Fear Itself

Wednesday Q&A: Brian Michael Bendis

The Marvel Architect leads the Avengers through Fear Itself and prepares for Ultimate Fallout



By Chris Arrant

As Fear Itself descends on the Marvel Universe, Brian Michael Bendis has plans to take Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and push them to the limit.

With storylines in both AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS tying into Fear Itself, Bendis sees this crucible of fear as his chance to tell stories he wouldn’t normally get to explore. Likewise in the upcoming ULTIMATE FALLOUT, he’s been given a chance to give the Ultimate line he helped create an ambitious ending and a new beginning unlike anything seen before.

Bendis has been at the helm of major stories before, from Avengers: Disassembled and House of M to Secret Invasion and Siege, but the summer of 2011 will see him taking what he’s built and bringing it one step further. As the writer states, he’s not above taking things in a new direction that’s bound to start some debate.

AVENGERS #16 preview art by Chris Bachalo

Marvel.com: Although you're not writing the FEAR ITSELF series, both of your Avengers books get knee deep into the action. How doe each title reflect the event?

Brian Michael Bendis: I found some interesting nooks and crannies to explore with Fear Itself. I’ve had a different experience for each of Marvel’s events, whether or not I was the writer of the event itself. I’ve always thought tie-ins have to be super-super special; they have to reflect pretty big changes for the book and characters, or else what’s the point? I take that pretty seriously. We’ve all seen what crappy tie-ins are like—I don’t want to be guilty of that stuff.

For example, with Civil War all of my characters were front and center but I was in a weird position. Mark Millar wasn’t interested in the stories I had in mind, so I was able to write my own Civil War in the pages of the NEW AVENGERS and CIVIL WAR: THE CONFESSION.

For ear Itself, Matt Fraction is not only a dear friend but he lives nearby and our families are close. So I felt this desire to leave him be; to not inflict my needs until he had plotted out what he needed. I stood back as far as I could and let him do his thing. When he was done, I weaved in stories of my own that work in tandem with what he set up. I’m very grateful for some of the stuff he left open for me; I guess he thought I was generous to stay out of his way, so he was generous back. I’m able to do the stories about the Avengers Tower falling, some pretty meaty business with Sin and her Nazi army, and I’m also allowed to unveil the new Mockingbird. I’m also able to unveil the budding romance between Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, and also give Protector a chance to shine, and also some cool moments for Red Hulk as well.

AVENGERS #17 cover by Alan Davis

On the other hand, I was also able to do something I’d wanted to do for awhile: weave the oral history interviews into the fabric of the series. Those text pieces allow the Avengers to express themselves in ways they wouldn’t normally get to. That kind of thing can only work in certain places and at certain times, and doing this side-by-side with FEAR ITSELF is great.

I’m really happy how it’s turned out; I literally wrote the last issue this weekend.

Marvel.com: You mentioned the budding relationship between Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, so let’s talk about that. How'd they end up brushing together like this in your mind?

Brian Michael Bendis: It’s was just one of those things that popped in my head, and then I had to look around to see if it’d work. Something like this happens when you write an issue and then when the art comes back you notice something casual the artist has inserted, like Hawkeye giving Spider-Woman a look or something. It felt right.

It popped up around the same time Jim McCann began writing HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD, so I kept it to myself as to not derail anything he had planned. I asked him what he had planned for the duo, and when he told me he was going to break them up I mentioned the idea of Hawkeye dating Spider-Woman. Jim said “Oh, that’s interesting” and actually made the Hawkeye/Mockingbird break-up happen sooner than I thought it would.

Hawkeye and Spider-Woman both come from sordid pasts they’re trying to forget about. They’re both right next to each other in the middle of the nightmare that is being an Avenger. Everything’s heightened, and them pairing up made sense. It’s been a lot of fun to write.

NEW AVENGERS #15 cover by Mike Deodato

Marvel.com: Over in NEW AVENGERS, you've got some real adventures in babysitting going as Squirrel Girl is in the Avengers Mansion protecting Luke and Jessica's daughter. Getting past the idea of a Squirrel Girl solo story in an Avengers title, what can you tell us about it?

Brian Michael Bendis: I have to admit it’s not a solo story for her, despite everyone waiting for Squirrel Girl to take center stage. One of the best things about events is being able to do little side stories to delve into these characters; this issue is a really life-changing story for her. Over the course of the issue, readers will find out why she took the babysitting gig in the first place, what it means for her, and what she’s willing to do for the job.

Marvel.com: Daredevil will be joining the New Avengers in issue #16. He's been one of the few holdouts of top heroes never to carry the Avengers card, especially after Spider-Man and Wolverine signed up a couple years back. And he’s also someone you have a long history with. How does that feel for you?

Brian Michael Bendis: Honestly, it feels completely different than writing DAREDEVIL. Back then, the idea of Daredevil joining the Avengers is something that couldn’t happen; the character was just not in a place for it to work. Getting to write Daredevil again through this feels like a complete different experience.

It feels good “coming home” to Daredevil, but not one beat between the series back then and what I’m doing now is the same. When it was first announced that Daredevil was joining NEW AVENGERS, I got a lot of people tweeting, emailing and posting “you shouldn’t be doing this!” And really, that’s part of the reason that made me want to do it. That to me makes it even more interesting because it’s so unusual.

NEW AVENGERS #16 cover by Mike Deodato

And making it even better is seeing Mike Deodato draw it.

Marvel.com: This summer you’ve also got NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1, which seemingly brings to a head the long-simmering story point of Wonder Man disagreeing with the direction of the Avengers. If you can't tell us what specifically is inciting him to this, can you fill us in on what he's preparing to do to stop them?

Brian Michael Bendis: I wrote this awhile back, just after Simon’s last appearance in AVENGERS. Artist Gabrielle Dell’Otto needs some time to create his magic, but it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the wait. In this story, Simon makes his case for what exactly he thinks is wrong with the Avengers doing what they’re doing; as he’s stated a couple times, he believes the Avengers are a huge mistake. In a complete reversal, Simon makes his case to the readers and his new teammates why he thinks the way he does. Those teammates are part of a newly revealed team called the Revengers; a team of fellow ex-Avengers who all share a similar mindset to Simon. Like Simon said to the Avengers back then: stop the Avengers or he’ll stop it for them.

Marvel.com: Jumping not just across town but across universes, I wanted to talk to you about the upcoming ULTIMATE FALLOUT series coming to us weekly starting in July. The story of this limited series has been heavily shrouded in mystery, but can you pull back the curtain a little bit for us?

Brian Michael Bendis: This series is two things: it’s a continuation of the story coming up in ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #160, and I also wrap up everything in the Ultimate Universe based on one terrifying event. Issue #1 will be completely written by me and drawn by Mark Bagley, as well as issue #6. For the issues in between we do the framework with Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer telling their stories inside that. We’re cleaning up some things, but at the same time setting up pieces for what comes after ULTIMATE FALLOUT.

ULTIMATE FALLOUT #1 cover by Mark Bagley

In this limited series, you’ll get the first appearance of the new Spider-Man, the first look at the new Ultimates, as well as art by Bryan Hitch. Sara Pichelli will debut the new Spider-Man with me in issue #4.

ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #160 deals with the direct fallout of the “Death of Spider-Man” arc, and you could consider ULTIMATE FALLOUT #1 actually #161 because they’re so connected. As ULTIMATE FALLOUT expands, it’ll pull in the Ultimates, Captain America, Nick Fury, and a lot of other characters as it pans out.

Marvel.com: This seems like a major tidal shift in the Ultimate Universe, and since you’ve been there from the beginning, how does this moment compare to past changes?

Brian Michael Bendis: This feels very unique to me. I’ve had a lot of very cool experiences in comics; I’m kind of amazed when I think back on it. This one is certainly the most scary and exciting for me; even if it completely tanks—which I don’t think it will because it’s really beautiful—it’ll stand as a bold attempt at something different. If you’re going to go out, then this is how you go out. Working on this has been a big breath of fresh air for us working on the line.

What we’re doing is telling stories that haven’t been told before. This Spider-Man represents something special to me and a lot of people at Marvel; it’s what we should be doing, finding new stories very much in tune with the characters but pushing it further. Getting to these new stories opens up new challenges and new reactions from the readers. What we’ll show in ULTIMATE FALLOUT is something that will cause a nice debate online, but it’s a debate worth having opposed to being about something trivial.

Marvel.com: The series has you, Nick and Jonathan sharing the writing duties, but you’re not really co-writing; you’re each doing individual story threads inside the same book.

ULTIMATE FALLOUT #6 cover by Bryan Hitch

Brian Michael Bendis: Right. How it worked out was that I found the framework for the piece. I worked with Jonathan on this framework, and then set out that I needed the first issue and most of the last issue to make the story work overall. For those issues in between, each of us laid out how many pages we needed to do our stories and editor Mark Paniccia made it all mesh together. We all wrote our own individual scenes by ourselves, so it’s not co-writing really but collaborating.

There’s only three of us, so we were able to coordinate our plans to work separately but in conjunction with one another. I needed to focus on Spider-Man, and Jonathan had a lot of things he needed to do for the Ultimates, with Nick handling the X-Men stuff he needed to clean up and lay out for the future.

We’re all pals, and very admiring of each other. It’s been very easy to collaborate with them

Marvel.com: That brings up an interesting facet to your role at Marvel. You’ve gone from the hot newcomer to being—

Brian Michael Bendis: I don’t like how this question is sounding.

Marvel.com: Give me a bit of rope here and see how it goes. You’re now the experienced hand at all of this, so what’s it like working with two guys in the position you were back with you co-founded the Ultimate line?

Brian Michael Bendis: The way the industry is today, if you have been in it for more than three years you win. If you look back and think of all the people who have come and gone, if you hang in there and keep doing good work then eventually someone will high-five you.

The new Ultimate Spider-Man by Sara Pichelli

I don’t take credit for how Hickman’s career has turned out, but I’ve been a vocal champion of his work and he lived up to all our expectations. That’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my gig at Marvel, to see if I can find creators to point out and get them going. But I don’t want to take too much credit; if I didn’t do it, then someone else would have picked him out too. I just happened to go into the comic store and read Nightly News first.

For Nick Spencer, he makes me feel a little bit old. It has nothing to do with how his career turned out, but he started as a big poster on my message board and now he’s writing next to me. It’s really cool to see how the world works; if you do the hard work, you eventually get in.

The real test of this for me is to look at it and say, “Would I buy these re-launches of ULTIMATES by Hickman and ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN by Spencer?” Definitely.

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Also, you made a mistake: You are showing preview art from Avengers 15, not 16.


Ugh, Bachalo is back in issue 15?