Within the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, readers have followed teenagers Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson through dating, break-ups and disasters that would challenge any relationship. But as anyone who has been a teenager knows, there's one thing that any long-term teenage boyfriend and girlfriend go through that hasn't really been addressed by the couple yet -- sex.
With a promised devastating event in the upcoming mini-series Ultimatum looming on the horizon of the Ultimate Universe, for MJ and Peter, this question -- defined by series writer Brian Michael Bendis as "Should they or shouldn't they?" -- is the one that looms even greater. And in Ultimate Spider-Man Annual 2008 set to hit in October with David Lafuente on art, Bendis intends to answer that question before heading back into a story with regular artist Stuart Immonen that will tie into the Ultimatum event.
Newsarama talked to Bendis about the "sex" issue, what other changes are coming for Ultimate Spider-Man's cast, and how much longer he's going to be writing the comic.
Newsarama: It's been a long time coming, but Peter and MJ are finally going to talk about this?
Brian Michael Bendis: It took like a year to green light this issue, and I'm really happy about it. We're going to do a special Ultimate Spider-Man Annual that deals with the subject of Peter and MJ's burgeoning physical relationship. It's a story that everyone jokes about online, or they ask about seriously. They're teenagers who are in love and they've been through all this stuff. Should they or shouldn't they?
NRAMA: As a father, how do you deal with having to write about something like that?
BMB: Well... uh... as a father, I blanked that part out of my head. I tried not to think about it. I went upstairs and grounded my five-year-old. "Why? What'd I do?" "You're grounded until you're 20!"
No, but I think about my life when I was 15 or 16 a lot when I'm writing this book. And I had a girlfriend, and we were very, very close. And that was the question. Should we, or shouldn't we? And we also, because of where I was raised, we were all going to private Hebrew school, so there was a pretty hardcore sense of morality, but everybody was kind of fooling around anyway. So it was there. It is there.
NRAMA: In this day and age, it's always there, isn't it?
BMB: Yeah! It seemed to me there's a point where if the book's set in real life, it's really about them being teenagers, and this should be addressed. It's part of life. You've seen Juno. And did you hear about these kids who might’ve had a pregnancy pact? I mean, it's part of life. Of course, I'm not going to do anything as insane as that. But it is part of the life we lead. So we're going to address it.
NRAMA: You said this issue took a year for you to get green-lighted. Is that because you had to convince Marvel that "sex" could be addressed in a way that would work?
BMB: Yeah, it's a tough sell, because it's a touchy subject that has to be handled appropriately. But then I brought up that, I said, "You know, you've got another Ultimate book where the brother and sister are making out in front of Captain America! And I can't have a conversation about this?" I mean, come on. This is something that's real. This is something that happens. Anyway, that's how I sold it.
NRAMA: Is this issue going to have a costumed Spider-Man in it? Or is it really just a relationship issue about these two kids?
BMB: No, it's a Spider-Man issue. He'll be in the book. And you know who's drawing it? David Lafuente who's doing Hellcat. He is a real up-and-comer. This stuff is gorgeous. So that, I'm really excited about. I like to show off new people.
NRAMA: Let's talk about the other thing that is coming for Ultimate Spider-Man -- the Ultimatum mini-series that is supposed to be shaking up the Ultimate Universe so much?
BMB: What's cool is that finally, Ultimate Spider-Man gets to react to the things happening in the Ultimate Universe. It's weird to be the flagship book, yet never reference anything that's happening in any of the other books. It's mostly because, particularly with the Ultimates, the shipping schedule is so erratic. Even though I knew everything that was going to happen, I was terrified to reference it, and then accidentally ruin the five-year trek that Mark [Millar] had done. I'd just as soon not reference anything until I knew it shipped.
So here, because we know everything that's shipping, when Ultimatum ships, the next issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, we will feel that disaster in the books. It's good to do. I'm happy to do it.
NRAMA: Will Ultimate Spider-Man still be the same type of book when Ultimatum wraps up? We've been told there are a lot of changes in the Universe, with one rumor even speculating Ultimate Spider-Man would be canceled.
BMB: Ultimate Spider-Man is not canceled. People were flipping out on me with that one. It's not canceled. It sells very well. It's a very successful trade program. So we're not going anywhere. But the Ultimatum will absolutely be felt in my book. It will alter the course of my book. And it will alter the supporting cast of my book in a dramatic way. So I can promise you you'll feel something different.
NRAMA: So the supporting cast will change even more than it has been? Are we talking a radical change?
BMB: Let's just say the people who will now appear regularly in Ultimate Spider-Man will surprise you. And I actually think it will make people happy. Peter's going to have a clique. There's a time in your high school life when you have that group around you. Even the nerdiest nerd in school will end up having his clique of friends. And Peter's going to have this clique of friends. It's not going to be just him and Mary Jane and that's it, with other people coming and going. He's going to end up having a little clique of people. We've been slowly building it.
NRAMA: We've seen characters like Johnny Storm, Kitty, Iceman and Firestar show up in Peter's life. But how do these changes in supporting cast relate to Ultimatum?
BMB: It ends up relating to Ultimatum, 'cause it brings some people closer and some people get lost. And there are some surprises. But Ultimatum brings everybody closer, and it kind of defines their relationship a little more. And that's another thing too, you can remember certain things from high school like that. Of course, they're not giant disasters that Jeph Loeb wrote for you, but you can remember things happening in your life that defined your relationships with your friends. And you're friends to this day. That kind of thing. One of my best friends, I remember since I was 12. And we were talking to my wife about all the things that happened to us when we were 16 that defined us. And you just go, "I'm going to be friends with you forever. I can't even not be friends with you. Even if you killed somebody, I'd have to be friends with you." So yeah. That's the kind of thing I'm thinking about with Ultimate Spider-Man.
NRAMA: So you've confirmed that the series isn't canceled, but are you on it for the long term?
BMB: Yes. I thought about leaving. I thought about it when Bagley left. I thought about it with this shift coming up. I thought about how this would be a good jumping-off point. And I was in a room with everybody, and I thought, "Hmm... should I go?" I really then went, "No, I'm not done." It really feels good to me. It's a lot of fun to write. And I really want to write the book.
NRAMA: Not time to leave yet?
BMB: It's not time yet. It might have been time five years ago. [laughs] And I even gave Marvel the opportunity to boot me. I said, "If you want me to go, I'll go." And they were like, "What? No. What are you talking about?" And I was like, "Well, I don't know. I'm just sayin'..." Because I know half the time, all they want me to write is Avengers. But no, I'm staying. It really is a book I'm immensely proud of. I think Stuart's doing amazing work, and I want to continue down that road. I have all these plans. I literally have a notebook full of stuff I haven't even gotten to yet.