Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
That’s right. Brian “I Hate Harry Knowles” Bendis. Right here on AICN. How the hell did that happen?
It all started in San Diego.
Hey guys, Vroom Socko here.
I was wandering the exhibit floor, basically whoring out the @$$hole name to as many creators as I could, when I found myself in front of Brian Michael Bendis. For those of you that don’t know, Bendis is the writer of Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Alias for Marvel, as well as the crime & capes book Powers at Image. For an @$$hole look at not only Powers, but also Spidey and Daredevil, just click here, while a review of Alias #25 can be found here. Anyway, I told Bendis who I was. He recognized the name immediately, of course.
No, seriously, he did.
So I decided to ask him if he was willing to sit down for an interview once we both had returned to Portland and he had a free day. Long story short, about three weeks ago we grabbed a table at a Hawthorne street coffee shop and chatted for two hours or so.
No, seriously, we did.
Here, read it for yourself.
First things first, Is it true that you, Brian Azzarello, and Brian K. Vaughan were all put up for adoption by the same crappy pair of parents who just couldn’t come up with a decent first name?
I think that’s absolutely true.
I haven’t heard that joke before. The three Brians from Cleveland with bald heads. Yes.
My god man what have you done.
Yeah, I tipped over the truck a couple of times there, so…
Well technically you tipped over a limo, but…
(Laughs) Yeah, I’ll cop to something there. Me and Joe Quesada had a huge argument whether Daredevil’s strong enough to tip over a limo. I know this was a point of contention online…
And my point is that if you rock a limo you can, you know, a real strong guy can… I’ve seen jocks tip over vans. You’ve seen this, right.
I have, actually.
So that was my argument, that you can tip over a van, and Joe was saying absolutely not. And I said that *I* could do it, that’s how sure I was that it could be done. And he goes, “Next time you come to New York, we’re going to rent a limo, and you’re going to tip it over, and we’re going to stand there and watch you tip it over.”
And I did cop to… I was going to, like… I did write a version where he didn’t tip the limo over, he just trashed it. And for some reason the wrong script got to Alex. I had copped to the fact that maybe Daredevil isn’t strong enough, but now he is. That’s how continuity goes haywire. But I did do the right thing in theory.
Well, I mean, as far as Daredevil goes, it’s…I mean, this book is the book where creators tip over the truck. It’s the book where the audience expectation for thirty years now has been, y’know, do something we haven’t seen in a Marvel comic before. And there’s that giant shadow of Frank Miller, which is beyond being just great comics. There’s a reason all of us who are in this generation of comics are comic readers, so when you’re given the book, if you have something to say, you have almost a responsibility to say it. Try stories they haven’t seen done before. I’m just glad the book didn’t tank.
The one criticism you see every once in a while from old school: we’re just being smartasses or something. It’s not the case at all; I love that character. I LOVE Daredevil. Daredevil means the world to me, and what you should do out of that love is to make the book as interesting as possible. And people are like, I don’t know if I like what’s going on, and I’m like, “Well MATT doesn’t like what’s going on!” It’s drama.
And now Alex is here now, in Portland, so there’s more of an in-person synergy on the creation of the pages, which is a nice little added level, so…
And when you do come back, what’s going to be happening? I mean, Daredevil essentially now is the Kingpin of Crime Prevention.
Exactly… well, what Matt did is, he did something giant. He didn’t tell Foggy. He didn’t tell Milla. He didn’t tell the FBI, who were working with him. He didn’t tell the other superheroes. He crossed the line, and didn’t tell anybody, so the repercussions are huge across the line.
So we do get what I call, almost, a superhero intervention, where… It isn’t just Luke and Matt yelling at each other, now Luke gets Reed Richards and Peter Parker and Dr. Strange, and they all meet at Bryant Park and go “What the fuck are you doing?” And Matt’s argument’s an interesting argument, so… yeah.
Looking forward to that. Speaking of Foggy, you’ve… You gave Foggy some cojones.
Well, you know, Foggy… Foggy always had them, its just some people interpreted them that way, and some people didn’t. Some people who wrote the book liked him for comic relief, and other people saw that Foggy is the rock. During Matt’s darker hours, Foggy’s the one that makes you love Matt. Foggy absolutely loves Matt, and through Foggy we love Matt, ‘cause Matt’s a closed book. Matt may be on his fifth nervous breakdown, it’s hard to tell, you know what I mean? So through Foggy… Also, Foggy’s a smart guy, they’re very savvy lawyers. Foggy’s kinda like Robin. He’s the confidante; he’s the guy who’s always been there for Matt, and will always be there for Matt.
And even though it was broken up into different chapters, like Lowlife and Out…
It’s one big story.
It’s a twenty five-issue story arc, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s a twenty-five issue… And it’s funny, because it’s one of those things where you see online people saying “Why doesn’t Marvel do those big giant story arcs like they used to? Remember the Korvac Saga? Where’s the Korvac Saga of our generation?” It’s here. It’s right there. But you know, I… the one thing is I think you can read any arc unto itself.
Over in the pages of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, you wrote one of the best sequences I’ve ever read of Daredevil’s super senses creating an image of a person standing in front of him.
Such a good bit, but Ultimate Team-up ended up having a finite lifespan. Do you wish you’d saved it for the mainline Daredevil title?
Absolutely. If I’d known I was going to have Daredevil, I probably would have. I did do a little bit of it, I did repeat it, just ‘cause even though it’s kinda hacking on yourself, but I said “Yeah, that was pretty good.” I did do it again with the intro to Milla, because I thought his opinion of what she felt like to Matt was very important.
Listen, you write every comic like it’s the only time you’re going to get to write these characters. You don’t say, “I’ll hold this off in case some miracle happens…” So… yeah, I’ll cop to that. There’s all kinds of stuff when you go “Aw, I shoulda saved that!” but, you know, it’s okay. You can always come up with something else.
Okay, everyone knows that DD is the scoringest superhero of all time…
The what now?
He gets the most… women. Of all time.
Yeah, okay. Absolutely.
Hypothetical: you’re unmarried and get a night to spend with any one of them – who tops the list?
Of Matt’s girlfriends? Black Widow.
Black Widow. You can tell she’s fantastic. She’s a home run. Also, she seems like, y’know, when I was single, I always appreciated a girlfriend who goes away. “We’ll do it, then I’ll go away. I’ll see you in a couple of months,” Y’know?
All right, the appearance of the FF in Ultimate Team-Up.
How is that going to carry over…
Well there were two appearances, and the one that Jim Mahfood drew, which is, I think, one of my favorite things I’ve done for Marvel, is just a goofy piece and a goofball. It’s not there for continuity, it’s just…
It was just for kicks.
Well, I loved the old Impossible Man, X-Men annuals, and Ambush Bug, and I just thought, let’s do something out there in an Ultimate book, just once. And I always liked it when I was a kid when they’d… when Spider-Man would crash through Marvel Comics, and they’d run through the offices. They hadn’t done that in decades, and I always thought that it gave it a… I wanted to work there when I saw stuff like that, so I wanted to do it once, and take a couple of pokes at Joe and Bill along the way.
Now the other one… I don’t want to ruin anything for people that’re going to read Ultimate FF, but eventually it won’t be out of continuity. If that makes sense.
Eventually. Well, the thing with the Ultimate books is… the word continuity is a word we made up as comics fans, and the Ultimate books don’t have that word associated with them, so what you really want to do is not worry about that so much and just enjoy the moment. And that moment in USM was a pure moment, and I meant it, and I will make it work, but don’t worry about it, just enjoy what you read in UFF.
And it’s not that we’re shitting on continuity, it’s just that it’s not the most important thing. But I think me and Mark have done a really fine job of not contradicting each other over the course of the insanity. So that said, y’know, we’re aware of it, but that’s not the point of the Ultimate books. I mean, the special was about a young Spider-Man journey through the Marvel Universe. It was kinda a homage to I think it was the first Spider-Man Annual, where he was bumping into everybody.
So then the Ultimate FF is going to start out prior to the events of…
I promised all the people I work with that we won’t discuss…
You won’t discuss…
It’s just… You know what, it’s a high quality effort. Everyone’s working their butt off, and people have made a lot of preconceived judgments online, which is hilarious to read, but… I think people are going to dig it.
So leave your preconceived notions at the door.
I’d say yeah. And even after you read the first issue the second is totally different.
Are we going to be seeing HERBIE?
I’m fighting for it. Mark will have nothing to do with writing that part of it, so… You might even see Willy Lumkin.
I have a list here of people I’m wondering if we’re going to be seeing. Not necessarily right away, but in the first two or three years.
Some I’ll answer, some I won’t.
The Mole Man?
Probably, but not in the first year.
The Red Ghost.
I don’t think so. It’s not on the list.
Not… No. I mean, the Inhumans didn’t show up until issue 40 or so of FF…
Can’t answer that, because really our take on Galactus is so different, that… The threat of Galactus, yes, but it’ll be something totally different.
The Frightful Four.
No. I like them though.
What the hell. Diablo.
I like Diablo. Diablo will show up somewhere, I like that villain. If not in Ultimate FF, than in Ultimate Spider-Man. Yeah, I like him. He’s one of my favorite villains.
But Willy Lumpkin, yes.
Now, Ultimate Spider-Man (this is one from Cormorant) seems fairly in tune with Lee and Ditko’s original tone, despite the update in idiom and pacing. See, I would never use the word idiom, so…
Now Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates seem more like radical rethinks of the source materiel they were derived from. Do you ever have any trouble reconciling your approach with Millar’s in your shared universe?
No. Mark… Mark’s world is a paramilitary world. They’re a paramilitary organization. That’s what he’s writing. And Peter Parker’s a fifteen year old kid, so their view of the world… I mean, My view of the world and Colin Powell’s view of the world are two totally different view of the worlds. And we could be involved in the same story, and his written version of it and my written version of it can be totally two different points of view of the world. He just sees the world differently.
So Mark’s presentation of The Ultimates is very much in tune with the way their lives would be. It’s an organized structure, military view of the world. Whereas Peter… the one thing with Peter, Peter’s view of the world is actually more open than most, but when you’re in high school all you know is high school. All that’s going on… your whole world is that school. The only people you know go to that school. And you’re very isolated. You don’t know about world events. You don’t watch CNN. Peter has the extra-added bonus of his job, and being Spider-Man, and that’s opened up his experience.
I actually think that our tone in USM is closer to the Romita years. I think those are the years that Stan had kinda figured out the rules of Spider-Man. There was a little bit of “making it up as he went along” in those first twenty issues. There was stuff he contradicted later on, and… I think the Romita years was when he figured out what his relationship to the world is, what his relationship to himself is, what his relationship to all the girls are. And Y’know, Peter Parker got a lot of hoochie back then, man. He was giving Matt a run for his money. I mean, for a loser, he had… I mean, these are hot hotties just throwing themselves at him. Gwen was just throwing it at him, Betty Brant was throwing herself at him, he was doing all right. He knew ten girls, and three of them were trying to, y’know, get it going on. The only one that wouldn’t have him was Liz, so, y’know, that’s a pretty good track record.
How much of your inspiration for Ultimate Spider-Man comes from those years, and how much comes from, like, you’ve said that Carnage came from page four of a book on DNA you were reading…
Any writer will tell you inspiration comes from anywhere. Sometimes you’ll overhear one sentence and that’ll be it. Sometimes it’s a personal anecdote. Sometimes it’s just that I really want to tell a story about THIS. This theme is bothering me! I’d like to explore it for myself, or this character needs to, y’know, be driven through this kind of obstacle course to come out the other side. so it all comes from anywhere. It’s a sort of organic and ethereal thing, and that’s where a lot of writers get scared of it, because you’re relying on something you can’t even point to. It’s just… it’s just floating out there.
I guess what I’m wondering is, do you ever look through old issues and say, “Now if I had been Stan Lee, or Gerry Conway, or somebody, I would have done it this way.”
I did read through… what you do is you do read through them, ‘cause you don’t want to accidentally steal something, where something you read thirty years ago, and you can’t remember if you thought of it or not, y’know? So I did blow through the first 150 issues of Spider-Man, just to analyze why it worked, especially when I first got the gig. I was really looking at it and saying what worked and what didn’t work. And when you’re working on a Doc Ock fight, you do look at all the Doc Ock fights and… just make sure you’re not purposefully ripping something off. And then sometimes a throwaway will inspire some big giant idea, y’know? And then every once in a while I’ll go “you know what? I really think that the Sam Bullitt arc of Spider-Man was one of the best arcs I’ve ever read, and I’d like to do an adaptation of that,” y’know, a purposeful adaptation of that to the new audience of Spider-Man, fully copping to the fact that this is a reinterpretation of an existing story. So it comes and goes.
But it’s one thing to do it purposefully, it’s another thing to, y’know, you think you’ve thought of something original, and then you find out Jim Shooter did it in Secret Wars II, and get all bummed out at yourself, not only that you didn’t think of it yourself, but that you’re stealing it from something sucky. I mean, there’s forty years of intense continuity, five issues a month, a lot’s been done.
Speaking of forty-year spans, is Peter going to age at all, or is he going to be stuck in a Simpsons-esque limbo where he’s always in high school?
For a while it’s going to be… It’s not so much a Simpsons-esque limbo. I like to think that maybe two months have gone by so far. Y’know what I mean? Just a really bad two months. I mean, the Venom arc took two days. If you read it, cover-to-cover, it’s two nights and a day. Again, this is one of those things that’s not really the point.
Do you ever worry about your stories ever ending up dating? I’m thinking in particular of the Carson Daily joke.
Y’know, I do worry about that. You worry more about the person dying between the time you wrote it and the time it sees print. There’s a two month time at the printer/production thing where you couldn’t get to it, and actually when I worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer I wrote a joke (that actually reprinted in Total Sell-Out), which is John Glenn in space. I did a fake Flash Gordon cartoon, it was around the time that John Glenn was going back into outer space, and I did basically every old man joke you can think of; the seat belt hanging out of the rocketship and everything. And I was very proud of it and I actually kinda imitated Alex Raymond, and I did everything I could do with it.
And then I had this overwhelming fear that he was going to die during the three weeks of production, and there was no way to stop it printing. Once that thing hits, there’s no way to stop it. And it was possible, ‘cause he was an old man, he was putting himself through a stress, and oh man, I’d be the biggest asshole ever if this guy falls over between now and then.
So you do worry about it, but with Carson Daily I literally wrote the joke, and then went online and found out that he’d just signed a seven year contract, so I figured if he’s going to be on TV this long the joke’ll be good forever. ‘Cause my feeling is, as fresh jokes go, it’s dated, but at some level it goes around and becomes never dated. If they’re famous enough… like, Vanilla Ice never goes out of style. MC Hammer jokes are as good as they were in 1990.
So I do worry about it. I try not to do pop culture references as a rule, but you know, if they pop in I do give them a lot of thought. I just go for the laugh.
I suppose worrying about the person dying would be a good concern, especially the past few months.
Yeah, somebody’s keeling over every few minutes.
Do you think the Ultimate line could survive without you and Millar.
But would it be as good?
No. (Laughs) See, I’m of the school of creators that doesn’t fool myself into thinking that I’ve invented comics. There’s a lot of guys out there that get a hit book and go “Everyone stop what you’re doing! I’m HERE!” No, I’m very lucky to be where I am. It’s a nice… I am part of a package, (I do think an important part), but part of a package that involves a lot of people and a lot of things; excellent marketing, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert, just an exceptional team of editors, and a character that people love and creators that love the character. So it’s all part of a package, and you want to keep that package together as long as everyone is where they feel right now, y’know what I mean? But yeah, I’m not one of these guys who tricks myself into thinking that I’ve invented Spider-Man. And there are Peers that absolutely think that once they have a book for two issues, they’ve invented it. But I’m not THAT nuts.
This is a quick question from Buzz Maverik. Could you tell Bendis he should’ve made the shrink in Ultimate Spider-Man #45 Dr. Faustus, Super Villain Therapist.
(Laughs for a solid thirty seconds,)
But who says it isn’t?
Okay, Cormorant’s comments on that issue.
Yeah. Is he going to be a big smartass?
He’s… Okay, the Aunt May in therapy issue brings to mind a slew of questions.
Lay them on me man, ‘cause I hated your review.
Hey, my part of that review was positive!
No, I know. I’m talking TO him on the tape.
That’s directed to Cormorant. Okay.
What a dickhead review that was.
Cormorant, he didn’t like your review. I should be wary; I think he has a knife.
Yeah, but I’m short, so I can’t get to anything vital.
Can you give us a general target audience for Ultimate Spider-Man? About how old… Or I should say how young?
Well, it’s not eight years old, (which I think he said it was), but yeah, it’s for a general audience, that’s what mainstream books are for, they’re for a general audience, which is kids and adults alike. And you know, every once in a while you almost have an obligation to push something in a direction that shows them something new. You know what… because, you hated that issue? I got more mail about “Oh my god, I cried.” Too, people on the board, my board, people got very emotional about it. I had people come up to me in Toronto, which was the weekend after it had come out, literally very emotional about it. So yeah, it wasn’t action oriented, but I don’t think audiences are that dumb, that they can’t sit through an interesting conversation. I just don’t. I don’t care if it’s a fifty year old woman or a ten year old boy or a guy in a costume; interesting is interesting. And if you sat and, y’know, didn’t have an expectation and just got involved in it…And a lot of people who read the book actually wanted to hear what Aunt May’s point of view of the world was.
But I’ll cop to one thing. I did write that for myself. The whole thing was written just for something for me to work out her character on. Loss is an important issue, and she certainly had been through a lot of it, and… And I had a bunch of interesting things about… like why Peter gets to run around as much as he does, which is something we kinda take for granted, it’s like a clichÃ© of the Spider-Man story. I worte it for me and I held onto it for a year or two, and I showed it to Marvel, and with that… y’know “if you don’t want to publish an issue about a woman sitting there crying that’s fine,” but I just wanted everyone to see what was going on, and… Yeah, and then I decided that if I’m so haunted by it, or keep thinking about it… And I did, even after I wrote it, I kept thinking about it, I’m like, yeah it’s worth publishing. Maybe someone else will find this interesting.
Of course I know it’s against the grain of a normal mainstream comic, but… Y’know, in the history of comics the ones I remember, for better or worse, are the ones that did that. So I’d rather do that when it’s appropriate than just go “Oh, that’s not how this is done.” When someone tells me “That’s how it’s done,” my eyes roll up in my head and go Roaull…
I probably answered five questions right there, so…
Pretty much, yeah.
Now, I did expect a little @$$slapping from that issue, because people want Spider-Man, and they want him to jump around and… you know. But it’s also funny; when people are selling their hatred of something they always oversell the point. It wasn’t just Aunt May sitting around; it was Aunt May’s point of view of many different things. Like, we kept coming back to other scenes she had witnessed, or things that she saw, so it wasn’t just her sitting there static for twenty-two pages. There’s a lot of visual information on top of it too. So… Y’know, I think you’ve got to be fair about stuff like that.
But even with the target audience was for eight year olds, you don’t… Stan never wrote the books dumb, and he never wrote down to the audience. If there’s ever a lesson to be learned from Stan Lee, it’s that he wrote… he said, “If you don’t know what that word means, look it up.” Y’know? He always wrote a little smarter than was necessary, and he always wrote about smart characters. Peter, Tony Stark, Reed Richards, they’re all smart characters. Matt… they’re all college educated geniuses of craft and he wrote them as such. And you know what? I think our responsibility is to continue along that. I think underestimating an audience is insulting to you and your audience. I think you’re insulting yourself as a writer, so…
And I never got a letter that says, “I’m dropping the book, you ass.” You care about her! Aunt May is like this important person to people who read the book. And now when you see Aunt May in other situations, and if you’re following the book, there’s always extra levels to Aunt May…
And you can kinda see how she’s interpreting the situation…
Yep, exactly. Well, you’d think about it yourself, so…