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REFLECTIONS #231: Brian Michael Bendis, Part 2

by  in Comic News Comment
REFLECTIONS #231: Brian Michael Bendis, Part 2

Brian Michael Bendis is back, and still has a lot more to say about pretty much everything. If you missed Part One, which primarily focused on Bendis’ Marvel Comics Avengers titles and “Secret Invasion.” This week, Bendis talks to CBR News about the transition from Mark Bagley — who teamed with the writer for the longest ever creative run on a Marvel comic — to the new “Ultimate Spider-Man” artist Stuart Immonen, as well as some great nuggets about the return (again!?) of Gwen Stacy to the title.

Additionally, Bendis shares his take on “Ultimatum,” discusses “Powers,” “Real World” cast members and why fans tell him they wish Hitler would have raped his dog. Seriously.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" #118 on sale now

Robert Taylor: Let’s start on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and talk about Stuart Immonen.

Brian Michael Bendis: We’ve had very few conversations. Stuart is not one to verbally collaborate, but I told him that he has so many styles and asked him what we were going to get for “Ultimate Spider-Man,” and he said, “I don’t know, what do you think we are going to get?” I said I would love a cross between “Nextwave” and “Secret Identity,” which is a great Superman book he did. And it’s exactly what he did.

He seems genuinely happy on the book. His work is phenomenal and he’s a pleasure to write for.

RT: Why did you decide to kill off the Goblins?

BMB: The book has had two very long storylines connecting the series since it began. One was the Norman Osborne story and the other was the Kingpin story. The Norman story only had two endings: Peter goes or Norman goes. Initially we were going to do that story as the sequel to the “Ultimate Spider-Man” video game, but the window to make that game was too small so it got scrapped.

RT: Why the timing? Why make it the first arc for Immonen instead of the last arc for Bagley?

BMB: I thought about it. I thought the last issue for Bagley being the conversation with Peter was very much in line with the 13th issue, where Peter and Mary Jane have the talk about him being Spider-Man. What I think that represents about Bagley is what type of artist he is, and how a lot of people didn’t know he was that kind of artist until those issues. And ending on an emotional issue about the characters was definitely the way for Bagley to leave.

And I knew that there had to be an important Spider-Man story for Stuart to come on the book with. It had to be something that really resonates. The Goblin story was the one.

Also, if he and I weren’t clicking, it would have been a strong enough story to make up for it. But the good news is we ended up clicking. But you never know. Starting with a new artist, it’s like going on a blind date, you know? You might like the look of them, but you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the night. That might be a horrible comparison, but it’s the first thing that popped into my head. [laughs]

“Ultimate Spider-Man” #119 on sale February 27

RT: What do you have coming up?

BMB: Issue #118 is the first issue of “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” It’s one of my favorite issues of the entire series. I don’t know why it came out so well, much better than I thought it would be.

That’s such a rare feeling for me, where I actually like something, and I don’t know what to do with it.

RT: How much geek fulfillment did you get writing “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” as the title for a story?

BMB: I’d written down the idea in my first year on “Ultimate Spider-Man,” and wondered if it could be done without making it feel stupid. I’d gotten the book to a place where Iceman could organically appear in the book. Now that Kitty is in the book, Iceman could visit. And now I’ve got the Firestar storyline to a place where it fits.

And I’m actually more proud of that than anything else I’ve done in comics. Making them fit into the book was great! [laughs]

RT: Sales on the book have taken a bit of a dive since Immonen came onboard. Why do you think that is?

BMB: Well, I don’t like to discuss the business part too much because I don’t think it matters either way to people who enjoy the book and it doesn’t matter to me while writing the book. Plus, you always sound defensive or insanely braggy or in damage control mode.

But what you’ve said is not necessarily true, and I’m not being facetious. All the public sees are these Internet estimates, and it’s really just two guys who pick a number out of their hat and say that is the number. Some guy made up a number.

Yes, It used to be a top five book and isn’t anymore, but it hasn’t for a while. Now the Avengers books are. That’s the cycle of showbiz. It’s still a successful comic and still one of the biggest-selling trades out there, both for comics stores and bookstores. So if one was worried about the book’s health, don’t be. Seriously, if it only came out as a trade paperback, it would be an extremely successful book for Marvel.

“Ultimate Spider-Man” vol. 19: “Death of a Goblin” trade paperback on sale February 6

Not to be braggy, but you asked me the question. It’s weird, because if it sold 6,000, I would be thrilled because that’s 4,000 more than “Torso” sold. I would love for it to be the highest selling book in the country, and I have had the highest selling book in the country, and you know what? It doesn’t matter to me if it is or isn’t. I write it with the same love and I never feel that enough people are reading any comic.

I’ve been very clear about this on my board. People talk about the numbers online, but they are completely made up, incorrect, and don’t include a lot of other places like newsstands that actually matter. Especially for a gateway book like “Ultimate Spider-Man.”

And I’ve said the same exact thing about the two books I have in the top ten right now, I’m not just doing some odd damage control. The numbers online are wrong! It’s like box office scores, where they talk about domestic grosses like international doesn’t count. It all is money and it all counts. “Golden Compass” made like $325 million, but people still talk about it being a bomb.

And sweet Jesus I am in no way comparing “Ultimate Spider-Man” to that! [laughs]

RT: How’s the transition been from editor Ralph Macchio (who is now Supervising Editor) to editor Bill Rosemann?

BMB: Bill is an unbelievably motivated and positive person, and brought all that energy to “Ultimate Spider-Man.” And Bill knows I’m a big fan of his because I took his Kat Farrell character and put her in “The Pulse,” so I know Bill loves me. He has been very gung-ho and very excited.

But that doesn’t stop me from publicly outing him as the much maligned "Marvel Dawg" from years past. [laughs]

RT: Jeph Loeb is coming onto the Ultimate books…

BMB: Who!? [laughs]

RT: …and he’s going to blow up everything and then there will be nothing leff — according to the message boards, anyway. What role will “Ultimate Spider-Man” play in “Ultimatum”?

“Ultimate Power” hardcover on sale in March

BMB: It won’t alter the book very much, other than that the fallout for the Ultimate universe will be felt in “Ultimate Spider-Man.” And honestly, that would be nice. The one frustrating thing that always happened with Mark [Millar’s] run on “The Ultimates” was that you never knew when that book was going to ship, so you never could let the characters react to it because you didn’t want to accidentally spoil something. If I, by accident, told you the end to volume 2 months before volume 2 ended, you’d be pissed at me, so I just went about my day. What Jeph can bring is a status quo change that I can relate to from Peter’s point-of-view without worrying about what is happening in other books.

RT: Do you think it’s time that the Ultimate universe needed a revamp?

BMB: It’s not a revamp. I think it’s a definition. That’s all I can say for now.

RT: What else is coming up for “Ultimate Spider-Man?”

BMB: After “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” there are going to be a couple of one-shot issues, which everyone always asks for. Then a major storyline called “War of the Symbiotes”, and that will partly adapt the story from the “Ultimate Spider-Man” video game right into the comic book, with a bunch of new material including the return of Gwen Stacy.

RT: Again?

BMB: No, not again!

RT: Okay, point taken, the last time she was all cloney. How did that go over with fans, by the way?

BMB: The clone stuff went over pretty good. A lot went into it and the reaction was very cool. And the door is open for Gwen to return now, and that is what is going to happen.

You want to talk sales? If you want to know about a sales effect on “Ultimate Spider-Man” — when Gwen died, thousands of people up and left the book. They were pissed off! That’s the only time I really felt like anger had translated to sales.

But she’s coming back! So, uh, come back!

"Powers Annual" #1 on sale in March

RT: Let’s move onto “Powers.” What are you and co-creator/artist Michael Avon Oeming doing to keep the book fresh?

BMB: We did a couple things. Mike talked about this publicly, so I don’t feel too weird about mentioning it, but he was going through a divorce last year, which messed up his scheduling. But now everything is fine and he’s back. With issue #25, we formatted the book by adding pages and a new paper and cover stock. It’s a gorgeous package.

In some indie books, every issue you are like, “Look! An issue!” And that format certainly fits with “Powers;” that way you feel like you are getting more than you would normally get. Also, we kept running out of pages, but now we can have both the story and the letter column we want to do no matter what.

There is also this very big story about a powers-virus that is taking over the city. And the horrible fall of one of our leads, Detective Deena Pilgrim, is in full effect. The book is really turning over the turnip truck like no book Marvel or DC could do. It’s exciting to write, and scary, and I love it. Love! It!

RT: When you wrote issue one, did you have any inkling you would ever be at this point?

BMB: No. We were a bubble book at best. We pulled about 12,000 with the first print. And that was a miracle number, because neither of us had ever done more than 4,000 on anything. But still not a safe number for a color series.

And then the second issue came out and had a normal, but not extreme, dip and did 10,000, and we had the “maybe we should go to black-and-white” conversation. And then a mixture of things happened, word of mouth, the press for “Ultimate Spider-Man” I was getting, and then we spiraled up and up into the 20s and 30s. And for the book to go up — any book– that is a miracle! It’s always a slow, sliding death for most comics, but not here. The book has defied almost every rule of sales and marketing. It’s on its sixth life already. I can’t thank “Powers” fans enough. Talk about loyal.

“Powers” #18 on sale February 27

RT: When will you know you’ve gone on autopilot for the book and it’s time to leave?

BMB: I’m very aware that autopilot for the book would be here’s-a-dead-body-let’s-do-the-autopsy-and-find-the-bad-guy. That’s what every episode of “CSI” and “Law and Order” has. It’s very popular and very successful formula, but it’s a formula. That would be the auto-pilot for “Powers.” The book would have been dead three years ago.

Instead we delved into the mythology of the book and deep, deep, deep into the characters. This is the superhero book that Marvel or DC can’t do. And, believe me, they tried. They both did a book that was just like “Powers,” but for those books to mean anything, you would have to kill Spider-Man and analyze it. You would have to have the freedom to take these characters into the dark murky waters of morality that only “Powers,” as an indie, can do. Much like the networks can’t do “The Shield” or “The Sopranos,” only we could do “Powers” the way it deserves to be done. Can I pat myself on the back more? No. [laughs]

But, truthfully, at this point, more people are addicted to the letter column than the book, though. Let’s be honest. plaughs]

RT: Let’s talk about the letter column. It feels like a community and family, albeit a really !#$%ed up family.

BMB: The letter column is my longest running publication. It connects all the books I’ve ever done going back to “Goldfish.” I started doing them this way because I feel like every inch of the book should be covered in entertainment. I never print the very nice letters I get; I print the ones that would be interesting for someone else to read.

To me, the goofier letters are much more interesting. You definitely create your own hell, though. See, since I only print crazy letters, all I get now is crazy letters. [laughs] I only get people who write “Dear Jew #$%^er” or “Dear Jesus Killer.” This is what my mail looks like all day. But then they always add in a nice ‘P.S. I love “Ultimate Spider-Man”‘ after telling me they wish Hitler would have raped my dog.

“Mighty Avengers” #9 on sale February 20

Now, David Mack writes “Kabuki” and all he prints is thoughtful, philosophical letters from beautiful Asian women, and so now all he gets are thoughtful, philosophical letters from beautiful Asian women. So you make your own hell.

I know that when I first started dating my wife, she started reading the letter column and thought that might be the real me. And the guy she was dating was this act I was doing to get into her pants.  That conversation had to happen. [laughs] I think it took weeks for her to believe it was shtick.

When I’m at conventions, people expect me to be a dick, and are almost disappointed when I am not. Or they think I’m much shorter than they would have hoped. [laughs]

RT: How is the convention circuit going? You haven’t been to one in awhile now, have you?

BMB: Not really. Thankfully, I have these amazing jobs and have a family, so it’s hard for me to want to leave home. Also because I am so available on the Internet I feel, “Hey, you want to talk to me, you can talk to me.” I’m a Google and a Jinxworld away. It’s not hard to find me. I think most of my peers would be better off staying at home and doing their work. But, man, people are genuinely insanely nice to me at cons. I guess it’s more about me not liking myself than anything else. [laughs]

RT: How’d you like “World War Hulk”?

BMB: It’s aces. It’s fun stuff. It was planned for years. I heard the story bloom through four retreats, and every time it got better and better. Having watched it develop, that is the best possible story that happened.

Think about that first “Hulk” movie, and Ang Lee. He was going to personalize the Hulk, but the smarter thing to do was to make the most kickass Hulk ever. And that was what Greg delivered.

RT: I like to ask creators who are exclusive at one company or the other what they think of the other company’s crossover, so how are you liking “Countdown”?

BMB: I’m not reading it. It’s not a diss to any of the creators, I started to, but it’s the same thing that happened with “52.” I’m a huge fan of all the authors, but the effort to homogenize them into one voice is not appealing to me. I don’t want to figure out what part Greg Rucka or Johns wrote. I don’t think that’s a good move, and I’m a fan of creators when it’s them only. I’m looking for the true ultimate expression of those authors.

“New Avengers” #38 on sale February 13

RT: Lightning round time.

Wow, the first question is ironic. If you were writing a weekly comic book with three other creators, who would they be?

BMB: I wouldn’t. I think I could write a weekly comic book by myself, though. I’d go nuts but I could do it.

RT: What is your favorite comic book movie of all time?

BMB: “The Rocketeer.” I think it captures the comic book perfectly. But “American Splendor” and “Ghost World” and “History of Violence” are all amazing motion pictures as well.

RT: Weirdest convention experience?

BMB: I’ve actually done this story in a comic book. I was being interviewed at the Marvel booth by a Canadian television show at San Diego [Comic-Con International]. One of the producers was a “Real World” cast member. She was Julie, the Mormon girl from a few years back. It was a big deal because she had never touched a boy, and then she went into the house and became sex crazy.

Also going on for me that weekend was that Trauma Pictures had a character named Sgt. Kabuki Man, and there was a guy running around in a costume who was very drunk and very taken with me. He was yelling at me all the time. I think he was a reader, but I have no idea.

I was being interviewed live on Canadian television, and suddenly I see Sgt. Kabuki Man barreling down the row yelling my name. And then Julie the horny Mormon girl tackles him and throws him into the DC Comics’ garbage can.

“New Avengers: The Illuminati” is the project for which Bendis wishes to be most remembered

And I thought, “Where else in the world could that happen? Where else could Sgt. Kabuki man get tackled by Julie the horny Mormon girl from ‘The Real World?'”

RT: If you could only be remembered for one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

BMB: Recently in the “Illuminati” miniseries, we had the Beyonder come back and made the incredibly bold decision to keep the gerry curl and the Michael Jackson suit. In a day and age where everyone is trying to be too cool for the room, I thought it was incredibly ballsy to keep the jerry curl, and I’m annoyed that we weren’t given enough credit.

I want everyone to stop, take a moment, and think about the fact that we had the balls to keep the curl and the suit.

I just want to put it out there. I want to be remembered for that. When I saw the artwork, I thought about leaving comics, because there was no way it could get better than that.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.

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