In my mind, Brian Bendis is one of the most relatable comic book writers in comics. An incredibly friendly guy, Bendis came from a place that many of us live in. He’s a huge fan of comic books that was working in a comic book store and wanted to make his own books. And eventually, he worked on his own books out of pocket that he hoped to some day publish. He eventually did when he teamed up with the folks at Caliber comics to publish a series of noir and crime based comics before eventually hooking up with Image, and later Marvel (where he now writes every Avengers book ever!).
But if you really want to read about Bendis’ history as a writer, you can check out an article I wrote over a year ago around the time the site started. Today, I take over the reigns of Off The Cape to talk about one of Bendis’ earliest published works in the comic genre – 1994’s AKA Goldfish.
Check out more after the jump.
Bendis’ earlier work is honestly some of his best. Without getting into a dialect about his current work in the superhero realm (of which I also enjoy), I honestly believe Bendis was always most at home when writing crime/noir-esque thrillers. Things like Alias, Daredevil and Powers all featured super-elements, but were at their heart crime and noir stories, and they felt rather natural. If you go earlier than that, to Jinx and Goldfish, you’ll find some of his best work. In fact, books like this are the reason you now know Bendis’ name at all, and those of you that read Fortune and Glory know how succesful this book really was for Bendis’ career.
AKA Goldfish tells the story of David Gold (guess what his nickname is). He returns home to Clevland after being gone for ten years to find out that his ex Lauren has essentially taken over the city and it’s underground. Gold is an accomplished con-man, and despite his sordid past has returned in order to take his son from his mother. In order to do that, though, he’ll not only have to succesfully infiltrate her crime empire, but also team-up with an old friend and current cop in order to get his son back.
As I said, Bendis has always felt (to me) more at home when he’s writing a crime story. This is obvious when you look at some of his influences, most notably David Mamet. When you look at his work in juxtaposition to Bendis’, you really understand how Bendis developed his sense of the craft. The book is incredibly dense with dialogue and exposition, but it’s dialogue that comes off the page with a unique voice that was absolutely astounding for the time it came out. Bendis’ take on colloquialisms for specific characters with specific backgrounds is spot on, and you really get the sense that this is actual dialogue between people – not that of a scripted encounter between characters. It’s this that helps make Bendis’ work more unique, and it allows us to to enter the world he has written more clearly. We’re not just reading a book, here – we’re in it.
Bendis’ love of movies shines through incredibly bright with Goldfish. What’s interesting about Goldfish is that not only does it feel real due to the dialogue, but it’s not set up quite like a normal comic book. Some people forget that Bendis himself used to be an illustrator, but in reading a book like Goldfish and seeing what he’s capable of, you might wonder why he stopped. Characters in the book are modeled after real people (such as David Cronenberg!), and they look fantastic. It also incorporates images of real locations, which helps to bring us visually into the story with Clevland locales. The setting is often quite specific, featuring a variety of movie posters in the background which help to show off some of what Bendis has learned from and wants to put in his work. Bendis may have had a hard time getting the Goldfish movie off the ground (as seen in Fortune), but it’s ultimately ok because Goldfish the book already looked like a movie due to his art. The influence of crime and noir films show due to the specific angles and shots that Bendis has turned into panels, with the introductions often mirroring how you’d see a film open. The black and white shading and inking very clearly portrays Bendis’ ideas of light and shadow and how it plays with the faces of his characters and what we are allowed to see. Crime thrillers are stories that many people think they can tell, and often times I’ve found that smaller creators will try and tell crime-based stories, but not everyone can do this so well, especially visually. Bendis is one of those that, even early on in his comic creating career, knew how to really tell a story with imagery and panel setup alone.Continued below
The book couldn’t survive on just his love of film and his visual prowess, however. As a young comics creator, Bendis needed to pack into 5 issues a compelling enough web of deceit and lies, treachery and betrayal. He did it with a wallop. What is interesting about a book like Goldfish is that ultimately, there are no heroes. You have your main character, but he is more of an anti-hero than someone that we can admire. His humble “secret origin” is as a conman, tricking people literally out of their shoes for sport. As the story goes on, we see the interwoven lives of our characters, as even the most innocent of character is warped by the tragedy that befalls. Those used to Bendis’ more humorous and snide tone in later works are in for a much darker treat, as this book features only dark humor and a climactic ending with little to no happy resolve. It’s a very tightly woven story that finishes what it started, and pays off what you were afraid of.
I can only imagine how many times Bendis has watched a movie like the Maltese Falcon or perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross to work on his visuals and dialogue in addition to a slew of other films, as seen in the comic (like ‘G’ Men, Out of the Past, and Gun Crazy). I’ve said it a couple times now in this article, but Bendis + crime + thriller = gold. Although originally published on Caliber, the book has been reprinted in a nice collection by Image Comics, so be sure to keep your eye out for this book in your LCBS.