree would want it, certainly K’un L’un has a connection. All these things started popping up, and I got very excited because that really says a lot about the Avengers, that there are so many different tentacles into different areas of the Marvel Universe, that when something like this happens, those little areas become very important. What The Protector is doing here with the Kree is very important. The story now changes for The Protector, and the story for Iron Fist changes dramatically. I just think that it’s worthwhile to dramatize that instead of just glossing over it. I know some people would rather I just told this story of the first Iron Fist/Phoenix in one issue, but it’s not a one-issue story to me. I think it’s a beautiful and quiet story, and I know sometimes that means you’re going to read it quickly, but that doesn’t mean that the images aren’t valuable, and I think they are. As I started writing it, I’m like, “Uh-oh, I’m going to take a lot of real estate with this!” I told Tom [Brevoort], “Listen, just FYI, this is a couple of issues to me.” He was like, “Obviously, [Mike] Deodato loves drawing this, so let’s just let him do it.” So there you go.
I know when people see the Avengers on the cover and there are no Avengers in the issue it can be frustrating, but at the same time, I promise you I will reveal why this is a story of the Avengers, why this connects to the Avengers, and that will hopefully be satisfying. And I do thank Mr. Fraction and Mr. Hickman and Mr. Brubaker for the inspiration with what they did with their books to take the story into this area.
In the first part of our interview with writer Brian Michael Bendis, we talked a lot about Avengers — as in, Avengers the comic book, Avengers the movie, Avengers Assemble, New Avengers and Avengers vs. X-Men.
Bendis has been writing the Avengers franchise for a long time, but he’s been a part of the Ultimate Universe even longer — since 2000’s Ultimate Spider-Man #1, and he’s since written every issue of every incarnation of that series. This June, he’s writing five-issue miniseries Spider-Men, the first-ever interaction between the Ultimate Universe and the traditional Marvel Universe via the meeting of classic Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and the current Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales — introduced last year following the death of the Ultimate version of Peter.
For the second installment of our interview, Bendis discusses the many reasons why the timing was right for an Ultimate U/Marvel U story, his love of inter-universe crossovers, what Mysterio adds to the story and why Spider-Men is a big deal for characters beyond Peter and Miles.
Newsarama: Brian, Spider-Men is starting up next month. After 12 years of writing in the Ultimate Universe, what’s it been like writing the first-ever Ultimate U/Marvel U crossover? How much thought had you given the idea over the past decade or so?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’d given it a great deal of thought over the years. It’s funny, as we announced Ultimate Universe and it had its first year of success, that’s when everyone started going, “Here comes the crossover!” There certainly is a comic book tradition of doing some sort of crossover. There wasn’t a story in “Hey, Peter meets a vaguely younger version for himself, who is also dating a vaguely younger version of MJ.” Then you have young MJ falling in love with older Peter and it’s creepy and then the whole thing falls apart.
So it wasn’t worth breaking down the barrier, because there wasn’t a story. So we just put it away, to the point where Joe announced, “We will never do it.” At the time, that was absolutely true, because with the characters, and who they were, and what they were doing, we were never going to do it. I’ll remind people who like to quote Joe —10 years later, things changed. When we started talking seriously about doing what ended up being Miles Morales as Spider-Man, when you’re making your pros and cons list of whether or not to do this, one of the pros was, “Now that’s a crossover story worth telling.” If Miles connects with any kind of audience, and we’ve got a kid who’s trying to learn how to be Spider-Man, and then Peter gets to come to the Ultimate Universe to see what the world is like after he’s died — boy, that’s a Spider-Man story worth telling.
It was certainly brought up at retreats. Once Miles hit, I got a call that said, “Hey, do you know that next year is the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man? We were thinking about making sure the anniversary was filled with stories we haven’t seen before. Do you want…” Before they could finish the question, I was like, “Yes, yes, yes. I want to do it.” I knew Miles very well, and I saw the value of it, and off we’re running. And obviously, hugely honored to be asked to write a Spider-Man anniversary story of merit. And then I said, “Only if Sara Pichelli does it.” First she was like, “Wait, you’re pulling me off [Ultimate Comics Spider-Man]?” “For this other thing that is of equal or greater value.” And she jumped on it right away, and then literally, publicly, decided to make it her masterpiece, and has done so. The pages are just absolutely stunning, and Justin Ponsor is also doing the work of his life. I’m so excited for it to hit the stands. It’s so beautiful. It meant the world to me. I love this character, and to find a Spider-Man story that hasn’t been told before, but features a lot of elements of Spider-Man’s life, is a real gift, and I’m so happy it all came together like this.
Nrama: It seems that even beyond Miles Morales and the death of Ultimate Peter Parker, that the time is much better now for an Ultimate Universe/Marvel Universe crossover, simply because the Ultimate world is just a much bleaker and different place than classic Marvel post-Ultimatum.
Bendis: There’s a lot going on. It does feel like perfect timing on many, many levels for the story, so that’s very exciting for us. People who just love “Amazing Spider-Man,” here’s hopefully another great Amazing Spider-Man story. Those who haven’t picked up the Ultimate Universe, you can look at it through Peter Parker’s eyes and see what you think.
It’s not just Miles and Peter. Ultimate Aunt May and Ultimate Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy and Nick Fury are all involved in the story as well, so there are lot of extremely emotional moments that are going to happen that are almost surreal, but I think very cathartic. I think issue #4 was when Sara emailed me and said, “Alright, I cried. You got me.”
Nrama: Based on all early indicators, it definitely sounds like a very emotional story.
Bendis: It is. There’s a lot of fun to be had —Mysterio comes in and really tears up the place, and there’s a lot of action and excitement, and there’s Spider-Men fighting for their lives, but when the story comes down, that’s when the real story begins.
Nrama: Is it Ultimate Mysterio or 616 Mysterio?
Bendis: It is… Mysterio. [Laughs.] You will find out all of what’s going on with Mysterio, and how this is connected to the Ultimate Universe, in the very first issue. We give that up right away, because there’s so much else to get to. You will see what Mysterio has done and how he’s done it, and for long-time readers, they’ll be very excited; if you don’t know a damn thing about Mysterio, you’ll know exactly what’s going on.
Nrama: Have you encountered any skeptics thinking that since Mysterio is the villain, the story might be revealed to all be an illusion?
Bendis: With Mysterio, there’s that edge of, “Is this really happening?” That adds another level of frustration for the characters, but it is really happening. It is not a, “It was all a dream!” I don’t do that kind of stuff. Ever.
Nrama: So the characters involved are also skeptical that it might be an illusion.
Bendis: There was a lot of talk back-and-forth about using Mysterio for the story, and it just became a plus. If anybody else was involved, you go, “OK, this is really happening.” With Mysterio, you go, “OK, is he f*cking with me?” This is absolutely happening, but Peter trying to discover its truth is interesting as well, because it kind of forces him to dig in further than he might have, on a “normal” inter-universe crossover. [Laughs.]