Being a regular listener to the 11 O’clock Comics Podcast at www.bullpenbulletinspodcast.com I decided to take up their challenge of trying to explain what draws me to certain creators.
This writer uses characterisation like a sword. His dialogue is sharp. His influences shine through in what his characters say. The language owes as much to Mamet and Sorkin as much as they do to Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.
He pushes through the crowd of the numerous good writers in today’s industry due to a clear love of the medium. He has taken the style that Stan, Jack and Steve started. Flesh out the person before we are invited to believe the super person. And he does it without peer!
Oh Yes. It’s Marvel Comics MVP Brian Michael Bendis.
Take a bow Brian.
Not that this is a Wiki entry but Brian is the winner of five Eisner Awards. He writes for both Marvel and for creator owned projects at various companies (although now under the umbrella of Icon). He runs the all encompassing www.jinxworld.com and writes the odd tele/screenplay. (Not to mention his numerous Con appearances, the Bendis Tapes on Wordballoon and his College lecture series on comics).
Beat that Johns!
I am going to pick my way through some of his work that I have loved over the years. I would recommend them all.
I have tried not to overly research or overly examine each panel but to shoot from the hip about how each series made an impact on me at the time of reading.
I think that I really started to notice Bendis as a writer (let’s not forget that he sometimes draws) during his run on Sam and Twitch. A comic that was essentially a 1990s spin off from Spawn. It hit all the right post modern crime noir buttons. I was on holiday and had run out of English language stuff to read when I found some S&T in the hotel lounge. I still own them now.
Powers shows that it is possible to deconstruct the superhero genre without coming off as a cheap rate Watchmen. It takes a pair of Detectives who are tasked to investigate crimes committed by the spandex community. His work with Michael Oeming (http://michaeloeming.com/) at first sight has a simplistic almost cartoonish quality. Upon further examination it reveals a dark underbelly. It swirls round in a Shieldesque conspiracy spiral. The characters have often fatal flaws and are caught up in the darkness surrounding and reflecting from them. Nobody has a simplistic past or future and we are left wondering who will be left standing at the conclusion of the arc.
Sure Powers at times is quite complicated. To be fair it also reads better in trade. But the stories whip along at a pace. Bendis and Oeming (who is credited rightly so as co-creator) have stuck by the title as it changed companies and at times has had a slow release schedule. It is in my opinion the gateway drug for Mr B and if you haven’t tried it perhaps you should (straightaway!).
To me Alias is the most groundbreaking comic that Mr Bendis has so far written. It does not subvert the Marvel Universe as much as increase it’s depth.
It is the story of Jessica Jones who is operating as a Private Investigator after a failed attempt at Super heroine. She is a strong female character (a common thread in Bendis’ work) who has suffered horribly at the hands of a super villain. In fact the ‘never act like a victim’ storyline with the Purple Man is one of the strongest ever in comics.
As a Marvel character you may be surprised at how she acts. She has casual sex, she enters into unwise and doomed to fail professional and personal relationships that play out almost as story arcs.
The art duties on the series are carried out by Michael Gaydos. The style on the story is almost a contradiction to the style of Powers. It has a gritty realistic style to it that sets both pace and mood in a cool Tarantinoesque style. Many of the conversational shots are seen almost from the view of the reader as an outsider prying on sometimes very personal details.
Marvel has always done the quiet moments well. We care for the people who their writers have created. Who can forget Shang-Chi’s meditations on life and love or Jarvis fussing about in Avengers Mansion. Bendis uses this as both exploration of intention and sometimes even as well crafted (and crafty) storytelling devices.
The series actually only ran for twenty-eight issues but continued on in to The Pulse. Bendis keeps the character alive and she is now married to Luke Cage and appears regularly in the Avengers titles. She actually played a pivotal part in The Secret Invasion event a couple of years ago.
As a bit of shelf porn the hardbacks do look awesome!
As a point man at Marvel Comics Mr Bendis has written more than his share of big events for the company. Have a look out for House of M, Avengers Disassembled, Secret War and Secret Invasion. But what by far my favourite so far is the one he has finished most recently – Siege.
The mini series Siege puts an end cap on the Dark Reign event that ran throughout Marvels main titles for the previous year. In a psychotically manipulated state the villain du jour Norman Osbourne decides to invade Asgard (which is currently hovering over some American small town). To help he uses his Dark Avengers which include the equally mental Sentry.
This event never lets up. Each issue has iconic moments. (Who can forget the reflection of Captain America’s shield in Iron Patriot’s face plate, or the beating that Thor takes) The shock factor is also very high. Unexpected death (Ares is literally torn apart by The Sentry). Olivier Coipel outdoes himself on the art chores. It has the feel of a Superhero war film crossed with Independence Day graphics. Ares (who in many ways is the star of this storyline) rides a fighter plane into the glory of battle. Stick that on a T-Shirt Marvel Comics!
This mini series also has much to say about the state of American news reporting. We see Osbourne play power games with his image and the supposed righteousness of his place as the saviour of the human race after taking out the Skrull Queen before rising to prominence. The news has a realistic 24/7 quality with reporters and news anchors spinning stories depending on their own personal agendas.
Siege again resets the Marvel Universe and we head off towards The Heroic Age (which as I write is still rolling on and in many if not all ways fails to match Siege’s intensity). Bendis remains in control of the Avengers comics franchise. It is a credit to his writing that after the fall out of an event so world changing that he keeps the characters fresh and interesting (just have a look at what twist he is putting on the Simon Williams / Wonder Man character).
Mr Bendis continues to show an unrivalled loyalty to mainstream comics. He gives his time and energies to the fan over and over. (Seriously go have a listen to The Bendis Tapes on Wordballoon where he answers the questions of fans on his message board for hours on end). He is a regular star of conventions and can be seen wandering the floor speaking to fans and remains incredibly approachable (I speak from experience).
He spins a web of stories that show real people and real motivations and feelings. The language he uses simultaneously makes me laugh out loud on the train to work and feel the blow of surprise when a character meets a sticky end. His exposition is often done in an imaginative way (check out the ‘Timeline’ in Avengers). His style makes it seem that he is speaking directly to the reader in a style that draws from all the best Marvel traditions.
As a writer he has turned ‘C’ list characters into genuine leads of stories and comics. Check out Luke Cage in The Avengers and Thunderbolts. Or Spider-Woman in her own title. Yet he continues to explore new areas of the older mainstay characters (Stark in particular has become one of my favourites).
I genuinely feel that the comics world would be a poorer place without the likes of Mr Bendis. (Even if he never replied to any of my Twitter messages!!)