SDCC: Bendis Traverses Time & Space in the "Uncanny X-Men Annual"

In the Marvel Universe, a few minutes can seem like a lifetime -- especially if you're a mutant with the ability to manipulate and alter the flow of time. In the pages of "Uncanny X-Men" #17 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Chris Bachalo, Eva Bell (AKA Tempus), a mutant with temporal abilities, disappeared during a training exercise. When she returned just a few minutes later, she appeared to have aged several years and refused to talk to her teammates about what occurred during her absence.

For for the past several months, Eva has been a character shrouded in mystery, but in November's "Uncanny X-Men Annual" Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino, the "Green Arrow" artist who makes his Marvel Comics debut with the project, will show readers where Eva went when she disappeared, what happened while she was gone and why she chose to stay silent about her experiences. CBR News spoke with Bendis about the title, which was at the "Cup O' Joe" panel during Comic-Con International in San Diego, for insight into Eva's journey, how it affects the rest of the Uncanny X-Men as well as his excitement about working with Sorrentino on the project.

CBR News: Brian, this Annual thrusts Eva Bell, a new character created by you and artist Stuart Immonen into the spotlight. She's a mutant with the ability to manipulate time and appears to be just one element of your larger Marvel Universe exploration of time travel and temporal mechanics across books like "Age of Ultron," "All-New X-Men," and the "Battle of the Atom" crossover. What makes the temporal mechanics of the Marvel U so interesting to you as a writer?

Brian Michael Bendis: Well, it is about the Marvel Universe, but also something specific about mutants is that they have these powers and some people are scared of people having powers, while others think it's great that they have powers. I think the interesting question that doesn't have an answer is that some of the powers are scary. They break the laws of physics or they break the laws of our reality. Do we get something better in return for that? Or is it damaging us? Much like when you ask a comic book audience, 'is change good?' Some will not think so and others will be glad to see it. [Laughs]
With Eva, she is coming at the X-Men and her powers are still relatively new. They are working on a level of space and time that we as biological creatures haven't discovered yet. Her powers themselves are an undiscovered country. So it's hard to measure them and define them.

What happened in "Uncanny X-Men" #17 was that Cyclops put Eva and her teammates into a very high stress training mission, and she disappeared. She came back older, very dirty, and very upset. We have no idea what happened to her. So this Annual is almost a whole graphic novel showing what happened to her.

If you've never read an X-Men title before, this is a brand new story about a brand new character that a lot of people have taken a charm to, which I'm very happy about. And, for those of you reading "Uncanny X-Men," here it is! We're flipping over the cards and showing exactly what happened to her, what she's been through, and how it's going to affect her and her relationship to the X-Men going forward.

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What inspired the creation of Eva?

Thinking about the scariest power in the nicest person's hands. She's a genuinely good person who was going to have a very ordinary life on the Gold Coast of Australia. Then this happened and every time she uses her powers something new is discovered about them. Things get scarier and scarier, and this is the biggest chapter of that.

It's very hard to invent new super heroes and something that people haven't seen before. I think this Annual shows what makes her different from all others. What's also cool is that she's going to go to places in the Marvel Universe that have never been in an X-Men book before. We're going to see some characters that will be familiar to people who know their Marvel handbooks like, say, Killraven. That's just one of the people we'll meet.

Where she went and who she interacted with is just one of the mysteries surrounding Eva's disappearance. Another is just how many years she aged while she was gone. Will we learn that in this Annual?

Yes, you are going to find out, but the one thing that people online are most questioning of me is that clearly she's got a bit of a crush on Cyclops, but she was a bit young for him. Is she now not a bit young for him?

She was always of age. I don't want to get any of those weird hashtags with my name on it. It's just there are general social things; student-teacher and all that. Are they more peers now than they were? You'll find out. And if they are, does she even care about him anymore? We'll find out.

People are also wondering why Eva kept quiet about what happened to her. Some readers might be thinking what she saw was traumatic and she doesn't want to talk about where she went.

It could be that. Or it could be that she doesn't know how to talk about what happened to her. Or she's been told not to say anything. Maybe even by people who are in that very room!

[Laughs] I understand your story is a mystery and there's a lot of details you can't talk about. So let's move to one of the things you can talk about -- the work of your artist, Andrea Sorrentino.

I'm genuinely excited to be teaming up with Andrea Sorrentino whose work I have just been gaga over for a couple of years. I've been posting a lot of his stuff on my Tumblr. His double page spreads in "Green Arrow" were quite something and all of us who know and like his stuff have been talking about him for awhile. Then lo and behold I get a call from my editor, Mike Marts, and he goes, "Hey! Guess who is going to be available and wants to do X-Men?" He goes, "Andrea Sorrentino." And I'm like, "The Annual! Done!"

Just last week he handed in his first pages and they were as mind-blowingly awesome as I hoped they would be and I immediately locked him down for his next gig whether he likes it or not. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Having seen some of his work I can definitely see why. It looks like he has a knack for the strange and the surreal, and there's a noirish, almost Alex Maleev quality to the mood and tone of his work.

I wouldn't say Alex Maleev. It's a little bit more of a Jae Lee through David Aja, but the design work is more reminiscent of like '80s Matt Wagner. I mean all of that as the highest compliment. I know some times people don't like being lumped in or compared to others.
What's most interesting to me about his art is the design work that looks like it's going to burst off the pages. He's looking at the page design differently than most people. If you look at his pages you go, "I have not seen that page design before! Yay! I like looking at things I have not seen before."
When I would look at his work as a fan and not a collaborator I would quietly ask myself, "Wow! How do you write for that?" For many years my quest has been to write to my artist and not have them come to me, and I think with this Annual I wrote a piece that challenges and excites him, and gives him and his colorist the ability to try a bunch of different things. It did. It was very, very exciting. He took to the story right away.

I told him when I wrote this that I wanted whatever was in his head. I said, "I want what's in your head more than what I wrote." And the first pages were like, "Wow! What I wrote looks awesome!" It still tells the story I needed to be told, but it's in a way that I never would have known how to ask for. So this was very exciting to me.

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Let's talk about the feel of Andrea's work and the story. In terms of tone is the "Uncanny X-Men Annual" a more moody and surreal piece?

No, it's a real adventure. Her feet are on the ground. The tone of his work allows for a different sense than most mainstream comics, but the story itself is about Eva trying to get home; trying to figure out where she is and how to get back. On her journey to accomplish that she learns new things about herself, the Marvel Universe, and her place with the X-Men.

So this is sort of a road trip through the Marvel Universe?

Yes, and time and space. She's going to land in places that some people might be familiar with and others won't. She's going to find things out about herself in those places.

There's also giant easter egg in this that is a big hint to what's coming up next year. Big hint! And it involves Hank McCoy.

So in terms of scope and scale this year's "Uncanny X-Men Annual" is a story that's both intimate and epic?

Yes, that's a perfect way to put it!

Finally, is this a story that will also give us a glimpse of the status quo of the time-space continuum in the Marvel Universe? We know it's pretty much in a thousand pieces after "Age of Ultron."

Absolutely, you'll also get hints about the other things that have been going on as well. This is a story with ramifications.

Since the very first issue, and it wasn't even on purpose, "Uncanny X-Men" has been a very artsy book. The artists who have all come on are very singular in talent, and now I'm heavily leaning into that. We want to bring aboard the most interesting people that you may not have ever expected to be on an X-book. Sorrentino fits that bill! You can hear in my voice how excited I am about the pages that are in front of me. I can't wait for the book to come out and I hope people see this and go check out Andrea's "Green Arrow" stuff.

Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino's "Uncanny X-Men Annual" arrives November.

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