Growing up in University Heights, Ohio, as part of a strictly religious Jewish-American family, it didn’t take long for Brian Michael Bendis to decide he wanted to pursue a career in the comic book industry.
He was just 13 at the time and had already been working on his own titles involving The Punisher and Captain America. Starting out as an artist for local publications to fund his work on graphic novels, it was the crime noir tale about a female bounty hunter, The Jinx, that first got him noticed.
That was way back in 1996 and, just over two decades on, it’s fair to say a lot has changed since. From those humble, noir-tinged beginnings, Bendis has emerged as one of the most successful figures in mainstream comics today.
An award-winning writer and artist, Bendis helped reinvigorate Marvel with the Ultimate Marvel Universe relaunch and has continued to keep things fresh for fans ever since with work on Daredevil, Iron Man, The Avengers, and X-Men to name but a few while also creating unforgettable characters like Jessica Jones.
He’s never been afraid of change either, whether it’s been the introduction of the Afro-Hispanic teenager Miles Morales as Spider-Man or making Riri Williams’s the new Iron Man. Ahead of his first visit to London Super Comic Con, loaded spoke to the living Marvel legend about Doctor Who, diversity, Spider-Man and what could be in store for Captain Britain.
loaded: There’s been some backlash over the casting of Jodie Whittington as Doctor Who, speaking from your own experience at Marvel, how do you deal with that response?
Brian: I was at the centre of a backlash like this with the introduction of Miles Morales as Spider-Man and Ri-Ri Williams as Iron Man. You quickly realise that the backlash is not even worth writing about. There have been people complaining about African American Stormtroopers and female Ghostbusters and I just don’t understand why people flip out about this stuff
These changes create interesting stories and more representation where it is desperately needed. Though I am Jewish, I am also a white man and tell anybody who is also a white man: “don’t worry, there’s plenty still for us!” There are still 13 other Doctor Whos they can jump up and down about.
Every woman I have ever met is a phenomenally interesting and fascinating person with better stories to tell, which is why I write mostly female leads in my books because the perspective of the stories is just far superior.
loaded: Is it important now, more than ever, that comics reflect more diversity?
Brian: Comics have always been ahead of the curve with this stuff, going back to Stan Lee and the initial choices he made with Marvel. There’s always been a good amount of representation. But there are many stories out there still left to tell, stories speak to certain audiences.
There are people out there living lives that are very different to ours and we should all experience and celebrate them and learn from that. That’s what these stories should do. People get so caught up in the physical appearance side of it but that’s only part of it. The harder part is the actual telling of the story. But the success of things like Wonder Woman and Jessica Jones speak to that – they have different stories to tell and they tell them well.
loaded: Do you think an opportunity was missed in not having Miles Morales become Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming?
Brian: I can see the argument ,since I’m the one that has spent the last seven years writing Miles Morales, but I was very impressed by the diversity of the cast for Spider-Man: Homecoming and the energy.
What you got with that cast wasn’t just a lot of diversity but also a lot of different kinds of energy and experience on screen, which made it a pretty cool Spider-Man movie. It’s no secret either that I’m consulting on an animated Spider-Man movie project that will have Miles in it. Fans are going to really love it.
loaded: Do you think part of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s success stems from the fact it focuses more on Peter Parker?
Brian: There are bits and pieces in Spider-Man: Homecoming that are based on the comics I worked on, which focused almost solely on Peter Parker’s high school experience. This idea of that secret of being Spider-Man just being this thing that Peter carries around with him like any other kid.
I often said when we were writing Ultimate Spider-Man that we were not writing Spider-Man stories but Peter Parker stories where, every once in a while, he puts on a Spider-Man costume. If you do it right, no one should even notice whether he’s in or out of a Spider-Man costume. They did that very well in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
loaded: If you could pick the villain for the next Spider-Man movie, who would you choose?
Brian: I’m having a lot of fun writing the Black Cat right now because she’s such an interesting character. She exists in a unique moral place and we’ve also never seen her in a Spider-Man movie before.
What a lot of people liked about the Vulture was that it showed how interesting some of these villains that you may not know too much about are. Fans have seen enough of the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, so it’s interesting to reach out to these other, equally cool villains.
The reason I chose the Black Cat is that I’ve been writing The Defenders and Spider-Man at a very street level – there’s a lot of gangs, crime lords and kingpins in these books and that would be a very cool story for Peter.
In the book, we had a storyline where he went up against the Kingpin and learned that the world really isn’t all that fair. The bad guy walks away and that’s a hard thing to learn when you’re 16, which is about the time you learn, in real life, that the world kind of sucks sometimes. The Kingpin represented that for Spider-Man so that would be cool to see. It would be idealism versus reality and it’s a great Peter Parker story.
loaded: Of course, the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming hints at the possible arrival of the Sinister Six…
Brian: Yes, they did a very good job of subtlety setting up all the villains which was really cool. If you knew your stuff it was great but even if you didn’t there was plenty of scope to catch up.
loaded: Would it work as a sequel for Spider-man or is it too soon?
Brian: I don’t know. I was always worried a little that Winter Soldier was too soon for Captain America before it came out but the Marvel movies have a way of doing some heavy lifting and getting to stuff quicker than in the comics.
Either way, I think they could feature the Sinister Six in the second or even third movie. Then again, there might be this whole other thing on the horizon that fans don’t know about.
loaded: You’ve written for The Defenders and we’ve obviously got the show coming up on Netflix. What does it need to do to be a success?
Brian: I’m not allowed to tell you a damn thing but what I will say is I have read all The Defenders scripts already – to make sure I wasn’t covering similar stuff in my book. I loved what they did. We’ll have to see what the fans think.
What I like about the Defenders, as a writer, is that they are all such strong characters with unique perspectives on the world, each other and how to handle things. So getting the four of them together is always going to be great because they all bring something different to the table.
Honestly, writing for the Defenders is about the most fun I have ever had on a Marvel book, it’s tremendous. They are fighting for us not against space aliens – the action is right outside our door and it’s bloody.
loaded: Obviously, there was this surprising negative reaction to Iron Fist on Netflix – how can they go about changing that perception with viewers?
Brian: I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of thing and, often, when the dust clears whatever you were working on ends up being a big success. Iron Fist got huge ratings on Netflix, so people definitely tuned in. It’s hard. I had a book out last year, with the same creative team as The Defenders behind it, and some fans were screaming for our heads. The actors involved in The Defenders are fantastic though and have a great dynamic and they are going to come out swinging – I think people are going to love it.
loaded: You’re heading to London Super Comic Con. What’s it like meeting fans face to face?
Brian: A pretty magical experience. It’s weird because comic book writers and artists spend a lot of time alone in their rooms. So when we go out and enjoy success, like I’ve been lucky enough to, suddenly you almost have to become like this standup comedian and stand on stage and talk.
The dichotomy is strange but at the same time, I have met this unbelievable parade of amazing people through these conventions. Fans that love these characters and the craft of comics. They want to share that passion and I will happily talk about this stuff all day. So it’s an amazing thing.
Because I write about so many different subjects that resonate with so many different people on an emotional level, I find that I’m also hugging people almost all day. At San Diego Comic Con, I was reminded by a friend that I spent about two hours hugging people who had tears in their eyes because they emotionally connected with a story I wrote. You can often go home feeling very emotional but it’s all beautiful – I’ve not had one negative reaction the whole time I’ve done it – not that I’m asking for it.
I remember as a kid, when I used to come along to these things, seeing comic book creators, like Walt Simonson, just blew me away and changed my life. So to have that kind of effect and help others get out of comics what I got out of them is such a great experience.
loaded: Do you think the internet has changed the way you interact with fans?
Brian: It keeps you honest. When I am sitting down to write, I think about the guys on Twitter I talk to every day, that are going to let me have it if I screw up. And they have. And when I do really well they applaud. So they are there to keep me honest.
I love it. I’m of the belief that 99% of people are good people and I focus on those. Maybe it’s because I’m a parent, but I tend to handle trolls the way I would a badly behaved child – you put them in the corner and ignore them until they calm down. I’m about eight months outrage free right now and having a great time.
It has also accentuated the fun of going to another country and meeting people. I’ve interacted with fans from London pretty much the entire time I have been at Marvel. There are some fans I even know by name. To finally come and see them is great. It’s always funny when you see someone’s internet persona and real-life persona become this one person in front of you – it’s kind of huge.
loaded: There’s always a very positive atmosphere of acceptance at Comic Con – do you think that’s something comic books foster?
Brian: They always have. When you look at pictures from the early San Diego Comic Con of the 1970s, you see people were dressing up in homemade costumes. There was no business behind it, they just loved this stuff so much. People still do that today. It’s pure fan expression, they just want to come together and express how much they love this thing – it’s the best.
My favourite part is just looking out in the crowd, seeing people make friends waiting in the queues to see people like me. I’ve seen it where people that met on my message boards ended up married off the back of that. It’s really nice to be part of the good stuff. When they break up and come to me for help, well that’s tough. It actually happened with a couple too and they wanted me to choose sides.
loaded: Robert Downey Jr is getting on a bit as Tony Stark – do you think we’ll see ever see a day when RiRi Williams takes the reins as Iron Man?.
Brian: Nothing is impossible. I remember being quoted on the cover of USA Today saying “There is no way in hell there is ever going to be an Avengers movie. That movie would cost $300 dollars!” Then they went and did it. I learned from that day on that there is no such thing as impossible with Marvel. Jessica Jones got a TV show, Miles Morales has got a Spider-Man movie coming up. What I’ve noticed though is that people have been very positive about Ri-Ri Williams and we’re only seven issues in.
loaded: Does that mean there’s always a chance of Captain Britain getting his own movie?
(Laughs) I have made quite a few Captain Britain jokes in my books in the past. I have intimated on a few occasions that Tony Stark may not have a lot of time for Captain Britain and I know a lot of fans think that is me talking. So I would be surprised if I didn’t get one person asking me about Captain Britain at London Comic-Con.
London Super Comic Con takes place 25 – 27 August at the Business Design Centre. Tickets are available at www.londonsupercomiccon.com