Brian Michael Bendis has a rich history writing teenage characters, having spent almost two decades on Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man, co-creating Riri Williams/Ironheart, and writing the teenage X-Men. Since making the jump from MArvel to DC Comics, Bendis has not only lent his talents to Superman's world, he's also brought back Young Justice, giving him a new chance to explore what makes young people tick in a whole new universe.
During a recent roundtable discussion with the media, including CBR, Bendis opened up about resurrecting the fan-favorite team, expanding their roster with the addition of new teen heroes like Jenny Hex and Teen Lantern, and how watching his own children become teenagers has informed his approach to writing younger characters.
"I think these characters all speak to a DC Universe that we all really like," said, explaining the need for a team like Young Justice in the modern DC Universe. "Their perspective is the most wondrous, if I can be on brand. They're the most fresh-faced. Batman and Superman right now have the whole world on their shoulders. That's a different perspective. Meanwhile, these characters are finding their path and their way and trying to find their own voice. And some of these characters are legacy characters, so they have to crawl out from a large shadow. I feel that this relates to a truth that a lot of people can relate too, especially nowadays. A lot of people feel underfoot before they even get out into the real world. That there are already labels being put on them and choices being made for them. And it's like, they didn't get to choose any of this... and how you don't get to choose your family, until you do."
"[The cast of Young Justice] are young people who have found and refound their family, and are better together than they are apart," the writer continued. "That's how I see these characters, and it's almost like they're trapped right now but they're going to get home eventually and have been through this cool little journey that really just makes them better friends and family. I love writing characters at this moment in their life because I think it's the best moment. Finding out how great love can be and how bad the world can suck for the first time is the most potent... writing about these things is always the best way to get to the core of a character."
Discussing the origins of new characters like Jenny Hex and Teen Lantern, Bendis said the former came from a trip he and his wife took, while the latter was actually the brainchild of former Young Justice artist and Patrick Glreason. "Jenny Hex came from my notebook. Nick Derington and I created her for the second issue of the Batman Universe [title] that we're doing, so she was created before [Young Justice]. I was in Texas, I was actually at SXSW. And I was walking around with my wife and going 'this part of the world isn't represented in our fiction enough.' Not just comics, but fiction. There's a weird red state/blue state thing that doesn't necessarily connect, and I'm as guilty of that as anybody. I just write Portland hipsters. I took it upon myself to do something, and Jenny came from it. I'm very excited about Jenny. She's going to have a big chapter in issue #8 of Young Justice. And we're going to find out her whole jam.
"Teen Lantern is by me and Pat Gleason, and before he had wanted to do the book, he had all these ideas. And I said, 'Hey want to do Young Justice with me' and he went 'I have a whole thing with Young Justice! I have this Teen Lantern character!' So Teen Lantern started as a [Gleason] idea, and I've added on to it... in this instance, she's Bolivian, and I [went] to Bolivia. I was at this dinner that was hosted at the US Embassy, and they went, 'We'd like to introduce you to the Bolivian Tony Stark, he's sixteen years old.' And you can Google this by the way, he's online. He literally goes into the garbage and makes working robots out of the garbage. I met him and talked to him for a really long time. He's a really interesting dude. But I was like, there would be people like this in the superhero world. 'I'm going to make my own Green Lantern!'"
As you might expect, seeing his own children grow up has informed how Bendis writes teenagers, an experience that constantly offers new insight into how they think and act. Case in point: when he wrote Kitty Pryde for Marvel, his daughter's personality helped brng the fan-favorite X-Man to life. "Number one, you find out that high school wounds don't close if you don't close them," Bendis said. "And I never closed them! I just kept picking them. Ultimate Spider-Man was me picking at them. They never closed. But there's also... just as I may have been running out of material from my eighteen year run on Spider-Man, here comes my daughters and their friends who are constantly around us. And because I have a cool job, they talk to me all the time... they may get some free comics out of it. There's a lot of material at my disposal. Out of all the things I have to do that I have to do research for, this is the easiest. This one literally comes to my door. When I was writing the Kitty Pryde script, my 16-year old Jewish overachieving daughter came to me and goes, 'Am I getting story credit?'"
One of the most anticipated aspects of Young Justice was the fact that it meant long-missing characters would have the chance to shine once again. One of them, Bart Allen, aka Impulse, has benefitted greatly from Bendis' access to a real-life teenage boy in the form of his son. "Being the funny one isn't all of it," Bendis said of the character. "[Bart] brings a lot of joy. Like there's a genuine joy for what they do... some of them don't live in joy, so he has to be their joy. When someone is happy around you, it kind of forces you to be happy... there's actually something much bigger connected to where he's been and Young Justice has just gotten back together and his piece in it. There's actual stuff there too... it is genuinely fun to write. Every once in a while, I'll be doing an impression of someone in my writing. You'll never know, all you know is it's a real person. And I was doing Young Justice and Fraction wasn't reading it because he was doing other stuff. And then he read it and he goes 'that is a killer impression of your son!' Bart is exactly my son London, and I was embarrassed that [Fraction] saw right through it."
Check back later for more from Brian Michael Bendis' discussion about Leviathan Rising, Batman, Superboys (both of them) and much more.