Day three has arrived, and now the ball really starts rolling! In part three of my Brian Bendis interview we discuss his time at Marvel, from Daredevil to commentary on Ultimate Spider-Man (before it was out) to New Avengers. We also take a special focus on fan favorite character – The Sentry.
Now that you’re working with Marvel comics, you have to deal with some of the most absolutely temperamental fans in the entire world —
BMB: You sure?
You don’t agree?
BMB: Naw, I’m joking. I’m being sarcastic. Of course I do! EVERYDAY! (Laughs) No matter what I write, someone tells me to go fuck myself! Yet someone tells me I’m awesome.
How difficult is it for you to balance your desires as a writer with perceptions of fans and editorial staffs who always have to consider their thoughts?
BMB: You know what? I don’t think I necessarily do balance it. You know, I’m a big believer in ‘you don’t write to make everybody happy.’ I’ve said these quotes in a couple other places, but I’ll give them to you now: they are the mantra that I write by. Peter Gabriel said that “Success is a fickle mistress. If you go chasing it, she will elude you. But if you just go about your day and do your own thing, she’ll probably saunter up to you.” And I do believe in that. I think it’s very important that creators of all walks of life, of all things, just do — write a book you would buy! Write a story that YOU are dying to tell! It doesn’t matter how personal it is, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, if you have a vision of the world, or a vision of a fictitious world that you are dying to get out there, just do that! Don’t worry about people!
I have friends, they get neutered or emasculated by internet chatter and I know it’s difficult not to take it seriously when someone somewhere is saying “Ew, fuck you.” But you can’t dictate your actions as a creator. But at the same time, I am on the internet and I am very available. I do like the feedback because out of that feedback, if you take out your little pan sifter and sift through the trollish nonsense, you can really find some good critique. If you wrote something and nobody got it, then you know that you didn’t do a good job! But if you wrote something that you meant to be… that you thought would be confrontational and it WAS confrontational then that’s interesting as well, so I don’t run away from it.
And I of course would love if everybody loved everything I’d ever written, but nobody has ever written that thing that everybody’s loved. It’s never happened in the whole world! If you go on any message board right now, someone just wrote “Watchmen the graphic novel sucks! Will Eisner sucks!” I’ve seen these things! And it does kind of take the edge off when people say anything negative about you. You go, “Wow, there’s someone on the internet that thinks Will Eisner sucks…that’s amazing.” So I…I twittered the other that I was so excited about the Rocketeer hardback was out, and someone immediately started bashing my head in about how bad the Rocketeer is, and I’m like, “You know what? Fine. That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard!” I should get more mad about that than when people yell about my own work.
But you know what? When I first came to Marvel, Joe Quesada pulled me aside, and we weren’t friends or anything, he pulled me aside and he said, “Hey, welcome to comics.” And I said “I’ve been making comics for a while!” And he said, “No, no, no, no, no, you’re at Marvel now. It’s a WHOLE different thing, a WHOLE different animal!” And I didn’t get it right away, and then I got it, and now…sure. I mean, as soon as we announced Ultimate Spider-Man, people were ripping our faces off, of what a horrible idea it was. And I’m like, “Hey, what’s going on, man?” Because, you know, in independent comics, your enemy is indifference, like no one gives a shit at all about anything that you’re doing, and you kinda get used to that feeling.Continued below
Then when someone starts yelling fuck you about something they haven’t even seen yet, you just go “Hey! WHAT? What’re you doing man!” So that was an eye opener. But no, I don’t know, I’d say on my better days I enjoy it. A couple years, when I first joined Avengers, when I was first getting my ass kicked on Avengers by some people, I was confused, like…why are you buying it? I was a few issues into New Avengers and one guy in particular was going insane on me every month! And I finally said, “So don’t buy it! There are so many other comics out there, find something you like!”
And then it was brought to my attention by someone else on the board that some Marvel fans are like sports fans…like Yankees fans! They’re the first ones in the stadium and they got the best seats and they are ready to cheer if you do well, and they will boo the loudest if you’re not doing your job. But they will never not buy it, and I went “Ohhh, okay!”
That really freed me up. It relaxed me a great deal because that I could deal with. That game I can play with. And with that, that thinking now is the best part of, let’s say Siege or the bigger events, or even the stuff in Avengers. I like playing the game where some of the audience is worried or upset or feels that their connection to the characters is stronger than mine, or something like that. I don’t mind that because we’re all speaking the same language. We’re all affected very strongly by these characters, connected very passionately with this medium, and I don’t mind having that thing.
The only thing that bothers me, the only thing that weirds me out but the writer in me loves, is this weird psychosis where some, and it’s a small, small part of the community, that seems to not know the difference between a fictitional superhero and the creator that’s working on that character. In fact, it’s even worse when some people who seem to think Spider-Man’s real, but Joe Quesada is some fake wrestling character that they can just rip the face off of, you know? And they don’t understand that the creators are very passionate artists with families and, you know, there’s not a lot of empathy or sympathy, and that is always so real to me.
They seem to think that Joe Quesada is a Spider-Man villain or something, or I’m an Avengers villain…and that’s weird! But again, as a writer, absolutely fascinating. But I don’t engage in those interactions because there’s just nothing to gain from it at all. It’s just fascinating to me.
I know that was a long answer, I’m sorry!
That’s fine! I enjoyed it!
BMB: It’s fascinating to me that subject, so…I could go on all day about it! But again, 90% of my day is filled with people saying unbelievably nice things, unbelievably passionate…this week in particular has been very awesome with Siege. I was worried if I’d dipped into the event well one time too many, but it’s been probably the best reaction to a story like this since I started. So it’s nice because it’s probably the last one I’m going to do, so it’s exciting to have the reaction be so positive.
You just can’t help folks on the negative, because it’s so fascinating! It’s so interesting! We’ve always talked about, among our creator circle, we always talk about how a hundred people can say something nice but you’ve got to wait to really find that one guy who will really let you have it. And then you go about your day and you stop looking!
So speaking back of when you first started at Marvel, I think one of the biggest things that you’ve managed to is bring back a legitimate street level feel to Marvel heroes. What do you think it was that drew you to characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist?
BMB: Well I’m a Frank Miller baby! I mean, that’s the stuff that was exciting to me. Having been in high school and in college in the 80’s, I was at the foot of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, even Howard Chaykin, where that’s where the stories were being told from. It was from that work that I discovered work of the authors that they admired and crime writers. And then I started discovering crime fiction writers and playwrights and stuff that excited me, and then when I came to mainstream comics, though my take on Daredevil was very different from Frank Miller’s, it was starting from the same mindset of what would the world really be like for this man, what’s the duality of his nature, and really getting into it.Continued below
Also, I spent ten years as a crime fiction graphic novelist, so my taste and inclinations were towards the rules of film noir anyhow and applying them to the superhero genre was very exciting to me. I’m a big believer in comics as a bastard medium, and a young author like myself should bring something to it, not just “Oh I love comics, I’ll make comics!” It should be, “Well, what else can I pull in?” Can I pull in the rules of film noir and applying them not only to Daredevil or Spider-man, but then to branch to main books and such was very exciting to me, and seemed an honest way to go about my day.
And also, the characters of that level seem more interesting, more relatable. I can look around the world and see someone that reminds me of Luke Cage or reminds me of Matt Murdock. Matt Murdock’s voice couldn’t be more different from my own, but I know someone just like him, and I was really able to tap into it, you know what I mean? Just really analyze that character.
BMB: Well, I don’t think so. I think that there’s other aspects to Daredevil’s character. The swashbuckler, the pulp hero. You can fit him in. It’s rare that you’ll ever see Daredevil in any of these. Daredevil’s not in House of M, he’s barely in Civil War, he’s not in Siege, and he’s barely in Secret Invasion. And he probably wouldn’t have been if he wasn’t in New York! I’m the biggest Daredevil fan in the world, but I never genuinely found room for him there.
But at the same time, we just did a run of New Avengers and Daredevil’s right there, front and center, and it was kinda fun to put words in his mouth one more time. So really it just depends, and you could ask the same question of another writer, and he would go “Oh no, Daredevil should be the focus of ALL events! And it annoys me that Bendis has never done it!” It just seemed like his world was…I dunno, it seems more times than not Daredevil is living in his own world. But other characters? There’s something to it. I don’t know why Luke Cage seems like an Avenger, or seems like an Avenger with a journey in his heart. That’s very very interesting to me and it hasn’t subsided.
That’s what’s exciting about the Marvel Universe. There’s so many toys, and there’s always going to be some writer who pulls out what their favorite toy and put them up on a pedestal and either convince an audience that this character is awesome or not, or the character goes back in to the sea of obscurity with the ten people that like him or her.
But there’s not a writer in the world who’s done that that hasn’t been surprised other people like them. Luke Cage in particular. I’m very surprised people like him as much as I do because there was no evidence to that prior to his advance in New Avengers, and it’s been very exciting giving Spider-Woman some spotlight. It’s a character I love.
That’s actually a really great segue into my next question: especially in New Avengers, you’ve brought a lot of smaller characters to prominence. When I think of that I think of someone like the Hood, but I know that what a lot of people think of is this character who was so small, and now he’s such a huge part of the Marvel Universe, and that’s The Sentry.
And as it so happens, one of the writers at Multiversity is one of those people that you mentioned who has this really strong dislike of The Sentry. So as the main writer who features him the most often, what do you think personally that he missing about The Sentry? What is it that makes the Sentry so awesome to you?Continued below
BMB: It’s not that the Sentry is so awesome… the Sentry is fascinating to me. I like the idea of the superhero archive put upon such a fractured psyche. I kinda like that he’s this time bomb in Avenger’s Tower! And that’s interesting to me. Yeah, if you ever go online you see these people going “WHERE ALL THE NEW CHARACTERS? Who’s inventing the new great characters!” And it wasn’t so much that no one was inventing new great characters, but there was this weird disconnect with other creators that someone like Brian or Paul, that invented Sentry, and no one else would touch the Sentry! No one else would even think to touch the Sentry! So the Sentry would kinda just flit away, and disappear! And I remember calling up Paul, and going, “Hey, can I use the Sentry?” And he goes “PLEASE! I’ve waited for years! It made me feel like no one likes him! Yes, use the Sentry!” And I told him the road I wanted to go down with him, and he was like, “Yes! Good!” And I had the same reaction with Brian K Vaughan with the Hood, and David Mack with Echo. And these are really great characters and they would just fall by the wayside.
Like, none of us had any trouble doing every God damn thing Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had ever done, and adding and reinventing. But for some reason when it gets closer to our peer group, we feel that that’s hands off. We’re not allowed to touch that. But we were! And I had the same reaction from Allan Heinberg when he wanted to use Jessica Jones as the lead character in Young Avengers. At first I was shocked because it is like someone calling you up and going, “Hey, can I bang your girlfriend?” But then afterwards you go, “I would be honored if you banged my girlfriend! That’s very nice of you to ask!”
I think the only thing that keeps some of these characters from becoming great characters is just face time with the audience. The concepts are tremendous, both with the Hood and Sentry in particular. I saw in my head a very great journey of character that is worth it now as far as the Sentry goes. The Sentry is a loved and hated character, and I get why. It’s because you don’t know exactly what’s going on with him. But you know it’s something bad and you know someone’s going to get hurt, and that is pathetic. That is unappealing to people. Some people find that very appealing, others find it incredibly unappealing, and I think about that a lot. I will say that that will come into a head one way or another Siege, so we’ll see what he thinks about it then.
BMB: He’s a fractured, damaged person with Superman like powers.
So a hero kind of?
BMB: He’s wearing a superhero costume! That actual question is addressed in the pages of Dark Avengers 14! So I’m excited for you to pick that up. But I do answer that question in my work, so that’s always the best way.
I think now is the perfect jumping on point to talk about Siege for a bit!