Article originally written by Ryan Closs
It’s been a fairly slow news week, at least as far as comics go. I usually try and use some news as a springboard, but since there’s nothing from which to spring this week I figured I’d do some comparing and contrasting. Let’s gather round and look at the two men generally guiding the creative direction of the two major comic publishers: Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis.
Geoff Johns is the absolute guiding force of DC Comics, even more so than Bendis at Marvel and especially due to having the title of Chief Creative Officer. His titles are the books that “matter”, he’s worked on most of the events from DC for the last 10 years, and the majority of these books have that light feel that Johns brings to the game. Whether or not this is a good thing for DC is definitely up for debate.
On the flip side, Bendis doesn’t have a fancy title (aside from the silly “Architects” moniker) but he’s been writing the flagship books for both the Marvel-616 and Ultimate lines and there’s no denying he has a huge influence over the general direction. Unlike his DC counterpart, Bendis seems much more willing to share the spotlight and step back a bit to let people like Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman take the lead of assorted sections of the line. There’s definitely a wider diversity of voices at Marvel right now (as diverse as a bunch of white guys can be, but that’s a problem for both sides and the topic of another article down the line).
That’s where they are now, but how did they climb to the top of the heap? Geoff Johns was working as a PA for Richard Donner and, while working on Conspiracy Theory, he visited DC Comics in NYC where he befriended Eddie Berganza, who invited him to pitch some stories. His first work in comics was also his first legacy character Stars and STRIPE, focusing on the new Star-Spangled Kid and her father. When James Robinson invited Johns to co-write JSA, a star was born. He began writing one of the most acclaimed Flash runs ever, and he even spent some time at Marvel writing the Avengers before coming back to DC to “fix” Hawkman and re-launch the Teen Titans. It was when he re-launched Green Lantern that he really became a star, though; Green Lantern quickly rose to be one of the most popular books at DC, and he was given the reigns to write his first event Infinite Crisis. Following this he joined the impressive foursome of Morrison, Waid and Rucka to co-write 52 (which, anecdotally, is the series that got me into DC comics). Since then he’s written acclaimed runs of Action Comics (with his mentor Richard Donner), re-envisioned characters like Booster Gold, helped reaffirm Barry Allen as the Flash after Morrison brought the character back, and generally being the king of “Legacy” characters. He’s even taking a shot at “fixing” Aquaman. He clearly deeply loves the DC Universe and has been helping to mold it for almost 10 years now.
Unlike Geoff Johns who had a relatively easy time breaking into comics, Brian Michael Bendis struggled for years as a critically acclaimed but poor selling independent comics creator. Starting off writing and drawing his own crime books including Jinx, Goldfish and Torso, he eventually gained enough recognition land a job at Image writing Sam and Twitch (characters from the Spawn universe) and what is probably his best known independent work, Powers (coming soon to FX). Powers and his earlier work caught the attention of Joe Quesada and, after working on an abandoned Nick Fury pitch for the Marvel Knights line, Bendis was tapped for Ultimate Spider-Man, which 11 years later is still going strong (despite the occasional renumbering). He’s also written acclaimed runs of Daredevil, the Avengers and his Marvel MAX series Alias, where he introduced Jessica Jones to the Marvel U. In 2004 he tore down the Avengers with Avengers: Disassembled and since then, Avengers has been the flagship book of Marvel, which Bendis has been writing ever since. He’s also written several major Marvel events including House of M, Secret Invasion and Siege. Right now, he’s still writing the Avengers between two books as well as Ultimate-Spiderman, showing no signs of stopping, and he’s about to tackle Moon Knight with his longtime collaborator Alex Maleev. He’s also dipping his toe back into creator owned work with Takio, Scarlet (also with Maleev), as well as reuniting with his original Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Mark Bagley for Brilliant.Continued below
They’re both clearly huge fans of their respective universes and the thought of either one writing for the other company just seems strange and unnatural at this point. They’re the poster boys for each company and have parlayed that success and acclaim to write for television and video games, and both are involved in the movie ventures from their companies. They’re both excellent writers in their own right, but for my money rely on certain crutches too much as both have very noticeable styles. It’s a pretty long running joke that Bendis writes a LOT of dialogue in his books; Powers is littered with it, and no one writes as many talking heads or dinner table conversations as him. It was fun for a while but I’ve become pretty tired of everyone throwing quips back and forth, and while some people would love Avengers: Dinner Table, it’s just not for me. I’m talking a voluntary Bendis sabbatical right now and, honestly, I’m not really missing him. He’s definitely a talented writer, (I’ll never argue that) but he’s just not for the Ryan Closs of 2011. Who knows what the future holds?
Johns, on the other hand, is more plot driven. He’s all about ironing out complicated histories and reveling in the minutiae of DC history. Aside from Batman (who doesn’t need it), by the end of the year he’ll have cleaned up and revamped every major DC character but Wonder Woman (and plenty of non-major characters). While I liked Brightest Day significantly more than other people here at Multiversity, I’m not sure how much longer my relationship with Mr. Johns is going to last. I’m reading Flashpoint and War of the Green Lanterns, but after that’s done I’m not sure if I’ll be checking out Aquaman or the inevitable Flash relaunch.
Both men at the top of their game are among the best the business has ever seen, but at this point I think it’s time for both to take a step back and give other people a chance to shine. As I said earlier, Bendis has been doing a much better job of this and seems to be concerned more with building a stronger long-term Marvel universe than hogging the glory. I’m sure Geoff Johns wants nothing but the best for DC Comics (he is CCO after all), but they desperately need to spread the love around some more. Bedard, Simone and Tomasi are all fantastic writers that could easily write a great long run with a top-tier book, and I really want to see them get that chance, not to mention up and comers like Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder.
In a way Geoff Johns is the writer for childhood Ryan with big fun comics steeped in continuity, and Bendis is the writer for adolescent Ryan with comics full of snarky characters and clever twists. I’m not the same person I was 5 years ago, and the people I like now are a mix of the two. Guillory and Layman created a big, fun comic full of clever ideas in Chew, and that’s the kind of stuff I want to read these days. Hickman on FF, Bryan Q. Miller on Batgirl and Rick Remender writing ANYTHING are the people I’m loving right now. Lots of fun, lots of depth and taking new spins on old characters that I never thought I’d enjoy as much as I am.
While I’m not liking Bendis and Johns as much in the past they’re still, historically, two of my favourite writers and I can’t wait to see where they go next. I’d absolutely love to see Geoff Johns take a stab at some creator-owned work and if Bendis ever went back and scripted some good crime stuff again I’d be all-in. What do you guys think of these two titans of the industry? Still loving everything they put out? Digging one but not the other? Let us know via that comment box you see below the article.