BENDIS! - The Writer On Games, Comics, Films and Fans

Wed, June 27th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonathan Callan, Contributing Writer

"Daredevil: End of days"

Wizard World Philladelphia guest of honor Brian Michael Bendis sat down with CBR amidst the hectic convention for an interview following his heavily attended "Brian Bendis Presents: Joe Quesada" panel. At the end of a long day, the superstar creator was exhausted and besieged by calls to his cell-phone, so as a mercy we agreed we would cover none of the topics he had spent the whole weekend discussing: Skrulls, Avengers, and his newly announced Marvel Comics title "Ultimate Origins."

Instead, Brian gave us some candid answers on those aspects of his work less covered in the convention whirlwind, such as his creator-owned book "Powers," his movie work, his creative influences and his unique fan base. Bendis also provided a little insight into his upcoming project "Daredevil: End of Days."

You've got a lot coming out – "Halo Uprising," "Daredevil: The End," "New Avengers," "Mighty Avengers," "Ultimate Spiderman," and "Powers." Did I miss anything?

"Illuminati."

You've been known to story conference on X-Box Live with the likes of Brian Reed, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker. Those "Call of Duty" conferences seem to be going very well.

Thanks. Its Jimmy Cheung's best stuff too. Really is amazing.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline that you're working on but can't talk about yet?

Yeah, a couple of creator-owned things. Some stuff in other mediums. And of course "Ultimate Origins," that was a big one this week so that is pretty much it, but I think I do have one announcement for San Diego that I've been saving for the rest of the year.

Your fans will be pleased to know you're back on the creator-owned track with more stuff, that way Mark Millar can't harass you about it anymore.

No, I've always been on it. It's funny "Powers" somehow doesn't count for some people – like we still put it out, it is still physically there. Doesn't write itself.

How much longer is "Powers" planned to go?

For the foreseeable future. Issue #25 is coming out in a couple of weeks. I think its Mike [Oeming's] best issue, I really do. It's just a gorgeous issue. And we just changed the format of the book, which is working great. So now fans get forty pages an issue and nicer paper stock. I think it's a real pristine book. Looks really sweet. And we've got some cool stories to tell still that you're just not going to see anywhere else.

You've mentioned in interviews that you're starting to think about The End now. How long would you like to keep the book going for? Another two or three years?

I think so. We have enough stories to tell that we care about that aren't redundant to stories we've already told. The book is really healthy in terms of sales so we get to tell the stories we want, which is always the key.

And you've had the end to "Powers" in mind from the beginning.

Yeah, but that's for when we've reached the end of what we want to do. That's for when Mike and I get to the point where we go, "Yeah. We're done." And then we can wrap it up with style.

Given that you've always known the end to the series, what kind of overall story do you see "Powers" as? Hardboiled crime fiction? Cop drama? Tragedy? All of the above?

I actually see it as a straight forward cop book and I always have. That's how it's written, that's how it's executed. It's a cop book with superheroes in it. When they were developing the movie at Sony that was the problem, they kept seeing it as a superhero movie. They did all these drafts of the screenplay where it felt like "Mystery Men" and not "Powers," because they kept trying to write a superhero movie. It's just the wrong genre for it. Even with Walker regaining powers and Deena contracting the powers virus, that's not what it's about. There are powers in the book, which, obviously, because "Powers" is the title. But that's not necessarily what it's about.

That is really obvious even from the first issue. What I always appreciated was that if Walker or Deena see a superhero fly away, the "camera frame" stays on the street because it's their point of view that matters.

Absolutely. Unless Walker as a superhero takes off, which even then we intentionally do very, very rarely –I think we've done it like three times in the whole history of the book– the hero comes to you. And they usually bring the color of the scene with them. It's almost a black and white book except when the Powers show up.

You're an avowed David Mamet fan. Being a cop drama, would you say it's the book where Mamet's influence on your storytelling most shines through?

Mmm… maybe. You know, I won't shy away from that because he's a huge influence on me but I guess I'm too schooled in Mamet not to notice where his dialogue style really differs from mine. Mamet is much less verbose than me. He's much more refined as a dialogue writer than I am. I tend to see myself as… I guess Aaron Sorkin is in there even a little more than David Mamet. What you're used to seeing in terms of Mamet on "Homicide" or "House of Games," the feel of those is definitely in "Powers." But the snappy dialogue, the boomity-boomity-boom is more Preston Sturges or Aaron Sorkin or even Woody Allen. I will cop to all of that.

Your work favors the sprawling conversation over the kind of terse, rhythmic patterns to Mamet's dialogue.

Mamet would do in five lines what I would do in a whole comic book. Yeah.

Still, both you and Mamet have an incredible gift for using the word "fuck" in new and interesting ways.

[laughs] Thank you very much. I take a lot of pride in that. Actually, when we were just doing the [Joe Quesada] panel right now, I swore a few times without even realizing I did it. And I made that lewd joke* And there's always that one older woman in the audience who goes "What? I thought we were talking about Spider-Man!" So, you know…

*[On the subject of things certain characters would never do, Bendis joked we would never see a comic in which Spider-Man "kills a man with his bare hands just to get an erection"]

Quick movie update: "Jinx," "Powers," "Torso." I remember "Powers" was dead in the water for a while there, right?

"Jinx" – the script is written, the script is in, the script is paid for. They are talking to directors now, so we'll see what happens there. But there's active development for it instead of Development Hell. I've felt both – this feels better.

"Torso" - we just got a screenplay draft in. Ehren Kruger ["The Ring"] wrote the draft and I haven't read it yet. Sometimes it's scary to read these so I just thought to myself, "I'll read it this weekend" so I honestly don't know what's going on there.

And "Powers"… we actually just got back from Sony a couple of months ago. It wasn't working and they spent a lot of money, so we said, "okay, just give it back and we'll set up somewhere else." Then later they called back and said, "well, maybe we'll buy it again" and then they asked me, y'know… "what is it?" And they were nice about it, but when they say to me "what is it?" I'm like – you've had it for six years, you're asking now? They still wanted to carve a piece of Spider-Man out of it, and it's just not Spider-Man. I was like , "Think 'Seven,' guys. There's another genre that's popular that you can make money out of. Think of that one, not this other one.'

And that's when they said, "ah, just go ahead and take it." So now we're going to go find a home for it.

Are you going to try to do the new draft yourself?

You know, at the time we sold it they didn't want me to do a draft and they offered us enough money where it was like life changing. And well, you can use the money and at the time we were not in a position to turn it down. There was nothing sellouty about it, it was just, "Look, we want it – here's some money." But the lesson we learned from that and other things was that I'm not doing that any more. Even with "Jinx" I said, "I'm writing it or you're not buying it".

Let's talk about "Daredevil: The End." People are saying this is going to be your "Dark Knight Returns."

Um… I don't know, honestly. You know what I mean? You can never know, you can't ever say, "This is my Citizen Kane," even as you're making it. But I'm very happy with the pedigree of the talent involved. It will have things that you've never seen in a Daredevil comic before. So I'm pretty excited to show it. Very psyched about it. We're a few issues in, and Klaus has drawn the first issue already.

You, Klaus Janson, Bill Sieniewicz, David Mack, Alex Maleev….

And not only will those artists be working on their separate roles… at the core its Klaus' pencils and Bill's inks, but then there'll be sections by just Bill or just Alex or just David Mack. Sections that apply to their particular worldview. All of these guys are geniuses! You can use them not just for the role of colorist or cover artist or inker/penciller. They can do anything.

The creative team is almost a complete list of the men who've made Daredevil the comic it is today. Did you ever consider trying to get Frank Miller involved in some way?

I tried to get Frank for "Daredevil" #50. I had a sequence where there was a fight scene between Kingpin and Daredevil, and every punch was another artist. John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr. etc. And I thought, look, I know it's a long shot but I got in touch with Frank. I said, "Frank, listen, I know it's a long shot but its just one panel." I would have been remiss if I didn't ask him. And he was cool about it. He just said, "Listen, I'm not doing that anymore," and he couldn't have been more of a mench about it. So with "Daredevil: The End," I knew his feelings about the subject. I was just going to respect him this time and not even ask. He's busy. He's making "The Spirit" as his first feature as a solo director, so why bother him? You've got to respect him and not be like, "I wanna touch you even though you're busy." It's a respect thing.

Funny story – I spoke to Alex Maleev earlier and he didn't even remember he was doing "Daredevil: The End." He said, "What am I doing for that?" And I said "covers."

Well, he's deep in "Halo: Uprising" mode.

He said he hasn't started those covers yet, and I was like, "You have actually… some of them are on the web."

[laughs] Well, he's got the newborn. You've got to give him some slack. He's a heavy drinker, too… but his stuff is so good!

In "The Confession," the two of you were the first ones to prove that Iron Man could be humanized during the "Civil War" business.

Yeah, and that was an interesting one because this was a story beat about Iron Man that we had discussed endlessly at the retreats. I can't even take sole authorship – it was like [Jeph] Loeb and Mark [Millar] and Joe [Straczynski] and Dan [Slott]. And I raised my hand and said, "No one has shown this!" We knew it in the room but how does the reader know this? There's no way to know. And that conversation led to me eventually just writing this. It was not a book I intended to do.

I think it is the best art Maleev has ever done.

I do too. I think its Alex's best artwork as well. So I appreciate you saying that because I agree with you.

After that book, there were a fair number of people sort of regretting that we couldn't get an Iron Man monthly with you and Alex.

Um… yeah. I was offered Iron Man as a monthly, actually. But Iron Man in "Avengers" was more appealing to me at the moment. But I appreciate that. I put a lot of work into Iron Man. I read a lot of papers and books by people who are real futurists. Then I try to project that onto the character. It's interesting writing someone who's smarter than yourself. Using that Mamet thing [where someone asked him], "How did you write that play?" [And Mamet said], "I thought of someone smarter than me and I thought – what would he do?" And that's what writing Reed Richards and Tony Stark is like.

Aaron Sorkin is always talking about that in interviews. He talked on "Charlie Rose" about learning to mimic the "sound of intelligence" in writing. I think you capture that very well.

Thanks. Sometimes I have to go back in and really focus on that because my instinct is to write "gonna" and "livin" and that's not how Tony or Reed would speak.

Given that "Daredevil: End of Days " takes place in the future, would you say it ventures somewhat into the territory of science fiction?

Only because it takes place in the future. Like "Children of Men." Fantastic movie. It's technically science fiction but there's nothing really spectacular that you're seeing. So kind of like that. That or even "Blade Runner," which had some big sci-fi elements, but had that down to earth feel. Sci-fi isn't the premise of it just because it's in the future.

Given that it takes place in a future version of the Marvel Universe, what are the rules for the peripheral characters showing up? Only those closest to Matt? Could Spiderman or Luke Cage appear or even die given that it's Matt's story?

It's Matt's story, so you're going to focus on him and his surrounding characters.

But there is an early, shocking death?

Yeah. Definitely. It's an inciting incident for the rest of the series.

You asked Joe this question during the panel – biggest misfire or regret of your career?

[Brian's phone rings.]

Getting this cell phone!

How did you like "Bambi Vs. Hollywood?"

I liked it a lot, but boy it was fucking angry, though. It was angrier than I thought it was going to be. But I would have liked it if he had named Val Kilmer a little more than he did. He's like, "I made an action movie with an asshole." Well, Mamet's only made one action movie so who's the asshole? But yeah, I enjoyed it. It's really cool because Mamet just put out a book and Woody Allen just put out a book last week and these are guys that don't normally write books.

Have you read Mamet's "On Directing Film?"

Yeah, I think that's the best book on comic book creating that's out there. His philosophy is about placing the camera and not using camera movement. Although I love directors who use camera movement to project emotion like Scorsese does. [Mamet is about] you have a camera, find the most powerful image, project light onto it, film it and that's it. And that's our job as comics' people. My copy is completely mangled and highlighted and I literally have extra copies of the book that I hand out to people.

You know it's the single most reviled book in my college's film department?

I could see why. The acting book he put out there has the same appeal and disgust to people. People get mad and then you're like – well, it's not wrong. It's just an opinion. And I think in this instance his opinions apply more to comics than they do to film even.

He says actors are merely objects to be placed in a scene. I can see how that would apply very well to comics.

It does. And I mean, he's not wrong. He's made a lot of very successful movies so you can't argue that his method isn't working.

Moving to your upcoming work, a friend of mine really wanted me to ask how much research did you have to do for the new "Halo" comics?

As much research as I think I did on "Torso" to be honest with you. It was all the novels and the games. The lucky thing, at least, was that with "Torso" I had to gather information myself and that took a bunch of time, but with something like this you just call Bungie and say, "Uh, I suck at the game. I'm not going to finish the game. Can you just send me a DVD with all the movie parts on it?" So I could watch the movie of the game.

Have you read the Eric Nyland books?

Yeah, there's a character from those books in "Halo: Uprising." One of the main characters is actually in the first issue.

Impressive.

Well. I mean, writers research! I feel bad that our medium thinks that's such a novelty. That's not a novelty. That's what you're supposed to do. It's like that Chris Rock joke, "I take care of my kids! Well, what do you want? A cookie? You're supposed to!"

I think everyone has that one person that inspired them to write in the first place, but for me I often find you're the guy that keeps me writing. It has to do I think with the discipline you approach your own work with and the way you make yourself available to your fans to demystify that process of writing as much as possible. So my question is, considering the commitment this requires from you, what drives you to do it? Do you see it as a responsibility to your fan base in a way?

Um… no… you know what it is? And it's funny because he's here this weekend. When I was a kid I met Walt Simonson at this really small show in Cleveland. And he couldn't have been nicer to me, could not have been more inspiring. Then throughout my early years in High School he kept in correspondence with me, and he just saw something in me and was just being a nice person. We lost contact but years later after I was done "Jinx," I won an Eisner and I had it to give to him.

And I had waited all this time so that I could walk up to him at a show and say, "Listen, you probably don't remember me from when I was a kid but you were so important to me and I wanted to come to you and say here, I accomplished this," you know what I mean? "With your help." And I gave him the Eisner and we had a real moment, and now we're friends. And every time I'm at a convention like this I think, "be Walt Simonson. That's who you should be. Just do that. Be that person." And that's what it is. That there was a feeling that I had that meant the world to me and there was no reason not to give that feeling to other people.

So that's what it is. Mixed with the fact that I am genuinely so overwhelmed by the support and generosity towards me, that going on the Board [www.jinxworld.com] and interacting with people on the Board – it's an honor.

We've talked about your fans. David Mack has cultivated an audience of what seem to be a lot of beautiful geisha women. You've cultivated an audience of people who really like the word "taint." No regrets?

Yeah, well part of it is what you just said - there's a lot of my readers that look a lot like versions of me. Whereas David has a lot of Asian super-model types coming to him. [laughs] But more than that is I cultivated in the letter column a kind of Don Rickles, hostile, ball-busting mentality that I like to do and I think is fun and entertaining in the book. David projected a thoughtful, philosophical, poetic, Buddhist kind of thing. So he gets thoughtful, poetic letters. I get, "Dear Jew… Dear bald Jew… you killed Jesus. Fuck you. PS: I love 'Ultimate Spider-man.'"

What happened with the Write Your Own "Powers" Letter Column, by the way?

Oh, we got a winner. So you'll see that letter in "Powers" #25. Lot of entries, though. Boy. Jesus Christ. Literally thousands. I was amazed.

My entry was a lot of your favorite curse words strung together and ended with a Mark Millar joke.

You may have made print. That does sound like it did. I think you got in.

Awesome! Bendis, thank you for joining CBR for this interview.

Thank you. Those were a lot of very good questions. Nice way to end the day.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Marvel Comics forum.

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