Brian Michael Bendis Talks Avengers vs. X-Men, Thanos and More

In part two of our conversation with superstar creator Brian Michael Bendis, the conversation gets a little more freewheeling--we keep coming back to Spider-Men, as it just began, but aren't as married to it here, discussing Powers, Avengers vs. X-Men, Takio and more.

What did he tell us about his super-secret upcoming projects? Essentially nothing--just that he's already in the thick of them. But read on to find out more. Haven't read part one yet? Check that out here first.

Obviously in addition to Spider-Men, you’re doing Avengers Assemble—which I thought was a mini, but apparently it’s an ongoing because there are rumors that it’s changing hands now.

Yeah, it’s an ongoing, and I don’t know what my last issue is; another writer will be taking it from me as I move on to the next phrase of my Marvel career, which will be Avengers-less. Yeah, it’s doing very well and it is ongoing so it’ll be the movie team in not the movie continuity.

Well, but let’s be honest—Marvel books are generally more accessible than DC books, with a handful of exceptions and allowing for the New 52.  So whether or not it’s technically in the movie continuity, fans of the movie really shouldn’t have too much trouble following it.

There always has to be material from all of the companies that you pick up and it’s a fun read, wherever you are in the story. End of the day, there’s no other way to say this: If you can’t get across what the story is about in that little one-and-a-half paragraph recap or whatever it is that we have on the recap page, something is way off. If you have to say, “Well, when you go back the 1967 issue of Showcase or Tales to Astonish, you’ll know that what happens is Hank Pym once had a sister and his sister is…” then something’s off.

My favorite kinds of stories are the ones where I can—and we do this with the events a lot, at least the ones that I’ve helped with, and Avengers vs. X-Men is doing this—is a story that you go, “Okay, if you’ve never read a comic book before, you can read this and you’ll be fine but if you know everything there is to know about The Phoenix, you’ll be having a lot of fun on a different level as well.” I think if you can come up with a story that does that—if it can work on a few levels of nerd expertise—then I think that’s all for the best.

I’m not saying you should sacrifice one for the other, and listen: Sometimes I get some crap because I have Ultron show up and I don’t reference every other thing that Ultron has ever done, and then somehow I’ve done Ultron this huge disservice.  And I know there are some writers that do that very well—where the villain shows up and you get this huge flashback of everything he’s ever done that led up to this moment. And I like that but I just don’t want to write that way. I think if Ultron shows up and it’s like, “Oh, my God! Evil robot!” and I write him the right way, the reader then can read and find out, “Oh, I’m intrigued by Ultron; where can I get more Ultron?”  It’s like what people are doing with Thanos—they say Thanos in the Avengers movie; “Ooh! Where can I find out about Thanos?” And they went themselves and they bought Infinity Gauntlet; they looked online and they were tweeting about it.

I think that’s more interesting—it’s a different relationship with the reader now and you don’t have to spoon-feed everything; they can easily go find out everything they want to know by themselves. But because I have not stated the entire origin of Ultron in my book, some people say, “Oh, he doesn’t know his Ultron.”

First of all, how would I even know who Ultron was? I mean, to know Ultron means you know your stuff. And if I wanted to write a whole story about him, believe me, I’ve done my research. So it’s funny that there’s a certain segment of the audience and if they don’t see it the way they saw it twenty years ago, then something’s off. But no, it’s just different, that’s all.

And it’s kind of a no-win, isn’t it? Because if you don’t recap, then it’s “Well, he really didn’t give us anything to work with there, did he?” But if you do—how many times in your career have you heard, “He’s too wordy”?

Sure. It’s hilarious—it’s either I’m too wordy, or “I read that in four minutes.” And if I back off on dialogue, it usually means that I think what you’re looking at is so beautiful that my words are not going to accentuate it in any way. So I just want to get out of the way and let it happen.  As a reader, I would take my time to appreciate the artwork but I know that people are just reading it as fast as they can.

This is the writers’ dilemma: You can never control in what environment your book is being read. I thought of it one time when I was sitting on the toilet and—not to be too personal—I was having a little tummy ache from some bad shrimp, and I was reading something while I was dealing with it and I was realizing that I was starting to hate the book because I was reading it while my tummy hurt. And I was like, “And these words are making my tummy hurt!” And then I realized as a writer that I wondered how many times that’s happened, where someone had bad clams and my work was in front of them and it affected their enjoyment of it and then they yelled at me.

Also, you meet people from all over the world. Some are very, very intelligent. Some people…are really not. They just don’t seem to understand—you read a sentence to them and they can’t repeat it back. And I’m not saying like a mentally-challenged person. I’m just saying there’s levels of intelligence that you see in the world. I’m sure you see have conversations online where you just go, “I’m talking to a crazy person.”  And you have to deal with that as well because they’re reading your work and you go, “Well, what am I supposed to do with this? You didn’t understand it. Well, okay.” And you know it’s not you because the six people over here just said they understood it fine, but this guy didn’t understand it and he’s yelling at you, and it’s like, “What am I supposed to do?” I don’t know—it’s an enigma.

Well, and I have stories a lot of the time where I know a segment of the readers will come out and flame me in the comments or on Facebook, but I write them anyway because that segment is a minority and I know most people will be interested in the story and gravitate toward it and want to read it. So sometimes—and I’m sure you do this too—I write something and as I’m writing I just know who’s gonna complain.

I do do that, but I’m also always amazed by, “Well, really? That pissed you off? Well, I didn’t see that coming.” Years ago, Bill Jemas used to say that if Marvel announced free milk and cookies, then the first post underneath it would be, “I’m lactose intolerant, mother----er!”, so here’s why I have good humor about it: I learned early on that you cannot make everyone happy. It’s impossible. There’s no piece of work—there’s no movie, there’s no album, there is nothing in the world that everybody loves. There’s always somebody out there who goes, “Sucks!” And I always think, “Well, not Raging Bull…” and then you go on Nikki Finke’s website and there’s a bunch of people sh---ing on Scorcese.

OK, so Scorcese’s the worst, Watchmen sucks, everybody sucks. So I’m like, “Alright, then you’re free.” Because that’s no longer the goal, to make everybody happy. So I’m just going to make comic books that I would like to buy and hopefully somebody else will want to buy them, too. That’s it—so it does free you tremendously once you truly let go of that.

Can I ask—because I’m totally ignorant—can you give me a bird’s-eye view of Takio? I saw promos and I wanted to get into it but I haven’t seen anything at all from it yet.

Well, it may not be up your alley. It’s an all ages book. A couple of years ago, my daughter and I got into a bit of a writing jam together and she helped me create this new book which is two sisters in an adopted family who end up getting super powers here in Portland. They have an interesting power set, and they’re the only people with super powers in the whole world and we get to follow these two sisters that were driving each other nuts and now they have to deal with each other, with this big secret that they have.

It’s co-created with Michael Oeming, who does Powers with me, and my daughter , and we put it out last year through Icon as a graphic novel, and it did really well and it was a nice surprise for us. We’re trying to put something out there, much like Spider-Man, where it’s good for all ages and kids can read and not be freaked out by, but then at the same time adults won’t tear their hair out, like I’m hearing a lot of my friends doing with Madagascar 3 and stuff like that.

So we put it out and it did well and so we're putting out the next one as a series, hoping to get the same kids who picked up Takio into reading monthlies with the help of their parents and yeah, it's been going really well. So we're just putting our second issue of the new story to bed today, so it'll be out in a couple of weeks. It's not our biggest-selling thing ever, but it's something I enjoy tremendously.  From the conception of it with my daughter through the response that we've had from people we've heard from, the best interaction I've had with fans on any project I've ever been on going back to probably Alias. Just really grateful parents and kids going, "Yay, something new, thank you," and it really is the best feeling in the world.

What is your level of involvement on Avengers vs. X-Men? I feel like you're not the credited writer as much as the other guys unless I'm missing something.

Well, I wrote the first one! That was a big one. I'm one of the co-authors of the story and Jason Aaron and I hunkered down together, just the two of us, and built the building blocks of the story and we did that with Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort and Nick Lowe. They tasked us to come up with a story that we thought equally served both the Avengers and X-Men franchise and then handed it off to the other three architects to get their opinions and their philosophies on, and then we were off and running. And it took a while--we really worked on it for quite a long time.

It was nice because of all the guys at Marvel, the guy I had the least amount of personal interaction with was Jason, but he's someone I was a huge fan of so it's nice to work on something without there being a predetermined friendship to destroy. [Laughs] So we hunkered down and we all picked the issues that we wanted to do. I wrote issue one, which was double-sized to it was like an issue and a half, and then I wrote issue eight and issue eleven. So eight and eleven are the next ones coming out and both are pretty gigantic chapters. Eleven in particular is one where I'm going to have to unplug the Internet for a while and not be part of the conversation...cause it's gonna get loud!

I don't know if it's going to be Hawkeye bad, but something happens where I would...yeah. [Laughs]

So yeah, I have my feet in there. Also, I didn't try to grab as many issues as I could on it; I didn't want to be the sole author of the event this year. I felt I had climbed that event mountain and learned everything I needed to learn about myself as a writer from doing it, at least at this time. And what was offered to me was a situation where I could work with others and create a different writing environment. I'm always looking for a new writing environment so that I can learn something new about my writing from it or from other people, so that's what AvX turned into, which I enjoyed a lot.

Behind the scenes, I wrote so many tie-in issues because I'm writing both Avengers books. So I'm writing a lot of Avengers vs. X-Men material.  It's funny--I was so into the arms race that something like the Phoenix would start, with all these other people looking to get their hands on it. And at one point I was even trying to make the whole series about that but there just wasn't enough room in the story for that and everything else, so I was just like, "Forget it, I"ll just do that in my book." So that's what's happening in both Avengers by the amazing Walt Simonson and New Avengers by Mike Deodato. So it feels like a lot but yes, right now I am way, way past Avengers vs. X-Men and I'm writing full-on into my next projects at Marvel which are very, very different, so when next we speak it'll be about that.