Defending Bendis

6.21.10BrianMichaelBendisByLuigiNovi1.jpgSo I received a cool email offer from the online comic book superstore Things From Another World (also known as the place that sucks up my money) yesterday. In honor of Brian Michael Bendis‘ upcoming birthday, now through the 19th,  they’re offering  25% off on anything he’s written; as someone who receives emails from them, I also got an additional $5 off.

I’m not sure what, if anything, I’ll buy (have to buy textbooks soon after all) but the thought came to me that a lot of comics-reading folks over the past decade have come to hate the guy and well…I don’t.

OK: let’s back up. For the unfamiliar, Brian Michael Bendis is a writer who, after making it big with his noir-style crime comics like Powers, was hired by Marvel in 2000 to write the then-new Ultimate Spider-Man, the flagship book of the publisher’s Ultimate line which reimagined the characters as just starting out in the modern day. The book–which Bendis continues to write to this day–was so successful and acclaimed that Marvel has gradually let Bendis become one of the primary architects of the regular Marvel Universe, letting him write big, universe-altering crossovers like House of M and Secret Invasion while also expanding the Avengers line of comics and now currently working on the X-Men.

But as Bendis’ star has risen, his shine has dimmed. Oh make no mistake, he continues to be a big seller. But the fans have by and large turned against him, citing things like how he blew up the established Avengers team, replacing them with favorite characters of his like Spider-Woman and how he indulges in a style of decompressed writing more suited to reading in trade paperback form rather than in single issue, as failings.

While I get a fair number of these criticisms (seriously, Spider-Woman is an ill-conceived character), I can’t really find fault in his writing style. Granted, some of this comes out of nostalgia–Ultimate Spider-Man was the first comic I ever subscribed to, and I’ve described before how the first issue changed my life–but honestly, decompression (which, just to clarify, is a type of comic storytelling characterized by emphasizing visuals or character interaction, thus stretching or “decompressing” the plot) would have become the norm in comics whether Bendis had come around or not. And yes, Bendis may have had a disporportionate affect on other writers and not everyone can copy his style.

But honestly, that style of writing really holds up well and can be very effective. For example, in Peter Parker’s origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15, Uncle Ben is only visible in 2 panels, barely a presence, and his death is affecting, but it is nothing more than a story beat. When Bendis started Ultimate Spider-Man, he took the original story–which is only 11 pages–and stretched it out for seven issues. This gave Uncle Ben a much bigger role and allowed us to get to know him better as a character; thus, when his death happened, it had some resonant impact because somebody we had grown to like suddenly taken away.

An even better example might be Bendis’ years-long run on Daredevil, which sees the superhero get involved in slow-burning plots that slowly become bigger, all-encompassing and threatening, as well as picking up strands previous writers left off, giving the feel of a well-crafted detective drama (the moody, stylish art of Alex Maleev helps sell this) and actually ends with Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s secret identity) put in prison alongside his worst enemy, the Kingpin. That’s a hell of a ride and the way Bendis paces his plotting, you get that same feeling of tension and suspense you do from reading, say, Raymond Chandler.

Don’t get me wrong; Bendis ain’t perfect. There’s some stuff in USM–at least what I’ve read–that doesn’t click, and his preference for certain characters is a real detriment sometimes (seriously, Spider-Woman?). But at the end of the day, this is a guy who is crafting some of the craftiest, slickest, most well-constructed superhero comics out there. And in a genre that gets beaten down by dang near everyone as stupid or naive in some way the moment puberty happens, that’s no small feat.

Also, quick fun fact: Jason Aaron, a current favorite at Marvel who’s written for Ghost Rider and Wolverine as well as the Native American murder drama book Scalped for Vertigo, has told the story here and elsewhere about how, in order to afford his first date with his now-wife, he sold his entire USM collection on Ebay.

So happy birthday, Mr. Bendis, whenever that may be. I look forward to reading stuff with your byline on it for years to come.




As I’m sure I’ve mentioned time and time again around here, I love cartoons. And this new year has given me even more reason to love them.

See, for Christmas, one of my friends gave me access to his Netflix account as my present (I know, right?) and I’ve been watching–and plan to watch–some shows I’ve wanted to check out for a long time.

Mostly, I’ve been watching the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon that aired on Disney XD this spring. And unlike the vast majority of adult nerds, I like it a lot!


As I said in my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Ultimate Spidey comic was one of the defining things I read in my youth. That comic’s writer, Brian Michael Bendis, who’s still writing that book to this day, incidentally, is actually a writer and executive producer for this show, working with Paul Dini (the Batman: The Animated Series writer who made Mr. Freeze not lame anymore) and the writing team Man of Action (Steven T. Seagle, Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, and Duncan Rouleau, all comic book writers too, but best known for creating the Ben 10 franchise). Drake Bell-former Nickelodeon staple on The Amanda Show and Drake & Josh–is the voice of Spidey, Chi McBride—yes, that guy–is Nick Fury and a whole bunch of other voice actors are a whole bunch of other Marvel characters.

The two things that separate this show from its source material are that 1. It’s less about Spidey working solo than it is about him learning about superherodom under Fury’s guidance with a team of other teenaged Marvel heroes: White Tiger, Iron Fist, Luke “Power Man” Cage and Nova. 2. The show is humor-oriented with wacky gags, fast jokes and little cutaways featuring chibi versions of the characters. As to the first, I think that’s a smart idea, as it helps teach kids about teamwork while working in lesser-known Marvel characters (that’s Greg “Beast Boy from Teen Titans” Cipes as Iron Fist, BTW). As for the second, while cutaway humor annoys the living crap out of me on shows like Family Guy, here, the jokes are relevant to the situation and aren’t just a random gag showing how the writers ran out of story for this particular beat. Plus, it’s also true to the spirit of Spidey’s character: his propensity for wisecracking is his signature shtick and it’s part of what’s made him so identifiable to audiences. So I say, ignore the naysayers and give it a watch.

The other show I’ve been catching up on is decidedly more serious. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has gone through 2 seasons already and is now discontinued, although it will apparently return under the name Avengers Assemble this year. While this obviously stinks for fans, it’s good for me because now I get a chance to catch up on the whole story.


This show is structured a bit differently from most. See, in order to generate more advance publicity, what Disney and Marvel Television decided to do was to break up the episodes of the first season into 5-minute microsodes and put them online, then reedit them together for broadcast. It’s a savvy move, to be sure, and probably indicative of what broadcast TV might have to do in the future, but it also has the side effect of making these early episodes (to me anyway) feel a bit disjointed.

Essentially, the structure of the show is similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: showing us the individual characters on their own before bringing them together as a team. However, this isn’t just origin stories all over again, which is refreshing and there’s also a great amount of interconnectivity here: Wolvering is part of Captain America’s WWII unit, the Fighting Commandos, Hawkeye and Black Widow work for S.H.I.E.L.D.–with the Widow being a double agent for H.Y.D.R.A.–and Iron Man is already well established. The show’s clear, focused writing–courtesy of veteran Marvel writer Christopher Yost and others–and stellar voice cast help cement it; while the animation isn’t the greatest, it’s still thrilling at its best.

So that’s what I’ve been watching on Netflix but meanwhile, on real TV, what’s quite possibly the best cartoon out there, Young Justice, has finally come back and oh man, was it worth the wait.


For the unfamiliar, about 9 episodes into its second season (subtitled Invasion because an alien invasion is what the team is dealing with right now), the show–and the weekend DC Nation block it’s a part of–was unexpectedly pulled from Cartoon Network’s schedule with absolutely no one, not even the creators, knowing why. But now, it’s been back for a couple of weeks and it’s better than ever. Brandon Vietti and Greg Wiseman (yes, the Gargoyles guy) are excellent show runners and what they put their characters through is exciting and suspenseful. Mix that with terrific writing, a phenomenal voice cast and Emmy-worthy animation and you’ve got one of the best shows around.

Well, that’s all for that. Man, this was fun: if any of you out there have a show, animated or otherwise, that you think I should watch, leave a comment.