In a move that has caused waves among comic news reporters and commentators, Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s biggest names, has signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics. This is a bigger deal than you realize. Bendis is one of their most recognizable names. Through all his faults he also have a lot of strengths. This is the man who brought us Ultimate Spider-Man, kicking off the Ultimate Universe, and Miles Morales, an original Spider-Man in that universe who is now one of their most popular new characters, even appearing in the last two Spider-Man cartoons, including the current one. You have to wonder what Marvel did to lose this name at a time when many of their creator have been as controversial for their origins (novel writers rather than actual comic writers, and some of those writers may not even been comic fans) as they are their political writings within their comics.
Of course there’s a lot of speculation as to why Bendis would leave the company that made him famous. It’s not the first time in comics history, mind you. Jack Kirby, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, John Ostrander, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, and even recently John Romita Jr., have switched sides and sometimes even gone back to Marvel. It’s the nature of the business. Sometimes there are reasons, usually financial or creative, for someone to go to their rival. However, this move may really hurt Marvel Comics in the long run, if not the short run.
Bendis started with crime and noir stories but unlike Frank Miller didn’t really bring that into all his superhero work. There is some influence, but it’s not as bad as Miller. He actually started as an artist, including caricature work (which he hated according to Wikipedia), but everyone has to start somewhere. He started working with Caliber Comics before being courted by Image to work on Spawn spinoff Sam & Twitch, about the two cops who end up investigating cases that Spawn is a part of. He also worked on Powers, a comic that was recently made into a “TV” series available on the Playstation Network, when Sony wanted to add shows to their video game service. From there he moved to Marvel, working on their adult-targeted Marvel Knights imprint.
It’s there that he was picked up for Ultimate Spider-Man, a series intended to hook new readers without the lengthy continuity. Bendis was able to put Peter back in high school, bringing his friends with him for the first time. Years later Peter sacrifices himself to save others, only to introduce a new Spider-Man, the bi-racial Miles Morales (half black/half Latino), who became such a hit that Bendis would later have him cross paths with the Spider-Man of the main universe. Bendis co-created Miles along with artist Sara Pichelli. Remember this for later.
But Bendis in the main Marvel Universe has been a mixed bag. He’s a great writer but he doesn’t care for continuity. I don’t just mean prior events. I mean character personalities. I’ve mentioned here more than once my problem with him having Luke Cage swear like a stereotypical black man from “da hood” when it’s canon that Luke was brought up not to swear by his grandmother, hence why he always says “Sweet Christmas”. He once had Doctor Doom call Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers at the time) a “cow”, an insult that should be beneath Doom to use. Probably his most controversial move was when he drove the Scarlet Witch crazy, leading to the destruction of the Avengers, and a forming of a “new Avengers”, including Spider-Man and Wolverine because they had popular movie appeal. He’s a good writer, but not when he’s called upon to take the proverbial story stick and continue from previous stories.
But you can’t ignore Bendis’ positive influences outside of comics. He wrote the video game based on Ultimate Spider-Man as well as being part of various Spider-Man cartoons as far back as the MTV/Mainframe Entertainment series that was botched because MTV didn’t know what they were doing. And USM has influenced media he hasn’t worked on. Spidey’s origins in the Sam Rami movie and in productions since ignore the radioactive spider for the genetic spider bite Ultimate Peter got his powers from, and his wrestling outfit was inspired by Ultimate as well. The extended Ultimate Universe, built on Bendis’ success, was the origin of the Samuel L. Jackson inspired change to Fury, which Bendis himself didn’t do (that was Mark Millar) but wouldn’t have happened had Bendis not proven the viability of the Ultimate concept. Of course this led to Fury actually being played by Jackson and the black Fury being introduced into the main Marvel comics.
So why did Bendis jump ship? Everyone has their own theories, from him wanting the Editor-In-Chief position but losing to Axel Alonso to Marvel just being chaos with so few creators and editors to go around, causing people to work on numerous books. Those are possible, especially that last one, but I have my own theory and already mentioned it: the destruction of the Ultimate Universe. This was Bendis’ baby of sorts. He all but created the concept, showed how viable it could be, only to have other writers (especially Millar) suck the fun out of it, bring in an incestuous Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, turn the Blob into a cannibal, have an event which killed off numerous Ultimate characters, have Wolverine leave Scott for dead so he could put the moves on his grieving widow…it’s just utter madness! And then Marvel outright destroys it, raiding the good parts (mostly just Miles) like a corporate raid–which given Marvel’s history since the 90s could almost be an analog for what’s happened behind the scenes–and tossed aside. All the versions Bendis created sent to the four winds to create one Marvel universe. I know I’d be ticked.
And I’ve heard reports that fans of one of the novelists Alanzo has writing comics now have been asking for her to take over Miles since she’s a woman of color and Bendis, being a white man, has held on to it too long and of course only black people can write black characters. I remind you that Bendis and an Italian woman create the black/Mexican teenager. But that’s a topic for another time.
However it’s Bendis’ aversion to character continuity that worries me. One podcast speculated that he would take over the “Dark Multiverse” that’s going on in the Bat-Titles and the “Metal” event that’s going on. I haven’t been following it so I don’t know how it ties in to the 52 universe concept created by Grant Morrison, but that is probably the best option. Letting Bendis loose on the main continuity may not end well, but give him his own workbench and he’s sure to craft something amazing. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.