Maybe you hate writer Brian Bendis' take on the Avengers in the current "Chaos" storyline running through Marvel Comics' "Avengers" series. Maybe you like it. But chances are if you haven't read it then you've heard the controversy.
Still… something is being lost in all this.
People are talking about the Avengers again and frankly, Bendis couldn't be happier to see he's affecting people. In-between working on more adventures of the Avengers and continuing work his work on "Daredevil," the Portland based writer spoke with CBR News by phone and provided an introduction to the current storyline featuring Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
"This storyline is kinda the last storyline in this era of the Avengers," explains Bendis. "Something very dramatic and tragic is happening to the Avengers- they don't know why or who yet, but they will in two issues and what it does is provide a final dramatic story of this era. Instead of a slow peter out and I revamp, we are going the other way. A big finale and a fresh new start! And it sets the stage for the new Avengers team to be featured in 'New Avengers,' which starts in November, with a new team but the same creative team of me and David Finch on pencils. New team, new rules, new ideas, new concepts for a team book, characters that have never been Avengers all sleeping together under the same roof… but not literally [laughs]. It's just a bad 'Real World' joke [laughs]."
Some are quick to decry this storyline as a soulless event or concoction of Marvel's marketing department, but the "Disassembled" event has a very personal, very passionate origin. "It stems from a long standing nerdy idea, one of those ideas I've had since I was 8," admits Bendis. "Anyone who reads comics had these ideas like 'wouldn't it be cool if this' or 'wouldn't it be cool if that' and we were in our big editorial meeting last year and we got to the Avengers. I started saying my nerdy idea out loud and forgetting that I'm in a situation where I could make it happen- I wasn't pitching the story, just saying things that I thought would be cool and Mark Millar joined in with similar thoughts. Before the end of the day, after a lot of riffing between Mark and I, it became clear that one of us was writing the 'Avengers' with this idea locked in and I ended up the lucky one, because he's already got his with 'The Ultimates.' Basically it's all about the 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes' tagline, what these characters can be and tapping into what the team has been about- change. Change in members, relationships- this isn't too different from what Stan [Lee] did when he threw out all the popular characters and put in Hawkeye along with two members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants- there is a legacy of this kind of thing."
As revealed at the Wizard World convention in Chicago, "New Avengers" will feature an interesting new roster, comprised of eternal Avengers Captain American and Iron Man, joined by Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, The Sentry and Wolverine. Bendis contends he picked the characters because of their relationships and individuality and in part, due to the fact that some of them aren't the typical Avengers. "Sure, especially with Spider-Man with people yelling, 'He's not a team guy!' See that makes it most interesting for me as a writer because you have a guy who doesn't think he belongs finding out that maybe he does. Cap will ask him, 'How is this not being a team guy working for you?' It's not like Spidey's life is all that great not on a team, so he'll try being on a team. He'll also be surprised at how much respect he gets from the team- Spidey is the hero who's been through it all and managed to come out intact, something his teammates recognize and admire- to Peter's surprise. The Sentry is one of the best new creations that Marvel's had in the last ten years- I think one of the problems that Marvel's had with their 'auteur' writers and artists is that they create characters, but no one else will use them after that. Paul Jenkins creates the Sentry and no one touches it. I just see a great character. So, I called Paul and asked if I could use him and Paul says, 'Please! Use it! He's just sitting there.' That's where we have to go back to old-school Marvel and not be so precious with our creations. Here's a hero that no one remembers, but is on par with Thor and the other big hitters? That's the stuff"
Some have speculated that Bendis is trying to create his own version of DC Comics' Justice League of America, taking the biggest names and putting them on a team, but the scribe says that just looking at the team should be proof that isn't the case. "That's funny. First of all, that 'JLA take' may or may not be associated with CBR [laughs], that was a rumor. I never said those words in my life. I had a different interpretation of what Earth's Mightiest Heroes could be that didn't involve Mawkingbird and came up with a group of characters that when you put them in a room, no matter what they're talking about, I'm riveted. I'm just riveted. Listen, for those who think this is JLA- anchoring a book on characters like Jessica Drew or the Sentry has not been the magical formula for success. I really think I have a story to tell. And the immediate response to Wolverine is, 'Oh, Cap and Wolverine are such opposites- they couldn't even have a conversation together.' I know! Sounds like a good dramatic tension to me!"
If you're still not a fan of the new team, Bendis says that there'll be some fluidity in the team's lineup, but he won't say how. "There'll be a way for people to come in and out that wasn't available before," says Bendis. "Cap's aware that not everyone is available all the time and so others will be, so if there's a special assignment requirement someone, Cap will get him instead of saying, 'We're the Avengers and we don't go outside the Avengers.' If there's magic shit going on, they get Doctor Strange; if there are vampires, call in Blade. At the same time the core of the team will remain because there's a lot of relationship and character stuff that's important to me. There'll be a major romance coming out of this. If you wanna know who… there's only one female character on the team. It's not gonna be Peter Parker and Luke Cage… but you never know [laughs]."
The most "old school" members of the team are Captain America and Iron Man, characters chosen not just for their personality but because Bendis also believes they represent the core ideals of the team. "Cap is like the ultimate leader of the team, and I know there've been other leaders of the team, but it always seems like Cap was letting them lead the team while he's really in charge. He's a super soldier! He's the quintessential leader while Tony was the father or uncle, who paid the bills and brought the clout. He's also the guy who believes in the Avengers the most- he put his money where his mouth is and needs to be a part of this group. When rich people pay for stuff, it means they really believe in it."
The reaction to "Chaos" has been… divided to say the least and Bendis is aware of how his writing is being perceived by the readers. "It's kind of interesting that there's no middle ground- they either totally get it or they don't. I kinda feel like the Michael Moore of comics this time around. It's weird to be so polarizing. It's kind of fun. A lot of it might change when the story is complete, that happened to me before, but there are a few things being said about it all that I want to refute.
"The number one argument over the latest issue was people saying, 'The Avengers don't argue' and I gotta ask, 'What Avengers were you reading?' For years Hawkeye's entire personality was if Cap said something, Hawkeye said the opposite. Also, clearly, in the latest issue the team is not themselves. Experiencing a damn bad day and doing their best to cope.
"Another criticism is of the style of dialogue I've chosen for the book, a more natural, more conversational style that a book like this isn't used to having, something I firmly believe can be accomplished in mainstream comics, even in a bigger team book where they can all talk like real characters and not plot devices. Yes, most mainstream books are written with a very similar language. Its one I study and enjoy. But it doesn't have to only be that way, with that flavor. People who read 'Ultimate Spider-Man' or 'Daredevil,' they know this, but there are people reading 'Avengers' who are new to this kind of writing and think I don't understand the characters or don't have a grasp of them, or I somehow hate them.
"But all it is is a different interpretation of them. I fully understand what makes these characters tick, on levels that would embarrass any comic reader in the world. I want to take that information and instead of just treading on it, I want to build on it with a new dialogue style. It's not too different from when an artist with a strong style comes on a book. Look at David Finch- he's got such a strong style and writers can have that, too. So, what you're getting is a different interpretation. Different doesn't mean wrong, it just means different. I fully believe that the Avengers are doing nothing that contradicts their behavior in previous issues- they may sound different, but they aren't acting different.
"So far one of the funniest things I see is the reaction to the 'New Avengers' lineup, with people screaming, 'Aargh, you suck! That's not the Avengers!' Then they list a team they would like to see that is just as outrageous or different than what I've shown them. It's funny that I'm the asshole… but their idea for Gilgamesh and Namor is a great idea."
It seems like all major changes in the history of the Avengers have required a bit of time to be accepted and Bendis feels that'll probably be the case here as well. "Some people will just fuckin' hate it. That's life, but the ideas are coming from a real honest place and nine out of ten times that gets across. People will read it in its entirety and see we know what we're doing and we love these characters. I also think that when 'New Avengers' starts, they'll see this is a strong entity and a clean departure from what's come before. The language of the storytelling won't be shocking as to people with the new team. If you look at series like 'Ultimate Spider-Man' or 'Powers' where there was no pre-determined style, no language held on to by old school fans and believed to be 'that's how it's done,' then it is easier to accept.
"I also hope that when people read 'Avengers Finale,' they'll see the love and care, which'll help them appreciate the story and they'll see it was done with the utmost love and respect. I also hope that people will come away from the storyline, once they see the big reveal, they'll feel satisfied and when they see the art- I got a piece from Gary Frank today and it's the most amazing thing I've seen in my life- they'll know it's something special."
Some fans argue that the purpose of the Avengers as a team isn't really that clear and wonder how the new series will address that. Bendis promises that the Avengers will live up their namesake and have a very clear direction. "The purpose is sort of reinvigorated because some time will have passed between the old Avengers and new Avengers. Cap and Iron Man, are reminded why they're needed. Like a girl, she goes away and you remember why you liked her. That's one of the things that'll bring a focus to both how and why the Avengers need to do what they're doing. I don't wanna give away more, but the adventures they go on will come from different areas and while it'll start as something very explosive that cause some events, you'll see the missions they all choose to go on come from a different place than usual."
The next issue of the series, issue #502 coming later this month, promises the death of one core Avenger- Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Yellowjacket or Wasp, a promise that has upset many fans. But is Bendis, with his new "language" for the Avengers, simply trying to redefine the core- and core members- of the Avengers? "No, they're two different things," he answers. "The story that's being told now is about the Avengers as they exist now- the mistakes they've made and problems that they've had when they're playing a game so dramatic, that's so high stakes and those stakes will cost them everything. This is a very dangerous game, which is a given for all superhero comics, and we're showing how that backfires. I think a lot of people realize that what's happening is happening, no dream or fake out story, and it's a little upsetting. This isn't some hollow event. Things are happening. But we're not doing it to shock, though there are certainly shocking parts to it. Something like this doesn't often happen on this level."
Though you may not know it, Bendis is a long time fan of the Avengers and they have been personal icons for the writer since he was a child. And that makes it even stranger to the bald bastion of Portland that some people seem to think "Chaos" is Bendis' ode to his dislike of the Avengers. "That drives me kooky crazy. Why would I spend my every waking thought working on this book if I didn't like it? I love it!! I don't like the Avengers and this is how I'm showing it? What?
"Like everyone else, very early on in my life, I got hooked on the tales of the Avengers, these heroes coming together and doing the things that no one hero could do by themselves. It was all hypnotic- especially the Roy Thomas stuff because he made the big changes. Stan built up the stuff, but people remember the Avengers of Thomas' era, all the way through the Kree/Skrull war, the Roger Stern stuff, all of it. Even the David Micheline/Bob Hall stuff, it kind of had a dirty feel to it, kind of creepy, even that I liked.
"Are there times I didn't like the Avengers? Sure, but I've learned that it's not really my place to say and it's insulting to creators, some of whose work I like, but didn't like them on Avengers. The modern guy, Busiek/Perez were great and I love Geoff Johns' work. I think that the Kree/Skrull War is one of the best ideas ever executed in mainstream comics. Ever. No one even came close to it and I'm sure they got letters from people saying they hate it [laughs].
"I mean some of the criticism I'm getting now is valid and I can take it and I do listen to it, but I was reading this article in 'Comic Book Artist' where they printed this old strip that was in a fanzine about Claremont, literally burning him in effigy for killing Jean Grey. He so angered the fans at the time and now you can't imagine Jean Grey not dying, I'm not comparing it to 'The Dark Phoenix Saga,' but my point was that there might be some room to let it sit for a while before people flip out. But, um,I think when 502 comes out I'll turn off my computer and go ride my bike [laughs]."
November sees the release of "New Avengers," but also sees the entire Avengers line relaunched with new creators (such as Ed Brubaker, who spoke with CBR about "Captain America") and new #1 issues, which some feel is calculated and adds to the "Crass commercialism" of the "Disassembled" storyline. "This is how it works, always! First, the idea for the story happens, then things start to pop out of it, then the marketing guys do their thing. It's never the opposite. First Marvel read the script and then decided to go crazy on it. Once the idea of 'New Avengers' comes along, then we say 'Ooh, now here's a good opportunity to… do something like get Ed Brubaker on Cap or Warren Ellis on 'Iron Man'" and you get all these great books. I particularly think that 'Captain America' and 'Iron Man' will be huge, because Ed's take on Cap is nothing less than fantastic and Warren was born to write 'Iron Man,' with all that crazy creepy tech talk.
"The titles will be connected tightly, especially since when Mark and I came to the classic Marvel Universe from the Ultimate universe [Marvel's line of continuity free fresh starts for their icons] where we were doing well with keeping our continuity locked solid and all Mark had to do was send me an e-mail asking, 'I'm doing this to so and so- will that fuck up 'Daredevil?'' and I'd say, 'No, actually it means I can do this, and this and this.' It's a lot of fun and that's what Marvel Comics is built on. When we came back to the classic U there was a concerted effort to tighten everything, without being anal. Everyone jumped onboard to do that kind of storytelling and it's a blast- I think we were doing a real disservice by not doing this a few years back. JMS will show a little bit of 'New Avengers' in 'Amazing Spider-Man' and in my books, you'll definitely see the effects of all this."
With Marvel's "Avengers" and DC's "JLA," you have two teams that represent the biggest powers from both companies, but Bendis finds comparisons between the two teams difficult to make. "I'd say the Avengers function very differently than the JLA and comparing the two is like comparing people's marriages in a way- no two are the same.
"What you can do in 'Avengers' is you can see characters interact in such unique ways. You put a few characters in the room and see what happens. Spider-Man can talk to Luke Cage about stuff that he can't talk to Mary Jane about, not that he doesn't trust her, but because she can't relate. Also, a Wolverine war story would be fascinating even to these guys.
"The second thing is that we can set up conflicts and villains that any of them can't handle by themselves, that's the point of getting together, so creating new threats like that is real fun.
"I will tell old school fans this- we are reintroducing a total of no less than 85 classic villains that have been out of commission for years, no one has used them at all and it's time to get them back out there! We've got the return of the Wrecking Crew, the U-Foes… everyone! We'll have a handful of new villains and a new idea from where to get villains, just to give a clue, there's something in 'Secret War' called the Caterpillar File where SHIELD is keeping an eye on bastard children of supervillains just to see how they turn out. an idea we'll explore with the Avengers. You'll see the return of the classic Inhumans and more new characters that speak to modern time. With the Avenger villains, there's a true sense that if the team fucks up, it's all over. You look at the 'Korvac Saga' or the 'Kree/Skrull War' shit happens that can hurt a lot of people."
Until their collaboration on "Ultimate X-Men," many may not have pictured Bendis & Finch as the next hot creative team, but now the scribe can't imagine not working with his fellow bald creative partner. "He was actually shown to me by someone at Marvel. My first instinct was that I didn't connect to his work right away and then I saw something later that showed me that David was on a path of huge growth in terms of art. So I said I'd do six issues of 'Ultimate X-Men' with him. I was so in love with what I saw that I stayed for 12 issues- it is so hard to walk away from what is like a relationship. When things are going well, why break up? Frank D'Armada is the colorist and he's a big part of the team. When we were done X-Men I looked at one issue where David had Wolverine in a cave for most of the issue and it really showed me what he could do and I was frustrated to leave. Boo hoo my high class problem. I've got all these books, but I was frustrated not to be working with him anymore. So when the word for 'Avengers' came down, I literally said, 'I'm not doing it without David Finch' and I didn't even know if David wanted to do it. He could have been done with me and I wouldn't have blamed him. But he was in as long as he got to draw Captain America. You're getting a level of pencilling from him that you rarely get on monthly comics. There's an almost awe inspiring sense to his work. He brings a very specific sense of character acting that is so powerful- he does bedlam and quiet, I love that combination.
"I am very open to him for ideas. The door is open. He did come to me when we did X-Men and said 'I really want to draw the Sentinels' and I said I'd think about, soon realizing the end I had for my story wasn't as dramatic as the Sentinels showing up to do the same thing. So I ask for what's on his mind and what he wants to do."
With the genuine excitement served up by series like "Avengers," a lot of readers wonder how the comic book industry hasn't exploded into the mainstream, in the same way video games have done in recent years and Bendis is happy to chime in with his opinion. "Well first of all there are a lot of people coming to comics, something you've probably seen online with people asking for recommendations as they return to comics or getting in because of a friend, or the movies, or independent work like 'Blankets' getting attention.
"It can also be something like someone saying they liked the 'Daredevil' movie and being told to read the comic- it happens all the time. What it doesn't affect is monthly sales, but it absolutely affects trade sales and people don't see it publicly. They don't see how a book like 'Alias' that didn't sell huge monthly is on it's fourth printing in its trade format. That isn't to say the monthly is going to die- I love working in that format- but the trades are a more palpable source for new fans and much easier for people to pick it up.
"The big trouble is, and this a hard thing to discuss, but a lot of people don't read at all! No books, newspapers, comics. They only play video games or watch TV. I'm not talking about the people reading this article- if you are reading this then you read. Some people don't read anything! A lot of comic readers are the only ones in their peer groups who read. We're ferocious readers by our nature as comic book fans and sometimes it's hard for us to understand when people don't like to read. That's something that's common to every passion. I focus on the positive- readership is growing. But there's no one book that'll turn it around for us. If we keep turning out books that we're proud of, we'll bring in readers eventually. Build it. They will come, I guess. I just wish Marvel and DC would do more advertising outside of the industry, outside of the Internet and I hope they do."
Now as the self-proclaimed Michael Moore of comics, does Bendis blame the industry woes on U.S President Bush? "I do, I do," laughs Bendis. "It's really his fault."
Bendis has been a big promoter of indy comics and while he spotlighted a few in "Wizard" recently, he was happy to recommend a few more to CBR readers. "What would I recommend? Wow… hmmm. The 'American Flagg!' hardbacks are coming out and it's a very important series. 'Birth of a Nation' by Aaron McGruder and Reginald Huddlon with Kyle Baker. You can get it in the book stores and it is a scathing political satire. I also recommend the 'Queen & Country' prose novel. It isn't a comic, but Greg Rucka does an awesome job. This book hits the ground running and you don't need to read the comic to appreciate all this. Speaking of Rucka the 'Queen & Country Scriptbook' is outstanding and perfect for up & coming writers. I did a 'Wizard' column and I don't want to repeat myself so… 'True Story, Swear to God: 100 Stories' by Tom Beland is awesome and I didn't find it in a comic store- I found it in a weird copy shop. I love random occurrences like that! 'American Elf' by James Kolchoka, a sketchbook of his life and 'Scrapbook' by Adrian Tomine, they're both awesome. These two guys have dedicated their lives to their art and I respect that. One more… 'Spaghetti Western' by Scott Morse. Just buy the damn thing!"
Besides causing chaos in the pages of "Avengers," Bendis has a lot of other work going on at Marvel. "'Pulse' is ending our big arc this week and next month we have Brent Anderson returning to Marvel after years and I'm very jazzed. The story will reflect what's going on in 'Secret War' and it'll show how Jessica reacts. In 'Daredevil' we're doing a story called 'Golden Age' that simultaneously tells a story in Marvel's Golden Age, Silver Age and Modern Age, asking the question 'who was the Kingpin before the Kingpin?' Next month starts a series of two part stories in 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' beginning with a Wolverine & Spider-Man team up that is the most embarrassing thing I've ever written. I'm ashamed of myself and for my family I've written an apology to my daughter that I put in a time capsule and will show to her twenty years from now [laughs]. I know it's the worst thing I've ever written because it's Joe Quesada's favorite thing I ever wrote- that can't be good [laughs]. I'm really excited about what we've got coming up in this book, especially the Hobgoblin story that is the next big arc. Keep your eyes on 'Powers #5'- everyone is looking at 'Avengers' but the biggest shock of the year will be in 'Powers #5.' I'm very, very happy with how 'Powers' was received- issue #2 & 3 are already sold out!"
This of course begs the question- are readers the only ones who find it odd that numbers on "Powers" have doubled, if not more, since moving from Image to Marvel? "Well, it certainly does answer the question, 'If you sold it through Marvel, would it sell more?' Yes. Some people, not everyone, only look at the Marvel section. I knew that anyone who digs 'Daredevil' would dig 'Powers,' so putting them in the same catalogue helps. A lot of retailers find it easier to sell another Marvel book to fans of my Marvel work even though it's not a Marvel book. Its an indy book."
In closing, Bendis had some final thanks he wanted to share with fans. "I would like to hug and kiss all my readers in a platonic way. I really appreciate the debate over the 'Avengers'- I respect the different opinions and I'm having a good time reading what I have read. I also want to thank everyone for having a good time with 'Avengers,' even if they don't know it [laughs]."