Alternate Title: Who is this Brian Michael Bendis?
I have been exploring a lot of comics lately, and have been doing reviews here on the blog. Comics like Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, New Avengers, All New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men… and I keep running into one name. One creator.
Brian Michael Bendis.
When I saw his name randomly scroll past during the credits of the movie The Avengers, as a consultant, I knew I had to write a post a bit about him. And this made the most sense in terms of Marvel’s current marketing campaign, Marvel Now! So, note I have not necessarily done any research here, this is just my observations.
The Heroic Age
I have mentioned before that I read comics when I was younger, and I got right up until about Onslaught. In this storyline, to defeat the villain, the non-mutant heroes basically all die. It’s actually a pretty good stopping place, I suppose. If you keep going, they of course all end up alive again. So that happened.
I kept a little bit in touch with comics in the intervening time, or Amazon wish-listed some comics that seemed interesting. I read Ultimate X-Men, which was outside of the full Marvel continuity. And I’ve looked back at some of the things I missed.
So I know there was a Civil War and hero registration, know there was the House of M and the end of most of the mutants; things like this. And then, I got back into comics right before Marvel Now! really started, reading Uncanny X-Force before it ended.
In between, there was what they called the “Heroic Age,” which, most ages don’t get to name themselves when they start, but get a name afterwards instead. Clearly an attempt to invoke the ideas of the gold, silver, or even bronze age of comics, this seems like a marketing ploy.
I found this recently in a comic title reboot, by Brian Michael Bendis: Avengers (Vol. 4) #1. They had it on sale! I actually picked up collections one and two from this volume.
What I saw was amazing: the setup for Kang traveling through time, preparing to outwit everyone; the setup for the Age of Ultron (soon to be a major motion picture?); and then a story I had been missing about the New Avengers Illuminati and the Infinity Gems. The Illuminati, which I had gotten into by reading… oh wait! You guessed it, a five-comic story by Brian Michael Bendis.
When you add in that Brian Michael Bendis wrote most of the House of M story (which I read recently), he sure seems like he set up a lot of the plots that are currently going in the Marvel universe.
But it was the Heroic Age. It seems to me that this was a failed attempt at a reboot era. Then you have DC, who went and created the New 52, and got all kinds of press for doing so. For their reboot, Marvel had to go bigger than the Heroic Age.
Marvel Now! is Marvel’s current marketing campaign, and has led to a reboot in almost all of their comic lines. Long-run, storied titles like Amazing Spider-Man have come to an end, and it even looks like Journey into Mystery, maybe not a core title, is ending in the 600s.
However, shorter runs rebooted too: many of the titles which had rebooted in the recent years, in the Heroic Age, rebooted again. Titles like Uncanny X-Men, which had been long-run and were then rebooted, started back at issue 1.
This was a very different reboot than DC. For the New 52, they were back to square one, to origin stories. Marvel already had new continuities going with their Ultimate line of comics, which were re-tellings in the modern age. Instead, the Marvel reboots are more cosmetic and logistical: the comic resets to issue #1, and the team of heroes potentially rebuilds itself or has a new roster. The idea is that you can start at this point, and not need to know much of what came before.
As Marvel Now! came out of last summer’s Avengers vs. X-Men, maybe all that’s needed to be known to get into these comics is the general idea of who the heroes are, and maybe that AvX happened. Or really, just the fallout. Or really, just that Professor X dies. Because really, that’s most of what I know. The rest they basically take it upon themselves to tell you.
So I didn’t feel like I have been missing much. I Google the occasional hero or villain to figure out who they are, or if I missed something. One of the things I love about Jonathan Hickman is that a lot of his characters are new creations, so he has new things going on. His Marvel Now! books are a treat – check out Avengers and New Avengers.
But as I look at the work of Brian Michael Bendis, and as I look at the plots in the comics I have been reading with Marvel Now! I am realizing what a big hand he has had in all of this. Even as the writers take the setup they have been provided, and go their own way with it, he still provided the foundation.
For instance, the conflict itself in Avengers vs. X-Men comes out of the effects of the House of M, and the near extinction of the mutant race. From their, they become insular, defensive, and when given the chance, try to bring mutants back – which is one of the results of AvX. Meaning there is need for teams to be putting together groups of new mutants. Great way to invent and add new characters with no baggage, perfect for new readers in a reboot, sure: Here we have the new Uncanny X-Men, and one of the few slightly ongoing titles (still pretty young), Wolverine and the X-Men.
However, this long trajectory has Cyclops becoming mildly villainous, and to conflict this, Beast brought the young X-Men to the present with time travel – thus, the All New X-Men. Both All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men are currently being written by Brian Michael Bendis. In All New X-Men, he has created a reboot title without rebooting: the original X-Men, in the modern world, as part of the existing continuity. Kind of brillliant. In Uncanny X-Men, meanwhile, we both are getting to explore the idea of the Magneto-like Cyclops, and introduce new young mutants to potentially be the main characters of the future. Brian Michael Bendis did a lot of past writing in titles like New Avengers, with other young heroes being introduced and explored. Setting up characters for others to run with in the future. Planting seeds.
Then, in Uncanny Avengers, we have a plot that first came out of the death of Xavier: mutants and humans working together, against a human enemy who wants to kill mutants (a clone of the Red Skull), who is then going to come back far worse. The threats of what he could do, so far, have been worse than what he’s done, and we’ll see where this title goes. But then, the second storyline is one that writer Rick Remender brought with him out of Uncanny X-Force, combined with one straight out of Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers. Kang, traveling through time, fighting the powerful and taking them down. I guess this has always been Kang’s thing, but come on, it’s right there. It doesn’t need to be; you can read this title on its own without knowing the rest, but it actually builds on known things more than some others in Marvel Now!
And then in the current New Avengers, there’s the character group of the Illuminati, created and set up by Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis gave them the Infinity Gauntlet, and all of the Gems. Ultimate power. Writer Jonathan Hickman takes this away from them rather quickly, and does his own thing with the story – but he’s still building entirely on a team created by Brian Michael Bendis. Again, you don’t really need to have read any of the past Illuminati stories to understand this group – it is enough to accept that they exist. But knowing now that they were pulled together years ago – and ret-conned into most of Marvel’s past – is intriguing.
I guess my point is, Marvel Now! seems like it is pouring out of Brian Michael Bendis’ mind. That he at least is heading it up, setting it up. But then, look at this:
This is from the first collection of Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers. And it’s a storyboard for the big events and stories in the years to come, like the return of Hope, Fear Itself, even what is listed as “Yesterday’s X-Men” towards the end. This is the map of the Heroic Age, leading right up into Marvel Now! How long has Brian Michael Bendis been steering the boat?
So, I think I have settled into the comics I am reading. They’ve given them all some time, some life. And now it’s time for major crossover events.
One is Infinity, which I talked about recently. This is pulling together most of the Avengers titles, and has so far been a lot of fun. Jonathan Hickman, in particular, is treating it as a cinematic sort of story. The characters page at the beginning of each comic is listed as the “Cast,” and there are chapter titles as it moves through the story. There’s even this great map for following along in order:
The other event, then, is Battle of the Atom – a big X-Men crossover for the X-Men 50th anniversary. 50 years of X-Men and Doctor Who – good years. The crossover will be including X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, All New X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men. All of which I have been trying out and reading. Two of which are by Brian Michael Bendis. Also with a handy graphic for the comics order:
I don’t know which of these I will keep reading after the Battle of the Atom, we’ll see. Probably Wolverine and the X-Men, but maybe only that and X-Men. We’ll see if they capture my attention with the rest.
Because while Brian Michael Bendis has some interesting ideas, he seems to be more creative in the marketing sort of way: characters and groupings that can be used, setting up plots like safe houses along the way, planning out years of continuity and holding things together. His job is to seed the new comics, then hand over the reigns to someone else. Something that looks like happened with the title Avengers Assemble, for instance.
But then, that means the interesting work is being done by the people who are taking up the reigns Brian Michael Bendis is leaving behind: people like Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender. And then doing what they want with them.
A Brian Michael Bendis sort of crossover event was the Age of Ultron: set up years ago, waiting to be needed. Happening outside of the normal continuity, so you can do what you want with limited consequences, but then each of those consequences tend to spawn a new comic title. So, kind of like House of M.
Then you take a crossover like Infinity: new villain, new heroes to face them, the peoples of the Marvel Universe reacting in new ways, different from before, and matching the level of the threat they face. Here, our heroes aren’t even really the front line folks. Except, the real front-row is Earth… as they fight a war on two fronts. And Thanos is showing up to knock on their door. The new, the old, logical consequences, some things set up, some spontaneous… this I like. This is good. This is fun. And rather than ending things and spawning new things, it’s only a middle.
So as a closing thought, I have been reading a lot of Marvel, commenting on a lot of Marvel, blogging a lot about Marvel. I have tried out a lot of Marvel Now! and have found some titles to keep reading. From here, I think I am going to venture out, into independent comics, and onward into DC. Holly’s post asking what comics to read is some of where I am starting as well – but if you have some suggestions on new comics, or comments on Marvel Now! leave those comments and suggestions below!