So while I was off talking about Books With Words In Them, big news hit the funnybook world: Brian Michael Bendis has announced that he’s leaving Marvel Comics for DC. Now, this is not the sort of thing we talk much about here on the nerd farm, but it’s big enough news that I can’t help but speculate on it a little. So let’s start with the one Bendis book I’m still reading, and use that as a guideline to talk about where he might be going next…
Jessica Jones 13 & 14
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
So here’s the thing about this book: I often think that I’m reading it mostly out of my love for Alias, the series that introduced Jessica Jones, by the same creative team, back before Bendis burned out.
And he IS burned out, I think. DEEPLY burned out. SO burned out that I’m not even sure he himself realizes it. A lot of what I read from him these days (and I do sample most of his new stuff) is pretty half-assed. His dialogue gets lost in its own cleverness. He doesn’t plot so much as he just makes things happen in a sequence. Those things might make sense in relation to each other, or they might not. He introduces themes and big ideas that seem to be going somewhere, then either doesn’t return to them, or (worse) tosses them over in favor of something less interesting. I don’t know if he’s gotten careless, or if he’s just so distracted by the sheer volume of stuff he’s writing that he can’t keep up with it all anymore. But whatever the root cause is, it makes his work extremely frustrating.
That’s less true of Jessica Jones than it is of anything else I’ve read from him in recent memory, which is why I’m still with it 14 issues in. It’s still far from prime Bendis, but in spite of the disjointed plotting and not-as-clever-as-it-used-to-be dialogue, I feel like he actually cares about this book. It’s just ever-so-slightly less tossed-off, and that is enough to carry it. So when he hits the stunning reveal (and he’s still great at the stunning reveal), it has punch, and that punch reminds me of how great he used to be.
That’s what happens in the cliffhanger between issues 13 and 14, where we learn that the Purple Man has taken control of Jessica’s daughter…
…and it is fucking devastating.
Never mind that his powers don’t really work like that. He can make people do what he wants them to do. He can’t remote control them, and speak through their mouths in real time. But that doesn’t matter. The FREAKING Purple Man… the guy who had Jessica Jones under his control for YEARS… …making her LOVE him but REFUSING TO TOUCH her… the guy who’s the cause of all her INSECURITIES and TRUST ISSUES and whatever else is wrong with this VERY MESSED UP woman… has taken over her baby daughter! And that is TERRIFYING. That is the kind of holy shit moment that made Powers so very good in its heyday. That is why I used to love Brian Bendis so damn much. And it’s great to be reminded of it.
So what does that say about his future plans at DC? Potentially, it says something good. The change of scenery may re-energize him. Suddenly, he’s got a whole different universe of characters to write, characters he’s never gotten a shot at before. And he’s got a whole different editorial culture to adapt to. He may have to change how he does things, and that in turn may break him out of the storytelling rut he’s fallen into.
Now, ideally… He’d take some time off first. Six months, maybe, or (even better) a year. Really recharge his batteries. But I doubt that’s going to happen. He’s a working funnybook writer, with a vested interest in keeping his name in front of the audience. So I’m sure he’ll finish up his Marvel deal, and launch head-first into the DC one without too much of a break. He might surprise me, but… We’ll see. Of course, that leads us to the really fun question:
What’s he gonna be writing?
The natural first thought is Batman.
Bendis is at his best as a writer of street-level crime stuff, and that’s a take on Batman we haven’t really gotten much of in recent years. Plus, he’s already said, over and over again, that Batman is a character he really wants to write. So it’s a no-brainer. Except that Batman is currently in the middle of a long and, from all accounts, quite successful run from Tom King, and I’d be surprised to see DC boot him off the book before he’s done with it.
So maybe Batman’s more of a back-burner project for Bendis. Something he can take some time to plan, and wait his turn. What does he do in the meantime? Some have suggested that he might do a great turn on Nightwing, and I have to agree. In Bendis’ hands, that book could be equal parts Spider-Man and Daredevil. And if he really got into the idea, he could give Dick Grayson something no one’s quite been able to give him before: a real identity separate from Batman.
Alternately, Bendis could helm one hell of a Gotham Central revival. I mean, the police procedural in a super hero universe is kind of his original stock in trade. Hell, when Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker launched the original series, they gave Bendis a heads-up that they were going to be playing in the field he plowed. And while I doubt a Bendis-scripted Gotham Central could ever quite reach the heights of Powers…
…I do think it’s something he could have a lot of fun with.
But all of that’s still Batman-adjacent. And they might want to keep him away from Gotham until he takes it over completely. Likewise, characters like Green Arrow or The Question might seem a good fit, but they’re also a bit… Batmanny? …and thus something they want to keep him away from for the time being. Considering his love of funky 1970s characters, Black Lightning might work. But they might not want to start Bendis off with a character that (in spite of how cool he is) has always been a C-Lister. So what else seems like a good fit? Well… Considering his success on Avengers…
I suppose it might make sense to put him on Justice League. It would give him a chance to put his roots down deep, writing all the DC flagship characters and charting the course of a book that maybe should, but seldom has, been at the center of DC continuity. I really hope they don’t do that, though. For one thing, it’s too obvious. But more importantly, Bendis is not at his best on team books. There’s too many characters to do much in the way of real development, so it turns into a series of conversations taking place around boring super-fights that go nowhere. I can only see his take on the JLA being a train wreck.
So what does he do, then? You want to start him with an A-Lister, I’d think, to justify the salary he’ll no doubt be commanding. But he’s not great at writing clever super-power-based stuff, so I’d say that the Flash was probably out. Green Lantern calls for a certain level of interest in playing with the hero’s powers, too, so he’s probably not a good fit there, either (though I would laugh my ass off if a Bendis-written Green Lantern went full Silver Age, and just started hitting people over the head with giant green fists again). He also seems like a bad fit for Wonder Woman, and all the grand mythological stuff that comes with her.
That leaves us with just one real DC A-Lister, I suppose:
I know, I know… But think about it for a minute. Every great adaptation of Superman has gotten one thing right that the comics seldom if ever do: the life of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent at that great metropolitan newspaper The Daily Planet. And what does Bendis write almost as well as police departments? Newspaper offices. He’s also pretty great at writing fast-talking city slickers with an outer edge of cynicism and a steadfast inner dedication to truth and/or justice. And, in 17 years of Spider-Man stories, he’s also proven himself adept at writing regular guys who just want to do the right thing.
All of those qualities, I think, would make him a good Superman writer. One of the problems people always say they have with the character is how hard he is to relate to. But Bendis, taking a very grounded approach based around the reporting life, might be able to fix that.
The super-heroic side of things might be a good fit for Bendis, as well. The Superman power set, while vastly powerful, is actually kind of simple. He’s real strong and real tough, he can fly and see through walls, and he shoots lasers out of his eyes. Those are the basics, and since (let’s face it) Bendis super-fights usually come down to people punching things or shooting lasers at them… That kinda works.
So… yeah. If Bendis were to set his mind to it, I’d love to see him tackle Superman. If he cares about it. And if he can shed some of the bad habits he’s picked up in recent years. I’m not holding my breath for that, mind you. But I am hopeful, and my fingers remain crossed.