Over the last five years, the name "Avengers" has evolved into more than just a comic book title. Since New Avengers #1 relaunched the comic in December 2004, the Avengers franchise has grown to include four ongoing titles and has played a central role in almost every major Marvel event since.It's impossible to imagine the Avengers experiencing this revival without the guidance of writer Brian Michael Bendis. After helping to launch both the Ultimate line and the MAX line at Marvel, Bendis took the task of creating a new team and new direction for the Avengers that would scrap most of the old title's characters for a controversial new line-up. The title immediately shot into the Top 10 sellers list, and it's been among the highest selling titles ever since.
After the success of New Avengers, Bendis launched another title, Mighty Avengers, two years later. Then the Avengers franchise got more Bendis attention earlier this year when Dark Avengers began, featuring a collection of anti-heroes and villains playing the role of well-known superheroes. Through it all, Bendis has utilized the teams in his universe-wide events, like House of M, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign – as well as his upcoming Siege mini-series that promises to drastically change the Avengers once again.
In part three of our series looking at the Avengers franchise since its relaunch five years ago, we talk to Bendis about how the relaunch came about and why he thinks it succeeded. And just like our conversation with Tom Brevoort, the discussion begins with the germination of the idea for New Avengers at a Marvel retreat.
Newsarama: We've all heard the stories about how you guys started talking about The Avengers at a retreat. And it was Mark Millar that started the conversation, right?
Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah, Mark told a story that he had asked why Superman and Batman weren't on the Justice League, and he was shot down when he was at DC. And that when he was a wee Scottish lad, he loved to buy Justice League because you got all the heroes for 10 cents, so it seemed to be a bargain. And he would use his wee small Scottish hands and buy as many comics as he could with the 10 cents he was allowed to spend.
And then I yelled out the thing I've been thinking since I was 8 years old: "Why aren't Spider-Man and Wolverine on the Avengers?" And a verbal fight broke out in the room! And it was me and Mark vs. a lot of other people. Mark and I were on the exact same page on this. At the time, Tom Brevoort was very upset and purple faced. And the fight was a grand one. And our boss at the time [knew]... when he sees that kind of fight going on, it will translate into excitement among fans. The fight will continue onto the Internet, you know? It's good stuff. And the fight was a good one. The fight was worth writing about, in the sense that everyone's point of view was, OK, write that in the story. Prove it.And by the end of the day, it was either going to be me or Mark writing The Avengers. I wasn't really at the retreat for a gig. I was good with what I had. I was there to be part of the retreat. But that night, we all went out, and both of us were going, "you should do it," "no you should do it." And it really came down to Mark was already writing the Avengers with The Ultimates.
I found myself a little scared of it. I found myself thinking, "could I do this? Should I do this?" And when I feel myself being that way, I have to examine it. And I was thinking about it, and I realized I wasn't scared of it for any good damn reason. And a writer writes. You know what I mean? And there's no reason that I can't apply the philosophies of comic writing that I applied to Daredevil and Spider-Man to the Avengers. And then maybe the language of group comics should try to do more than they are. And what could I add to it?
So I came up to Joe and I said, "I think I want to do this."
Tom got it once we sat down and really worked it out. And the fact that Spider-Man being part of the Avengers after not being on the Avengers all this time would be part of the story. And what those stories would be about. Wolverine's story would be a unique Wolverine story. Then he was on board and has been an amazing editor ever since. He has backed that book up like a knight in armor.
Nrama: Was the success of the Avengers spin-offs since then related to having Spider-Man and Wolverine on there? Or was it just more about shaking things up?
Bendis: I thought about, even with Spider-Man and Wolverine on the team, I knew I wasn't putting them on there because they were the best selling characters. Because not everything Spider-Man or Wolverine is a guaranteed success, you know? I was putting them on there because I thought that would be the coolest Avengers team, along with Luke Cage and Spider-Woman. They were characters that I thought were super goddamned cool. And I thought the dynamics between these characters would be super cool. Going literally back to Stan Lee, through Roy Thomas, through Kurt Busiek, through every Avengers writer, they've all done this. They have put together the team they thought was the coolest.
So I was getting a little crap for it at the time, but I was like, show me the writer that didn't do this. Everyone did it.
All you're doing at that point is doing what you think is cool.
And I think I've proven over the years that there are interesting stories to tell with these characters. And I've shown that the Avengers can be as cool as the X-Men, and as big as when Kurt [Busiek] and George [Perez] were doing them. Absolutely.
Then from there, other writers had different takes, and I had Mighty Avengers and all that. There are different things you can do with them. And then the wheels just start spinning creatively. And from there, you get the best stories, and people gravitate toward them.
Nrama: We're talking about this franchise – and I don't know if the word "franchise" is what we should say or not...
Bendis: It's the word Joe [Quesada] always uses. I don't think "franchise" when I'm writing it. When people talk to me about it, that's the word they use. So it's like, OK.
Nrama: I think everybody understands the idea behind launching New Avengers. But you caught a lot of flack not just because Spider-Man and Wolverine being on the Avengers, but because of what was done to the Avengers that existed.Bendis: Yeah, what I did when I first came on it, I didn't like the direction of the book at the time. And that's absolutely no dis to the creators who came before at all. But it was Jack of Hearts and characters that I just didn't want to write. I wanted to create this Avengers disaster movie. And I came in and blew up the mansion and people died and She-Hulk was ripping Vision apart. And yeah, I got hammered.
There were two things going on. I decided what was interesting to me would be to have a texture to the book that you haven't seen where the reader was actually physically on the Avengers team. Like I open it up and you're at the table with the Avengers. You're not up high, looking down. You're not looking from away from them. You're in the huddle. And I thought that would be an interesting point of view for the reader.
So I put you in the huddle with the Avengers. And then I blow it up! And that's an unappealing place to be. It's a disaster, right? So not only is it a disaster, but I put you in the middle of it. And really there's no difference between doing that and going into the playground and breaking all the toys. You're that kid. You're the kid who's going up to all the girls and pulling the arms off the dolls. And I realized that now.
At the time, I didn't mean for that feeling to happen. It didn't happen with everyone. That's not how everyone felt. But people who were mad at me felt that. And I totally get it. It's rude! There's no other word for it. They're completely enjoying the Avengers book, and I come along and ruin it.
So only after time, once I proved that I truly love the Avengers and that the stories meant something, and a lot came out of it. You have to buckle down and prove yourself over the course of time. Of course, not to everyone. But I see a lot of people have changed their mind even about the Disassembled storyline. When it was happening it was awful for them. I came in like a bull in a China shop. I know Loeb got the same kind of reaction from Ultimatum. "Stop breaking my toys!"
But at the time, I was confused by the reaction. But I understand it now.
Nrama: But some of the controversy when New Avengers launched was directed at the well-known characters who you brought to the team. But was part of the reason you cleared out the old characters to make room for some of these lesser-known characters you wanted to write about? To give them the chance to shine?
Bendis: There's a little bit of that, but it wasn't just about the team or the characters. I was trying to start the concept from a different place. I wanted a new team of Avengers to come together out of necessity, which is what Cap says in the first arc. He comes to Tony and says, "I want to put the band back together." The idea was, can we learn from our mistakes and make something new happen?
But I wanted it to have a different tone. I wanted it to be a little more down-to-earth, even though the Avengers would still be big and a lot of things would happen, we're down here closer to the ground. I thought that would be more appealing and more in step with the characters who were on the team. I think the characters themselves ended up dictating a lot of this, a lot of the tone.
It's funny because people would say, there are no powerhouses on the team. But we had Sentry and Iron Man and Luke Cage, and half the team is these giant powerhouses. And I'd point that out, and they'd just go, "Oh, yeah!" And I think it was because the tone of it wasn't this powerhouse-driven tone. You know? The Skrull stuff was already percolating. There was a conspiracy afoot. See, even though people didn't know what it was, there was a different tone.
And I just thought that would be an appealing look at a team that I hadn't really seen before.But yeah... to your question, that's completely true. I know there were some people who would buy New Avengers just to see how the hell Spider-Man is on the Avengers. But any book you're on, you introduce something that's tantalizing like that, but hopefully you've now tricked them into reading about someone like Luke Cage. I know for a fact he's someone a lot of people weren't into, and then all of the sudden they're totally into him. They came for Spider-Man, but they stayed for Luke Cage.
And you never know what it's going to be that people will latch onto that way. Like I didn't think Spider-Man and Luke Cage were going to be so fun to write. The back-and-forth with them. That just happened. I mean, it wasn't in my notebook, my big book of ideas. That's the magic.
Nrama: How comfortable were you with doing a second title, when Marvel started talking about Mighty Avengers, and then adding Dark Avengers? Was there some apprehension on your part? You were doing so well with just one title, after all.
Bendis: Yeah, New happened and it had legs. You can be successful and not have legs, and by that I mean your sales can dip down off the charts. And that happens to everybody. But New Avengers had unusually healthy legs.
We're still in the Top 10 with New Avengers five years later. Once that happened, and once the word "franchise" started getting bandied around in meetings, I knew it was only a matter of time before there were other teams and spin-offs. We just had to make sure we didn't move too fast and that we continued to treat the Avengers franchise like the A-list team I always imaged it should be.
I remember I had a lot of ideas for what I thought other writers could do with the Avengers, and I was interested in whether I could write a more traditional team, but with these more non-traditional storytelling ideas that I had.
So they came to me and said, "Do you want to write another team? Or who do you want to write another team?" And I knew that, if someone else was writing the other team, we'd be collaborating all day and it would just be easier to do it myself.
And I had a great interest in attempted some ideas I had, like the thought balloon thing that I did in Mighty Avengers. And Frank Cho and I were eager to work together on something lengthy.
Of course, it kind of breaks the rules a little, to do two of the same kind of book. You know, you really shouldn't do that, 'cause people get sick of you. But I thought they would be so different that they would be very appealing experiences rubbing up against each other.
And, also, the big reason was that I was knee-deep in the Skrull conspiracy, and I wanted to tell that story from two different angles, leading up to what turned into Secret Invasion. I thought I could do something subtly unique, and have almost the same story told in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, but the points of view were so different that you couldn't even tell it was the same story unless you read both books.
You know, sometimes when we're working on the Ultimate books, Peter Parker's point of view, and Mark's Ultimates point of view of the same event are so different. It's amazing, just how people deal with the world so differently.
So I thought the New Avengers hiding point of view, and Tony's up-in-the-sky point of view, would be a great way to wrap around this conspiracy in a way that I hadn't seen before and that I was very challenged by.
To answer your question, I knew another title was coming. So I braced myself and just took it upon myself to grab hold of both of these things. I just thought it was the right way to do it, and that me exploring these different ideas in a second title, was the most competent way to get it done.
And it was the same kind of thing with Dark Avengers, that it just came naturally out of the story we were telling. And you know, Dark Avengers is doing great. It's doing as well as, if not better than, New Avengers. That's a shock to me.Nrama: Looking back at the last five years, what's been your overall perception of the Avengers success?
Bendis: It's just been an amazing five years. I just want to thank everybody for hanging in there. Some of it's been very, very long-form storytelling. And some of it was stuff that they didn't know they were looking for, but liked it when they saw it. And I just want to thank everyone for trusting or trying to trust and getting into it.
The arguments online. The concern and worry about continuity and all that is very appreciated, not only by me, but by everyone on the books.
The people who read the Avengers are readers from almost every walk of life in comics. This is what I've found. There are people who love the Avengers like they fans love the Yankees and stick with them through good times and bad. And there are people who only read the Avengers if they hear there's something cool going on. And there are other people, like myself, who only read creators. There's been an immense amount of people who have bought the book and who loved it, or loved to hate it, or just flat-out hated it but kept reading it, or thought they hated it even though I know secretly they love it.
The other thing I don't want to discount is, since the very first issue of Disassembled, up to the issue we're working on right now, New Avengers has had a laundry list of the best artists working today in comics. It went from [David] Finch to [Steve] McNiven to Frank Cho to Leinil Yu and up until Stuart [Immonen], it's been this powerhouse after powerhouse, and we've never missed a month of delivering beautiful book after beautiful book.
A lot of people are buying these books because we're treating the Avengers franchise the way it should be treated. And it's not just what's going on with the story, but the actual quality of the book. We've gone in and said, no, we will only deliver this level of quality or we won't do it. I think that's a reason the book has been so successful over the last five years. The whole package has been as top-notch as it could be, and that includes Justin Ponsor and Laura Martin and all the colorists that have helped us out over the years. So I don't want to discount what's been accomplished by these people. It's not a one-man show at all. And it's been an amazing accomplishment over the last five years.
Check back this week as we continue our series by looking forward with Brevoort, Bendis and Slott at the future of the Avengers in both comics and film.