Readers who've been following Brian Bendis' work on Marvel's "New Avengers" know full well that the writer has a real thing for Jessica Drew, AKA Spider-Woman. A character that previously wasn't taken all that seriously by fans has, with some help from Bendis, grown immensely in popularity. And if you're one of those fans that can't get enough of her in the pages of "New Avengers," there some very good news, indeed.
Announced today during Bendis' panel at Wizard World Chicago (check out Newsarama tonight for a full report), first up is "Spider-Woman: Origin," a five issue mini-series to debut this December written by Bendis and Brian Reed with art by the Luna Bros., as announced during Wizard World Chicago. The book will set out to finally straighten out the character's many, messy origins and present the definitive one. Then, following the completion of that series, a new, ongoing "Spider-Woman" series will debut by Bendis with art by "Daredevil" artist Alex Maleev.
CBR News caught up with Bendis earlier this week to discuss his plans for both series and to find out how all this Spider-Woman-Mania got started.
All right, Brian, tell us what you've got going on here with Spider-Woman?
Well, I'm trying to diffuse all the rumors about my feelings towards Luke Cage! She's My Beard! (laughs)
Getting serious, I know some people will think my putting her in "New Avengers" was part of a plan to get a regular series going, but it really wasn't. I thought with her on the Avengers thing, at best, she'd be the character that I liked on the team, but no one else would give a shit about. It was a surprise how well received her aspect of the book became. It was nice, because obviously there's a lot of passion coming from us, but that doesn't always translate. Then, all of a sudden she's on the cover of "Wizard" three times! I didn't even know it was happening. I'd get Wizard and think, "What the fuck?" See, I thought it was just my personal thing!
Joe Quesada approached me and said, "Listen, the time is now on Jessica. We need to get a book going with her." As I began working with her in "Avengers," I started to think, "Man, I really love this and I want to see more SHIELD stuff." Originally, the plan for ["Daredevil" artist] Alex Maleev & I secretly was to do a SHIELD book. It was almost, to an obvious degree, what we were going to do next [following the completion of our run on "Daredevil"]. So, I began to think if I did do a Spider-Woman book, who would I want to see draw it? And the first name that came to mind was Alex. He does unbelievable female character work. Not only are they obviously attractive drawings, but his ability to fill out the character is phenomenal.
So, I came at him a few weeks ago with an actual presentation. Which is funny, because we've worked together for years and years, way before we were both at Marvel. So, I came to him as if he were a stranger with all the great Jessica moments to all the great artists who've drawn her like Michael Golden, David Mack, Gaydos, etc., and showed him what she is and what she can be and what we would do with her that would be different from what goes on in "New Avengers" and he was in. Alex, as an artist, has been locked in Hell's Kitchen for a long time, so this will allow him to stretch himself a bit. This new series is going to be a real globe-spanning SHIELD book that takes place all over the world. It'll be a real treat for Alex to go from "Daredevil" to "Spider-Woman."
The ongoing series will be a SHIELD book, a spy-thriller. Much like "Daredevil" was a pulp book to a super hero book, "Spider-Woman" will be a spy book to a super hero book. You'll get her more super hero adventures in "New Avengers," while in her own title you'll be getting dark, sexy, spy stuff.
Just to be clear, you may be a big fan of the character, but there really was no long term plan for a "Spider-Woman" series, nor was that your initial intention, right?
Exactly. For people scoring at home, it was the first book offered to me at Marvel years ago, like 10 years ago. To show you how long ago, Marvel West Coast was still open. Mark Paniccia was running Marvel West Coast and he called me and I presented to him a "Spider-Woman" series. It was a lot different from what me and Alex will be doing, but it was supposed to be me and Rick Mays doing an ongoing "Spider-Woman" series. I handed in the presentation like the hour Marvel shut down their west coast office. It was about as bad timing as you could get. But, I did always have a real passion for her.
Originally, "Alias" was going to star Jessica Drew, but it became something else entirely. Which is good, because had we used Jessica it would have been off continuity and bad storytelling. So, when we were putting together "New Avengers," I put her because I had all these ideas for her and thought this was a place where I could finally do it and no one will be mad or care. She's an interesting female character who hasn't seen the light of day in a while and I think she's got this great costume. Then, all of a sudden this happens!
And in addition to the ongoing series, there's also going to be a "Spider-Woman: Origin" book with the Luna Brothers providing the art. Talk about tackling that origin because that's certainly not going to be an easy job.
I know! I remember a couple of years ago when I wanted to use her in "Alias," I called up Ralph Macchio and asked him, "Am I nuts, or are there three different origin stories and none of them have been refuted?" And he said, "There may be more!" I asked him, "So, is she a spider that's been turned into a human? Or …" And he said, "They've all been said and none have been refuted." What a mess! They're all kind of interesting origins and there's certainly something fascinating about her childhood and her being a HYDRA agent before becoming a SHIELD agent.
So, when all this Spider-Woman stuff came down the pike I think Tom [Brevoort, editor] knew how to hit my buttons on this pretty well. The plan was for me and Alex to finish "Daredevil" in January, then take a couple of months off, get ahead of things, and start up the "Spider-Woman" ongoing in March or April. He kind of wanted something earlier, so Tom asked, "Would you like to a Spider-Woman origin? Maybe you and Brian Reed?" Brian's a guy I've been working closely with on some other projects, and he's also a producer on the "Ultimate Spider-Man" video game and I've been telling Marvel he's ready, big time. He's an excellent writer and after talking with him for just ten minutes you just get the sense that he's one of us. He's a total Marvel guy. Frankly, writing for video games is harder than writing comics, so he's ready. Brian got his first shot on a Spider-Man story in "Spider-Man Unlimited" that Michael Lark is drawing. He did that well, and that's when they called me and they offered for us to write "Spider-Woman: Origin" together.
So, the two of us worked together and Brian killed on this. We've sifted through all the mythology and we've crafted what we think is the definitive origin ALA Wolverine "Origin" or like the first arc of "Ultimate Spider-Man"-- and by the way, when I say it's like "Ultimate Spider-Man," that doesn't mean she doesn't show up in costume till issue #5! She shows up in costume quickly. That's just to piss people off online who think they've got me down. So, getting back to it, when we got the approval from Tom & Ralph on the changes we made, then we knew we were good.
But we still needed to find a special artist. We needed to find someone unique. Tom & I were wracking our brains. We were shooting names back and forth, but couldn't put our finger on it. So, I did this thing that Mark Millar does that drives me crazy! He goes on his message board and asks, "Who should draw Wolverine?" And I think, "You ass, stop it!" (laughs) So, I went to my board in desperation and said, "OK, guys, I've got this thing that I can't tell you about, but who should I be working with that I'm not working with?" And I got like 70 responses in like two minutes. The seventh name down was the Luna Bros. That poster's getting a hard back!
So, Mike Oeming had worked with Jonathan Luna a bit on "The Matrix" stuff and I knew he was a good guy. I called Tom and said the Luna Bros. and he said, "Wow, they're on our list of people we want to call!"
Wow, sounds like this all was a bit of kismet.
Yeah. The tone of Jonathan's work, the look, it's just perfect and he'd have to do the color work himself. He got the call and was very funny. He responded just like you thought he would. "No, really, why are you calling?" He couldn't believe it. He was expecting it to all turn to shit, but now he's half-way through the first issue and can't believe this is still going on. I'm very excited. It's his Marvel debut. His brother, Joshua, is doing layouts with him, just like they do on "Girls" and "Ultra." If you haven't heard of them, but you like the art you're seeing here, you really should pick up those books.
So, we've got multiple origins for Spider-Woman. Are you pulling elements from each of them, or crafting something completely new?
We're pulling together the bits and pieces and we're explaining why there would be more than one in, we think, a pretty logical way. It's quite epic. Our buzz word was it's like something from David Lean, the guy who directed "Lawrence of Arabia." So, that kind of sweeping epic feel, to a very intimate story. See, Jessica really has spanned the entire Marvel universe. She's been a HYDRA agent, a SHIELD agent, a super hero, so we get to see every facet of her career in those early years.
Getting back to that "Wizard" thing … three covers? C'mon, that's crazy! Who would've expected that?
I know, I was shocked! When I saw it in the store I really thought, "God, that's weird!"
Is it someone at Wizard who has a jones for her, or is it Marvel pushing it on them?
Oh no, the companies don't get to push. They kind of just took the pulse of the readership and went with it. I'm sure it's equal amounts someone at the magazine who likes her, but I don't know who. The other thing they did that was funny is they hired Frank Cho to do a couple of pieces with her and when we do the two-parter of Spider-Woman coming up in "New Avengers" that will launch all of this other stuff, I said, "Let's get Frank?" He did an amazing job with her.
Brian, what is it about Jessica Drew that makes her such a compelling character for you?
You know, she's got this classic Marvel tale of a bad childhood, an accident with her powers... she's got a lot of range in her. Every great Marvel character has a power that's cool, yet creepy at the same time. A blessing and a curse at the same time. She's got all this great stuff going on. There's just something about that arc of self-discovery that really appeals to me a great deal.
And you know what I like? I like that she's not a rip-off of Spider-Man. Even when you read the original issues, there are all these guys who wrote essays like Marv Wolfman who said how determined they were to surprise people and show she wasn't a rip off. They worked so hard to do that. When you read the issues, the stories are almost like a cliff note to a larger story. Like, we'd hear her tell the story about how Hydra fucked her over, but it's almost like a flashback to a comic that we never got to see. So, we're going to do that comic that you never got to see.
Put aside your humility for a second and let your ego to the forefront. With all this interest in "Spider-Woman" now, do you think in any other writer's hands this character could be making such a huge come back?
Oh yeah. All over comics there are people who get connected to a certain character where previously there wasn't gold, suddenly there is. For instance, Kirkman's doing it over in "Team-Up." That's kind of one of our jobs as exclusive creators at Marvel is to do that. You can't force it, that's the cool thing. You can't sit down, close your eyes and open the Marvel Handbook and point and see what you get. It doesn't work that way. You have to genuinely feel something emotional about the character. I felt that way about Luke Cage, I feel that way about a lot of the supporting characters at Marvel. And hey, there are some things that I care a lot about at Marvel that I know nobody gives a shit about. (laughs)
Come on, give us one!
No, I'm not gonna! I'm not done trying to convince people! Plus, there's also a character that another writer is working on and I'm really hoping they get it done, so I don't want to curse it.
I just read Warren Ellis' "NextWave," and it is a valentine to previously...what's the word? I'd like to say shitty, but that always comes back to haunt me. (laughs) It's a valentine to some not so respected characters that he has gloriously turned into something that I can't wait to read the next issue of. See, that's part of what we do. We want to breathe life into stuff.
Obviously you don't want to give away the farm here, but what can you tell us about your plans for Jessica in the ongoing series.
Well, let's see. Obviously, it's going to span the globe, it'll have all the familiar SHIELD guys. There are bits and pieces of SHIELD stuff that I've already discussed in other things, like the Caterpillar File in "Secret War." Some of the stuff in "Secret War" will be in the fore-front of "Spider-Woman." All the stuff happening in "New Avengers" and who she's reporting to, we're going to take a look at that. She's going to head on over to Madripor.
What about "Spider-Woman's" rogues gallery? Will you be expanding it?
First of all, there will be new characters for her to go up against, but considering the level of hero she was-- B-List, whatever you want to say-- she has a killer rogues gallery! Better than Daredevil! Morgana LeFey, the Brothers Grimm, Werewolf by Night, Silver Samurai, Madame Hydra, it just goes on and on.
Getting back to something you said in an answer above, are you saying that "New Avengers" will be required reading to get into "Spider-Woman?"
No. You are welcome to read whatever you like. I've always prided myself on not doing that. Saying, "Oh, you have to read this," well, that's a douchey move and I don't want to be a part of it.