By Kiel Phegley
When the Marvel Universe split in two, it took an Initiative to right the ship. But now that it's been invaded, don't expect the sinister secrecy to go away just yet.
Last night at the Diamond/Alliance Retailer Summit in Las Vegas, Marvel announced plans for "Dark Reign," a new branding tag line that will grace the covers of key Marvel books in the wake of the blockbuster Secret Invasion event and herald a frightening new status quo for the Marvel Universe. And while comic shop owners learned live the early details of the phrase that will doubtlessly dominate sales in their stores through 2009, we tapped Dark Reign mastermind Brian Michael Bendis for the early scoop on the new status quo.
"The Initiative was kind of like the Cold War," the SECRET INVASION scribe explains, comparing this new push to Initiative branding that followed 2006's Civil War. "There's a war, and then there's a cold war. This was an invasion, and from the invasion, certain people take the hit, certain people rise up as the heroes who you wouldn't expect, and from that comes a new power status in the Marvel Universe that some would consider a dark reign and some would consider heaven. One man's dark reign is another man's 'Finally!'"
And while the exact meaning behind the brooding title won't be revealed until the final issue of SECRET INVASION hits stands on November 19, Bendis promises that the hellish header will have wide-ranging effects on both the publishing and story side of the Marvel U.
"There's going to be new books," vows the writer, one of which will be the new DARK AVENGERS title, written by him with art by Mike Deodato. "There's going to be new alliances. There's going to be new teams and team dynamics. A new world dynamic. What people said about Civil War is that it really changed the dynamic between the super heroes and the rest of the Marvel Universe, and this is even a newer dynamic between the Marvel characters and the world they live in."
And just as The Initiative allowed classic series like THUNDERBOLTS to be reborn with an exciting new direction and new books like AVENGERS THE INITIATIVE to expand upon the building blocks of what the Marvel Universe means, the writer says that Dark Reign will allow the writers and artists at the House of Ideas to take their characters off into new and unexpected directions:
"That's what 'Dark Reign' is—it's one of those ideas where you can do a giant story about it in the Avengers titles but at the same time, you can put it out there for any writer to jump onto, and almost anybody who's books matter as the center and core of the Marvel Universe jump on board gleefully to be a part of this.
"And it's one of those ideas where you can just read your favorite book and enjoy that or dive into this much larger landscape, which we're happy to announce is completely different than anything you've ever seen at Marvel before. And I know when people say that, you go, 'Yeah, yeah,' but if you think about it, every time we've said that under [Editor-In-Chief] Joe [Quesada's] reign—which some people consider the Dark Reign—it's been very, very different. We don't say it with hype. We say it with something to back it up."
The roots for Dark Reign lie in one of the much buzzed about Marvel creative summits where writers test their new ideas for the Marvel U against those of their peers to plot a course for all of Marvel's characters to travel together. In fact, Bendis says that Dark Reign in part got his original pitch for Secret Invasion approved…but not without a little creative criticism, of course.
"You come to the retreats ready to fight," he laughs. "Everyone's got their ideas, and sometimes it's Mark [Millar's] turn, sometimes it's Jeph [Loeb's] turn, and sometimes it's my turn to present an idea or get the crap kicked out of our idea. But what's good with a summit like that is if it can survive the room—and sometimes it has to survive three or four times—that means it's an outstanding idea that can certainly survive the Internet.
"If an idea begets other people's creativity legitimately—not just them going, 'Ah, I want my book to sell'—you can see the difference. When Dan Slott goes, 'Oh! I know what to do with The Initiative!' then you know it's going to rock. And the same thing with Secret Invasion tie-ins or Civil War tie-ins, they go, 'Ooo! Ooo! What about this?' That's just good creativity."
And in the long run, that creativity gives way to new and different paths for Marvel characters—paths that Bendis prides himself on being natural extensions of one another rather than random exercises in plot.
"It's like life," he concludes. "The world keeps turning, and it's our job to create an excitement level, but there's that line between exciting and just shock for shock's sake. The good news about these 'events' or whatever you want to call them is that they all had a logical follow through. They all grew out of the stories that preceded them. For those with long term investment, they're getting a lot for their money, but for people who just want that one story, it's all right there. Following through with these ideas is logical and emotional. You take any one of these characters and put them in a situation and go, 'All right. What would Spider-Man do?' And then you follow that. It's exciting."
For more detail on Dark Reign, including who will take Bendis' place after he departs MIGHTY AVENGERS with issue #20, stay tuned to Marvel.com!