The comics world was rocked last week by news that Brian Michael Bendis would be leaving Marvel Comics after almost 20 years to sign an exclusive deal with DC Comics. Amongst Marvel’s current roster of creators, there was no name bigger or more easily identified with the publisher than that of Bendis. It’s a shakeup large enough to evoke comparisons of Jack Kirby’s similar defection in 1970.
Bendis will leave behind his current runs on characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man (specifically Miles Morales), as well as many massive collections on franchises like the X-Men, Avengers, and Daredevil. While Bendis will soon be gone, he’s not likely to be forgotten. His influence both on flagship titles and events is notable, but his impact on Marvel Comics spreads far beyond the individual stories he created. His fingerprints are all over the comics and business of Marvel, and they won’t be disappearing when he leaves the House of Ideas.
As Marvel Comics rolls out its Legacy initiative, we’re taking a few minutes to consider what will surely become one of the publisher’s most impactful legacies, that of Brian Michael Bendis.
It’s impossible to discuss Bendis’ legacy without discussing the term "decompression." If you’re not familiar, it’s essentially the movement in comics to provide more space for individual moments and lengthen stories. Compare a Marvel comic book today to one from the 1970s and you’ll notice there’s a lot more jammed into the latter -- dialogue, plot, etc. Bendis changed that approach to storytelling forever as he became increasingly popular.
Nowhere is this approach better exemplified than in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. Bendis told the character’s origin over six issues where it had originally been summarized in less than twenty pages. This isn’t a bad thing though. What Bendis brought to that extra space was natural dialogue, humor, and more realistic characterizations. There’s a reason the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man is often used as an introductory text to comics in schools. It provides modern storytelling elements in a now-classic tale. Decompression is one of the reasons Ultimate Spider-Man and so much of Bendis’ other work was successful, and that’s why it won’t be going anywhere even after Bendis leaves Marvel Comics.
Even before Jessica Jones became the clear favorite of the Marvel Netflix series, this would have been a legacy worth addressing. Now that Krysten Ritter has made the character popular for the non-comics reading public at large? It’s one of Bendis’ biggest contributions. Purely on face value it’s worth recognizing that Jones is a valuable addition to the Marvel universe. She expands the street-level set of characters and provides another great female lead. The writing of the character is what really makes her stand out though.
There’s no one else in Marvel Comics like Jessica Jones. She eschews costumes, works and plays hard, and opens up a set of detective stories unlike any the comics had seen before. There’s a reason that both Alias in the comics and Jessica Jones in television have been so critically acclaimed. Bendis provided a character with real heart and a unique point of view, and it’s one that has broadened Marvel’s horizons across mediums.
Speaking of the detective stories of Alias, it’s worth acknowledging the breadth of work Bendis created at Marvel Comics. Bendis was recruited to the publisher following indie success on crime comics like Goldfish. That’s a style he brought with him to a widelyacclaimed run on Daredevil that embraced the grit of Hell’s Kitchen and dug into the minutiae of super-crime. Since that run, Bendis has trekked to various other frontiers including the annual event model from “Avengers Disassembled” forward, the Ultimate retelling of Spider-Man, and mainstream headliners like Guardians of the Galaxy.
This is inevitably what will make his output at DC Comics worth following. Bendis has remained a restless force of creation in comics, and it’s likely that his first comics elsewhere will mirror recent work with Iron Man or Spider-Man. Glancing over the years of Marvel Comics written by Bendis, there are many shifts in style, each of which opened new audiences and possibilities for future creators to explore.
It would be possible to assemble a list of important Bendis creations at Marvel, but we are focusing on the writer’s absolute most important and enduring work. No individual creation fits that definition better than Miles Morales. This is the character who reinvigorated the Ultimate line when it was on its last legs, forced Fox News to pay attention to comics, and was so beloved as to survive Secret Wars and jump into the main Marvel universe.
Perhaps the most important thing that Miles continues to accomplish is to broaden the legacy of Marvel’s most widely recognized superhero, Spider-Man. Miles’ introduction told a new generation of fans that they could be Spider-Man by providing a character who came from a different background than Peter Parker. Many children could see more of themselves in the hero and that has broadened the audience for comics and superheroes alike. Miles isn’t going anywhere, and he’s continuing to do great work.
Bendis’ most significant legacy at Marvel Comics is likely one that isn’t obvious to most comics readers. While Bendis has his name on many original creations, long runs, and other projects, he has also remained a diligent advocate and recruiter of new talent for Marvel Comics. Bendis found recognition as an indie comics writer and artist, and has never lost track of that scene. He has a keen eye for fresh voices that he encourages via friendship and patronage. Indie sweetheart Michel Fiffe of COPRA fame and rising star David Walker of Luke Cage, Shaft, and other series both went on the record about how much Bendis had impacted their careers.
Peers like Ed Brubaker have pointed to a range of series at Marvel Comics over the past 15 years that exist in part because Bendis encouraged new creators to join the company. His faith in new talents combined with a great sense for that talent have pulled in many of the most significant voices at Marvel today. Even when Bendis leaves, he will leave a legacy of talented comics creators who are making the future of Marvel because he helped provide them the opportunity.