Brian Bendis: All That and a Bag of Tricks – Part 6

DT: OK. Let’s stick with Marvel for a moment. You just started Alias. That’s the first “mature readers” book for Marvel, there was a lot of attention going into that one. What was it that you felt you had to say in that book that you couldn’t say in Powers or one of your self-contained crime stories?

BB: Well, Powers is a homicide detective series. The only thing that’s similar between the two books is that they’re both juxtapositions of the superhero world and the crime world. Sort of a street level look at superheroes. There’s inherent differences, the first one being that Powers is a homicide book, that treats the superheroes almost like a VH-1 Behind the Music look at celebrities. If the world really had superheroes they’d be like rock stars, they’d have their groupies and scandals and one hit wonders and such. Whereas in Alias what we’re talking about is the big iconic superheroes of the Marvel Universe, like Captain American and Spider-Man. You know, the big winners of the Marvel Universe, the successful superheroes. Then there’s a great many hundreds, if you will, of characters in the Marvel Universe who didn’t succeed, they sort came in and out or were only fashionable for a certain time, like all those really embarrassing 80s and 70s characters. What I wanted to do was tell the story of the queen of those characters. She is the queen of the unsuccessful superhero. What her world would be like. And just because you get the powers, doesn’t mean that you should put on a costume. They’re very different themes, very clearly different themes. One’s about identity, the other’s about celebrity.

I knew that for Alias, that it taking place in the Marvel Universe made it a lot more potent, because there’s a shared knowledge of the Marvel Universe that I think the exploration of makes it very interesting to people who have read comics for a long time. And for people who don’t know, it’s just an interesting take on the genre that hasn’t been accomplished yet. I’m extremely proud of it and I’m extremely happy with the response to it. It was controversial only because . . . I don’t know why, actually, because there’s nothing in that book I haven’t done in my other books as far as language or content goes. But because of where it was being published, it took on kind of a life of its own and the printer refused to print it, and it was just weird to me. But as far as the book coming out and people’s response to it, it was fun. It’s also fun to piss people off, it’s fun when people get angry. At least it’s a reaction. Ambivalence is upsetting. It’s when people go “I’m outraged!” that, you know, well, that’s funny.

And I’m in love with the character. I’m absolutely in love with her. She’s fascinating to me.

DT: What is it about the character that has you that excited?

BB: Because she’s not a loser, and she thinks she is, and she’s gonna figure it out. And that’s gonna be great. You know, you have friends, you wish they’d get their shit together because they have so much to offer. People in your life, you go, “Pull it together man, you can do this,” and they do, and you’re like, “Oh, you’re awesome,” you know what I mean? And she’s the underdog, she just doesn’t know it. She’s full of self-hatred and I am as well and I like to explore that in writing. I’m just a big fan of this kind of writing.

DT: If she’s gonna figure it out, if she’s not always gonna look at herself as being downtrodden —

BB: That’s a funny thing about comics, she’s downtrodden in the first issue and some people think it’s just gonna be a book about a downtrodden person. No, this is where she’s starting.

DT: So there’s somewhere you’re going with the character.

BB: Absolutely.

DT: What are the challenges of writing a character who is a little bit more together, doesn’t have as many obvious internal conflicts?

BB: That’s I guess why I was a Marvel kid when I was younger — see how I brought that around for you? — I liked that Spider-Man had a lot of problems, that’s why I loved him so much. The DC characters, you know Superman didn’t really have any problems. Spider-Man’s got all kinds of problems, even trying to find a way to clean his costume. Stan Lee was kind of a genius about that stuff. This is, I guess, not the next generation, but here we are a couple generations later exploring the same things in as realistic a way as we can get, just like he did. He got as realistic as he could get with Spider-Man with his problems, and in Alias we can keep going that way, and you know, here’s a person with powers and she really wasn’t good at being a superhero, so what can she do, what can she accomplish? What’s her day gonna be like? What’s a day like for someone that’s got superpowers and doesn’t really have a way to use them? It’s interesting

DT: Another thing that seems interesting is that you’re talking about these characters that have problems, but you’re also talking about at some point they’re not gonna solve all of them but they’re gonna solve some of them, they’re gonna make some kind of progress.

BB: It’s just like when you watch your friends, it’s just like . . . I hate to say, it’s just like real life. Some things get resolved quickly, other things take a lot of time, sometimes you resolve it and then fuck it up again. Sometimes you discover things about yourself that you thought were true and you find out they’re false.

DT: Because it seems like a lot of fans focus on the angst as that being the be-all and end-all of a character and character development.

BB: That’s because a lot of comics, they don’t change from issue to issue because people don’t want them to. You want the Fantastic Four to be that way every single issue. But with books like Alias, for me the challenge is to upset that norm, and it’s a challenge as a writer. These gigs that I’ve taken are all immense challenges to me as a person, that’s why I took them. The decision making process here goes along the lines of well, what can I do here that I haven’t seen done, or what can I do here that I have something to say.