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Bend It Like Bendis: Marvel's Newest Icon Talks

Date: Monday, April 19, 2004
Interviewer: Mike Stroniolo & Darren Schroeder

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the comic industry's most prolific and well-respected writers, two adjectives that rarely go together. Bendis once again has been pushed into the limelight with the launch of Marvel's Icon's imprint, which bring the creator's acclaimed Powers series over from Image Comics. Whilst in New Zealand at the Armageddon Convention, Bendis took time out of his hectic schedule to talk with Darren Schroeder, and by extension Mike Stroniolo who provided research for this interview.

Darren: How did Powers moving to Marvel come about? Did you approach Marvel, or did they approach you? What was the process like?

Brian Michael Bendis: We [the Powers creators] were looking for a step up in the distribution area side of things - how to get the book to new readers without doing something stupid. At the same time Marvel were looking to set up a serious creators line. We talked with Marvel and we were surprised to find that they came back with the deal that met our objectives.

I see it as a chance to catch the eye of the Daredevil readers who never bothered looking at Image stuff or that section of Previews. Mike [Oeming] and I believe in the book, and we want to grow its audience. Readers, not income, is the issue.

Darren: You seem to be building on an already strong relationship with Marvel.

BMB: Yeah, Bill Jemas was good to me. Sure, I miss Bill, but the current Marvel team are supportive. Bill got a bad rep online.

Darren: Was there any problem at Image that caused you to switch to Marvel?

BMB: There was no problem as such with Image. Creator-owned means creators can move around - this is the time to move the book on and up. I appreciate that the move will be a pain for Image, but we've been talking and things seem to be worked out.

There's a big difference between the hype around a move like this and the personal reality of getting things done. The Image Central office were good to deal with - I'm sorry Jim left - but there's no animosity toward the current team.

Darren: Do you have to tone down the stories in Powers now that it's at Marvel? Do you have complete freedom to do whatever you want in the book, like at Image, or are there regulations, if you will, on it?

BMB: No change at all in the approach to the title. It belongs to us [Bendis and Oeming] and we do what we want. The Marvel deal wasn't about selling out the title to someone else to get money.

Darren: Who has the rights to publishing the TPB collections of Powers issues? Is Marvel in full control of it or does Image still have a share?

BMB: Image will hold the rights to the first five trades and also overseas rights.

Darren: Can you share any information about what is going to happen in the Powers re-launch?

BMB: The relaunch comes out of a story that when people read it they said, "Hey, That's a new Issue one!" It hadn't been intended as that, but the story is a new beginning in a way - Powers have been outlawed, the superheroes have disappeared, the villains do what they want. Deena Pilgrim is coming back to the job after an absence - she's changed, the environment has changed.

Darren: Are you at all worried that Icon will become another Epic situation?

BMB: No concerns at all. It was decided that trying to use the Epic banner in the current market might be an uphill battle, so we went for new name.

Darren: Can we expect any crossovers between Powers and other Marvel titles in the future, or is it in its own little world?

BMB: No crossovers. The rights to our characters and Marvel's, and by extension what you do can with them, mean it's not really an issue. Marvel isn't about to let their characters get killed on a regular basis. Though if I could do something like kill Captain America in Powers, I'd jump at the chance.

Darren: In your upcoming Avengers storyline you have said that you're going to literally tear the team apart. Can you elaborate or go into details about your plans?

BMB: I love the Avengers and I see my plots as developing the book into a new type of team - one for the times. I've got plans to do things existing fans will appreciate; I'm not out to do things just to be an arsehole. There will be new characters, but the story arc is about the history of team - their legacy, both good and bad.

Darren: Rumor has it that some members of the Avengers aren't going to make it out alive; some say Scarlet Witch and Wasp, some say Yellowjacket. Could you confirm/deny or comment on that?

BMB: One member dies straight away; another dies a few issues later.

Darren: How has it been writing basically the staples of the Marvel Universe and getting to manipulate them? Is it just a "go have fun" situation or are there a lot of notes from the editors about what to do and what not to do?

BMB: To quote Ridley Scott, "Nothing makes me more creative than a budget." There are controls in place when writing someone else's characters. With rules like no swearing, there are always ways to work around the issue and solutions to find.

Darren: On your Image message board you said that you have plotted up to Ultimate Spider-Man #87. What villains do you have planned to 'ultimize' in those issues? For that matter, are there Ultimate versions of any villain you plan on doing?

BMB: Villains coming up - Dr Strange (as in Ultimate Team-Up), Hobgoblin, Carnage, Wolverine gets a cameo (heh, I'm ashamed of that), Morbius. Cast-wise there will be more of the high school cast.

Darren: You revolutionized the Spider-Man franchise back in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man, now, nearly five years later, it continues to be in the top-five-selling books, how has that experience been for you? Any different than you imagined it would have been?

BMB: Thanks for the grand way that was put... The experience hasn't stopped yet - it's all a process that we [the creators] are finding satisfying and the stories feel like they have a purpose. I'm surprised that other people appreciate so much the stories I'm telling. I never expected "hit" status. And we want to keep it that way. I've learned that the characters belong to the readers. I'm aware that I can't please everyone but at the same time I appreciate that "with great powers come great responsibility."

Darren: You've said before that you plan on 'ultimizing' the Clone Saga in your own way, what else can you say about how it's going to get laid down?

BMB: Yes, the clone saga is going to be 'ultimized', I have the framework set out and some seeds for the saga have already appeared.

Darren: Any plans for the Death Of Ultimate Gwen Stacy?

BMB: Gwen has a high arc in front of her.

Darren: A lot of people have been curious as to where the Ultimate Marvel Team Up issues fit into Ultimate continuity, mostly the Fantastic Four one, what can you say about those?

BMB: Most of it fits in except for a few of the out there stories such as the Fantastic Four issue that was intended to be "nonsense..."

Darren: Some people have been comparing your run on Daredevil to that of Frank Miller; what is that like for you?

BMB: I think it's very nice when people occasionally make that comparison in a positive manner. I respect what Miller did and was hugely complemented that Frank Miller was one of the first people to say congrats after the Eisner award last year. Miller made the joke at the time of taking the award and saying "You know this is really mine..." I was also touched that one of the first fan letters I got was from Ben Jansen.

Darren: What do you have in store for Matt Murdock, or should I say the new Kingpin of the Kitchen, in upcoming Daredevil issues?

BMB: Plans ahead for the new Kingpin include teaming up with Black Widow as a partner and having some fun with the way they work together. The 40th anniversary is coming up and we have some special story events planned; one includes a story arc that covers the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age of the character. One plot line - who was the Kingpin before our "Kingpin"?

Darren: Typhoid Mary, The Owl, Kingpin, they're all just a few of the Daredevil villains you've used in your stories; what other ones do you have plans for?

BMB: Other Characters - some new ones are on the way - the Assassin Quinn and Jigsaw. Madam Hydra makes an appearance as well.

Darren: Any Marvel book you'd like to get your hands on next?

BMB: I have plans for some, but I can't say. One I really like working with is Nick Fury, but I feel I've used him quite a lot as a guest character already, so I'm done with him for now.

Darren: Talking to you, you seem like a cheerful guy who enjoys his work and enjoys showing your appreciation of the fans (you seem prepared to sign every comic that the fans bring you). Where do you think the negativity that surrounds comics comes from?

BMB: The two that sprang to mind for me are online, and the business end of things. Online, I just accept that people behave in an extreme fashion via e-mail and on boards - with mine, I just say, no extremes, no abuse - and then I let the more reasonable side of people come out.

As for the comics industry... People who are wait for the next big thing that is going to revitalize the industry are mistaken. The business is actually in the process of a slow and gradual recovery. DC and Marvel's job is to print comics that people want to read, and to make sure they're worth reading. They know that, and that's what we all keep trying to do. Creators put their names to books so they all want to do their best.