When he was 13, Brian Michael Bendis decided he wanted a career in comics. But unlike the vast majority of 13-year-olds who share the same fantasy, Bendis actually acted on it. He worked on illustrating and writing, picking up newspaper gigs in his hometown of Cleveland, and moving up the comic book ranks to arrive at Marvel. There, he wrote the Ultimate Spider-Man in 2000, and New Avengers in 2004.
Today he’s one of the writers guiding the $4 billion Marvel universe, and oversees the PlayStation Network TV series, Powers, based on his dark comic book series that follows a pair of detectives who investigate cases involving people with superhuman abilities. With the golden age of Hollywood comic adaptations upon us, Bendis likes how dark it’s all getting.
THE RED BULLETIN: We’ve seen comic movies go much darker with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and even Captain America: Civil War. How has that influenced the audience for Powers, which is also a dark comic series?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: There’s a sizeable difference in tone between Batman vs. Superman and Civil War. And that’s always been the case. For mainstream movies the tone has to be just right. It’s a really beautiful bit of alchemy that you have to really think about in every scene. Having worked for years on the Marvel Creative Committee, most of our conversations were just about that: “Where is the line? How much edge is too much edge? Where does it fall into nihilism and hopelessness?”
From the earliest days of Marvel Comics — due to Stan Lee’s flash of genius— there have been real problems and real emotions: “If I had super powers, my life wouldn’t change, and my worries wouldn’t change.” That kind of universal stuff is really what connects people to these characters. That’s why they’ve lasted for decades and decades and not the normal pop culture shelf-life of two to five years that most things have.
The Marvel Creative Committee sounds like a name ripped from the pages of a comic book.
I have a front row seat with a lot of Marvel stuff, so it’s almost not fair because I really get to see how the sausage is made at the early stages. I was there for the conversations about should we even do a Guardians of the Galaxy movie? This is a studio that could easily just pump out an Iron Man movie every 16 months and be very successful, but instead they want to do Ant-Man and Guardians.
And during the earliest conversations about who the Guardians are we talked about this being Marvel’s Star Wars—and this is before there was even a hope that there would be another great Star Wars movie. I did my research and Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt in Guardians) ends up having one of the best origin stories of any character in Marvel or DC. It just isn’t as well known, but it’s really up there with Superman and Spider-Man. And I got completely crazy about how great this landscape was and ended up writing the book the year before the movie came out.
What impact do you feel the success of Deadpool—darker and more sarcastic than your average hero—will have on comic movies going forward?
Deadpool couldn’t be more adult, and it was just exactly the right tone for exactly the right character. My fear is that they’re going to try to apply the Deadpool insanity to characters that don’t do that. That’s just not the right thing to do. So when you see things misfire, it’s almost always about that tone. It’s fascinating to watch when it doesn’t work. And then when it works perfectly—and having read so many drafts of Civil War and watching all the pieces come together—it’s so wonderful that they just keep stacking stuff into this movie and still have it be about something.
Seems like comic book adaptations are finding their way on to TV more than film nowadays. Why is that?
Everybody wants to get a movie made of their comic book, but when you really look at them, that connection between serialised television and comic books is much closer than with movies. It’s the language of the storytelling, where these long-form ideas really take their time and you can explore them from all these different angles. I find it interesting that so many “alternative comics” are finding such mainstream success as a television show, that the hook of these indie comics are just mainstream TV show ideas. People are clearly eagerly looking for other things. When Powers came out as a comic book, we were like ‘here’s a more mature, adult angle.’ We would parody stuff; we would get sexy when we got sexy; we would get violent when we got violent. Here’s a book by adults for adults. And now here we are in the television landscape and it just so happens that there are more superhero TV shows than there ever was in our whole lives, and now Powers fills that same role. We’re like this other thing, and that’s pretty cool.