Explaining it All: Brian Bendis Talks Dark Avengers #1

Preview: Dark Avengers #1

Dark Avengers #1
Dark Avengers #1
Dark Avengers #1

Loads of spoilers for Dark Avengers #1 ahead

When comic book fans saw the cover for Dark Avengers #1 by Mike Deodato Jr., there were a lot of guesses about who these new "alternate" caped heroes were. But once the issue came out this week, readers found out this is no alternate team at all.

This is the Avengers. The official, government sanctioned, following-the-guy-in-the-iron-suit Avengers. And they're wearing the names of the heroes the world has come to trust.

In other words, that isn't someone in a costume similar to Ms. Marvel. It is Ms. Marvel. And that isn't a dark version of Spider-Man. It is Spider-Man. It may not be Carol Danvers and Peter Parker behind the masks, but those identities have been placed upon someone new, and the people of the Marvel Universe are greeting them with cheers and confetti.

It's all part of Dark Reign, the post-Secret Invasion story spreading across multiple comics in the Marvel Universe -- particularly the two Avengers comics written by Brian Michael Bendis. While the Skrulls lost the battle in Secret Invasion and failed in their takeover attempt, it's not necessarily the good guys who won. As the aliens were driven from Earth, it was Thunderbolts leader Norman Osborn who emerged as a public hero while former Avengers leader Tony Stark took the fall along with many of his former teammates, some of whom are now wanted as criminals.

Very quickly, in Dark Avengers #1, readers found out what this new status quo means to the future of the Marvel Universe. Venom became Spider-Man, Bullseye became Hawkeye and Moonstone became Ms. Marvel. And Norman Osborn himself put on one of Tony Stark's fancy outfits and became the new Iron Patriot. A whole new Avengers team debuted under the smiling leadership of the former Green Goblin, who promised a post-war American public that his team would charge into battle against any future threats to "our way of life."

We talked to Bendis about the issue, the psychological effect of dressing former villains up in hero suits, and how the New Avengers are going to react to seeing their public identities donned by someone else.

Newsarama: Brian, Dark Avengers #1 didn't just confirm that the bad guys were in charge. This is a lot more creepy that that, because they were literally introduced to the public as being Wolverine and Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man. What's your thinking behind telling a story where villains take the place of actual Avengers characters? Is it just to stick it to the superheroes themselves? Or is there more to it?

Brian Michael Bendis: Really, what the Dark Reign is about, and Dark Avengers in particular, is this idea that everyone is the hero of his own story. This is one of the mantras of recent modern fiction. Norman never sees himself as the villain. Everyone's got their own point of view.

I was riffing on this back in Goldfish. Every once in awhile I see someone refer to themselves in a comic book as a criminal, or "I'm the bad guy." They'll actually say, "I'm the bad guy." And I'm like, no one actually thinks they're a bad guy! You know? Even the sociopaths have a complete agenda. So I really wanted to explore that. Norman is the hero of his story, and everyone on his team is the hero of their story. Yes, they have vendettas, and absolutely, they want to stick it to the man and let everyone have it. But how they're doing it is through this idea of being the hero of their own story.

Dark Avengers #2
Dark Avengers #2
Dark Avengers #2

And maybe they're better at it! Maybe Wolverine's kid is a better, younger Wolverine. Maybe Venom actually would be a better Spider-Man if you got him under control. Maybe you'd get more accomplished because they don't have the same piles of neuroses and moral quandaries that our "heroes" wrestle with. Maybe they'll be more effective Avengers.

NRAMA: Nooooo!!

BMB: [laughs] I want you to damn well make sure you put that in the article. "Noooo!!"

NRAMA: It's just against everything superhero comics are about, isn't it? You can't suggest the bad guys would be better at the job the heroes do.

BMB: I think it actually explores it in quite an interesting way. Maybe Bullseye will actually discover things about himself that he never got a chance to before. Maybe he does this exceptionally well, and if he does it well, maybe something else takes hold. You know what I mean? Every war story you've ever heard, every great hero story you've ever heard are about people rising to the occasion.

NRAMA: Yeah, even Spider-Man was bad at the beginning.

BMB: Yeah! He was a dick at first! And I'm not saying that's what going to happen here, but I'm just saying it's interesting that it could. And on the flip side, you've got heroes like Luke Cage and Hawkeye/Ronin and others who do well under the confines of their clear label as "hero," but if that's taken away from them or if they're sharing it, they may not do as well. Peter Parker is a very specific kind of cat who can handle the self-loathing and drama of losing even when you win. That takes a special kind of personality. I think it's a very similar personality to a comic creator. So maybe Luke Cage can't handle that, and maybe other things happen to him and his personality. Pushed up against a wall like that, people might react adversely.

NRAMA: It's like they say that if you label a kid as something, they become that. If you talk about them being lazy or dumb, they think, well, that's what I am. So they become that label.

BMB: Perfect example. I'm sure you've been through this too. You see parents talk about the kid in front of the kid, like the kid can't hear them. It's like, you're calling her bad and the kid can hear you. That skeeves me out to no end. So yeah, that's one angle to it. But there's also the fact that, sure, Bullseye knows he's bad-ass. He knows he's a sociopath. But now he's been medicated and given an agenda, and the agenda might fulfill him in a way the other shit didn't. He just never would have even thought to try.

These aren't things that will happen, necessarily. I'm just saying that these questions are being put forth by these books. I'm saying that I think this is a grand opportunity to address the label of hero and villain in our modern society. We've heard for the last 20 years that we can't have heroes anymore. We set them up and knock them down. Is that our society? Or is there something else?

And the other thing I like about it is that Norman is fulfilling a role as the dastard world leader. Everyone knows he's an asshole. He's not hiding that he's an asshole. But every once in awhile our society, and other cultures too, love that there's an asshole in charge. People used that with Bill Clinton too. "Oh, we know he's up to shenanigans; we just like the way he's doing it." People use that with Cheney, although a lot of people don't like him. But some people love him to this day, you know? He's their kind of asshole. And it's this attitude where, as long as I'm safe and I get to watch TV and my X-Box works and you're keeping the problems away from me, go be an asshole, man. I don't care. People feel that way about their own lawyers. They say, "I know he's an asshole. I need an asshole!"

Dark Avengers #3
Dark Avengers #3
Dark Avengers #3

I'm reminded of Joe McCarthy who, for awhile, was very, very popular. That's why he got so popular. And there's an arc there where sometimes they overshoot. And the asshole-ness that got them into power is the same kind of personality that knocks them out of power. They push the limit. I know some comic book publishers who are very similar. [laughs] You know. So there are a lot of people who are like this.

NRAMA: There's a scene in Thunderbolts where Norman is in a Congressional hearing that is reminiscent of McCarthy. And he's also similar to McCarthy in that Norman is utilizing the public's fear after Secret Invasion, turning it toward a specific agenda.

BMB: Absolutely. And what I like about it is his point of view isn't incorrect. It's much like we all agree that Magneto is probably the best villainous character in the Marvel Universe because his agenda -- his point -- is arguable. You could argue it over coffee and no one would be wrong. It's just how he goes about doing it that is wrong. I do like the writers who have grabbed on immediately to that idea with Norman Osborn. He's a blast to write. He's so much fun to write, because he's smart and savvy. And he's finally coming into his own. This is his moment. I know there are some people who are reading this or who are reading Dark Avengers who are like, "Wait. Didn't he murder people?" All of this will be addressed very, very soon. Of course it will be addressed. Yes, I am aware of the history of Norman Osborn. Please. Don't start with that. Of course I know. Come on. I've been writing Spider-Man for nine years and I've seen the movie, you know?

NRAMA: Didn't just conveniently forget?

BMB: No. It will be addressed. And remember that the last real dark shenanigans that Norman was up to was something I'd written with him in The Pulse, with Spider-Man and Luke Cage and all that. Mark Bagley drew it and maybe you should check it out because both that and what happened with Norman in Mark Millar's Spider-Man book will be addressed directly.

NRAMA: Since we're on the character of Norman Osborn, he's Iron Patriot?

BMB: It's either him or Tommy Lee Jones.

NRAMA: What's his motivation for putting on the Iron Patriot costume? Is this a case of him not only figuratively replacing Tony Stark but literally crawling into his skin?

BMB: Well, it says right there in the book that he's trying to put together this team, and Ares says, the two elements you're missing that sell this are the knight and the flag. And in the next page, Norman is shocked to find out he has the key to Tony's toy box. And in the asshole exuberance of his asshole-ness, he puts on the armor. And that's what we love about him. It made me feel there's a couple guys I know in my life who absolutely would have done that and I would have laughed and said, oh, you're such an asshole. There's friends of mine who do things like this, who make moves publicly that I laugh the whole time but think, I would never do that. And it seems to always work out for them, but I would never do it.

So that's the motivation behind it. Absolutely there's a smile behind that armor. And he knows, he pulls off that helmet, and he's the opposite of Tony. He doesn't say I am Iron Man or I'm not Iron Man. It's that I'm Norman Osborn and this is how it's going to be.

NRAMA: The all new Avengers. This grouping and the way they look here on the page, with that enthusiastic crowd -- it kind of makes me cringe.

BMB: Good! That's a legitimate reaction. There's something fun about that.

NRAMA: It all just hits a little close to home, like it's something you could see on CNN. You see these people cheering and they have no idea that, for example, this Captain Marvel that they're applauding is a Skrull.

BMB: What? Captain Marvel's not a Skrull! He's a Kree! He's the enemy of the Skrull.

NRAMA: Oh, that's right. He's not only a hero being replaced, but a Kree, so there's an even bigger lie here. And no one has any idea?

BMB: Well that's going to be the story as the book progresses. Something is being sold here, and we are a society that sells that image. I mean, even think about Joe the Plumber. They were selling that. Right? Everyone was selling Joe the Plumber. And the more and more we found out about Joe the Plumber, the worse it got, and next thing you know we'd open up the paper and find out Joe's punching reporters or something. So the idea of someone being thrust into the spotlight and sold and sold until the media gets their hands on it -- that's fascinating. And it's the world we live in. And I bring up Joe the Plumber and don't mean any political aversion with that. I mean, both sides and their political agenda have sold us images. The Flags of our Fathers movie was all about that. There's that image, but what's behind that image is completely different. And this is a version of that.

NRAMA: But you just said yourself that something happens once the media gets their hands on it, so will we see people begin to discover the secret behind Captain Marvel?

BMB: Yeah. And remember that the New Avengers know all about what's going on here. So that's going to be what's fun is watching the New Avengers have their tantrum about this and see what they're going to do. How is the Marvel Universe going to react to this bomb that Norman Osborn has dropped into the superhero community? There will be waves of reaction in a lot of different books. But what you'll also get is, now you have a team of personalities that I really don't think you've ever seen before, because it's not just Warren's Thunderbolts. It's a mixture of them in a different place, plus the Sentry's crazy and Ares is a god. We've never seen a group like this before. So their interactions and relationships are set up to be very unique.

NRAMA: The Sentry says, "This is where I live." That seems like a weak motivation for joining. Do we get to find out more about why he's part of this team?

BMB: Oh, yes. There's a very big deal between Norman and him. So I don't want to spoil it, but you find out in the very first few issues.

NRAMA: We're talking with Brian Reed about Ms. Marvel and the future of Carol Danvers as Moonstone takes over the Ms. Marvel mantle. But there's a bigger story behind what Carol is doing in this issue of Dark Avengers #1, isn't there?

BMB: Absolutely. And Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, will be a big part of New Avengers. This is a character being tested dramatically. This is a military woman who was raised to follow orders and was raised to believe in certain things. And really, she should do what Norman says.

NRAMA: He is technically appointed by the government.

BMB: Yeah, he is her boss. And on some level, she feels that she's failed by not accepting this. But of course, we know she hasn't. She's being true to herself.

NRAMA: And an interesting situation for Moonstone as well to be able to take over this heroic title.

BMB: Oh, yeah.

NRAMA: Ares has a pretty straightforward motivation, doesn't he?

BMB: Yeah! He's a god! I mean, no matter what you think of Norman and the dastardly deeds he's done, it's nothing compared to what Zeus has done. Zeus is an asshole! Holy crap! Ares is used to hanging around that guy and Norman is nothing! Norman's fun! Norman's well dressed, takes him out to dinner, you know?

NRAMA: "You have to taste this. 'Tis glorious crap."

BMB: Yeah! It's nice! But yeah, I mean, Ares' feeling is that this is a warrior's time, and these are the warriors who won. So yeah, this is the place he would be proud to be.

NRAMA: Was Norman not aware that Daken Akihiro is Wolverine's son?

BMB: Yeah. That's not a known thing. I kind of like that Norman's going through the book -- Mr. Know-It-All -- and someone drops a bomb on him. This is something that nobody knows, and it's obviously going to leak out to New Avengers as well. And then everyone has to have an image of what it's like for Wolverine to make a baby, so that's an image that will haunt everybody. When's the last time you heard a good, juicy piece of superhero gossip?

NRAMA: And you've already talked a lot about Bullseye becoming Hawkeye, but that's the one that creeps me out the most.

BMB: Imagine being Clint Barton. I think it probably annoys him even more. And I'm sure there are people on this very website who it annoys even more. But I'm not doing it to piss anyone off. There's interesting stuff going to happen here.

NRAMA: But Venom as Spider-Man is probably the most bothersome part of this because Norman took a real enemy of Spider-Man and put him in a Spider-Man costume and gave him the official title. You've said that in Dark Reign, you wanted to show other heroes what it's like to lose the way Spider-Man does, but Norman's really sticking it to Spidey here, isn't he?

BMB: Yeah, Norman's definitely got it in for Spider-Man. There are people in the world who believe if you can go about your business and f___ over somebody at the same time? That's a good day. I don't feel that way, but I know people who feel that way. And that's what Norman's doing. Norman's having his cake and eating it too.

And it's a perfect situation for him. Let's say Venom completely loses it. Norman just says, "Oh, that Spider-Man. I tried so hard. I gave him everything in the world. But Spider-Man is a menace!" It's a win-win.

NRAMA: OK, now let's talk about the villain who's brewing in the background of this story here. We've got Doctor Doom going home and Morgana in the wings?

BMB: Yes. This was a lucky bit of business for me. At one point, I was brewing this Morgana thing. Morgana's part of our Mighty Avengers arc with Doctor Doom as well. We've been cooking the fact that Doom has been traveling back with her and maybe even dating her to get dark magic secrets. They're very involved with each other. And we've set it up that he, by ignoring her, has her mad. She's not the most stable woman. So she comes back to deal with Doom, and I thought, wow, we really lucked out here because we have a classic Avengers villain for these Dark Avengers to deal with.

And this gets interesting now because we've seen how the Avengers have dealt with her. But seeing how Norman's Avengers will deal with her will give a great juxtaposition of what the difference is between those Avengers and these Avengers.

NRAMA: And this is also Doom getting his reward for sitting in that meeting with the "Dark Illuminati?"

BMB: Yes. Absolutely. This is all connected to that. There's a lot of business with Doom that is tying up nicely here.

NRAMA: Are we going to be seeing the other Dark Illuminati touched upon in Dark Avengers, or are they spread now into other comics?

BMB: They're spread out a little bit. But The Hood is a big part of New Avengers. And I don't want to ruin anything, but Rick Remender is doing some Hood stuff in his Punisher as well. And you're going to see a lot of them bouncing around, because it's not just the world according to Norman. There's a different power base going on here. And there are a lot of different angles to write about it from. You don't have to read everything together. You can just read what you're reading. But for those who are reading everything, there's a lot there.

There's also something interesting about Norman's first mission. Saving Doctor Doom might not be the best public deal. "What did you do with our money?" So there's that to deal with as well. Norman's really got a lot of plates in the air.

NRAMA: So in the next issue of New Avengers, will we see the heroes' immediate reaction to what just happened in Dark Avengers?

BMB: Yes! There's going to be a lot of whining. The most whining you've ever seen in an Avengers book in the history of the Avengers. Including when the Vision was crying like a baby. More whining than even that.

NRAMA: Last time we talked, you implied this would all lead to interesting stories for both books...

BMB: Yeah, and you gave me that look! You were like, yeah sure, we'll see buddy. And see? Look? I mean, I creeped you out!

NRAMA: OK, you got me there. But my question is that what we just saw in Dark Avengers what it means to live in Norman's brave new world, so will that be central to what's happening with New Avengers in that series' upcoming stories?

BMB: Yes. There is going to be a relationship between the two Avengers books. You can read one or the other and be fine. You don't have to read both of them. But if you do read both, there are things bouncing back and forth that will have massive pay-offs between the two books. Their relationship is very different than it was with Mighty Avengers; even though that was antagonistic, it's nothing compared to how these two books will antagonize each other.

NRAMA: But the New Avengers team is also changing, right?

BMB: Yes, absolutely. It's already changed a little bit and will change even more after New Avengers #50, which is a big, double-sized anniversary issue that deals directly with the events that happened in Dark Avengers #1.

NRAMA: To finish up, is there anything else you want to tell us about what's coming up in Dark Avengers and New Avengers?

BMB: New Avengers #50 is a really big one, as I said. Not only is it the New Avengers reacting to Norman and deciding to proactively do something about him, but it's also a bit of a jam issue where we came up with the battle scene that takes place in the issue. There will a page dedicated to each character in the New Avengers, and it will be drawn by an artist known for that character. So David Aja is doing Iron Fist, McNiven's doing Spider-Man, and Bryan Hitch is doing some and Alex Maleev is doing Spider-Woman, so it's a very cool kind of character-dedicated fight scene. I'm actually very excited about it. So on top of it being big story book, it's a really gorgeous out book as well. That's a big one.

And Dark Avengers will roll on quickly. There's a lot going to happen in that book. There's a lot that's going to happen very fast. And Namor's situation -- I know a lot of people are confused and worried about Namor -- but that situation and what happened in his mini-series with the Atlantean sleeper cells and what Namor's state of mind is will all be addressed shortly in Dark Avengers.   Marvel's Dark Reign Coverage

 

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