Brian Michael Bendis at ECCC 2018: "Truth is Under Siege in Our Society Today"

Ian Melton went to ECCC last week. He writes:

Emerald City Comic Con was Brian Michael Bendis's first convention since he announced his move to DC and his first ECCC appearance in years. A regular to Seattle for ECCC for years, not since Scarlett launched has he made a lengthy time at the Seattle convention. Wanting to see if Bendis would announce anything new was my reason for going, it was my son's desire to see Bendis again and ask him a question that really drew us to the prolific writer's panel, where the Bendis talked DC news and Marvel news in about equal measure. He took the stage with energy in his step, and looking good despite swelling in his face.

brian michael bendisHis computer with him, ECCC technical difficulties prevented him from showing the audience "cool stuff" to come, and he let the audience know the question that even Rich Johnston wondered:

"I want to let everyone know I'm okay. In my desire to get work done, I stopped giving everyone regular updates, and I'm sorry for that. For those who don't know, I had a near-death experience back in December, my first real-life near-death experience — but my wife saved my life and I'm okay. And when I came out of it I awoke to thousands and thousands of you wishing me well, and I deeply appreciate it… so anyway, hi."

Bendis then quickly covered his move of Jinxworld to the DC umbrella and the announcement of his first two new creator-owned works there. First, Bendis will be bringing back Powers as new graphic novels, Scarlett book 3, which will be out at the end of the summer 2018 and the new two titles: Pearl, co-created and illustrated by Jessica Jones co-creator Michael Gaydos, staring a character designed to more complicated than Jessica Jones. Set in San Francisco the main character, a tattoo artist for the Yakuza, has her life derailed in the very first issue. A romantic story where two characters in a similar position will fall in love in a very complicated setting is set up to be released this summer. Cover, the other new title, will be with David Mack, based off a true story that takes the idea that comic book creators have the same profile as those in the intelligence community and "they have a great cover story, they travel the world and go to conventions. Comic book people could be spies! Wait did I say that was based on a true story? Which part?" In addition, United States of Murder Inc already has 100 pages completed of new material, and Powers has 200 pages completed.

More news is coming, Bendis added, but he is eager to get Superman out first before talking about his DC Comics custom imprint. Eager to involve the audience, Bendis then moved to questions from the audience, much more eager to talk with his fans then roll out more "news". "If you have any questions, on Marvel, DC, Jinxworld, trivia on the Gilmore Girls, just come up and ask!" Likewise, my son at this point became eager to ask a question, even if he had no idea who the Gilmore Girls are.

Brian Michael Bendis at ECCC 2018: "Truth is Under Siege in Our Society Today"

Making our way into the line, we watched and listened as the first question came from a cosplayer in a Jewel cosplay, something that tickled Bendis to no end. "Everyone always cosplays Jessica in her coat and looking mad, so it's nice to see the costume and not have to ask if you are cosplaying as Jessica Jones." The smiling fan asked how it was for Bendis seeing Jessica Jones become a TV show star and how it affected him. Bendis commented it was surreal watching Jessica's fans go from him and Michael Gaydos working on her to hundreds of people working on her. He described it as "just crazy". He then related eating with David Mack and overhearing a group of people loudly arguing about Jessica Jones as though she was a real person. Bendis was asked if he should go over and say something, "and I said absolutely not! Nothing will kill that conversation faster than me going over and saying 'you know, I'm the writer of Jessica Jones.'"

Next, Bendis was asked about whether or not he was working with Fox Studios on an X-Men project involving Kitty Pryde, and if he could talk about it.

"Nope. I get gigs and I have a very cool Fox gig, and it is X-Men related, but beyond that it is people just guessing and telling me their guesses, and asking me if it is true, and that is hilarious to me. I view it as Rorschach test that tells me so much about people through their guessing about what it is about… and I can't say anything because Fox paid me not to say anything, and it is early, way too early, and almost inappropriate to talk about it. But it is cool and it is very ironic I leave Marvel and then two weeks later I get a gig working on a Marvel movie. I giggle about it every day."

The next person in line asked about the challenges of turning Dr. Doom, "the BIG bad guy" into a hero in Invincible Iron Man. "Is there more you wish you could have done with him?" Bendis dragged his feet in finishing issue 600 of Invincible Iron Man because he didn't want it to end, but the last pages have been submitted and fans will get to see where he wanted Doom to go.

"I wanted to do the idea first in a video game, and have the bad guy crawl out of the hole [of being bad] and could at any moment fall back down the hole but kept at it. So I wondered, who is the biggest bad you could do that with, and who is bigger than Victor? I was genuinely surprised that people really wanted to see if Victor could do it. You'll find out where Victor is going in #600 and it is where I wanted him to go and what I pitched, verbatim."

An X-Men fan next took the mic and praised Bendis's run on the franchise, but found most X-Men stories are hit or miss, and he wondered why that is. "What makes it so infamous?" Bendis interrupted the question, and as the fan finished Bendis quickly clarified many of the issues as he sees it with writing the X-Men.

"Everyone has their favorite X-Men. And what is a hit for you may be a huge miss for someone else. Also, the X-Men universe is as dense and complex as the entire Marvel Universe is separate from the X-Men. The strengths of the franchise are they have a lot of strong characters and the themes of it mean a lot to a lot of people from all different walks of life. Some people want it all to be about what the X-Men are about [alienation, difference], and some people want it all to be about action."

Bendis was then asked about the popular debate surrounding whether Clark Kent is the reality and Superman is the illusion or vice versa.

"I like that Tarantino monologue [from Kill Bill Volume 2] as well, and it isn't just Superman, but you can think of other characters that have created a 'persona'. I don't think of it so much as he created a bumbling persona in Clark, but I find it fascinating that out of all the things in the world he could do, he chooses to be a reporter. He didn't have to have a secret identity. I think the reason he chose reporter is because he can fight injustice, and that isn't something Superman can really do. Superman can get a lot done — but revealing the truth? That's Clark's job. He has a need to be an investigator and a writer, and that's something we are really going to dive into."

In looking more at Superman, Bendis compared his initial thoughts to Spider-Man and Peter Parker and that he has a theme — "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" — and that's a theme you can write about forever. With Superman it is "Truth, Justice and the American way." Bendis says:

"We've heard it forever, almost to the point it sound corny. Truth is not a thing today that everyone sees the same. Truth is under siege in our society today. People get on TV all the time and say things all the time that aren't true, and they just keep staring at you until you agree they are true but they aren't true. Justice — we see it every day on video. Justice is not the same for everyone; it is not being handed out to everybody. The American dream, that is also under siege. These things that seemed cliché just five years ago are now damn well worth fighting for, and we need Superman to help us fight for them, and that's what I want to focus on."

The following questions related to the Ultimate Universe, and the first was, why make Reed Richards in the Ultimate Universe a villain? Bendis said it went back to when he and Mark Millar were first doing Ultimate Fantastic Four.

"You look at all those elements and it's like … well, it could have gone either way… and that would be interesting for Reed to try [being a hero], blow it, and then go the other way, and Marvel went for it. Reed is also one of those characters who isn't Spider-Man. Like you never hear anyone say, 'I don't like Spider-Man', he's beloved, but Reed is one of those characters who not everyone likes him."

So why did Bendis decide to bring back Ultimate Peter Parker? He smiled and simply answered:

"Because I missed him. I know it's frustrating for some, but now that I might never write Spider-Man again I'm glad I put all the toys back in the box. Because if there is a time where the Ultimate Universe might return to the spotlight — please, Joe, do that — then everything will be set up for a new creator to start with the same opportunities I was given."

The next person to the mic wanted "to start with something positive." Bendis chimed in, "You can stop there too," to laughs from the crowd. The fan added in that the first comic he ever bought was Siege #1 and Bendis was the guide on his journey into comics, and he wanted to thank him. Bendis chimed in again, to laughs, "I'm sorry for that. I feel like I ruined you." The laughs continued as the fan said his question was not meant to be negative, but he wanted to know when we were going to see Angela again. Noting that he didn't want to ruin other creators' future stories, Bendis replied, "Many fans are worried about Lois Lane because I write stories where people break up, and I just have to answer that stories are coming that will answer those questions." Bendis followed up saying that there are writers set up for all his characters, though with Defenders he said he needs to let Marvel make their own announcements.

"I need to clarify that when I got sick, Marvel acted like I had never quit and acted like I was their friend and did nothing but help. They treated me like family, and my need to do right by them and not spoil stories and treat them right is overwhelming. Not only have I heard who is taking over these characters, I'm thrilled with the choices and I've gotten to speak to them, and the only thing I can say is that they are coming up with ideas I would never have thought of."

After that my son and I finally made it to the mic, and instead of asking his question, my son took the mic and like a promoter announced: "My father has a question he is going to ask you for me." Bendis very loudly chuckled to this, asking him, "Are you like his hype man? Is this the best question ever?" I asked for my son about doing Marvel/DC crossovers, to which Bendis smiled, saying, "Hell yeah, I want to do them."

"Do you want to wait for a while until you create some DC characters of your own, so your babies can interact with your babies?"

This addition caught Bendis for a second and he said:

"Well, all I can say is this: I've wanted to get a Batman/Daredevil crossover going since 2002. If this massive move of my career was trying to get that to happen — it's pretty badass of me. But honestly, there is no DC/Marvel crossover on the horizon, and to suggest so would be remiss of me. Should there be one, though? Absolutely. Do I want to do it? Absolutely. Should it be a massive crossover that goes from the streets of Hell's Kitchen to Gotham to the Fourth World and to the Guardians of the Galaxy? It would be cool, and I love all those crossovers. I mean, the answer is no today, but you never know — tomorrow we could get the call and it could be yes. It would be so cool because the DC Universe and Marvel Universes have never been more different than right now."

"Did you get that rider put in your contract that you get to write [such a crossover]?"

"You don't think I tried?" Bendis laughed. "The truth of the matter is that right now for Disney and Warner Bros., there is nothing in it for them."

Having the question answered, my son then began to say that he remembered cosplaying and Bendis's own kids, to which Bendis added, "My kids are here today, well, half of them…"

"You cut them in half?"

"Easier to travel with them that way."

Following our exit back to our seats, the next gentlemen to the microphone asked for a reason why someone who has never bought a Superman comic should buy a Superman comic. Bendis said that his Superman books will be heartfelt, exciting, beautiful, and that it is all written and being drawn right now.

"It is not a reboot — we are picking up right where the last creators left off. Dan Jurgens has been insanely gracious and cool with me, and I'm working with Patrick Gleason on Action Comics. Peter Tomasi has been doing awesome work. We'll be continuing the story that's being told, but what we think is a great, fresh place to pick up the book."

How does Bendis deal with writer's block, and is it easier when you are successful?

"Writer's block happens even when you have a huge deal with a publisher — but it is a psychological thing that means something is wrong and you need to address it, and often just addressing it can lead to being fixed. If you have writer's block, just write about that — that gets the juices going and is a step in the right direction. I have a very simple philosophy as a writer: write something you would buy."

The next person to the mic did not have a question but a story he wanted to share about how he first heard of Brian Michael Bendis. He had been at an ECCC years ago, back when it was still held at Quest Field, and it was his first comic convention. Passing by Bendis near the end of the show, the fan's friend turned to him and said, "Do you know who that is? That is Brian Michael Bendis!" The gentleman at the mic said that then he had no idea who that was then, and his friend exclaimed to him, "He could kill you right now and no one would call the police!" The fan said that since that day, the name Brian Michael Bendis has "struck a note of respect and fear" in him as a fan, and he thanked Bendis for all his work.

"And not killing you?" Bendis chimed in, bringing a smile to my son's face.

Bendis added, "Thank you for that story. It is rare I hear of my presence putting fear in people; most people just respond, 'I could take him.'"

Laughs out of the way for the next question: now that Bendis was writing Superman, who does he view as DC's Luke Cage? Who is a character he wants to bring up in terms of being well known and liked?  "You'll find out in my imprint. My imprint is all the Luke Cages of DC Comics." Bendis continued he was surprised how much he liked writing Green Lantern, who will be in Man of Steel, along with Batman and Wonder Woman. He continued, "I literally wrote in the script, 'I just wrote my first Batman dialogue.' So ask me again in a year and I'll probably have a different answer, but so far the answer is Green Lantern."

The final question of the panel came from a woman who Bendis challenged to come up with a question "that encompasses the whole convention experience and brings us together as a community." Undaunted, she asked about the challenges of writing in Superman, in that most fans believe that Superman is only worth reading when written by the right author, and as the next author what excites him about writing Superman. Bendis replied:

"Simple answer is he represents hope. He represents, without wavering, a hopeful future. Few people in pop culture are willing to stand there and say 'it's going to be okay and we'll get through this together and I got your back.' And in the real world wouldn't it be nice to have some people like that?"

He wrapped up his thoughts on Superman by adding that writing the character makes him feel good.

"I relate to it far more than I thought I would. I'm a father and I didn't know … how amazing I'd look in blue tights. There is also something so amazing about writing a character, and I had this with Spider-Man, that means so much to so many people. It's quite an honor to be given the baton and run as long as I can."

With that, Bendis thanked the fans and wished them well, bringing applause to the room. As the panel emptied we approached the stage, and while trying to depart Bendis was kind enough to take a minute and engage with my son one-on-one.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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