In July 2012, Brian Michael Bendis was announced as the writer of Marvel‘s “All-New X-Men,” as part of the original Marvel NOW! initiative. Following eight years as the “Avengers” writer — where he wrote more issues of that franchise than anyone ever — Bendis headed to the X-books with the time-displaced Original Five X-Men in tow, and soon expanded his reach with a second ongoing series, relaunched flagship title “Uncanny X-Men.”
Two years later, storylines seeded back then come to fruition with “The Last Will and Testament to Charles Xavier,” a story tied to current event series “Original Sin” that promises to reveal multiple major mutant secrets. Bendis’ X-Men run started shortly after Professor X’s death at the hands of a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops during “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” and now that the X-Men are relatively confident their mentor isn’t coming back, they’re ready to read his will — whether or not they like what they discover obviously remains to be seen, but it seems a good bet the revelations will extend beyond dividing up Xavier’s state and collection of sharp suits.
With the story kicking off in this week’s “Uncanny X-Men” #23, drawn by Chris Bachalo, CBR News spoke in-depth with Bendis about Xavier’s “Last Will and Testament,” the character’s morally ambiguous legacy, recent rumors that Marvel may be giving the X-Men franchise an extended rest (“so stupid,” says Bendis) and the future of Dazzler, who recently suffered a traumatic body-switching (and harvesting) experience thanks to Mystique — and has gotten an attention-getting new redesign from Bachalo’s fellow “Uncanny” artist, Kris Anka.
CBR News: Brian, before getting too specific with “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier,” let’s start at the beginning. It’s an “Original Sin” tie-in, and certainly you are someone very familiar with Marvel events and Marvel event tie-ins. This one is a little bit of a different type of thing, tie-in wise, with how it’s working within ongoing series — what do you like about the different opportunity provided here?
Brian Michael Bendis: It was flat-out this excuse to pull out these two stores I’ve been dying to do, both of which reveal things about the franchises that have not been revealed before. They’re actually ideas I had before “Original Sin” was something that was going to stick to the wall.
Obviously, with Charles Xavier, the idea [is], “What’s in his will?” “What hasn’t he told the X-Men?” It’s been pretty clear from the earliest, earliest days, that there’s the way he acts with the X-Men, and there’s stuff that he does separate. What would that box of stuff be? Same thing for the “Guardians [of the Galaxy],” and the big question, “OK, how are these characters still alive?” Because DnA [Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning] murdered them, and now they’re alive. How did they get out of that?
Those were two stories that I was dying to tell. With “Guardians,” I wanted to wait, because I didn’t want the whole launch of the book to be about making you feel bad for not having read the other stuff. I like the idea of one of the characters saying, “How are you alive?” and then finally getting to a point where they can’t go on until this secret is revealed. With the X-Men, I just love the idea of, people don’t read the wills right away, because you’re not sure if dead is dead. [Laughs] The legality of it — when do you start reading the will? Because if there’s another event coming, and he comes back…
And then after a few months you go, “All right, maybe we should read the will.” What could possibly be in that will? And imagining what Charles’ mindset was when he wrote the will, and could he have possibly imagined a scenario where Scott Summers would be at least partially responsible for his death? Or did he leave everything with Scott, because he was his No. 1 student? What would that do? I’m not saying that’s what happened, but all of these secrets are going to be revealed. I think there’s one big secret revealed every issue, and something’s slowly revealed as the story continues.
So one of the major open questions of this is, “At what point was this will put together”?
Exactly! That’s the big one. I will tell you that it involves certain people having to be there for the reading of the will, and again, it’s hard to imagine Charles imagining a situation where the other X-Men weren’t that interested in Scott Summers showing up at the Jean Grey School for tea and a will reading. How do you even get a hold of him? He doesn’t answer texts, he’s awful with that.
Even finding out to read the will they have to get Scott and the gang back together again — that is a big part of what happens in the first issue.
This sounds like it’s a big story — how long does it play out for?
It is a massive story that goes well past “Original Sin.” Look at it this way — it ties into “Original Sin” because we’re going to find out something about Charles Xavier we didn’t know, but it is its own thing. There’s not even a mention of “Original Sin” in the storyline. It is just a perfect storm of finding out Charles Xavier’s original sin while “Original Sin” is going on. Which I think will help it in the long run, not being tied-in directly, but for those invested in the secrets that we’re finding out right now in the Marvel Universe, here’s a huge one. If you just love the X-Men, here’s a giant X-Men story involving brand-new characters, and old characters, and old relationships, and new reveals. For those who have been paying close, close attention for many years, here comes some whoppers. And for those who are just brand new, starting with Marvel NOW! — which there are a lot of — here comes another zinger. Here we go!
I think it also cements to people that Charles Xavier is not coming back, which is a promise we’ve made, and as long as we’re here, that’s the way it’s going to be. I can’t speak for decades in the future, but this is a death that means a great deal to the franchise, and to the characters, particularly the original X-Men — and when I say the original X-Men, I don’t mean the All-New X-Men, I mean the grown-up versions, as well. As the reality sets in that Charles Xavier is not coming back, personalities and relationships start to fracture in a big, big way, and some characters that you wouldn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the loss start to kind of fall apart.
This starts in “Uncanny,” but is it going to spill over into “All-New” and elsewhere?
Yes. You’ll definitely feel it in “All-New,” and if any of the other writers are going to decide to pick up on it. But “All-New” and “Uncanny,” which does house a great many characters, are going to be wracked by this. It is building to something next summer, which I’ve been teasing online a little bit. I normally wouldn’t even go so far as to promote next summer’s X-Men craziness at this point, but with all these ridiculous rumors that the X-Men are not going to be published anymore — that’s so stupid.
But yes, this is all building to something that we have been planning, literally since the beginning of Marvel NOW!. Much like with “Secret Invasion” and these long-term plans that I like to slowly reveal as time goes on, here comes our big one.
It involves, without giving too much away, a character we did not know about from Charles Xavier’s life. What that character means, and what that character can do, and what that bomb dropping on the X-Men will do — when the pieces all fall down, and they start to put the X-Men franchise back together again, what will it look like a year from now? It’s going to look completely different from what we have right now.
It must be a weird position to be in to have to try to prove to people that X-Men will still exist in a year.
It’s weird, and again, most rumors I just laugh at, you know what I mean? But this one — I’m working really hard. I write the X-Men every day. And it does damage it, because some people believe it, and then they just stop buying it, or they think that Marvel doesn’t care about it. It’s stupid. It’s just not true, and I know this for a fact — I’m on the phone planning, every day. I’m working way too hard on this to be sabotaged by Internet nonsense.
I just jumped in front of this one. I hate jumping in front of rumors, because now when I don’t jump in front of other rumors, then they go, “Oh, that one must be true! He didn’t say anything!” I don’t want my life to be filled with this nonsense. But this one was too gigantic to not say, “stop it.”
It’s so funny. I’m now getting questions on my Tumblr, quoting people from message boards, saying that literally the sky is falling. “No, look at the sales chart! We’re OK!” You can tell when the sky is falling. It’s not hard to find whose sky is falling.
It’s a curiosity to me, the persecution complex that some — and I mean some, and it’s a tiny amount of people — but there’s a little section of X-Men fans that have this giant persecution complex that literally goes back to the ’60s when they canceled the book for like 10 months. You think the ’90s would have healed that wound. You’re OK! Don’t you worry, man. The movie made a lot of money. We’re going to have X-Men stuff.
That persecution complex you mention was something I hadn’t really thought of before, until I saw your Tumblr post addressing the situation.
I think it was Tom [Brevoort] who mentioned it to me when I first got the job. It is a very unique thing to X-Men — again, small percentage, not everybody, most people won’t even know what we’re talking about. But there’s this real persecution complex. Somebody hit me up on Tumblr: “You can’t imagine why X-Men fans would have a persecution complex?” I’m like, “I’m Jewish, I understand a persecution complex.” I was raised with one. I’m just saying, at a point, you can say to yourself, “All right, we’re OK. We’re good.” If it seems illogical, it’s illogical.
Moving back to “Last Will,” Xavier as a character was in an interesting place pre-death, because there have been a few stories in the past few years that paint him in a less flattering light than the more typical, saintly portrayal.
There’s some, but in general I would say a more realistic light. And let’s remember that he had a crush on Jean Grey [Laughs], so it’s not like he was always painted as this wonderful, pure-as-driven snow leader. It is impossible to imagine that this character, with what his goals were, that he wouldn’t bend rules with the powers that he has to make that happen. It’s impossible. So I’m following in those footsteps, because I think they’re true. I don’t think he did anything villainous, but I think if he saw things the way they should be, and it was a matter of flipping a switch in someone’s head to make it happen, I think he did it. I think he’d feel bad about it, but I think he’d do it. If it’s the difference between saving 10 mutants lives, and not saving 10 mutants lives, he’s flipping the switch.
Xavier’s a character you had a lot of interest in a while, even though he’s been dead your whole X-Men run.
Well, I am bald!
I remember talking to you back when Xavier’s death happened in “AvX” two years ago, and you said you were one of the only writers who had interest in the character at Marvel.
I was full-on the “Avengers” writer at the time of these meetings, and I wasn’t aware of how disinterested the other writers and editors were in Charles Xavier. It surprised me. It might have been Axel [Alonso] who pointed out that the characters had just outgrown him; the main core characters. That was a) a testament to Xavier’s potency as a teacher, and b) when he’s not in the book, it’s more interesting. They had found that out. Then I — I do admit — was the one that said, “Well, let’s just kill him, then! What would be more interesting than that?” [Jonathan] Hickman still doesn’t forgive me for fucking up his Illuminati by doing that. He still brings it up, so I know he’s still not over it.
That’s why we got to this place — and what would be more horrifying than Scott Summers having been the person [responsible]? What’s a better Xavier story than that? When you have a death scenario, the good ones, you immediately go, “What’s the fallout?” Let’s say we kill this character: What do we get? It’s easy to kill them, but what do you get out of it? That is when all of these ideas, including “What’s in his will?” [surfaced]. Then you go, “OK, well, let’s kill him.” Kill the bastard! [Laughs] We’ve got stories to tell! That’s where we are right now.
So this story has been building for quite a while.
Yeah, but also, it’s very relatable. Things like a death in the family and wills bring out, sometimes, the worst in people or the best in people. It forces a family together to deal with stuff. It’s extended family getting all the issues out. That’s the most fun I had writing this. I just got a note from [Mike] Marts this morning when he said, “I love Iceman losing it.” I will spoil that Iceman loses it.
By Iceman losing it, we can conclude that this story heavily involves the Jean Grey School characters as well?
Yeah, it does. It actually takes place at the Jean Grey School, a big portion of it. The will is being read at the Jean Grey School.
I’ll give you this, too: Literally, my Tumblr is filled all day with Colossus, Nightcrawler and Rachel Grey. “When are you going to do Rachel Grey?” “Where’s Nightcrawler?” “Where’s Colossus?” Of those three characters, two of them are major players in “The Last Will and Testament.”
If we’re talking about individual characters, I definitely wanted to ask about Dazzler, who has a lot going on. The reveal of her redesign a few weeks back got a lot of reaction.
Yes, it did!
What can you say about where that character is going? It’s obviously a character you’ve long had an interest in, who has been heading toward this path since almost the start of this volume of “Uncanny X-Men.” What can you say about how she fits in here?
She is recovering from a major fallout. Her life was stolen from her by Mystique, and pretty much ripped to shreds. Her body was being used to create Mutant Growth Hormone, which is basically crack for mutants. Bad stuff was being done to her both physically and emotionally. She comes out of it not the same person, and very upset. They don’t capture Mystique, so she has no closure. We’re picking her up as she tries to rediscover what her place is in the X-Men franchise, and what she can do. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I do know that reaction to any costume redesign in comics is met with, “No! Change is bad!” But just on a practical level, a white jumpsuit gets so dirty so quickly when you’re out fighting. It doesn’t make any sense.
So bear with us — let the story unfold — and see if we do not make our case as creative people as to why Dazzler would come to this new scenario. And if some people can’t perceive of a time where a person would go through a traumatic experience, and then change their look dramatically, I don’t know what planet they’re living on that they have not been witness to something like this, but I promise you that it is based fully on reality. People do this all the time. She has been through a lot.
Imagine yourself: You wake up and you have been replaced in the world, and your relationships have gone on without you — and that people were like, smoking you. This is really awful. I don’t care how good her second album was. This is really awful, and she’s going to have a reaction to it. To not have her have a reaction to it is complete disrespect to the character. But for her to go through something, and to rediscover herself, and to find out what she’s capable of, and what she wants to do, is making her, I think, a very potent, modern character. Sometimes, not all the time, she was kind of stuck in a retro kind of fit — that disco stuff is 35, 40 years-old some of it. I think it’s cool to attempt to bring her forward with new looks. We’ll see where she goes from here. But we love her. If anybody thinks that I don’t love Dazzler, I’m literally putting her on the cover of one of the top-selling books at Marvel. That is love.
I did this on Avengers, too — there are some characters I really had a real passion for, but at the same time, they definitely needed to be brought into the future, both with their look and their storytelling. Like Luke Cage. I think it’s a very small repurposing of the character to get them in a more modern place. That’s where we’re headed.
Seeing such a strong negative reaction to that redesign was interesting, because were there really that many passionate defenders of the disco look in 2014?
When “Ultimate Spider-Man” was announced, people screamed in my face. When Miles [Morales] was announced, people screamed in my face. When Luke Cage joined the Avengers, people screamed in my face. Then we put out the story, and then we prove our wholehearted love of the character with the story. I do believe that when people see the storyline, and see it unfold — which will not be right away, but over the course of time — we will prove ourselves worthy, like I’ve done before. But when people scream and yell in my face about something like Dazzler’s costume? No, I don’t take it that seriously.
You’ve been with me before. You’ve seen this. You guys, on this very website, ran an article when “Ultimate Spider-Man,” many years ago, was first announced — other than Mark Millar, everyone was shitting on it. They had seen no artwork, they had seen no story. Just the idea was horrifying to them. Like this, there’s a good version, and there’s a bad version. And the bad version that’s in your head may be something you invented, and have nothing to do with what we’ve done. So read what we’ve done, and then if you still hate it, you can let me have it. I feel like you’ll still love Dazzler, even if she goes into dark places and does some things she hasn’t done before.
People would scream at me: “Why do you hate Daredevil? You hate him so much! Nothing nice ever happens!” I’m like, “You’re not going to buy that book!” You’re not going to buy the book if Dazzler has a good recording session. You’re not buying it! It’s not going to happen. If Jesus came down from Heaven as writer of “Dazzler Having a Nice Day” book, it would not sell.
So did you have any angry Dark Beast fans mad at you for killing him off in the last arc?
No, I actually got a lot of thank yous. There are some people that hate Hank McCoy so much that any version that you kill of him is good. I had some people like, “Well, that’s a bad mystery, because you pulled him out of…” but like two issues ago, they guessed it was Hank. They said, “Hank is the one that has to be doing this.” They just had the wrong Hank. It’s a solid, loopy mystery reveal. Just because you couldn’t guess it doesn’t mean it didn’t work.
Greg Rucka said this years ago — anytime that you do a mystery, there are 2,000 people online guessing the mystery. Of a few thousand people, one will guess the right one. Mysteries are tough in comics, especially in a monthly deal.
When every possible theory is floated out there…
Yeah. I’ve been through this before. It’s an interesting conundrum, trying to create a mystery in a monthly comic.
So is there anything else that people should know about your X-Men books coming up?
Here’s the flipside: I have truly been enjoying — Dazzler backlash aside — the back and forth, and the questions. You should see: Sometimes I open up Tumblr — hundreds of questions. Mostly about Magneto’s hair, but still, they’re questions about X-Men.
It’s such a great conversation, it’s so passionate. I love it so much. It is the best part of what I was hoping to get out of becoming an X-Men writer. I think that this storyline is going to answer a lot of questions for people that I have not answered, because I don’t want to spoil stuff. Even like, “Where’s Nightcrawler and Kitty?” It’s exciting to get to that stuff, finally.
And these reveals, I think, are going to answer some questions, and bring out more questions. But do know that, here we come, all year long, with this big, giant, very dramatic storyline. And then we’re going to come out the other side of it with something for the X-Men franchise that we haven’t seen before. And that is a huge relief to me, and very exciting.
The artists that are coming up — all the books are just killing it. Just killing it! On “Uncanny” we have Kris Anka and Chris Bachalo, for “All-New X-Men” we have Sara Pichelli and Mahmud [Asrar]. Boy, the artwork is so beautiful.
It’s got to be good feeling to have Bachalo on “Uncanny” throughout most of the run, since issue #1.
I probably shouldn’t talk about his business, but I have asked him a couple of times if he wanted to come be part of “Guardians.” I have this image in my head — the idea of him on “Guardians” is exciting. How cool would that be, right? I’m saying this to X-Men fans: All he wants is X-Men. He doesn’t want to do anything but X-Men. He loves the X-Men. I’m just saying this because, as we’re talking about everyone and their persecution complexes — isn’t it nice that one of the X-Men artists has all the choices in the world in front of him, and this is what he wants to do. That’s just wonderful. I thought if X-Men [fans] knew that, they would really appreciate that about him. It’s so pure and true. He just loves it.
He obviously has quite a history with the franchise, dating back a couple decades at this point.
Absolutely. I was like, “Do you want to do their stuff?” “No.” It’s wonderful. This is what he wants to do. Good, all right, let’s do it. Issue #25 is double-sized, and it’s all by Chris, and it’s, I think, going to be one of his best issues he’s ever done.
“Uncanny X-Men” #23 goes on sale tomorrow. Check out a preview of the issue on CBR.