When writer Brian Bendis took over the writing chores on “Daredevil” almost four years ago, he was given what many would consider an impossible task. Up to that point the most definitive run on “Daredevil” was by acclaimed writer Frank Miller. Then, right before Bendis hopped on the title, Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada tackled the character to much fan acclaim. Suddenly, not only did Bendis have to contend with the Miller factor, but Smith & Quesada had also upped the ante for the writer.
And boy did he deliver. In many fans eyes, Bendis’ years on the title are the modern definition of the character. Bendis didn’t just stick to the status quo, but in fact hbrought a lot of new twists to the character, including making his alter ego as lawyer Matt Murdock widely known to those who inhabit the Marvel Universe.
This December Bendis leaves the title behind after a highly succesful run. So, who would be crazy enough to take over in his absence? In steps Bendis’ friend Ed Brubaker (“Captain America,” “Gotham Central”) who’ll be joined by artist Michael Lark. While rumoured for weeks, it became official when announced at Wizard World Chicago today. CBR News caught up with Brubaker to talk about the challenges he faces in following Bendis’ run on the title and what he has in store for the character.
Really, it’s kind of a complicated story. Brian is a really good friend of mine and at some point when I was thinking about signing with Marvel I was talking with him about “Daredevil.” I knew he was going to be leaving the book and I bounced some ideas off him that I wanted to pitch to take over the title, as long as [artist] Michael Lark and I could do it together. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow Brian because he had done such a good job. You almost want someone else to take over the book for a while and really do a shitty job, and then follow them which would make it much more easy. But it’s really much more of a challenge to follow something that’s good and keep it at that level.
So, I was bouncing ideas off him and one of them was similar to an idea he had been mulling over, but had kept steering away from because he didn’t exactly know how to deal with it. About a week later he called me up and asked me, “If you were to get ‘Daredevil,’ how would you like that idea you pitched as your third arc to actually be your first arc?’ He then basically explained how he had been mulling over how to end his run and he kept coming back to this one idea. To follow it up would be a huge challenge for another writer, but it was very similar to the kind of thing I was already thinking of. I looked at Brian’s run on that book and I figured if you’re going to follow that run, your first storyline either needs to be about how you put the genie back in the bottle or you take what Brian did and run with it even further. Mostly, what people tend to do when they take over a book they sort of reboot it. I didn’t want to do that because it doesn’t need to happen and Brian didn’t do that when he took over “Daredevil.” I wanted it to be more of a passing of the batton.
I began to think what further could be done with this whole Matt Murdock being outed as Daredevil storyline and how everything has come back to sort of screw him up. So, I came up with some pretty fucked up ideas! (laughs) I was talking with Brian early on and that was kind of the point of it– the status quo of Daredevil is there is no status quo. You keep upsetting the apple cart. You know what the tone of the book is going to be, but you never know exactly what is going to happen. I embraced that when I was coming up with my pitch ideas and Brian helped pave the way. Then I started to talk with [Marvel Editor-In-Chief] Joe Quesada about ideas for what I’d do if I got the book. This all came to be by way of a combination of talking with the two of them, hammering out with Brian how to do the hand off in such a way that his story ended the way he wanted it to end and leaving me knowing how I can follow it and leaving me plenty of challenges as a writer.
You talked about upsetting the applecart when it comes to Matt Murdock. There was been a trend with his story where writers have kept making his life more and more complicated. Is there a point where you have to back it down a bit?
I don’t know. There are certain things that people know will always be true about all characters, Daredevil included. So, as long as you stay true to the character, the situation around the character is just the status quo. Matt Murdock will probably always be a lawyer, he’ll probably always be a part of Nelson & Murdock. And if that ceases to exist, you know within the next year or two he’ll get back together with Foggy. There are these things that sort of always reoccur, so the question becomes how do you forestall those things or how do you make the road to those things interesting and maybe leave doubt that those things will ever happen again? That was my thinking.
When Brian sold Marvel on allowing him to do the story that revealed Matt Murdock as Daredevil in the tabloids, one of the things he promised is before he left the book he’d put the genie back in the bottle, but the further he got into the story he realized there was no effective way to do this in just one storyline.
I think for him, knowing that I was going to follow him on the book as we started to talk about it, he began thinking about how he could go out with a huge bang and leave Ed a real challenge to follow. He wants to leave me in a place so that people will come see what happens next. It’s the kind of thing I wished people would do more. When you start a book, if it’s not issue one, your issue should follow what came before to some degree. It’s interesting, because I don’t think a lot of books do what we’re doing as far as a new team taking over. You rarely hear about someone taking over a book and having that new writer actually spending time talking to the guy who came before them and hammering out the details. I’m getting the “Daredevil” scripts at the same time Marvel is. I read over them and give Brian comments like, “Oh, make sure you put this thing in!” It’s really a much more coordinated hand off than we’re used to see this day and age in comics.
And while you guys are working together on making sure the stories you’re both working on individually sync up, this isn’t really a collaborative story effort on your parts.
Right. He’s wrapping up his storyline and setting up mine. Brian once made a reference to when Aaron Sorkin left “The West Wing” and how suddenly Martin Sheen wasn’t president anymore. “What are you going to do now, NBC?” (laughs) It’s sort of like that. He leaves Matt Murdock in “Daredevil” in such a way so that whoever took over the book after that would have a hell of a challenge to figure out how to take it next and what to do with it.
And now with “Daredevil” you get the chance to work with your “Gotham Central” artist Michael Lark once again.
Yeah, when Marvel signed Michael I think they basically said we’ll keep you busy until we can give you “Daredevil.” And it was sort of understood from the getgo that if Michael was going to draw “Daredevil,” I was going to write it. And that if I wasn’t going to write “Daredevil,” Michael and I would find something else to work on. This has been an ongoing situation for about six months now, but nothing was really formalized until a couple of weeks ago, even though I’ve been pretty openly having talks with Brian, Joe, Jenny [Lee, editor] and Axel [Alonso, editor] about the book. It’s kind of weird because if you listen to the rumors this was the most done deal in comics, but until a few weeks ago this really could have gone any way.
Daredevil has been an interesting character historically as there are probably two camps of fans who have their own definitive vision of the character in mind– the Frank Miller fans and the Brian Bendis fans. So, you’re joining a pretty interesting pedigree of writers on this book. You’re picking up a major storyline from Bendis, and that has its challenges, but you also have the challenges of the character’s history. Does that intimidate you at all?
Well, I’ve read a lot of “Daredevil” comics and Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” is one of those touch-stone books that made me think I could write and draw comics when I was a young kid. It also opened up the idea that comics didn’t necessarily have to be the kind of shit I was reading, which led me to check out things like the “Spirit” and other things.
When I launched “Catwoman” at DC, I was really just thinking I’d play off what Frank did with Catwoman because, for me, that was the way to go. Although it’s not like Frank did three years of “Catwoman,” so it’s a bit more nervewracking to know you’re following Frank Miller on “Daredevil,” even though he stopped working on the book years ago.
How much of “Daredevil” have you read outside of the work of Miller & Bendis?
I’ve read a smattering of stuff that came between Miller’s run and the Marvel Knights stuff and a lot of it was just sort of touching on the same stuff over and over again. Kevin Smith did some cool stuff with it that nobody was really expecting and that was cool, but I think Brian was the first person since Frank who totally made the character their own. I think Joe Quesada owns the character as well, but Brian’s five year run might be one of the longest runs on “Daredevil.” What Brian did wasn’t just repeat Miller. He repeated the same kind of tone and maybe some of the themes, but he did it in a much different way. A lot of what you got after Frank Miller was every couple of years someone would do another version of “Born Again.” After a while it becomes enough is enough! In a way, what Brian is doing is like the opposite of “Born Again.” Matt Murdock’s secret gets outed. Instead of falling apart, he says “Fuck it, I’m Daredevil! I’m not going to give this shit up!” It’s almost like the proper sequel to “Born Again” because it’s like Daredevil is such an important part of this character he can’t give it up. Foggy actually makes a lot of sense when he tells him it’s a good idea to quit at this point, but there’s no way he’s going to because he’s like one of the most self-centered people of all time.
So sure, throughout the history of Daredevil most people will look at the Miller and Bendis stuff up to this point and think of those as the most definitive runs. But, you also have your Stan Lee/Gene Colan era fans who would like a return to the more swashbuckling Daredevil. There’s always mounting pressure on any book, but what it comes right down to is you just try to write a good book and one you’d actually want to read. I’m pretty lucky that I’m following one of my best friends who had a really good run and I know how he’s ending it. I’ve also got Michael Lark who’s one of the best storytellers in comics who’s also one of my best friends. So, I’ve got something of an edge!
It couldn’t be much better of a situation for you, could it be?
Exactly. It’s kind of like we all grew up together and got to the point where we can’t even believe you have this job and you’re given some of your favorite toys to play with! It’s pretty funny to think Brian and I started out at Caliber and now he’s handing over “Daredevil” to me. And Michael was at Caliber, too! It’s strange, here we are both getting the character we loved the most when we were 13 years old!
Talk about some of the goals you’ve set out for your run on “Daredevil.”
My main goal is wanting to follow-up what Brian did, but I also want to, obviously, piss all over the book and make it mine as soon as humanly possible! (laughs)
I think the tone and mood of the book will be similar. It’s a noir, pulp kind of book. That’s what it is and what it’s always been at its best. What I’m going to try to do a bit more of is give it a little bit more of that roller coaster ride feel, maybe a bit more action. The first few issues that I’ve got are really going to pull the rug out from people. I’ve got a lot of surprises in store. I want to try and do something similar that I’ve done with “Captain America” which is sort of touch on who the character is in this roller coaster ride kind of story, but also include a real flavor of the Marvel Universe. I think it’s really cool to have this huge playground to use. I wish I could say more, but I’m trying hard not to spoil any secrets!
OK, what I’m going to try to do is keep that gritty, pulp tone, but also add a few nods to Daredevil’s history and add a bit of a sense of adventure here and there and give those “swashbuckling” fans a taste of what they’ve been craving. I’m going to do things I think a lot of people aren’t going to expect, at least a first. It’s going to be one of those things when people read Brian’s last issue they’re going to say, “What the fuck?” It’s not the same as breaking the character in half and handing him off, but it’s as close as you could get! “OK, have fun. I guess you’re going to make Foggy Daredevil now, right?” (laughs) It’s akin to that!
As a long time Daredevil fan, I want to see the return of some old, familiar faces we haven’t seen in a long time. I think some of the long term fans are going to be thrilled to see what happened to some old cast members here and there. And there’s going to be a real sense of mystery throughout the first year where certain things have happened, but we don’t exactly know why or who’s responsible. It’s basically what Brian and Alex have done with a bit more action, mystery and a little bit of swashbuckling!
How far are you into this?
I’m still in the outline stage and should write my first issue next month. Michael and I plan on having six issues in the can before the first issue comes out in February, which is Marvel Knights month. I’ve got an outline for a good two years of stuff, so I can’t imagine staying on it less than two years, unless our run completely flops and they fire us.
I really don’t see that happening.
Hopefully not, but you never know! (laughs)