Interview: Brian Bendis on ‘Secret Invasion,’ TV and Marvel’s MMO
Among comic book fans, Brian Bendis has become a household name as the architect of Marvel Comics’ "Ultimate" universe, the writer of countless stories involving just about every character in the publisher’s stable and the author of a long list of well-regarded, creator-owned projects such as Powers, Torso and Jinx.
Credited with making a host of third-tier characters relevant and merging the many worlds of the Marvel Universe into a more manageable landscape, Bendis is currently scripting Secret Invasion, Marvel’s latest, massively marketed crossover event that has readers guessing which of their favorite characters are actually shape-changing Skrulls in disguise.
I spoke with Bendis during a signing event at the recent Wizard World Chicago convention. The long line of fans that curled around the Marvel booth, through the aisles and around several other booths was a testament to both the massive list of projects Bendis has authored, as well as his genre-spanning appeal among fans. Those in line offered up everything from issues of Bendis’ long-running, creator-owned series Powers to issues of Daredevil and Secret Invasion, and many identified themselves as members of Bendis’ popular message board community, Jinxworld.
COMICMIX: It’s been a while since we’ve talked, Brian… I’m glad I could catch you for a few minutes.
BRIAN BENDIS: Yeah, this is our inaugural ComicMix interview. I’ve never been on the site before.
CMix: Well, let’s get right to it, then, as I don’t want to take up too much of your time with everyone in line here. First off, with the recent Secret Invasion reveal of Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, as a Skrull, how does that reflect on all of the Spider-Woman stories you’ve been telling for the last few years? You’ve been building a fairly complicated history for the character, after all…
BB: It reflects perfectly, because I was writing her knowing this. It wasn’t like someone surprised me with it. I knew from the first issue of New Avengers that she was a Skrull. But the reveal and the reaction to the reveal, it was so genuine and it was a real relief. I did feel bad, though. There were a few Spider-Woman fans on my boards, one of whom had spent thousands of dollars on original art from the issues I had written. They showed me the art, and they were amazing, but the whole time I was like… Oh, no…
But the whole point is surprising people. You can’t start whispering to one person or another. Only about four people in Marvel knew that was the way things were going to play out.
CMix: The Dire Wraiths are supposed to be a cousin race to the Skrulls. Is there any chance of seeing them come back into the Marvel Universe in Secret Invasion?
BB: I thought about it. I think there’s a little bit of business with them in some of the tie-ins, but there are so many elements of the story, so many characters and so much going on, and there’s a point when it just becomes clutter to introduce something like that. So I thought, "Not this time." A lot of thought went into it, though.
CMix: What about the whole "House of M" storyline? The Skrulls have mentioned that Earth’s mutants are a real threat to their plans, so was the eradication of so many mutants during "House of M" a lucky break or something more diabolical?
BB: You’re going to find out in New Avengers #46, drawn by Jimmy Cheung.
CMix: You’re signing a lot of issues of Powers here. Now that you’re responsible for managing an entire universe of characters, do you ever long for the simpler times — when you had a few successful creator-owned projects and didn’t have to worry about hundreds of other characters and storylines?
BB: I actually have the best of both worlds. I can do whatever creator-owned work I want at Icon [Marvel’s imprint for creator-owned projects], and I have access to the best toybox on the planet. I sound like i’m bragging, but back in the day I was single and physically hungry from eating ramen noodles until they were coming out of my nose, so i really don’t miss that. I have a wife and a kid and I’m under contract, so i don’t have to look for work. That was a pain in the ass. [Laughs]
So no, I don’t think i do miss any of it. I’m glad i went through it and became the writer and the person that I am. Growth is nice at any level. Give me all the shit you want, but I paid my dues. I did ten years in the trenches.
Actually, I was at this show 15 years ago when I met David Mack and Mike Oeming. We met at this show and became best friends that weekend. It was at this show, not far from this area, over at the Caliber booth, and I was on a book called Fire. It ended up selling 2200 copies, and I was thrilled.
CMix: How times change, eh?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: At this point in our conversation, a fan asked Bendis about the recent announcement of a television series based on Powers, as well as the fate of the Alias series that never aired. I’ve included his response here, as I thought it was interesting and planned to ask him about his TV work, but with transparency in mind, I want to make it clear that he was responding to a fan. -RM]
Question: Is there anything else you can tell us about the Powers TV show?
BB: There will be an official announcement in a few weeks.
Question: Great! If you don’t mind me asking, what ever happened to the Alias TV show?
BB: You know what? I wrote the pilot and everyone went "Hooray!" and then they hired Michael Green, who’s actually a writer on Heroes now, to executive produce the show. Then they stopped working on it. They threw it right in the garbage. That was a year before Heroes came out.
When Heroes came out, they came to me and said, "We should do something like Heroes." And I said, "I already gave you something like Heroes!"
I had a great time writing it. [The fact that it never aired] had nothing to do with quality, though, because you’ve seen the shit on TV. It’s just like buying lottery tickets. You buy a bunch of them and hope one of them will hit. I have a pilot on HBO now and Powers looks like it’s in good shape. We have a very well-known director attached and hopefully, well… I would just love for them to make the pilot, just so I can see it. My buddy Mike [Oeming], they made a pilot of his book, Six, and we love watching it. It never aired, but there was nothing wrong with it. What’s-her-face from Battlestar Galactica is in it.
CMix: It’s no secret that you’re an avid gamer. Is there any comic character or title that you’d still like to see in a videogame that hasn’t popped up yet?
BB: Well, you’re talking to one of the executive producers of the ill-fated Marvel MMO that went away. I have my laptop here, and on it I have the "X-Mansion" level fully completed that only I and five other people have access to play. It’s gorgeous and fantastic and no one will ever see it. So I feel bad, because I think that MMO was a phenomenal idea that was extremely well executed and it went away because some guy at Microsoft who we’ll never know pulled the plug on it before it even got underway.
But adding to that, I think that they should take each of these Marvel events and turn them into a videogame franchise. "Civil War," which will be part of the next Ultimate Alliance, "House of M," "Secret Wars"…
CMix: "Secret Invasion?"
BB: "Secret Invasion." Absolutely.
CMix: As more and more creators start turning their attention to the Internet, where do you see comics heading with regard to the digital scene?
BB: Well, I think you’d be foolish to ignore the fact that digital media is slowly replacing print media. I’m not saying print media is going away, but I used to work in a newspaper and I’ve seen firsthand that people aren’t reading paper as much anymore. There will be a transition at some point to digital media and we’ll just have to embrace it and figure out how to have both, much like home video didn’t kill theaters and theaters didn’t kill home video.
I see companies investing heavily in their digital programs, and I’m involved in a lot of that, so we’ll see what happens next. I don’t think it will just be scanned pages of comics up on the ‘Net. I don’t think it will be animation or Flash or scanned — it will be something else. But I don’t think it will fully replace the very intimate experience of reading a printed page.
CMix: And you can’t sign a digital media file, I guess…
Issue #4 of Secret Invasion, featuring a story by Brian Michael Bendis and art by Leinil Francis Yu, is scheduled for release this week. You can find more information about Bendis, as well as many other notable creators, at www.jinxworld.com and interact with creators and comics fans alike at the Jinxworld forums (a.k.a. "The Bendis Board").