SPOILER WARNING: This interview contains major spoilers for "Civil War II" #1 and 2, on sale now.
Sometimes, in order to save the day, a hero must make the ultimate sacrifice. That's precisely what happened to Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, aka War Machine, in the opening issue of Marvel Comics' current event series "Civil War II," by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez.
Only two issues into the series, Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) have found themselves at odds over how best to utilize the powers of the new Inhuman known as Ulysses, powers which would allow them to pre-emptively deal with evil doers before they have a chance to commit a crime. Their divide became even deeper when Rhodey -- Tony's best friend and Carol's boyfriend -- was mortally wounded while dealing with one of the events Ulysses predicted. Now, Carol and Tony find themselves at opposite ends of a deep ideological schism on how best to protect the future and honor Rhodey's memory -- one that will lead other heroes to align behind them and set the heroic community on the path to another divisive Civil War.
In Issue #2, Ulysses was struck with a dire vision of a rampaging Hulk, leaving readers with the question of, what comes next for the heroes of the Marvel Universe? For the answer to that question and more, CBR News spoke with Bendis about the opening shots of "Civil War II." Our in-depth discussion touched upon a variety of topics, including what went into the decision to kill War Machine, and the fate of She-Hulk, who was critically wounded at the same time as Rhodey. Bendis also shares his thoughts on Steve Rogers' current status quo as an agent of Hydra, how he considers elements like the Inhumans' expanded role in the Marvel Universe a gift to his story, and what people can expect when "Civil War II" #3 arrives on July 6.
CBR News: Let's start with the big question: Why kill Rhodey?
Brian Michael Bendis: From the day it popped into my head all the way through to the release of the book, of course, I can imagine people responding with, "Oh, my God! You killed the black guy!" I thought about it the whole time.
I talked to everyone I know about it, and it came down to the fact that there was this Inhuman with the power to predict or profile the future which would split our heroes down the middle. They've all experienced many events together, though, including the first "Civil War." They all learned from that event, too, so for this spiritual sequel, the stakes had to be upped in order for this throwdown to happen.
Then you go, "Oh, my God! Tony's best friend, who is in the military, is also in a romantic relationship with Carol!" If he dies because of this, they both suffer a personal loss and they both take away something different from it, which happens. Then the argument becomes, nothing else matters. He's the only character that comes anywhere near filling this role in the story.
I talked to everybody about it, and then the conversation turned around to the plus side and the minus side of the Marvel Universe becoming so diverse -- and it is so diverse, if you compare it to the first "Civil War." You literally look at the line up of the "Civil War" #1 cover and the "Civil War II" #1 cover, you can see the difference. Thor is a woman! Cap is African-American! Spider-Man is biracial. Everything changed.
The mistake would be, then, to coddle the characters; don't let anything bad happen to them because of representation. But if we do that, we're not telling stories. Still, I can't help but be conscious of the fact that from the original "Star Trek" on up, the black guy in the red shirt is going to die, and everyone knows the trope of the African-American guy going into the ghost house first.
I did wrestle with that, but when we came down to it, the story dictated Rhodey [dies]. But at the same time, I already, regardless of Rhodey, had been down a road with our new character, Riri Williams. I didn't create her to replace Rhodey, but in some karmic way, it does balance. I hope I put something in the toy box that one day might end up being of equal or greater value. I don't know.
We also had to deal with the fact that, for a completely different reason in the story, Rhodey took a hit in the "Civil War" movie. I actually didn't know where that was going to land in their final edit, so I had to take that into consideration as well.
What's it been like, dealing with the fan reaction to Rhodey's death?
The only thing that annoys me when people criticize stuff like this is, they think I'm sitting here full of whimsy and arrogance, and Marvel lets me do whatever the Hell I want. They think that I don't answer to anybody. I don't know what kind of job that is. The president answers to people. Who do you think doesn't answer to people? And what kind of whacked out creative relationship would I have with the universe if I was putting myself in a position where you couldn't speak to me? That's not what I want. The reason I signed up with Joe [Quesada] is, he told me my art sucked.
I want people to tell me the truth. Just yesterday, we were arguing about something unrelated to this. As frustrating as it is to be creatively battling with people, I'm so relieved that I have people I can trust to tell me that something doesn't work, or, "That's not the best idea you've ever had." And of course, on a big event I'm being vetted by everybody. Everyone has read this, up and down. It's been discussed from every angle, and I truly listen to good arguments everywhere I can get them.
Back during my "Daredevil" run, I had permission to kill the Kingpin. My editor Ralph Macchio called me up and said, "Don't do it! I know you have permission to do it, and I know why you want to do it. You're trying to make sure you don't imitate Frank Miller. If you get rid of that character you cannot tell a Frank Miller style 'Daredevil-Kingpin' story because one of the elements has been taken off the table. Or you're saying to yourself that you're more bad-ass than Frank Miller because you killed him. So both of those things I understand, but here's why you shouldn't: We killed Norman Osborn in Spider-Man, and it created a hole in the story that never was filled. It almost broke the book. If you think I'm wrong, go ahead, but if what I'm saying rings true, think about it."
Here's someone with more experience than me, who expressed an idea that I had not considered. I didn't think I was killing Kingpin to be better than Frank Miller, or to stop those comparisons, but then I was like, "Subconsciously, I bet that's why I'm doing that." It's the same thing with this.
There was great consideration to all of this. Plus, we considered the idea of what it looks like to see an African-American super hero covered in blood or killed. It's a powerful image. I'm on Tumblr; these images sit. They don't go away. People see them, even out of context, which drives me nuts, but what are you going to do?
I thought about all of that, and at the end of the day, the story still came above everything else. And as the story continues, people may have different feelings about it. They may feel better about it. They may feel worse about it. We'll see.
Also, I decided that if Rhodey was going to go, I want to do a killer arc of Rhodey and Tony in "Invincible Iron Man." I've done some bits and pieces here and there over the years, but I really want to express my love of the character and this friendship.
I did that and every page as I was writing it I went, "Awww -- why? Why?"
She-Hulk was critically injured in the same attack as Rhodey. We currently don't know, though, if she's still alive, or if she succumbed to her injuries. Her being injured adds additional emotional stakes to the story, since Carol is her friend and her teammate on A-Force.
Yes, and she has a very interesting perspective on the law and justice much like Matt Murdock, in that they balance a vigilante act by acting as heroes and abiding by the rules of the court. Those things don't always go hand-in-hand. That is interesting as well.
Notice, I didn't answer if she was still alive? There are some people reacting to Internet rumor like they heard She-Hulk died. I can always tell from the way the question is asked whether a person read the story or not. We are at issue #2 of 7, which means we're not even done with the first act, as far as I'm concerned. Also, with all of the tie-ins and the special one-shots coming out, like "The Accused," there's a lot more story to be told from a lot of different perspectives. I know, I know, I'm talking to the wind here, but all I can do is encourage people to be patient and hold some judgment back until the whole story has been told. Or, you can just yell at me. It's fine.
I knew these reactions were coming. It's not like I'm surprised. I love She-Hulk! And I know she's beloved. She's also beloved by different pockets of fandom. Some characters have one pocket of fandom, but she has a few. She's an empowerment figure, and she's a classic figure now. She's been around for decades. There's a lot to her, plus she's had some substantially excellent recent runs. It's not just, "Remember John Byrne's 'She-Hulk?'" It's, "Remember Dan Slott's 'She-Hulk?' And Charles Soule's 'She-Hulk?'" Those were fantastic, recent runs.â€¨We knew going in, but there's always a plan.