By Nick Authenrieth
One would think that after 110 issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, the series' writer, Brian Michael Bendis, might get tired of the web-slinger. But Bendis isn't losing any steam. "I've had some awesome jobs in comics,' he says. "But this is the best job I will ever have in comics." It's a good thing he likes his line of work, because Bendis has just re-signed with Marvel to continue his work on Spidey and the Avengers
, to name a couple, a decision that should please everyone.
Though he's re-upping his contract, Bendis's run on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN will be different due to fact that the series is changing artists. Mark Bagley, who has been the artist on the series since the beginning, is moving on, only to be succeeded by Stuart Immonen, who he will share duties with on issue #111. "I've been a huge fan of Stuart's for years and years," Bendis notes. "I love NEXTWAVE and his work on Superman."
And as to whether or not he's ready to say goodbye to Mark, Bendis already has things figured out. "I made it so I don't have to," he points out. "He's already drawing MIGHTY AVENGERS. I just waited and waited and when there was an opening I said, 'Hey what about Mark?' So we haven't broken up at all. I don't have to say goodbye."
Not only will they team for the Avengers title, they'll be back together with the Wall-Crawler toot sweet as well. "I've also asked him to draw an ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN annual later in the year that just seemed appropriate for him to draw," Bendis continues. But he couldn't be more excited about the new addition to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. "Stuart was the best decision I've ever been a part of," Bendis gushes. "He is just the perfect replacement. He's his own guy with his own strengths and he's as fun and dynamic a storyteller as Mark is. I have a couple issues of his stuff and you look at it and say 'Whoa, this was a good decision.'"
Bendis has a rather unique relationship with his writers which results in a system which he hopes will bring continued success to the issues he authors, a system that Mark Bagley turned him onto. "I'd literally draw the issue, hand it to the artist and say 'Here, draw this just like I drew it,'" he notes. "That's how crazy I was. Mark Bagley said 'Hey don't do that.' He said, 'Just trust me.' Now I'm completely addicted to saying 'Here I'll write it and I'll try to envision it the way you draw. And then the surprise of what you actually get is so surprising because it's always better than you'd hoped."
As far as his own writing process is concerned, Bendis is heavily influenced and shaped by the artwork. "I try to envision the world through their eyes," he says. "I try to write for them. Then I say to them, 'I'm going to give you a full script and panels, but draw any way you want. Tell the story. Whatever images come into your head and excite you, do them.'" As far as a success rate is concerned, Bendis feels "95 percent of the time they follow the script exactly, but that freedom and my honest trust in them usually gets phenomenal draftsmanship out of them."
is a character that Bendis sees in himself, a fact that has contributed to the style of the character he re-created. "When I was writing Daredevil
, Daredevil is this handicapped, angry man," Bendis says. "I'd have to dip into his voice and get to a place to get there. Whereas with Peter, all I have to do is open my surprisingly raw wounds of high school and there I am." There is, however, one major difference that Bendis points out. "He's certainly seen a lot of chicks for a so-called 'loser.'"
Bendis is also continuing work on POWERS, the superhero crime drama of his own design, for which he has an enormous amount of passion. "What we get to do in POWERS that no other comic book gets to do, is we get to analyze the genre and the medium of superheroes as a murder investigation," Bendis notes. 'We get to peel back the layers from the dead body, looking on." POWERS is another comic of Bendis's with enormous staying power. "I think that's why we've been able to stay alive, going on eight years now," he says. We just look at all of comics and the genre from a different angle."
So what's next for Bendis? Don't count on seeing his work in theaters any time soon. His theoretical departure for the silver screen is a fear that fans have frequently expressed via his message board, often times on less than friendly terms. "Someone just goes, 'You suck! You just want to write movies,'" Bendis says. "That's completely not true. I've kind of weathered a lot of that stuff. I've proven that not to be true. I haven't gone anywhere and I've dedicated my life to this and I'm very sincere. And even if my choices are annoying, you can say, 'Wow, he isn't just a hit and run guy. He wants to stay on these books and really try to do something interesting.'"
And whose career can we hope to see Bendis return from exile in the dark recesses of Marvel universe, as he did with Luke Cage? "The Hood is coming up in NEW AVENGERS and we're really going to build him into something," says Bendis. "And I'm pretty proud of that. The Hood was as esoteric as you can get. It was this Brian K. Vaughan mini-series that was almost like a Godfather Part II
origin of a supervillain and it's just as he was trying to figure out what he was trying to do with himself. I was like, 'Wow. Let's make him the kingpin of supervillains.'"
Known for his dialogue-driven stories, Bendis has some strong theories as to why this aspect is a necessary trait in a successful comic book. "My heart has always been in the philosophies of some playwrights, where the characters are listening to each other," he comments. But just as often, silence can speak as strongly as his well-crafted dialogue. "It's not just talk to talk. It's when they don't talk or what they don't say."
The kids love Spider-Man
and unsurprisingly they love Brian Michael Bendis as well. But just because they're kids doesn't mean he shies away from dialogue in favor of mindless action. "I have a large younger audience, who I hear from all the time," says Bendis. "[They] are smarter than that and kind of want more than that and accept more than that. Even if they don't know exactly where I'm going, they appreciate that I'm attempting to take them somewhere new or to show a story in a different way and have the characters talk to each other."
This carries over into all of Bendis' work. "Even in the lighter stuff, like the funnier issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN where it's just characters interacting, or when the Avengers are just goofing around with each other, people like that stuff the most," Bendis comments. "I hear about that stuff more than anything. I love superheroes. I just don't think they have to do the same thing every issue."
As for his adult critics who view his dialogue unfavorably, Bendis adds, "there's always that criticism of decompression. They always see it as decompressed. Like I took something that was two pages long and made it eight. To me, a fight scene for no reason is 50 times more decompressed. Anyone could fill up an issue with a long fight scene of Namor
pounding Captain Marvel
on the head and then have four pages of actual story."
Still, Bendis doesn't want to give the wrong impression. "I love fight scenes," he says. "I love writing them. I love looking at them. They're fantastic. But you've seen a lot of them. You haven't seen every conversation. Sometimes you can do a lot more damage with a word than you can with a punch."
Writers are often pressured and criticized by their readership for changing storyarcs or killing off characters, an aspect of the business which Bendis is all too familiar with. However, unlike some in his line of work, he welcomes the criticism with open arms, usually on a message board he moderates. It drives him to work harder. "The fact that I have to immediately answer to the thousands of people who are genuine readers of mine or people who just want to give me a piece of their mind, knowing that I'm going to have to face that, it does tend to make you not suck," he laughs. "And even if your decision isn't a popular one, most people, really 90% of the people, know that I'm genuine."
Bendis knows where the fans are coming from, even when they're angry. "I'm a die-hard, living and breathing all-day-long fan," he notes. "I completely understand this. You still have to prove yourself. And until you hit a few home runs, no one's going to be nice to you." Well, with his contract renewed for exclusive Marvel work, it sounds pretty safe to say Bendis has hit those home runs.
And Brian Michael Bendis isn't taking his new contract lightly. "It's a big deal to sign exclusive," he notes. "It's something you take very seriously. What's exciting for me is that I get to keep promises made in the story. That means that a promise I made to the audience is going to be kept. And that's the best stuff ever. What a gift. I genuinely have to thank everyone for buying the books because that's what I got in return for their support was the guarantee that I get to finish my stories." Now, for Marvel fans and Brian Michael Bendis, the story is just beginning.
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