You may know Brian Michael Bendis (or BENDIS!) as that guy who writes Marvel comic books. But Bendis didn’t hit the big time straight away. He worked his way there.
In his early days Bendis actually wanted to be an artist and worked as a cartoonist for his local paper, making money doing caricatures. His early comic work at Caliber Comics; Jinx, Goldfish, Fire and Torso he both wrote and drew.
Eventually he moved these books over to well-known comic publisher Image before writing Hellspawn and Sam & Twitch for Todd MacFarlane. Sam & Twitch was the first time he ever worked with Alex Maleev who he would go on to collaborate with for many years.
It was only because his good friend David Mack (creator of Kabuki) who was working on Daredevil at the time recommended Bendis to Joe Quesada for a replacement as his own replacement, that Bendis got work for Marvel.
The rest is fairly common knowledge; Bendis worked on Daredevil with Alex Maleev and Ultimate Spider-Man with Mark Bagley and became a well-known name in the American comic scene. Soon after that he disassembled The Avengers, reinventing them as the New Avengers. He went on to be the main creative force behind the entire Marvel Universe.
All of the above you can find in more detail on his Wikipedia page. What I’d like to do is talk about it from my perspective. Tell you why I think Bendis is so great and which of the many comics he’s worked on, stands out as the best to me.
I first discovered Bendis when a friend who did some work at a local book store brought home a pile of comics. Ultimate Spider-Man stood out to me straight away because it had Mark Bagley on pencils. Bagley was the penciller of Amazing Spider-Man when I was a kid, and for me Spidey looks exactly the way Bagley draws him, there is no other artist on the planet that comes close.
So when I saw a comic with the title Ultimate Spider-Man, having Bagley on pencils made perfect sense to me. I mean, who else would you get? But who was this Bendis guy? I didn’t recognise him from any of the Spidey comics I’d read growing up. Was he a new guy on the scene? I had no idea what I was in for.
The Ultimate line of comics were essentially a modernisation of the classic Marvel heroes. There was also Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Daredevil and The Ultimates (The Avengers…I dunno, just go with it). Spidey was 16 again, he hadn’t met Gwen and Doc Ock wasn’t Doc Ock yet. The first issue I was lucky enough to read featured Ultimate Gwen Stacy’s first appearance as well as the moment that Otto Octavius finds out that his robot arms had merged with his spine. The doctors and scientists that were looking after him had left them attached to just to see what happens. He was understandably furious.
So there I was being blown out of my tiny little brains by a Gwen Stacy that wasn’t a goody two shoes, top of the class, girly girl but a leather wearing, pierced nosed, knife wielding bad-girl. And Spidey didn’t wear a three piece suit to high school (it wasn’t the the 60s anymore). This comic got me back in the comic shops every Thursday after around five years of not giving a shit. I had a comic I cared about again, a Spider-Man title that I could read and not have to worry about what was going on in the other five Spidey titles.
But what really shined was the dialogue, I’d never read a comic that had characters talking like real people and engaging in conversations before, it was my comic renaissance.
This is where Bendis really shines, he really knows his dialogue. For me, especially something like Spidey where the romance and drama are as important as the villain of the month, he had a really good balance. I still got a few pages of Spidey swinging through the city and a few more of him punching a villain but I also got him dating MJ for the first time and arguing with Aunt May over his school work that was falling behind because he was spending too much time web slinging. Bendis dialogue really brings this all together for me in a realistic way. He has characters cutting each other off mid-sentence, he does what is referred to as “ping-pong” dialogue which to me, reads like how real people talk.
I can’t stress enough the importance of dialogue in comics. You can do all the caption boxes you like, but to really get a comic flowing you need people to talk. When they explain something it needs to sound the way a person would explain something in real life. Bendis has cracked that.
The other thing he seems to do well is the characterizations. The way he writes all of Marvels hero’s behaviour, their mannerisms, the things they do, line up perfectly to the way I think of them in my head. Sometimes you read a book and the hero you remember as a child seems to be different to the hero now. Most of the time Bendis and I agree.
Bendis also tries to write to an artist’s strengths. This is really important because of the way contemporary superhero comics are made. It’s a real team effort, it’s collaboration. If the artist, writer, colourist, inker and editor aren’t all on the same page, it can become a real mess. Bendis is a team player.
So I think Bendis is the dialogue master and we like the same flavour of Spider-Man, What books do I recommend? Well that all depends on what you like. A quick check on Wikipedia will tell you EVERYTHING HE’S EVER DONE. But highlights for me are;
Obvious? Sure, but I recommend you read the early volumes. For my tastes these are the best Spider-Man stories ever written. I’ll repeat that: THE BEST SPIDER-MAN STORIES EVER WRITTEN. You’d be safe up to at least volume six, before things stop being Ultimate and start becoming Alternate. If you want to continue after that, be my guest.
Death of Ultimate Spider-Man
Mark Bagley came back after his time with DC comics and helped kill off Ultimate Peter Parker. It is some of the most emotionally spot-on writing Bendis has done. That said, it will have far more impact if you’ve read the 100 and something issues of Ultimate Spider-Man.
House of M
Universe wide crossovers can get really messy, they tie into a million different books and one thing one guys says in this comic may have no weight because you missed that thing he did in that other book. House of M was good because it all happens in another universe, so the rest of the Marvel Comics were able to continue on as if nothing happened. Because it wasn’t tying in to every other book and because Bendis wasn’t the huge super star he is now, there are a lot more of the quiet character moments that get pushed off into the tie-in issues in favour of the big action. There is a particularly emotional scene with Spidey in the last chapter that really worked for me.
New Avengers: Civil War
This is exactly what I’m talking about, Mark Millar worked on Civil War and it bored me. The tie-in issues of New Avengers that Bendis did are some of his best work. Very powerful stuff and Leinil Yu’s artwork is perfect. Bendis also does an issue called The Confession showing Iron Man’s reaction to Captain America’s death which is AMAZING. It really helps to make Iron Man human after all the shit he did during Civil War (The confession doesn’t seem to be included in the New Avengers book, makes no sense, hunt it down!).
DD’s real identity is outed to the press. It’s a very interesting take on the whole secret Identity thing. It draws a lot on his experience as a crime writer too, which really helps and the art is done by Alex Maleev who had just stopped aping Mike Mignola (not necessarily a bad thing) and is really coming into his own.
This is a series that was supposed to star a de-powered Spider-Woman working as a private investigator. Marvel weren’t comfortable taking Jessica Drew in that direction so Bendis invented Jessica Jones, another de-powered superhero. It was printed under their MAX line, which is made for adult audiences. There’s quite a bit of swearing and sex and a lot of the darker side of Marvel that you don’t normally get to see. The purple Man story is a real highlight (in a fucked-up kinda way). Micheal Gaydos does the art, at first I wasn’t blown away by it but by the end I realised just how much he had added to the whole thing. His Jessica Jones looks like an individual.
This series is still in its infancy but it’s Bendis and Maleev working together and the first volume I read was awesome. Hard to say where it will go at this point but I’m expecting big things. It’s about a woman who is sick of all the shit that goes on in the world and decides to do something about it. No superheros here.
Fire, Torso, Jynx and Goldfish
I’ve never read Jinx but if it’s as good as Bendis’ other early crime stories (and it’s supposed to be better) then I recommend it. The art in these isn’t the best, Bendis does a lot of it himself, but the stories are good.
Powers is the comic Bendis has been working on the longest. It’s a crime-noir, police procedural drama set in a superhero universe. It stars an ex-superhero turned cop who investigates superhero crime. It’s been going for so long now that it has its ups and downs, but is still a good read. I think I hate the protagonist at this point, he’s very flawed.
Like Powers this is a big ask, Bendis worked on New Avengers for almost ten years. I don’t expect anyone but hard-core fans to pick up all of these. It’s really well done, Bendis picked up what should have been Marvel’s answer to the Justice League and made it exactly that. Before he started this title he killed off a few of the original Avengers team in Disassembled and restarted from scratch. They get a new headquarters and new team members (Spidey, Wolverine and Spider-Woman!).
Volume 1: Breakout – fairly obvious place to start? No, read Avengers Disassembled first.
Volume 2: The Sentry – Good fun, plenty of guest stars.
Volume 3: Secrets & Lies – Spider-Woman, that is all.
Volume 5: New Avengers Civil War, As stated above. Far better than the series it tied into.
Volume 6: Revolution – What happens after Civil War. I love fugitive Avengers
After this point it’s probably better if you’ve already read all the earlier stuff.
That list is my favourites; I can pretty much recommend anything he worked on really, none of it is ever bad. Bendis will start work on All New X-Men & Guardians of the Galaxy this year so you can check them out. All New X-Men sounds interesting, it’s the original team from the 60s being brought into the current timeline and we’ll get to see what kind of reactions people like teen Cyclops will have after finding out what he becomes and what Jean Grey thinks about becoming the Pheonix etc.
This could become a regular thing, I know Rockets was keen. Throw any comments below if you’d like me to cover any other creators. Rockets already asked for Jim Lee and I intend to Do Alan Moore and Alan Davis. Also, if I told a lie in this article TELL ME OFF!
You can follow Jimuhsien on Twitter