Bendis, Brian Michael

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Brian Michael Bendis

Born August 18, 1967 (Cleveland, Ohio)
American author, artist

In his graphic novels and comics, Brian Michael Bendis writes concise, colorful dialogue and conjures up stark, sordid urban environments. However, he is not just interested in creating stories about daring superheroes battling arch criminals. He is concerned with what goes on underneath the skins of his characters. As he explores their inner lives and demons and the personal issues they face, he adds a moral element to his narratives as his characters cope with the responsibilities inherent in being superheroes.

"Comics need outside influences.… It doesn't exist as itself; it's not any type of art or writing. It's not live art or it's not computer art; it's not painting, it's not photography; it's not screenwriting or poetry or prose, it's all these things …"

Even though Bendis has earned his greatest fame for contributing to the revitalization of Spider-Man (in the freshly titled Ultimate Spider-Man), Daredevil, and other well-established Marvel Comics series, not all of his work features already-celebrated comic book icons. In his original creations, he blends characteristics of the superhero format with other popular culture genres: the police story, for example, in Powers, and the true crime story in Torso. He is an avid moviegoer and television-watcher, and he combines a sense of realism with film noir atmosphere (film noir is a style of filmmaking that emphasizes an ominous, dark atmosphere; noir is a French word meaning "black"), pulp fiction dialogue, and the brand of drama found on television police shows. Occasionally, he directly references specific works that grab his imagination. One of his storylines in Daredevil is titled "Decalogue," and is inspired by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue (1988–89), a ten-film epic that employs the Ten Commandments to tell modern stories that explore elements of human existence. Another Daredevil storyline, titled "The Golden Age," is based on Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone's operatic gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984). In reviewing Daredevil Volume 7: Hardcore in 2003, Publishers Weekly noted, "Bendis writes this series as though it is a film; the Kingpin's return and rise to power are straight out of a movie like Scarface" [an acclaimed movie about the rise of a Cuban drug lord played by Al Pacino].

Best-Known Works

Graphic Novels

Goldfish (1998).

The Jinx Essential Collection (1998).

Fire: A Spy Graphic Novel (1999).

(With Marc Andreyko) Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel (2000).

Sam and Twitch, Book 1: Udaku (2000).

Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story (2000).

Powers 8 vols. (2000–05).

Jinx: The Definitive Collection (2001).

Elektra (2002).

Daredevil 9 vols. (2002–04).

Ultimate Spider-Man 13 vols. (2002–05).

Alias 4 vols. (2003–04).

The Pulse 3 vols. (2004–06).

Ultimate X-Men 3 vols. (2004–05).

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 1 (2005).

Secret War: Book One (2005).

What If …?: Why Not, Vol. 1 (2005).

Avengers Disassembled (2005).

The New Avengers 4 vols. (2005–06).

House of M (2006).

In the early 2000s, Bendis emerged as one of the most acclaimed of all comic book/graphic novel writers. In its 2004 review of Ultimate X-Men: Volume 7: Blockbuster, another Bendis updating of a popular Marvel series, Publishers Weekly observed, "Bendis is a pulpy, dialogue-driven writer. Each of his characters has a unique speaking voice, so he manages to deepen multiple characters even as he drives the suspenseful action forward. It's a good mix."

Began writing comic books in grade school

Brian Michael Bendis was born on August 18, 1967, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Like millions of youngsters, he was an avid comic book reader. Even though he began conjuring up his own storylines in third grade, he primarily aspired to draw his own comics. An early hero of Bendis's was comic book artist George Perez (1954–). In a 2000 interview with Alan David Doane, which appears on the Silver Bullet Comics Web site, Bendis recalled that, "to me [Perez] was like a rock star, he's Bruce Springsteen. I'm reading his stuff every week, I'm like, oh my God, I love this, I want to be this guy."

While in his teens, Bendis conjured up his own comic version of the action movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. This exercise enabled him to comprehend the intricacies of creating graphic novels and, specifically, how to construct and pace storylines. Added to the mix was his escalating interest in the crime fiction genre and the movie-going experience. He came to admire filmmaker Martin Scorsese and crime authors Jim Thompson, David Mamet, and Richard Price. "I am absolutely, totally, 100 per cent in love with non-linear story-telling in film and television …," Bendis explained in a 2002 interview with Alex Hamby. "I get chills when I watch it and I wanted to try it in comics."

In the late 1980s, Bendis began studying at Cleveland's Institute of Art. It was an experience he found less than satisfying. At the school, students focused on studying the Renaissance-era artists or the Impressionist and Expressionist movements, and on learning to draw from real life. Bendis's infatuation with comic book art did not correspond with this curriculum, or with the interests of most of his fellow students. In fact, he found that his job as a clerk in a small comic book store was as valuable an experience as studying at the Institute. By observing the customers and how they responded to specific titles, he came to understand the importance of superior storytelling. Flashy art, he came to understand, was not enough to sustain a series.

Began publishing with Caliber and Image

In the early 1990s, Bendis self-published his first comic books with Caliber Press, most memorably five issues of Goldfish, about a sympathetic con man, and eight issues of Jinx which centered on a female bounty hunter. Both were noteworthy for their stark, film-noir-like narratives. Another important Caliber release was Fire, inspired by real-life events in the American spy community during the 1980s, in which a young man is initiated into the world of international espionage. Bendis also wrote and drew a weekly comic strip for his hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Bendis and Hollywood

Bendis's success at Image in the mid- to late 1990s grabbed the attention of the movie industry. "Hollywood came calling," he told interviewer Alan David Doane in 2000, "and I was getting a myriad of bizarre phone calls, and half-offers and interesting notions and eventually actually, Miramax Films did option [my] work, and the process … was fascinating and silly—it was just ridiculous phone calls, and ridiculous meetings, and the whole process got me so many anecdotes. I mean, literally 150 pages worth of cartoon anecdotes. I said, you know, it'd be a waste [not to use] this material.…"

Bendis's experiences resulted in his autobiographical, bitingly satirical Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story, published by Oni Press in 1999. As he charts the plight of a young writer attempting to enter the movie industry, Bendis offers the point of view that the Hollywood powers-that-be have no understanding of a writer's creativity. The quality of a script may directly lead to a film's artistic success or failure, but in the Hollywood of Fortune and Glory writers are callously dis-regarded. To express all this, Bendis filled Fortune and Glory with caricatures, or characters who had exaggerated or distorted features or personality traits.

Observed David Walker in a 2004 profile of Bendis: "He knows more about the art and business of film than most people in the industry, and is quick to analyze what is wrong with most films—especially those adapted from comic books." Still, Bendis's less-than-glowing introduction to Hollywood did not completely sour him on the industry. In 2003, he penned the pilot episode and co-executive-produced the animated television series Spider-Man (also known as Spider-Man: The New Animated Series). In 2005, he reportedly was writing the screenplay for a movie based on Jinx, to star actress Charlize Theron (1975–). Despite these desirable assignments, Bendis has resisted the lure of settling in Hollywood. In 2001, he left Cleveland for Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Alisa, and daughter, Olivia.

Bendis then linked up with Image Comics, where he continued publishing Goldfish, Jinx, and Fire. In 1998, he and fellow comics writer Marc Andreyko created Torso, one of his most unique series. Torso is rooted in a string of real-life murders that occurred in Cleveland during the 1930s; they are viewed as the first examples of serial killings in the United States. The perpetrator was dubbed the Torso Killer because he dismembered the bodies of his victims. At the time, Eliot Ness—a U.S. Treasury Department agent whose exploits fighting organized crime were chronicled on the television series The Untouchables (1959–63)—was employed as the city's public safety commissioner. His role in investigating the slayings intrigued Bendis and Andreyko, who made him the hero of Torso. The true crime subject matter explored in Torso was unusual for the comic book/graphic novel medium, as was the inclusion of photographs mixed in with artwork, an effect Bendis had previously employed in Jinx.

In 1999, Bendis won his first of five (as of 2005) Eisner Awards for creative achievement in comic books. This initial prize was as a "Talent Deserving of Higher Recognition." The following year, he created one final work at Image: Powers, illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming, in which there are numerous individuals endowed with superpowers. Most become media celebrities, but some turn to a life of crime. The villains are pursued by non-superhero police detectives.

In Powers, Bendis surveys the nature and meaning of power. How can human beings know that supermen and superwomen are heroic? How do you distinguish the good guys from the bad, the benevolent powers from those that are destructive? Publishers Weekly noted in 2004 that Powers "explores questions raised decades ago by comic book writers Alan Moore and Frank Miller: how would ordinary citizens feel about sharing their world with people who have superhuman abilities? And what responsibility accompanies extraordinary power?"

Moving on to McFarlane and Marvel

Bendis's work at Image caught the attention of Todd McFarlane (1961–; see entry), comic book publisher and the creator of Spawn. "He just really liked Goldfish," Bendis told Alex Hamby, adding that "he really liked that kind of storytelling and he offered me a couple of projects." Both were Spawn spin-offs: Sam and Twitch, about a pair of homicide detectives, and Hellspawn.

Adding to this success, in 2000 Marvel Comics hired Bendis to update for contemporary audiences two well-established series, Spider-Man and Daredevil. He fashioned what came to be called Ultimate Spider-Man as a prequel to Spider-Man, which was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. In Ultimate Spider-Man, adolescent hero Peter Parker must determine if his newly acquired superpowers will be a shortcut to riches and fame or a means to fight crime. Jeff Jensen, writing in Entertainment Weekly in 2000, observed, "It's not unusual for comic publishers to relaunch classic characters for new readers. What is unusual is for them to be any good. Ultimate Spider-Man is a delightful exception.… Bendis' dialogue and detail are top-notch.… he's spinning one of the most emotionally resonant depictions of teendom in comics since Spider-Man's debut thirty-eight years ago."

Ultimate Spider-Man was a tremendous hit, and it established Bendis at Marvel. His follow-up was a 2001 updating of Daredevil, which originally debuted in 1964. Here, blind superhero Matt Murdock spends his days working as a criminal lawyer. After office hours, he hunts down the villains who have eluded him in court. In reviewing Daredevil Vol. 9: King of Hell's Kitchen in 2004, PublishersWeekly observed, "Bendis has transformed Daredevil into a gritty crime novel.… In (this) well-spun morality play, Bendis asks what happens when a superhero crosses the line from defender to boss, from benevolent defensive power to real, offensive vigilante. His dialogue and pacing is among the sharpest found in superhero comics. Bendis is essentially writing a short crime film with each issue."

Worked on other Marvel series

While much of his early work was self-illustrated, Bendis's Marvel acclaim has rested on his talent for conjuring up vividly written, tight-knit storylines. Primarily, he has come to be known as a writer who occasionally draws. He also has been prolific, often simultaneously writing five or more Marvel stories. One of them was Alias, which involves Jessica Jones, a disillusioned superhero who operates her own private investigation agency. Though Bendis's Alias has no relation to the ABC-TV series of the same name, the television show paid homage to the comic on one episode when it featured a character named "Agent Bendis."

In 2004, Bendis replaced Mark Millar as the author of Ultimate X-Men, another revamped Marvel series. Appropriately, two of his characters were Spider-Man and Daredevil. In 2004–05, he contributed text to a couple of other reworked series: The Avengers (now called the New Avengers, with the characters Vision, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man done away with); and Fantastic Four (retitled Ultimate Fantastic Four). Commenting on the brisk sales of The Avengers on the Fanboy Planet Web site, Bendis observed, "I am glad people are buying it. There is no greater honor than people buying a book." He added, "A lot of trust goes into someone buying something if my name is on it. I try to meet them more than halfway on my end.… This is how I live my life."

Also in 2004, Bendis authored Secret War, a New Avengers clone. In 2005, he created the concept for House of M, which unites characters and storylines from a range of Marvel series.

For More Information

Books

Bendis, Brian Michael. Total Sell Out (anthology of Bendis's work), edited by Jamie S. Rich. Orange, CA: Image Comics, 2003.

Periodicals

"Daredevil: King of Hell's Kitchen." Publishers Weekly (October 4, 2004).

"Daredevil, Volume 7: Hardcore." Publishers Weekly (December 8, 2003).

Jensen, Jeff. "The Week." Entertainment Weekly (November 17, 2000).

"Powers, Vol. 5: Anarchy." Publishers Weekly (March 22, 2004).

Tucker, Ken. "Q&A: … with Brian Michael Bendis, The Hairless Wonder Behind 'Daredevil,' the Cops-and-Heroes Comic 'Powers' and the Other 'Alias."' Entertainment Weekly (April 25, 2003).

"Ultimate X-Men: Volume 7: Blockbuster." Publishers Weekly (March 29, 2004).

Web Sites

Doane, Alan David. "Brian Michael Bendis Goes Hollywood!" Silver Bullet Comics. http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/features/94965455865261.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Encarnacion, Jonathan. "A Man of Ideas: Profile on Brian Michael Bendis." Silver Bullet Comics. http://www.silverbulletcomics.com/news/story.-php?a=602 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Jinxworld (Brian Michael Bendis Web site). http://www.jinxworld.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).

Walker, David. "Web Keeper: Comic-book Writer Brian Michael Bendis Talks about His Relationship with Spider-Man, the Pop Culture Icon." Willamette Week.http://www.wweek.com/story.php?story=5262 (accessed on May 3, 2006).

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