Earlier last week we posted part of Evan's chat with Brian Michael Bendis, a five-time Eisner award winner and a long-standing writer for Marvel Comics. In the full interview, Bendis talks about his early career, the difference between the Powers TV show and the comics, Jessica Jones, the second Civil War, story grenades and much, much more.
Kotaku: Let's start with Powers. what strikes me the most with the show is a really left turn, total variation between the comics, as you wrote them, and the show. You wrote Powers as kind of a police procedural with superhero melodrama. This feels more like a show about a generation gap between the older people who had powers and still have powers, and the young group that's kind of chasing fame. But there's also a macabre kind of horror overtone on top of it all. Is this a shift that had to happen to make it exist?
Bendis: This second season, I think you'll find very much in line with that part of the comic. When they gave us the second season, because we had our numbers they did say to me, "Hey listen, we would like it to be more like the comic." Which means we would like you to show up to work more actively and do so. And Remi Aubuchon is the showrunner of the second season. He and I were very much on the same page about getting back to that core premise.
The first season was run by Charlie Huston. As a fellow writer, and someone who lives very much in a shared universe with other writers at Marvel, I've learned to let that happen because some really beautiful things can happen when a writer is allowed to let loose.
The things he was really grabbing onto in the first season were all things that actually do happen in the comic, even though I would hook it more into the procedural. The generational gap, what Powers mean, what Powers do, how terrifying they could be. All of that's in the comic. There's nothing he did that wasn't part of the comic. It translates to television because the comic continues to run for so long that it can explore all of these ideas and much, much more. That's great. That's what Charlie wanted to do in the first season.
What he did was perfectly set us up for what we wanted to do in the second season. Yes, he was grabbing onto things that may be off the beaten path of what the high concept of the comic was, but it was stuff from the comics.
So here we come in the second season with 'Who Killed Retro Girl?' Which is absolutely our first paperback. It's a spoiler, I know, but the book has been out for a while. We get right into it. We looked at that first season and made a lot of choices about what to do for the second season based on that. It set us up perfectly for where we are now.
Kotaku: If you look at characters like Calista, she diverges pretty strongly from the way she's characterised in the comics. Should we expect the season two characters to be as different than that level of variation from their comics counterparts?
Bendis: That's actually a perfect example. Where Calista starts in the first season is different from the comic. Seven or eight years down the road in the comic, she ends up being a young adult with Powers and struggling with all of the different things that have happened. It's more like every writer who has come on board has cherry picked things out of the comics that they really liked and plot them where they wanted them in the story. Which I was honestly completely fine with.
I'm going to be very honest with you, the reality of writing a little child in the world of Powers in comic book form, is a lot different than having a little child actor on that set with all that material around. In our first pilot at FX, Bailee Madison played Calista, and she's young and excellent and easily the high point of the pilot by anyone's stretch.
But, even on the set, being a father I didn't like having this little girl surrounded by the sets even though she was probably the most mature actress. Like, seen it, done it, been there. And there's me as the neurotic Jewish father going, "Oh, little girl, sit down, read a book."
When Charlie had posed the idea of just skipping to young adulthood, that was one of those things where I was in complete agreement on the choice for various reasons. I didn't want any kids on set for what we were going to do — except for, somehow, my kids but that's fine. When I'm writing the comic, older Calista is more interesting than young Calista even though there are some jokes that we lost. That's a bummer but there's always better jokes down the line, you find out as you get older.
Kotaku: Let's talk about Scarlet. How did that wind up at Cinemax? Obviously you probably have an agent throwing stuff out there for development. What's the story there?
Bendis: I do have a lovely team that I have been with for many, many years, and thanks to the success of Jessica Jones and the success of Powers, we get calls. People are interested in things and want to know what's going on. It's funny because of all the things I've co-created over the last few years, Scarlet was the one that I just looked at it and said, "This isn't going to be a movie or TV show." One of the traps for people in comics is they start making create-your-own-comics that are clearly being produced to make TV shows or movies or to sell them for options.
Kotaku: It's a trap for readers too.
Bendis: It is. I'm not flat-out discouraging or damning that, because actually a lot of really good comics have come out of that. But I see it creatively as a trap. Like you're now pitching for some imaginative studio executive that you don't know. I don't see it to be all that great for comics to be honest with you. I know I sound hypocritical, because so many of my things have been purchased.
Look what Hollywood keeps buying from me. I write a lot of romantic teen happy, hopeful stuff, and none of that gets picked up. It's always my more disturbed, adult material. I always prided myself that if you read Alias/Jessica Jones, I wasn't trying to get that set up anywhere. Look how hard it was to get Powers made. These things are by nature more difficult and it's that difficulty that's made them more attractive, but that wasn't by design. I was looking at the first issue of Scarlet, as we were putting it to bed and stuff with Powers was going on, I did say to myself, "This will never be anything."
This is literally a laundry list of things you think Hollywood wouldn't want: female lead, very complicated, and controversial subject matter from a complicated and controversial point of view. It's actually very hard for us to produce. Mentally, it's very psychically draining because it means so much to us. But, lo and behold, there's somebody out there who read it and went, "Yeah, that's what we want." That's happened a few times in my life. I've prided myself in not creating material for those meetings.
Kotaku: Speaking of your dealings with Hollywood executives and producer types, one of the first things I read from you was Fortune & Glory, and it's hilarious that your career as a creator is pretty much 180 degrees away from the place where you were when you wrote it. You're a guy who got tantalized by a little bit of hope only to have it all turn out to nothing and now they're coming to you.
Bendis: Well truthfully, to be honest with you, it's more like Fortune & Glory every day. There's craziness every day. I won't pretend that I got it all figured out and everything is fine. But that book did kind of release me from the stress of it. It's hard to describe. Particularly when you're coming and you don't know who to trust, and you don't know what the deal is, and you don't know who's lying and not lying.
Personally, I wrote that book for myself. I never thought that book was going to do a damn bit of business and it ended up being my best selling graphic novel up until Powers. It also let people know, "You know what? Weasels, stay away from me; I might write about you." So, for years, it did keep people honest around me whether they were consciously or subconsciously doing it. The whole point of that book was that there's no value to a meeting where someone is just lying to you, it's just a waste of time.
Kotaku: Back to Scarlet, do you think the politics of the moment that we're currently in will let the showrunners push things more than when you and Alex necessarily did in the comic?
Bendis: I'm not answering with a non-answer but truthfully we are at such early stages. I wasn't even supposed to mention it at the ATX festival, but it kind of slipped out because I was excited. We've been working on this quietly for a couple of years. I think what is shocking is — please understand I'm not patting myself on the back — I'm amazed how consistently it feels of the moment. The book has been in production since 2010. So that's six years. The parade of authoritative bad behaviour that's caught on tape and aired all over the world is constant to the point where it's not even headlines anymore.
What's amazing to me about it is how of the moment it is and that wasn't planned. I'm shocked and truthfully saddened by it. So, as my kids grow up, I'm like, "Really? It's not getting better?" Oh great.
Kotaku: No. I feel you on that.
Bendis: So in general, stay tuned. We've just put out three new issues of the book over the last month and people who have been reading it since the beginning were like, "I can't believe this is still so raw." I'm like, "Honestly, I can't believe it either."
Kotaku: It's funny because this is maybe a tradition of Jewish comic book creator prognostication. you can look at something like American Flagg! by Howard Chaykin. What was he on that he predicted reality TV and all this different stuff that was barely a twinkle in anybody's eye?
Bendis: Howard Chaykin is my hero in comics. He's the reason I do them and truly one of the greats. The idea of Scarlet came out of the idea of having watched Network again and thinking to myself — because that's another piece of work where at the time it looked like a blistering parody of madness and almost all of it came true. And that's such an amazing thing for a writer to have been so on the money whether they knew it or not. It's staggering. And you can't help but think, "What would Paddy Chayefsky be writing today?" What would he be writing right now? What is the piece of work that looks crazy but in 10 years you are going to go, "Oh my God." That was the feeling of it.
Now I missed the mark completely, because as the book was coming out, things started happening like in Wisconsin and Egypt, where you're like, "Oh well, I was about three weeks ahead of the curve." Next time I'll do 10 years. But if anything, it is just so of the moment and it's a moment that won't stop and that's what happened. It was created in the idea of creating something that was imagining something crazy 10 years from now that could come true but it was coming true as we went.
Kotaku: Did you know that Rhodey was going to be seriously hurt in the civil war movie? When did you find out? Would you have done anything different if you had enough notice?
Brian Michael Bendis: I did. It's hard for [me to have] people to see [that plot point] because the movie and comic are coming out on top of each other. But those are drafts I read years ago. When we were putting together Civil War II, other than the [similar] title, is almost a different sub-genre of comic book making. It's about something completely different, starring completely different characters [than the movie].
The one hurdle I had was the idea that [Iron Man and Captain Marvel] are both smart, good people and they have been through Civil War. What would make [these characters] throw the gauntlet down again? It was really what other writers had gifted me — that Rhodey was Tony's best friend and also romantically connected to Carol — and then I said out loud [his death] is something they would fight for.
The [central] idea is good but something personal would really help the audience get to that 'they're going to do it again' thing. Do you know what I mean? They have to go the distance. It just so happened that the same person was Tony's friend and Carol's romantic friend and I did say out loud, "I don't know exactly where they're going to land in the Civil War movie but I know Rhodey gets hurt and I'm worried about even the concept of poaching something. It's not something I want to do. Nobody at Marvel on any level felt that what it was because they saw where it was coming from.
I know people think that Marvel let's me do whatever I want. But that's not a relationship that I'm interested in or would be very helpful to anybody. People who do really keep me honest said, "Oh no, no, no, this is a completely different story." We knew what we were going to get out of it down the road." So I went with it. I thought I would get more sass about that. I didn't. I was surprised.
Speaking of sass...
Bendis: I'm always surprised what I get sassed about to be honest with you. That's the best part of this job, this many years into it. I'm like, "Oh really, that's what we're angry about today?" OK. [laughs]
Speaking of sass, you may or may not know, I wrote something rather strongly felt about Rhodey's death. It hurt to lose him.
Bendis: No, it did. May I say, I agree with you. It hurt to write. We talked about, yes, an African-American man dying in this world that we're building. We had a lot of conversations about that as well. And then we came to the conclusion that by diversifying the line as much as [Marvel has], one of the traps would be to not put any of these characters in a situation that would be dangerous, right?
Bendis: The fear is that there won't be any drama. Like if nothing bad is going to happen to Miles Morales, then why would you buy Miles Morales? You're buying it for the events and the drama and for stuff to happen. I used to get crap like this when I was writing Daredevil.
They said, "Man you hate Daredevil. You never give him a break." I said, "You wouldn't buy the 'I'm giving him a break book?'" You wouldn't buy it. I know you wouldn't. So that went into the equation when thinking about it. If the story is going this way... cannot do something. Any other reason just seemed false and bullshitty.
I respect that. My biggest problem was — and I don't know if you read what I wrote — I'm assuming you haven't and that's fine.
Bendis: I haven't seen this one but don't be insulted.
No. That's OK.
Bendis: But I will after this call. [laughs]
My biggest problem was, after losing Bill in the first one, this is a thing where I don't necessarily want to see a trend repeat. Especially because it's such a well-worn annoying trope when it comes to black characters in pop culture and genre fiction. It's like, "OK, yeah, we can lose him because whatever imagined numbers for our audience won't care about him."
Bendis: May I say you're completely right. I'm not colorblind and please understand, I'm not whitesplaining or mansplaining. Ask me questions and I'll tell you what I was feeling about it. I'm not saying it's the only way to feel or that this is the last statement on the subject, because I don't think it is at all.
But, when putting it together, as I just explained to you, Rhodey is this character to both of these people. For this idea of a personal tragedy within both characters, at the same moment, he's the perfect and only candidate. I literally couldn't think of anything else.
I went through all of the Avengers. I went through their history with substance abuse and alcohol abuse that they had. But all of the history with these characters and Rhodey had the most powerful impact. We have things coming out of the other side and characters coming out of the other side who will be motivated by this death. I literally almost begged editors who I knew to find me anything else, because I worried about it. There was nothing else.
Then I was faced with the idea if I don't go down this road with this story, that at this moment is telling itself, if I don't do that, then isn't it kind of the opposite of the right thing to do? Are we not now treating characters equally? Isn't diversity about equality? If this was a white character, we wouldn't think twice about it.
Bendis: In this instance. I'm not talking about all the incidents, which obviously, I have no control over. But this story, this character, this moment, it was thought about a great deal. I'm online. I'm available. I'm aware of the world. I have kids of colour. I'm not looking to...do you know what I mean?
No. I get it and I know that about you...so, yeah.
Bendis: I just want you to know that a lot of thought went into it and, at the end of the day, the short answer is it's bullshit not to kill the character only for that reason. I know not everyone reading this will agree. I'm with you on that. It wasn't done sloppily or colorblind at all.
I appreciate that. So as a bit of a segue, it seems that you're setting things up with Ri Ri in Invincible Iron Man.
Bendis: Yeah. Perfect example, by the way of what I'm talking about. There's a lot more going on in the books than just that. I'm sorry. Go ask your question.
Should we not be surprised to see her stepping up in a bigger role in the Marvel Universe?
Bendis: Well, a lot is going to happen in Civil War 2. There's a lot going on with that character, we just introduced her. We don't even know her backstory or her family situation or anything like that. We do know that she's probably smarter than Tony, which is a lot of fun to write in a book starring the man who is always smarter than everybody in the room. Or thinks he is.
I will tell you we're enjoying her a great deal on our end. I'm curious to see what people think of her in a few months. But yeah, you're going to see more Ri Ri coming up.
Kotaku: A quick aside about Invincible Iron Man. The new Victor Von Doom looks pretty much exactly like Vincent Cassel.
Kotaku: Is that you or is that [artist] Mike Deodato?
Bendis: Honestly, it was David Marquez who designed the look first. I don't want to answer in a way that's insulting to Vincent Cassel because my description of the character...
Kotaku: It enhances my enjoyment of every scene he's in.
Bendis: Yeah, it does enhance my enjoyment as well, even though it's not exactly Vincent Cassel, and that's kind of a no-no. But my description of what Victor would look like without his scars or his costume is that it's a look of a European man who's got that look like he knows he's the hottest shit in the universe. It kind of looks like Alex Maleev, as well, and kind of looks like Vincent Cassel sometimes. That's what they come up with which was pretty funny. I like Vincent Cassel a lot. I think he's a wonderful actor. I don't want to insult the guy by saying that was my description. [laughs]
Kotaku: I think with the roles he's taken and the way he's played them in certain movies, I'm thinking about his character from Ocean's 12, specifically, he's that guy. He knows he's buttressing up the stereotype a little bit in a very-self conscious way.
Bendis: If you watched Eastern Promises, he was amazing in that. He's a really good actor. But that's a very funny observation. Thank you. You made me laugh. I'm sorry.
Kotaku: Was there anything that the writers on Jessica Jones did that you wished you did or something that you're looking to use on your next run with the character or the next time you touch Jessica?
Bendis: No. Honestly, I had a very great experience in that I got very Zen about the whole thing. I met with the writers very early on in production. Melissa had me come to the writer's room and just sit there and let them hammer me with whatever they were thinking. They were asking the right questions which is a relief because sometimes you're in a room and you're going, "They're not asking the right questions." And they were.
Kotaku: "Can she lift a subway car?" And you're like, "Oh great."
Bendis: No. They were asking the right questions and I left the room feeling, "Oh, they got this." Or at least I can relieve myself of whatever neurosis that I was born with about this thing. Then months later Joe Quesada had me come over to his apartment and sat me down on his computer and just played me the first two episodes without telling me what I was watching. He didn't say, "Come over. I'm going to show you Jessica Jones."
He said, "Come over. I want to show you something." I came over. He sat me down and I watched the first two episodes, and it was months before anyone else had seen them. It was a weird thing for him to do, because I didn't know if he was showing me to brace me as if this didn't work or to show me to get me the most honest, raw view of it, which he was right to do.
He didn't want me to have any expectations. Twenty minutes in I'm like, "Am I nuts? Or is this fantastic?" [laughs] Oh my God. So I've been able to maintain a very Zen-like thing. Also, I think it was because it was a time in-between when I was hardcore writing the character in the show. That's a big deal sometimes. Hilariously I was at the West Wing panel in Austin...
Kotaku: I saw you tweeting about waiting in line for Sorkin. Yeah.
Bendis: Yeah, I actually posted the video of me asking. They literally planted the Q&A microphone right in front of my chair or right next to it so I just stood up and asked this question that I always wanted to ask which was about him leaving the show and what he did on his last episode of the show.
He said, "I had never seen any of the last seasons of West Wing, not one second." That Larry David actually called him up out of the blue and said, "Don't watch the show because either they're going to fuck it up and you're going to be devastated, or they're going to do it better than you and you're going to be devastated. Just don't watch it." And for him that was absolutely the right answer.
But I was thinking how funny it was because I did my run on Daredevil in a shared universe and needed to take a break from Daredevil. When Ed Brubaker took over I didn't immediately start reading his book. I needed a few months. Just to be done with it. Then I realised when the Netflix [Daredevil] show came out I was completely able to enjoy that show as something I wanted to watch. I didn't feel like, "Oh my God, what would I have done?" or "What are they doing?" I just completely enjoyed it. Because that's the Daredevil show I wanted.
The same thing happened with Jessica even though Jessica obviously is more a part of me. As I've said publicly like a bad version of Jessica would have really destroyed me, it wouldn't have just been some bad TV show. It would have hurt like my soul. When I saw that it wasn't that, I just was relieved. So I didn't pick it apart of things I would have done or not have done. I'm able as a writer looking at other writers going, "Oh, that was a good choice." Even bigger things like when they decided to go with Patsy Walker instead of Carol Danvers for obvious reasons. Even that choice is so respectful to me because Patsy Walker is another character I used constantly and I easily could have used her in that role in another version of it.
When they called, they said, "Listen, Carol's going to get her own movie so we're going to do a story but with Patsy Walker which is going to offer us the stuff that you need to build her up. I said, "Oh, I'd totally watch that show." Even that was respectful to things that I like. It was very good.
Now, we're going to go back to Jessica in the fall, with the entire original creative team, her co-creator Michael Gaydos, and even David Mack on the covers. It's because I looked around and said, "Oh the Marvel Universe has shifted so much in the last years since we did that book. There's a lot of secrets, there's actually a lot of stuff from events and things that people don't know about and Jessica can uncover them in really interesting ways. Actually I found a way to get her back to her sullen, private eye self that doesn't rip up everything we did to heal the character. That got very exciting to me. When I went to everybody and said, "I think I want to go back to Jessica." They go, "Yeah, we were waiting for you to do that."
I said, "Oh, great. OK. No one mentioned that. But OK." So off to the races. I'm curious to see what people think of it in juxtaposition of Jessica now being this cultural touchstone that's out there that's quite amazing. I'm still reeling from the fact that I was on stage at the Peabody Awards a couple of weeks ago. So you'll have to excuse how proud I am of her.
Kotaku: I get that. That's great.
Bendis: I felt like I was at her college graduation ceremony or something. It's like, "Oh, she's all growns up." It's a quite beautiful thing. I know there's been historically the Alan Moores of it all where no matter what Hollywood does, you're just going to throw a fit even though that's the deal they made.
But my luck in this area, not only with Jessica, but Agents of SHIELD has so much of my stuff in it and the Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon and Maria Hill and Avengers Tower. These are things I'm very proud of. I know it's weird to sound like you're proud of a building but I was proud of that building.
And when it showed up in movies after decades of Avengers Mansion, I was very moved. Historically I know that some creators have had a really rough and tumble time with seeing their stuff adapted but I've taken a more Zen approach and I find myself to be rewarded tremendously with very faithful and loving adaptations, and Jessica is obviously the cream of the crop of it, like the top of the heap.
Even seeing Victoria Hand and Daisy Johnson on Agents of SHIELD. Some people might not know, I was the co-creator. I was very proud of those women and their creation and seeing them all over the place on television is really a nice feeling, and I'm very honored by the people who made those decisions. Some of which I know well and some of which I've never met.
Kotaku: You talking of Jessica reminds me of, I wasn't planning to touch it but, you mentioned it. I wrote something a little while back about the way she's being used in the Power Man and Iron Fist series. Now I like the series overall. But her portrayal in that is the one nagging thing that bothers me. It feels like it is in line with who she is — kind of bitchy, somebody who is maladjusted to life. But the thing that I like most about her relationship to Luke is they're two surly, broken people who help heal each other. I would like to see that aspect of their relationship more in that book, which again I mostly like.
Bendis: Well, with that book, particularly David Walker is a good friend of mine. We actually teach a college course together.
Kotaku: Oh, you co-teach that course.
Bendis: Literally, he was over here last night and we were grading finals and talking about just the subject you brought up. He's been very much in line with what's going on and what the plans are. So something that is being built to that he is wholeheartedly involved in. That book is just more about the love affair between Danny and Luke. It just is. That's what the book is about. That's not to sideline Jessica; it's just that there are other plans for Jessica which I'll be getting to. He knows that so he's kind of free to do what he wants to do which is the ultimate superhero bromance of Luke and Danny.
Kotaku: And bromance doesn't always work well with significant others. You mentioned before about Patsy being used on Jessica instead of Carol and stuff like that. I know this is a politically complicated question but can you speak at all to the widespread notion that characters and titles are being de-emphasised or highlighted because of where their movie or TV rights are?
Bendis: Yeah, that's been going on since 2000. It's so weird to me because there's so much evidence to the contrary. Like masses of evidence. But people see one tiny little thing.
I remember my thing was I had Bullseye have a bullseye tattoo or whatever disfiguring on his forehead. The bullseye on Bullseye's forehead in Daredevil, this was like 10, 12 years ago, I forget. But I remember I read drafts of that screenplay and I said, "That bullseye thing is a fucking great idea."
Joe was talking to somebody and they were never going to get to how he got it. I said, "You know how he got it? Daredevil fucking crammed it in his head." They said, "Oh, you should do that." I'm like, "Can I? Can I do that? Isn't that theirs?"
I forget who said it but it was, "the movies take everything from us. Why can't we take one little tiny disfiguration?" I'm like, "Oh yeah, that's right." Even when people are like, "Oh, you're doing Civil War II because of the movie Civil War?"
I'm like, "Oh you mean the movie that was based on the giant hit comic from 10 years ago?" It's all from the comics. Comics are 99 per cent of the time miles ahead, completely different. When I was writing the Avengers, they were completely different than the Avengers that were in the movie which is very much like an early '70s Avengers. But by nature Age of Ultron is very much like a Roy Thomas comic come to life.
Kotaku: But also the Avengers movies echo off of the stuff that Mark Millar did on Ultimates.
Bendis: For sure. But even that the stuff that Miller did was 10 years ago. That's not yesterday. This is years and years ago. By the way, I'm not sassing on any filmmaker. But the premise of the comics are kowtowing to the movies even though everything that's going on in comics right now from Miles Morales to Kamala Khan is completely different than what's going on. I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to. So yeah, not really.
Kotaku: Stuff like the Fantastic Four...
Bendis: By the way, in the retreat it never gets brought up. No one ever goes, "Well in the movie." We're working on a completely different world.
Kotaku: Fair. I think the thing that most feeds the speculation is the new status quo of mutants and the X-Men. For example, there's no Fantastic Four title now.
Bendis: Oh, perfect example. I was writing the X-Men during some of the hulaballoo of "oh Marvel hates the X-Men and Marvel said no more creating of mutants." Yet here I am, the best artist working in comics by the way. Who is better than Stuart Immomen and Chris Bachalo?
These are the gold standard of who they have in the company. Who they have now put on the X-Men books. I created an entire team of new X-Men and a bunch of new villains all of which our my own thoughts, whatever the deal is. No one said no to me.
No one stopped me. Goldballs is now part of Miles Morales' cast. Whatever the speculation online, it was bumming me out because is anyone reading the book?
None of this is true. At all! Even a little bit. The end. I don't know what else to say. Then Chris Claremont came out and said Marvel is not allowed to create any new X-Men. Then I saw him at a show and I said, "Why did you say that? All of my X-Men are brand-new X-Men. Like six of them." He goes, "Yeah, I haven't read the book in like 30 years." I said, "Well, stop talking."
Kotaku: Jason Aaron did the same thing on his book, there was a bunch of new characters there too.
Bendis: Of course. Absolutely. Yeah. So I don't know what else to say other than read books, enjoy the books, don't worry about the corporate stuff that literally shifts every six months anyhow. And look at the books as evidence. The end.
Kotaku: Fair enough. You talked about Miles a little bit. In Spider-Man #1 he just kind of wakes up in a newly integrated Marvel Universe. Is his origin story different in the new 616?
Bendis: Nope! Everything that happened in the Ultimate Universe happened.
Kotaku: Interesting. So we won't be seeing like a reconfigured origin or whatever...OK. All right. Does he remember at all?
Bendis: Just so people know, this was discussed at great lengths. I don't think NATO summits have had this level of conversation about how do we do this, how to handle it, what's the best way. I think as fans, and as readers, and as writers, a lot of us are allergic to erasing things. Or particularly things that people bought with money. Also just punishing readers for not having read something else.
It's a tough one because it's continuity, it continues on, and there's references to things, but it should be referenced to a point where you're like, "Oh, I have to read that too?" It shouldn't be, "I have to." It should be, "I want to." So all the time, and I'm not saying I've been 100 per cent successful, but it's always on my mind. So when we went into this, and again a gift from Jonathan Hickman is that eight months have passed since Secret Wars. That gave us a lot of, "Well we don't have to do the..."
Kotaku: Fill in the dots.
Bendis: Yeah. We don't have to fill in the dots all we have to do is say, "Here's Miles Morales. He goes to high school. He's fucking up. He's trying to be Spider-Man, he's fucking that up too. Go." Right? And the other stuff will reveal itself if and when it needs to. And that's cool.
But just so people know who care about this stuff, as much as I see people talking about it online, it's nothing compared to how much we talk about it amongst ourselves at the retreats and with others and stuff.
Kotaku: That's good to know.
Bendis: Compared to movies and other things, the comics come out so quickly. I do see sometimes [people saying] they're just being pushed out the door and that we don't care as much as they care. I've never met a creator who didn't care with his whole body. Ever. To do this for a living is so time-consuming and difficult and you have to know a lot of stuff. You have to really know and really care and really feel it. Maybe the story isn't really what you want sometimes, but it's not because it's not coming out of place of love and caring. That's for sure.
Kotaku: I appreciate you saying that. Two hours ago I interviewed Tom King. I asked him if he had a question for you. I'm going to paraphrase here because I have it written down in front of me. He said, "How was it making the transition, handing off to Ed Brubaker on Daredevil?"
One of the questions I asked him about him writing his characters into a corner. Vision, he's writing into a corner. Kyle Rayner over at DC, he wrote into a corner. He wanted me to ask you, "What were your conversations like in doing the handoff, and also creatively, how did you integrate Brubaker into what you were doing?" And vice versa.
Bendis: Well, we just talked about it. I literally on Saturday asked Aaron Sorkin the same question. West Wing, end of season four. Spoilers. The President's daughter gets kidnapped. The president feels compromised by terrorism and has to step down and let his enemy John Goodman become president. For years, I'm reading every article was wondering if Aaron Sorkin did this to go, "Ha-ha-ha! Good luck suckers!" Or was he doing it with their involvement?
I always called them story grenades. It was literally this idea that I made up in my head that he was throwing story grenades at the premise of the show. So I asked him this very question because I was with Daredevil in the same position. I had a great ending. Matt goes to jail.
What I was happy about it is that if you read — and I know I'm all over the place, but I'll get there — at the end of Daredevil: Born Again, Frank Miller writes, "The End." Like it's over. This is the end of the story. Matt Murdock is walking down the street with Karen. The end. I felt like if Matt goes to jail, that's me going, "the end." But it's not the end. I didn't want that hubris on it.
And when it ended up being Ed [taking over Daredevil] — who I'd known literally since we broke in together in the early '90s at Calibre Comics — I said to him, "Listen. I have an ending. But it only works if you want it." He goes, "What is it?" I go, "Matt Murdock goes to jail." He goes, "Oh my God. That was so much better than what I was thinking." I go, "You want to do this?"
He said, "It's all I want to do." I go, "Well think about it for a couple of days, we're still months away, make sure it's what you want to do because I can't do this ending unless you want to do it. Or we'll have to really think of something else. He called me up and said, "No, no, I want Matt Murdock in jail." He was on that book under the shadow of Frank Miller and you want to be on the book because of Frank Miller, but you don't want to rip off Frank Miller. So many people have done that. You don't want to be one of those people. Matt Murdock in jail gave Ed the 'well, Frank Miller never did this.' That's a great feeling.
So I was able to go nuts on the last few issues because Ed was being so generous to me and so excited about the idea. If he would not have done it, I would have not have done that to him just out of friendship. And I would have found something else. But I luckily didn't even have to go down that road.
It's so funny that Tom asked me that question when it was literally the one question I was dying to ask Aaron Sorkin and when I asked Aaron Sorkin the question on Saturday, I got a 10 minute answer just like you did. But a different answer. But it was the answer I was looking for and it was clearly something he thought about a great deal. That's why I posted it on YouTube because I was like, "This is a good answer."
Kotaku: I went to see a panel with Tom Fontana and David Simon Saturday morning. I'm a big fan of Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire.
Bendis: Me too. David Simon's Homicide book, it was one of the inspirations for Powers.
Kotaku: That makes sense. Because it's a procedural, you're in the office, the politics of the department, and policing and whatnot.
Bendis: I was three quarters through that book when I had the thought of what would this be like with superheroes. The only reason I missed the David Simon panel was because I was worried I wasn't going to get into the Aaron Sorkin panel. I made the right choice but I did kick myself. Because I had the plan of David Simon, Aaron Sorkin, and then the Shield's writer's room.
Then I looked at how close they were and where they were. I didn't understand that they were in different buildings around the city. I was like, "Shit. Can I get to Google Fibre in time to get to Paramount?"
Kotaku: I feel you. I wanted to ask a procedural question about Civil War II. It's a big limelight event. This is the thing for Marvel for the summer. When do all the story beats, like issue by issue, get locked into place. You have ship dates to consider. You have to think about other creative teams and letting them tie in.
Kotaku: How far ahead does that stuff happen? I know you guys have a story summit twice a year?
Bendis: Sometimes more. Sometimes three or four times a year depending on how much craziness is going on.
Kotaku: How far ahead of 2016 was this locked in?
Bendis: About a year ahead. Sometimes they're years. Sometimes they're months. This was about a year. Truthfully, this is the first time I've done an event. I was lucky that when we did House of M it was kind of like the first event of this cycle of events. They hadn't done them in a while. It didn't start as an event, it started as a high-end team up between the X-Men and the Avengers. But by that nature, that includes everybody. Like who isn't in the Avengers or X-Men? That leaves, like, Howard the Duck.
I got to start smaller and by the time we got to Secret Invasion there's so many pieces and so many carts to turn over and so many mysteries to unfold that it feels like I'm showrunning a show here. I'm not just writing a comic or a big event comic. You're really orchestrating.
By the way, it's not just me. Tom Brevoort, who doesn't get nearly enough credit, he's edited almost all of these on his own. He goes from one giant smorgasbord to another giant smorgasbord. They're all different subgenres, one's a conspiracy, one's an alien invasion, one's a fantasia, this one's a war.
They're all different and he handles them all so wonderfully. He's been so instrumental in all of my mainstream success. So many other creators as well. He's so wonderful at it. This premise came out of a conversation I was having with Axel Alonso, literally about what's going on in the world and what are we writing about kind of conversation. Then it snowballed into [Civil War II].
Having gone through Secret Invasion and the others, I do know that I'm more than just writing. I'm orchestrating. I'm showrunning. Or co-show-running I should say, with Tom and Axel. You know that going in. One of the tricks to me is to make sure that all of the writers who want to be involved are involved and that also get to write what that want to write.
There are some things that are happening in the story. The people who are writing Captain Marvel — and thankfully I am the one writing Iron Man so I can argue with myself — don't feel pigeoned holed or being bullied or railroaded on their book. It's quite a few writers from all walks of life coming together and we're telling each other stories. Sometimes the stories survive the room and they're big successes. Sometimes they don't survive the room. Because somebody asks the most simple question but it pokes a giant hole in the premise. The premise can't survive.
When I've seen that happen I'm always like, "It's OK that that idea didn't survive the room. It wasn't going to survive the Internet. It just wasn't. The Internet would have killed you." It's OK that that idea died in childbirth. So we go there and in this instance I had written a lot of stuff for people to read just to get a sense of things, a tonal sense of stuff.
But I used it as a discussion document. This isn't a draft, this is a discussion document with voices. And we all got into it. It's a pretty cool feeling to be honest with you.
Kotaku: That's really cool. Only a few more, I promise. When I saw you a few years ago after Powers was announced, I asked about the monkey sex, and you said we're going to get to it, and my question to you then and now is, when?
Bendis: Last summer, Sharlto Copley read every single thing I've ever done. He came flying at me. I think the first season we just gave him the first couple of trades. Here's where the character is at so this is all you need to know right now. But he read everything and he's like, "Oh my God. We've got to do the Forever arc!"
"We've got to do it right now!" I'm like, "No, no, that's a season five thing." He goes, "No, now!" I'm like, "The reason it works in the comic is that we were deep enough into our premise that we could veer." We've got to solve some crimes before we find out that you were having intimate monkey sex with Eddie Izzard.
But it was so funny how into it he was. I think some actors would have been like, "I'm not doing that. What the fuck was that?" Can you imagine that you're the star of a show and you find out that about your character? This is hilarious. But he was completely, he can't do it fast enough.
Kotaku: That's funny.
Bendis: But that's the goal. The goal is to get to that issue. But it's nice to have an actor who is game for it. I'll tell you that. That's a cool feeling.
Kotaku: You're somebody who's always had their eye on small press, self-published indie stuff. What do you like and enjoy now?
Bendis: There's quite a few. It's funny, I hate to be this guy, but when I was coming up, smaller press was smaller. Everything is much glossier than it used to be. I guess it's kind of cool. But I think the book that keeps rattling my chain creatively is Demon by Jason Shiga.
Kotaku: I just got that trade from First Second.
Bendis: I've been reading it in singles. I don't know why but I guess it's everything he does is different than how I and a lot of my friends do it. It's very exciting to me. I just feel very connected to it and it's very exciting. It's very unique in the marketplace.
There's a lot of indie comics that are like other indie comics, which is always the case. Like Tarantino's a hit and there's 50 Tarantino like movies. But this is very unique and very impressive. I like the cut of his jib. I just think it's really great.
Also, I'm in the weird position where a lot of my closest friends are actually making some of the best comics out right now. It sounds like I'm promoting my friends' comics, but they're really great comics. Like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick, some of my closest friends, and Kelly Sue's Bitch Planet is an amazing piece of work.
I don't think enough has been written about what Matt Fraction has accomplished. Sex Criminals is a giant hit and deserves to be. But it's also coming out around two or three other great Matt Fraction comics. They're all excellent and very different and it's very exciting.
It just seems like every week there's something very special in the comic book store. And what's cool is that both Marvel and DC and Image and Dark Horse, they're all putting out good books if anything. I know 'peak TV' is a thing now. We're kind of at 'peak comics' as well. But I see it as a plus.
I can't imagine how great it must feel. I get a lot of comics for free. [laughs] I can't imagine how great it must feel to walk into a store and I don't even know what to buy there's so much good stuff to buy. Because there was a time when people went into comic stores and they walked out with nothing.
The big events this summer are all being produced by the best people who make them. Then there's all these creators who have just completely dedicated their lives to a singular vision and they're doing the work of their whole careers. It's an amazing time. It really is. I'm not just saying that to be like 'ya, comics!"
I defy anyone to walk into a store and not...even if he's never read a comic before...walk into a store and there's something for you. Then on top of it, I just had a couple of signings for the first time, but the diversity of the characters that are coming out from all the companies, has brought a diversity of audience that is overwhelmingly exciting.
I can't even express to you how lovely it is to have children, and women, and people of all colours and ethnicities waiting in line at a comic book signing or comic book show so happy with their purchases, so in touch with what we're trying to do and completely satisfied, it's just wonderful. It wasn't always like that. It's changed dramatically over the last few years.
Kotaku: I've been reading stuff for a long time and yeah I feel very similarly. Last question, I promise.
Bendis: I know I answered seven questions with that last question. What's cool about having all of these TV shows based on comics and a lot of them not being superhero related but being more like a smorgasbord of different genres from Powers to iZombie to Jessica Jones, all these genre mash-ups and whatnot is that it is getting people into the comic book store, it is getting people buying these trade paperbacks.
More people bought Powers and Jessica Jones last year than they bought the whole last 10 years. These TV shows are an amazing commercial for this medium we love. In a world where people aren't reading anything, it's such a miracle.
Kotaku: Last question, for real. You're a teacher. You teach comics writing. You teach the craft. Have any of your students gone on to become pros?
Bendis: Yeah, quite a few. Joshua Williamson is writing The Flash: Rebirth.
Kotaku: Oh. I read the first issue and quite loved it. Yeah.
Bendis: Yeah, he was in my very first class which is slowly becoming one of those classes where, "wow, all of those guys are making a name for themselves." And, of course, I'm taking credit for all of them and it's all 'cause of me.
Truthfully, when you're teaching, and I've had this experience with David just this semester, last night there was two or three of the final exams where you could look at it and go, "Oh this person is going to make it and this person has something to say and this person is very in touch with their tools.
And you're just happy to have been part of what was obviously an ascension. I had the same thing with Joshua. We're like, "This class is just an example of how dedicated they are to their craft. So it's not like we can take credit for it. But it's nice to meet that person on their way up. It's kind of cool.