Marvel Comics’ second Civil War is in full swing now, with the main miniseries and multiple tie-in issues out in the wild. Civil War II started with a major character death and superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis explains why it had to happen that way. When I spoke to Bendis over the phone last week, the topics ranged from his feelings about seeing Alias adapted into Jessica Jones for Netflix, the second season of Powers and being an Aaron Sorkin fanboy, but I felt like I had to ask him about the character death that brings Iron Man and Captain Marvel into conflict. What follows is an edited version of our conversation on that topic.
Kotaku: Did you already know that Rhodey was going to be seriously hurt in the Civil War movie?
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 lets 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.
My biggest problem was, after losing Bill in the first one, 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 for the new character Ri Ri to potentially take on the War Machine mantle 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.