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Secrets and Lies: Bendis talks “The Illuminati”, “New Avengers” and All Things Marvel

by  in Comic News Comment
Secrets and Lies: Bendis talks “The Illuminati”, “New Avengers” and All Things Marvel
“New Avengers: Illuminati” Cover

The “House of M” has fallen and Marvel‘s mutant population has been decimated but readers shouldn’t think their roller coaster ride through the Marvel Universe is over just yet. It’s just going up the hill in preparation for the big storylines of 2006. Next year’s mini-series, “New Avengers Special: The Illuminati,” sends readers plunging down the next big hill into the major storylines of the summer. CBR News chatted with “Illuminati” writer Brian Bendis about the special, his work on the concluding chapter of “Secret War,” his work on “House of M” and how the fall out from that impacts his work on “New Avengers.”

“House of M” was born when Bendis was relating his plans for the Avengers in “Avengers: Disassembled” to another Marvel writer. “I was telling the story to Jeph Loeb, this was before I wrote it, and he said, ‘When does Magneto show up?'” Bendis told CBR News. “I wasn’t even going to go there and I wasn’t sure what was happening with Magneto at the time because of Xorn and all that stuff. So, the minute I started writing that scene I realized, ‘Oh this about all of this. This is about all of that stuff.’ So I was very happy to have that inspiration and take it further.”

When he was formulating “House of M” Bendis remembered that Marvel Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada, was looking for a way to undue the mutant population explosion in the Marvel Universe in a way that flowed naturally from a good story. “There was this thing going on where people were just creating mutants for a lack of creativity and it was becoming unspecial,” Bendis explained. “Mutants were supposed to be the minority minority.”

So, aware of Quesada’s desire to rein in the Mutant population Bendis pitched his ideas to Marvel’s EIC. “I said to Joe and Dan [Dan Buckley Marvel Publisher], ‘Well you know the worst thing for the mutants and the worst thing for the Avengers is now the same thing,'” Bendis stated. “I wasn’t pitching the series as an event. I don’t think in event terminology. I think in story. The story just begat itself into this bigger thing.”

“New Avengers #14,” Page 3

For Bendis, the snowballing of “House of M” into a huge event style story lead to the most enjoyable aspect of crafting the tale. “Writing is a very lonesome, singular activity and for this project I was talking to just about everybody who writes comics for Marvel,” Bendis explained. “It was really a group effort and so many people threw in ideas out of total generosity.

“I find writers don’t like to talk about writing and they don’t like to share to much because, I don’t know, maybe they think they are full of shit and they don’t want anyone to know,” Bendis continued “I certainly understand that but I’m always very interested in watching how people work and their motivations. So I had this opportunity to hear people’s mindsets and it was a lot of fun.”

The most difficult part of “House of M” for Bendis was coming up with all the details required to bring to bring the alternate Marvel Earth to life. “It’s like taking a huge dump,” Bendis joked. “It’s not like writing a mini-series or an arc. It’s big. It’s a whopper.”

The ending of “House of M” also proved to be a whopper for the Marvel Universe. The mutant population was depowered down to only 198 individuals and the last page of the series hints at a massive looming threat to life on Earth. “Something ominous is on the way,” Bendis said. “It doesn’t just suggest it. It flat out says it. Something’s happened to the planet. It’s not just the people in the planet. The planet has been affected and that’s going to be addressed.”

The New Avengers will face another mysterious threat to Earth that arises from the fall out from “House of M” beginning in the pages of “New Avengers” #16. The threat is called the Collective. “There were thousands of mutants and some of them controlled energy fields,” Bendis explained. “Magneto controlled magnetic fields. Some of these people controlled other kinds of fields like radiation fields. This energy, now that it’s not being controlled by this person doesn’t disappear because their mutant genes disappeared. The energy was forcefully shoved away from either its source or the Earth. So you have all these different kinds of energy. Some of them could be sentient energy. It’s all being pushed off the planet in an unnatural state. It’s being pushed and pulled to places it wasn’t supposed to go.

“New Avengers #14,” Page 10

“All that energy crashes down to Earth in a form. That’s the Collective,” Bendis continued. “It’s all of that energy, all of those different powers put together in one place and it has an agenda. It wants something and we don’t know what. That’s the opening of the ‘Collective’ and that’s what the Avengers have to fight.”

Their battle with The Collective will test the mettle of the New Avengers. “A lot of people have been asking, ‘How can a team of predominately street level and just a little higher fighters handle something this big?'” Bendis stated. “That will be dealt with. How does Spider-Man fight something like this? The Avengers are stepping up to the plate.”

“The Collective” story will also address the fact that the Avengers are some of the only people to clearly remember the events of “House of M.” “A lot of people don’t know what happened in the “House of M” and the people who do know aren’t talking,” Bendis explained. “Because they’re doing whatever they can to save the last 198 mutants from persecution by the fearful. As Tony said at the end of ‘House of M’, ‘If we go out and tell everybody what happened, that would rile the rest of them up. They didn’t do anything wrong it wasn’t their fault.’ So that decision, although it might have had a point, it’s also going to come back to haunt them as far as their relationship with SHIELD goes.”

One member of the New Avengers, Wolverine also had his memory altered by the aftermath of “House of M.” Instead of forgetting events, Wolverine now remembers his entire past which comprises almost a century of history. Bendis will address this in upcoming issues of “New Avengers.” “There’s an issue if people remember back in the day where Wolverine and Captain America fought side by side against the Hand during World War II,” Bendis said. “So there are little secret hidden chapters of the relationship between Cap and Logan that we’re going to be able to really flesh out now. I have one that I’m cooking that takes place in the past and the present in the same story. The relationship that they have might not be what you think it is.”

Readers will also be learning more about the of the New Avenger’s latest member, Ronin, who was recently revealed to be Maya Lopez AKA Echo. “There’s going to be a whole fleshing out of her in the future,” Bendis explained. “Not in the issue just released. We introduce her and her place and what the Avengers are going to need from her. When we next come back to her, which will be soon, we’re going to get the whole story.”

When she next appears, Maya will continue to use the Ronin costume and identity. “The costume is for a purpose,” Bendis said. “The costume will be for certain things that she does; for when she doesn’t want to be there as Maya Lopez, who has a history with the Kingpin that brings baggage with it. So there will be certain times when she’s Maya Lopez/Echo and certain times when she’s Ronin. All of that will be discussed when we return to the character.”

Echo first appeared in the pages of “Daredevil,” in a story that wowed Bendis. “This was before I was on ‘Daredevil.’ David Mack is one of my oldest and best friends and when him and Joe [Joe Quesada] created Echo, I was like, ‘Oh it’s a female Taskmaster with this great Indian mythological origin,” Bendis stated. “I’m like, ‘God damn that’s a great character.’ It’s so rare that you see that and go, ‘Wow that’s really new.'”

Bendis shied away from using Echo when he took over “Daredevil.” “There are a lot of new characters, in the sense of not as old as Spider-Man, that are really fascinating creations and they don’t get to go for a long walk because the creator introduces them and no one else touches them because they don’t want to step on the toes of that other creator because we’re all kind of friends,” Bendis stated. “It’s a weird thing. We don’t even do it consciously. None of us have trouble taking Stan’s stuff and moving forward but when it comes to my friend Paul [Paul Jenkins] creating The Sentry, I shouldn’t use The Sentry that’s his thing. Meanwhile, he’s waiting for everybody to do something with the character.”

“New Avengers #14,” Page 12

Bendis eventually asked Mack if he could use Echo in a “New Avengers” story that he was planning and Mack was very enthusiastic about it. “My initial instinct was the same feeling I had with The Sentry,” Bendis said. “Here’s this great new character that no one is touching, that needs to be taken out and introduced into the Marvel Universe to properly build relationships with the other characters.”

The true identity of Ronin had been an ongoing mystery for months before it was revealed in the most recent issue of “New Avengers.” However, Ronin’s identity was accidentally leaked early in DK Press’s “Avengers: The Ultimate Guide” by Tom Defalco. “I’m sorry that this was spoiled online by the publication of the Avengers book,” Bendis said. “I didn’t even know that book existed. I know that it wasn’t an attempt by Tom Defalco to sabotage anything. It’s so hard to do a mystery. If it was up to me people wouldn’t even get sneak peeks so there’s now way to leak it.”

Now that her identity has been revealed, Bendis believes Echo/Ronin will add a lot to the group dynamic of the New Avengers. “She comes from that list of characters with sordid pasts trying to make good like Hawkeye and Black Widow,” Bendis said. “You get another girl on the team and you get someone of an ethnic background that you don’t see a lot of in comics. So it’s a nice little mix and it’s someone for Tony to get all hotsy totsy about.”

In addition to Echo/Ronin, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man will have other things on his mind. Stark is a member of a secret cabal of Marvel characters who have been covertly handing crisis in the Marvel Universe for many years. The formation and dissolution of this group is detailed in Next Year’s “New Avengers Special: The Illuminati” by Bendis and artist Alex Maleev.

The Illuminati whose membership includes: Stark, Reed Richards, Dr. Strange, Professor Charles Xavier, Prince Namor and Black Bolt, first appeared in the pages of “New Avengers” Issue #7. Bendis’s fellow Marvel writers loved the team. “We were planning next summer’s hoo-haa which Mark Millar and Steve McNiven are working on,” Bendis said. “And the Illuminati seemed to really strike a chord with a lot of these guys. They said, ‘That’s a real great starting off point. You can get a lot of information across with that concept.'”

The “New Avengers Special: The Illuminati” was chosen to be the story that sets up Marvel’s big stories for the summer and the book begins with the origin of the group. “The group gets together soon after the Kree-Skrull War which is about as close a call as the Earth has ever had,” Bendis explained. “This was an instance where the Fantastic Four had a little bit of information, the Avengers had a little bit of information and the Inhumans were attacked by Kree insurgents. All of this stuff was happening and it affected all points of the Marvel Universe but no one was communicating with each other. So, this little secret group gets together because of this event and they go, ‘Hey, maybe we should get together every once awhile and deal with these problems before they start and not just sit alone in our labs and rub our hands to our chins and go hmm . . .’ So that’s how it starts.”

The Illuminati have not had an easy history together. Since their formation the group has quarreled. “An example I’ll hint to is Reed Richards and Iron Man get together with the others to meet,” Bendis said. “You have one of the others saying, ‘Well you guys kind of have rotating memberships and I don’t trust all those people in the rotating memberships so if we’re going to talk here, the talk doesn’t leave the room because I don’t know who the hell Antman III is.'”

Since their formation the Illuminati has secretly tackled some of the biggest threats to the Marvel Universe. The special will detail some of the conflicts the team had their hands in. Bendis also divulged that the book will reveal whether the group only assembled to face imminent threats or if they held regular meetings.

In the parts of “The Illuminati” that take place in the present the team will be missing a member, Professor X, who vanished after the end of “House of M.” “He will be there for the parts that are flashbacks,” Bendis explained. “I think it’s interesting that there’s a psychic in group but, no he will not be there until he shows up again, that is if he ever shows up again.”

“New Avengers #14,” Page 20-21

So, The Illuminati is a group with a missing member and an undercurrent of suspicion that has members lying to each other (as Iron Man did to Mr. Fantastic in “New Avengers #10) and in this special the cabal finally crumbles. “Two things happen with the group that creates a situation where they can no longer speak to each other,” Bendis explained. “One of these things launches ‘Planet Hulk’ and the other launches Millar and McNiven’s piece. These things bring up what we believe are the biggest questions of the Marvel Universe. The kinds of questions that there is no right answer to but these are people with strong beliefs and they have to defend that belief against anything. What you’re going to get in the special is the first volley of ideology that sets up the tone for the summer.”

Another Bendis penned book will also serve to set up the summer’s big events. “‘Secret War’ #5 is finished,” Bendis stated. “Issue #5 really sets up a lot of the push and pull that’s going to be going on with these characters. I gave the story a lot of wok at the end to make sure it matches with what’s going on in the Marvel Universe today, which is very different than when I started. I started “Secret War” before I did “Disassembled.” So with stuff like Joss’s “X-Men”, “House of M” and “New Avengers” the entire landscape of the mainstream Marvel Universe has changed in almost every area.”

After Bendis’s books set the stage, Mark Millar’s summer story will take a good hard look at what it means to be a superhero. “It’s about what certain labels mean and what a superhero’s relationship to society is and what their rights are,” Bendis said. “What do you get to do and say that other people don’t just because you put on a costume?”

Marvel has recently unveiled one of the big questions of their summer stories, “Whose Side are you on?” “That is exactly the question you’ll be asking all summer and it’s a great question,” Bendis said. “I can say this with glee that I’m sitting back and watching. It’s juicy good stuff.”

And you can discuss this story further, on the CBR Avengers Forum.

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