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

Brian Michael Bendis writes two monthly Avengers titles and is currently working on not one but [...]

Brian Michael Bendis writes two monthly Avengers titles and is currently working on not one but two major "event" stories for Marvel this summer. While his debut issue of Avengers vs. X-Men hit back in April and the first issue of Spider-Men, the crossover story he's writing with artist Sara Pichelli which sees Peter Parker teaming up with the Ultimate Universe Spider-Man, Miles Morales, wound its way into comic shops and ComiXology on Wednesday. With all of that on his plate, he still finds time for his ongoing, creator-owned series Powers, which will be relaunched as Powers: FBI next month, as well as writing his second story featuring the creator-owned Takio and even a book on making it in the competitive world of American superhero comics. Bendis joined for a conversation about Spider-Men, Avengers vs. X-Men and the cyclical, unsteady world of mainstream superhero comics. This is the first half of our conversation, the second half of which will run on Monday. Let's start with Spider-Men, since it's out just now. I really dug that first issue, and I think a big part of it was Sara Pichelli's art. I think it's a huge part of it. She's amazing. If nothing else, it has a real kind of Silver Age sensibility without having a throwback feel, and I think it's a lot of the same feel that you get with books from guys like Mike Cavallaro and Michael Avon Oeming. And your voice, which is very contemporary, seems to really work with an art style like that because it kind of sets off the contrast. It's interesting you say that because when we first started Powers the biggest criticism on the book was, "That's not what this book should look like." And I was like, "No, this the only way this book should look," but it's not…traditionally when you see a noir book, it wouldn't be drawn the way Mike Oeming draws. I was happy that after about two issues people were completely over that. I knew it was an acquired taste but I thought, "Well, I would buy that book." And it's not so much a Golden Age or Silver Age feel you're getting from what we were going for in Spider-Men but more of—I was a big fan of the '80s crossovers, like X-Men/Teen Titans and stuff like that, so I think that was the bar I was trying to reach. So it was calling back to something, but not fifty years back.

My thing was that it feels like it's pre-McFarlane, pre-Bagley. Those two guys put an indelible stamp on Spider-Man.

Oh, absolutely. And you can't forget, first of all, she's European and she barely speaks any English. So she's coming in with a very European sensibility and a very European look at New York City and American comic books, which I love. That's where my heart's at. And I do think there's something to her female perspective on human form that's very very interesting. So I think you add that all up and you've got something that you're not getting anywhere else. That's something that I think is very interesting because when you talk to people about like the gendercrunching articles on Bleeding Cool and stuff, and you talk about the low rates of anyone in comics who isn't a white male, I think there's a segment of the audience who doesn't think there's a difference in the way that a female creator or a nonwhite creator would actually execute their craft. A few things about the gendercrunching. Just because there isn't—and I wish there were—more female writers and artists doesn't mean there aren't a whole lot of female people working in this field. Almost every single one of my editors is female, from Jen Grünwald to Lauren Sienkiewicz, in fact, every one of my books has a female editor on it, and that's a lot of books from a lot of different areas. They're a very strong force of nature in mainstream comics. So, the gendercrunching articles are always off because they don't include this—and I don't know why he doesn't—it just doesn't make any sense to me. And the other part is—the same people who create and comment on these gendercrunching articles are the same people who…just a couple of months ago, I was in Australia and literally a pack of female comic fans who were so into comics, told me out of the blue that there's a very, very well-known comic book site that they cannot go to, to talk about comics, because if they express themselves as a female comics reader, they get hit on or bashed or—it's just this weird, creepy thing so there's all these female comic readers who just can't be or choose not to be part of the conversation because who wants to deal with it, you know? And it really bothered the crap out of me. I have three daughters. And they told me this not for me to do something, or that I could; it wasn't my site or anything, but I was like, "Wow, that sucks. That just stinks that there are all these female comics readers having a blast, loving comics as much as anything in the world—they can't get into a conversation online. One of them said she goes online as a boy because if she says she's a girl people start being weird with her and she just wants to talk about Avengers. But she has to pretend she's a boy to talk about it. Isn't that weird?

It is, but I can see that. One of the things that's really frustrating is that there are so many people in comics who will just defend the status quo to the death. You get it with any conversation about women or minorities, and you get it with things like Before Watchmen and all that. There are people in comics who are just so entrenched in their status quo that anything you do to challenge it upsets their apple cart and they respond violently to that.

Again, let's be fair—it's only a few people but it's a very loud few people that really do screw up the dynamic and it's a bummer.  But I mean, it's the best when—yesterday I went on Twitter after Spider-Men came out and people from every walk of life just digging on it and it's the best thing in the world—but I feel bad that the conversation has to stop for some people. I'm skeptical of any big event story and so I went into Spider-Men kind of saying "I'll give it a chance because Brian did Torso." Everyone I know who works in mainstream comics really cares and is really coming from the best place. "Let's make the most fun, the most interesting, the best story we can think of told as best as we can," and that is where it begins and ends. And I know that in some of the hype or "event-ness" that kind of gets out of the control of the creators. And most of that is positive because it gets people interested in the book but while we're writing it, it's as pure as the driven snow. It's funny—I was tweeting this the other day that people think some stories are more important than other stories because they've been labeled an "event," you know? What I'm writing, no matter what I'm writing, it feels like an event. Whether it's Powers or whatever else, I feel like I'm working on the most important story in the world, until I have to start working on the next most important story in the world. So they all feel equally important while they're in creation.

And with some of the best-selling writers in the industry right now being guys who aren't shy about going back to, "Well, there was that one story I liked that one time…" and drawing something from it, that could literally be true, too. You never know what issue is going to set up the next thing you're doing. I think it's that, and I think it's just—that's the way good writers think about it. Writers who give a damn, are going to give a damn about everything. I think a lot of us are hyper-aware that this is it—this is our chance to write whatever we're getting a chance to write and even though it's the lowest rung of show business, it is show business. And show business cycles in and out—some people get to stay for a while and some people get replaced. And you know that. So as long as we're here, why not roll up our sleeves and really put on a show? And I think that's what you're getting a lot now, is guys that are very aware of this cyclic nature of mainstream comics and doing as much as they can and as good as they can while they're at it. And I know this about all of my friends—that's how they thing. So "Oh, good, we get to draw Spider-Man? Let's draw the best Spider-Man ever." And it only benefits the readers, so that's good news. And you write like 8,000 books a month… [Laughs] I write one at a time. Sometimes a bunch ship at once, like Wednesday three books came out at once—but I had written them months and months apart from each other so it always feels weird when they all ship at once.

Yeah, I get that. I do commentary columns with some books I really like, and It'll be a standing interview the day or the week the issue hits—and sometimes between Terry Moore running on a six-week cycle and guys running behind deadlines and whatever you'll just get a week where suddenly you're writing four of these things all at once. I like Terry Moore. I love his book; I love Rachel Rising. With Spider-Men, I think it's very interesting because a lot of the tongue-in-cheek Internet talk has gone back to that old Quesada quote that said this will never happen— And by the way, what he said will never happen. It was—Peter meeting Peter was what he was referring to and I agreed with him that there wasn't much of a story there. Certainly you could have shoved a story in of two Spider-Mans but the core of it would be, "Hey, look, you're vaguely younger than me! And hey, you're dating someone who looks a lot like my girlfriend but vaguely younger." And then, what? There wasn't any emotional punch, but here you can see, even in the first issue, just a hint of the emotionality of Peter coming to visit a world where he has died being Spider-Man. Really getting to see the emotional impact that generates throughout the city and more importantly to his direct friends and family. And then get to see this kid living up to a legacy that he'd started, even though he wasn't aware that he was creating this legacy. So all of these things was the reason to do this crossover and what Joe was referring to was—what I'm referring to could not happen with "Peter meets Peter." Certainly not where the stories were at the time. Certainly not in the first two years of Ultimates. So that quote—though it's fun to poke a stick at Joe, I guess—that quote is true. It stays true, we never did do that. But what the Ultimate Universe has turned into is so different and what Spider-Man means to the Ultimate Universe is so different that there absolutely is a story here. Hopefully I will be proven right by my actions come the end of the five issues.

Well, the other thing that occurred to me is the issue of dealing with his own mortality on a very basic level. It seems like it packs even more of an emotional punch post-One More Day when he's a little bit younger and a little less world-weary now, and he's closer to the Ultimates in age. So you've got this guy who hasn't lost his Aunt three times and his wife twice and this is all kind of new in a way it wasn't ten years ago or whatever it was. Yup! Yeah, this is going to be a very raw experience for him. And you could tell that's where the issue was heading—it's not at all what I expected when they were teasing it in March or whatever it was. That's the kind of thing that takes a story that on the face of it seems a bit silly. If you go back, you can find me poking some gentle fun at the first Spider-Men teaser, mostly because I'm a cranky old bastard. But to me, the emotional core of the story you're actually telling is what takes it to a level where it's not just like, "Oh, look, we have the same costume!" Yeah, exactly. I hope I pierce your jaded heart with my story!