Exclusive: Brian Bendis on the Marvel NOW! ALL-NEW X-MEN

Brian Michael Bendis is writing the X-Men.

That news is a few weeks old at this point, but it's still a big deal: After eight years on multiple Avengers series, which saw the title grow into a busting Marvel franchise rivaling the X-Men themselves, Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen are introducing All-New X-Men in November as part of the "Marvel NOW!" post-Avengers vs. X-Men revamp. And they're doing it with the attention-getting premise of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby X-Men lineup of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Iceman and Beast traveling from the past and into the modern-day Marvel Universe — and sticking around once they realize they don't like what they see.

 

In his first in-depth interview on the series, Newsarama talked with Bendis about why the time was right for him to take on Marvel's mutants, his reputation among X-Men fans, the genesis of the book's high-concept and his plan to "hunker down as firmly as [he] did on Avengers" in what he hopes is a long-term run with the characters — all that, plus a perfectly in-context 13 Going on 30 reference.

Newsarama: Brian, let's start with the big, broad question — why X-Men, why now? Obviously on one level it seems like kind of the natural follow-up to eight years of Avengers culminating in Avengers vs. X-Men, but was writing the Marvel Universe X-Men something you had always thought about in the back of your head?

Brian Michael Bendis: Yes, but the whole time I've been at Marvel, there's been someone steering the ship in a pretty fantastic way. When I took Avengers, I certainly saw the importance of a strong statement about the book. My friends and colleagues and people who I admire who have done well on the X-Men, or any book really, have come with a very strong statement. I wanted to make sure when the time came, that I had a strong position, something hopefully intriguing to fans and to people who hate me. [Laughs.]

It's a little different from other writers who have come into X-Men. Like when Ed [Brubaker] joined X-Men, he had never written the X-Men, or Matt [Fraction], or Grant Morrison — they had done so pretty cold. Whereas over the course of my time at Marvel — House of M alone — I decimated the X-Men, I brought Wolverine's memories back. I've done a lot of big things in the X-universe without ever writing a technical "X-book." Avengers vs. X-Men, and some other things I've been involved in, have affected the X-Men in a great, powerful way, which I'm proud of — but that does mean that I'm coming into the X-Men with some notoriousness attached. "That's the guy who decimated the X-Men!" Some people weren't reading House of M but were reading X-Men — all of a sudden they opened up a book and [mutants] were down to 200. "Who did this? That guy!" I know that there's a bit of X-Men fans who see me coming and are nervous, and also I'm known for murdering characters — even though that's not fair. So I know I'm coming into it with quite a reputation.  But on the flipside I'm coming to the X-verse, which is known across the comicsphere as the most dedicated fans, the loudest fans. So I'm diving in head first, whereas with Avengers I wasn't prepared. [Laughs.] But I am now. On some level.

Nrama: Certainly, your arrival on Avengers eight years ago equaled a major shake-up that was felt through the entire Avengers sphere. Do you see All-New X-Men as bringing a comparable level of change? 

 

Bendis: I'm not blowing up the mansion or anything like that. I came in [Avengers], "I'm gonna blow up the mansion, and go crazy!" and some people really loved that, and some people were like, "Whoa, whoa!" It was tantamount to someone going on the playground and just knocking over your toys. You're like, "I liked my toys, why are you doing this?" I didn't see it that way at the time, but in retrospect — I wouldn't have changed the story or anything, but I was shocked by some of the reaction, and then I went, "Oh, no, I get that. I literally just blew up the house on page three."


What I am doing here is, I think, as big, but not as destructive. I think it's additive, I think it's emotional and dramatic. This idea has been floating through the Marvel retreats for a couple of years. Both [Jeph] Loeb and I would be looking at each other going, "That's a great idea." It never stuck to the wall. I literally asked Axel, "Where did that idea start?" It just inspired so many story ideas to me.

Nrama: So the high concept of the original X-Men traveling into the present has been around for a while?

 

Bendis: Yeah. I'm a big fan of "Days of Future Past." I think it's one of the greatest imagination-inspiring storylines — the idea that your future is going to be hell on earth. If the original X-Men saw what was going on at Marvel today, this is worse than "Days of Future Past."

Fans always say, "Oh, I wish Stan Lee was still in charge, things would be different." Joe [Quesada] would point out that that's not true. Stan was changing the Marvel Universe so quickly, much quicker than we do. Tearing up tracks, switching the Avengers, and blowing up the X-Men, and he was the first guy to do this. If Stan Lee was still in charge, you wouldn't even recognize the Marvel Universe. So that idea inspired, "what would it feel like if characters from the Silver Age saw the Marvel Universe today?" I did a little bit of it in Avengers, in the Kang storyline. It's obviously inspired a couple ideas in my work.


There's something about Jean Grey, there's something about those original five being such idealists, coming here and seeing what those ideals turned into for good or bad, and deciding to fight for them. I couldn't get it out of my head. Inside that idea is a bunch of different ideas. The idea itself is the headline-grabber, but what people have to look forward to inside the story is much more. It's a much more emotional story involving all of the X-Men, and that's what's going to be coming in future issues.

Nrama: It's interesting, because it seems that for a while the All-New All-Different X-Men was the favored early team and got much more of the focus than the original five, but now that group has gotten a lot more attention in recent years. How much fondness do you have for that lineup?

Bendis: It's a lineup that's interesting in retrospect. They were such idealistic, '60s,"let's do it!" mutant superheroes. And what it's evolved into, looking back at it is so fascinating.

 

Just Jean Grey alone inspires so many story ideas and so many emotions, and means so much to so many people. That's the thing X-Men fans always say they want. You go anywhere — "Bring back Jean Grey!" But they don't want a reincarnated Jean Grey, and they don't want a dug-up Jean Grey. They want Jean. It's not like I run out of my way to find crowd-pleasing things, but this does allow us to get Jean back, pure. What a great thing. And I love Jean, I love writing her — just having her push forth. She's one of the inciting things that makes this happen in the first place, her coming here and going, "Why is everyone looking at me? What happened, and why is the school named after me?"

Nrama: And you're the first creator who's getting to write her on an ongoing basis in almost 10 years.

Bendis: Last time I wrote her was in Alias. She showed up to poke around Jessica Jones' head. I enjoyed that a great deal.

Also, we're pulling her out from a story where she hasn't developed her psychic powers. She was [only] a telekinetic in the early days.

Nrama: One thing that a lot of people were surprised by with the initial All-New X-Men announcement is that the original X-Men coming to the present isn't just the opening arc, it's the status quo going forward, correct?

Bendis: It is the status quo. I can't wait to show you how it's the status quo, but I want you to buy the book to find out. Even giving this away — I would have loved if you would have just opened this book, and found out about this without any hype on my end, but that's not the way the world works. But there's so much more coming after the five get here — how they stay here, what the mandate is, what inspires them to stay — all of that is why I hope people buy the book to find out.

What excites me is that it's the purest of X-Men ideas. I've thought about this from so many different angles: Spider-Man wouldn't do this. The Avengers wouldn't do this. The Fantastic Four wouldn't do this. The X-Men would do this.

From this idea, we're going to allow the X-Men to involve themselves more strongly into the Marvel Universe proper. It's certainly what I would like as a fan of the X-Men. The Avengers and Fantastic Four get to go into any corner of the Marvel Universe they want; the X-Men are always faced with a mutant problem. It shouldn't be only mutant problems, it should be superhero problems as well, and that is something that's long overdue. And every time they do step forward, like in [Victor] Gischler's X-Men, people get very excited, so there seems to be an appetite for that. It doesn't have to be Magneto and the Sentinels every time, it would be nice to slap Doctor Doom around a little bit.

Nrama: Based on statements you've made, it sounds like this will definitely be a big cast, with the original five and many more X-Men beyond that.

 

Bendis: It is a big cast. I like a big cast, and all these characters are very dramatic characters. Kitty, and… there's so many characters, but I don't think they want me to say who they are right now. Not everyone's walking out of Avengers vs. X-Men, and once you start naming names, people start doing the math, so I don't want to ruin what happens in #11 and #12 of Avengers vs. X-Men.

Nrama: But it's safe to say that several current X-Men characters are going to be playing a role?

Bendis: It's not just the five of them, it's "the X-Men." It's all of the X-Men. Them coming here, and seeing the "now" X-Men — the Jean Grey School cast of characters — reacting to the five, is a pretty big deal.

Nrama: So there's a long-term plan at work?

Bendis: Absolutely. I've gotten to sit with it for a while — a big blessing. You don't always get that. I was offered the X-Men before we started writing Avengers vs. X-Men. So for a year, year-and-a-half, I've not only been able to figure out how to wrap up my Avengers run in a way that makes me happy, but I've gotten to really think about all of the ramifications and all of the drama the X-Men have coming to them. With that comes the long-term plans, as you go, "What about this? What about that?" and then all of a sudden you have three years' worth of books that I hope I get to write.

Nrama: And the X-Men obviously seem to lend themselves well to more complex storylines.

Bendis: Since Claremont's days, it's always had a Robert Altman-like tapestry. [Claremont] would keep subplot balls in the air for years. You always bought the next issue. He kept it going for decades. That was very impressive.

 

Nrama: Also a big factor of this is that you're reteaming with your former Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers collaborator Stuart Immonen, which has to be cool.

Bendis: It is, and he's already got a couple of issues in the can, so I can wholeheartedly and firmly tell you this is among the best he's ever done. He seems very inspired, and into the emotions of the characters as much as I am. [All-New X-Men is] written for him, like no one's business. I've studied him like the Torah. Like Ultimate Spider-Man, you've got these teenagers who are wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and they're very emotional, and he's drawing it accordingly, and it's really lovely.

Nrama: And it's the first Marvel Universe X-Men book for both of you, at least in terms of an ongoing series.

Bendis: When we parted ways on New Avengers, we talked about getting back together, because we do enjoy working together a great deal. He came on Ultimate Spider-Man, and he came on the Avengers, but he wanted to make a book his own. "I want this to be my book, and then wail on it." Only because of the size of the cast, I was worried he wouldn't want to do X-Men, because he was just coming off of Fear Itself, which was a whole smorgasbord. I was so happy that he was so taken with the direction that he said yes immediately. I was really flattered.

Nrama: So, since readers are used to seeing you on multiple Avengers books simultaneously at this point, are you writing just the one X-Men book? I know in the past you've mentioned two more projects that are yet to be announced.

 

Bendis: There are a couple more very large projects, not even including Age of Ultron, which is still coming.

This is the question I get like every three hours on Twitter: Age of Ultron is not part of the Marvel NOW! launches, but it is a very large project, and it is coming soon. Bryan Hitch finished his part of the book, I'm happy to say, and we'll be going forward and we'll be making announcements about that later in the fall, I'd guess.

Nrama: And now that Daredevil: End of Days has been solicited, people have more reason to believe Age of Ultron is actually coming.

Bendis: Yes. And I don't get to do my "End of Days is the shipping date joke" anymore, now that it's in the catalogue. Unless it is the end of days.

Nrama: So will Age of Ultron be pre-Marvel NOW! continuity, then?

Bendis: No. It's ready to go. It'll be in Marvel NOW!, now. It's substantially a part of what's going on in the Marvel Universe next year.

 

It makes me so happy, because the nature of comics, you're putting them out every month, and everyone works as hard as they can and does their best, but it's nice to have some projects, like a creator-owned, where you can take your time and tell the story at a different pace. I'm very happy with how Daredevil: End of Days has come out. It birthed of its own volition.

Nrama: So to circle back just a bit: Is it just the one X-Men book for you?

Bendis: This is the start of an X-Men run which I hunker down as firmly as I did on Avengers, and allow, on its own basis, other series to debut. When I started on Avengers, we did New Avengers for a while, and then we did Mighty and others. It wasn't right away.

Nrama: Right, it was about two-and-a-half years into it.

Bendis: It'll be faster than that, but this will be the flagship book. And also Wolverine and the X-Men will continue, and other books like that.

Nrama: A lot of folks will be very happy to hear that.

Bendis: Yeah, I love that comic. That's literally the only negative of coming on here, is that none of the X-Men books suck right now. For a creator, you want to jump on when the book is not good, not when everyone is doing great. That's what Frank Miller got on Daredevil — when he came on Daredevil, they were going to cancel it, so he could do whatever the hell he wanted, and he saved it.

 

Nrama: Certainly Kieron Gillen has gotten a great deal of positive attention for what he's done on Uncanny X-Men as of late.

Bendis: Kieron is amazing. Everyone on that book is kicking ass, it's wonderful. I admire Kieron a great deal. Kieron also has some fabulous gigs that have not been announced — truly fantastic gigs that he's born to do — that you will be hearing about soon. Particularly fans of Journey Into Mystery, they want their Gillen, and they're going to get it.

Nrama: Well, Brian, I know there's still not a whole lot you can say about All-New X-Men at this point, but what else should readers know about the book?

Bendis: There will be a very specific point in the X-Men history where the [original] X-Men are being pulled out of, and you will get to see that moment. I literally went over those issues over and over and over again to find the perfect place.

And imagine also — the thing that I'm so excited about — they come here as a group, but the things they discover about themselves may pull them apart. They're coming here as a team thinking they're unbreakable, and then you find out what Cyclops did, and what happened to Jean, and they might not so in love with each other the next day.

Nrama: Each of the individual characters have something interesting to come back to at this point — definitely Angel, given what's happened in Uncanny X-Force.

Bendis: All of them. And the one I'm looking forward to is, wait until you find out how disappointing it is for Bobby Drake to find out he turned out to be the normal one. [Laughs.] He was the biggest goofball, and he turned out to be a pretty well-respected teacher.

Nrama: And it does seem that a lot of fans are fixating on the time travel aspect — wondering how the original X-Men can stay in the present without everything else being changed.

Bendis: I completely agree with that, but there's the Back to the Future time travel, which is what most of us hold to as the rules of time travel. But there are other ways to look at it. I talk about it a little in the Kang storyline — you can look at time as a straight line that you can go forward or backwards in, or you can look at it as a constant, you can look at it as the thing that isn't moving. There are so many different ways. Buy one copy of Wired magazine published in the last three years, you'll find an article about this. There are other ways of looking at time travel.

For those who are fearful of the time/space continuum — you should be! It's constantly in flux, it's constantly being abused by people in the Marvel Universe, and there will be a price to pay. And this isn't the only story [where] I'm going to be f*cking with it.

Nrama: Right, I think you said in Entertainment Weekly that people should think less Back to the Future and more Pleasantville.

Bendis: Yeah, because this story of the X-Men is really about what's happening to them here. There are two kinds of time travel stories — there's one where you end up in the wrong time period, like 13 Going on 30 or Peggy Sue Got Married, and it's not about trying to find a way back, it's about living that moment again, or finding something out about who you are. Or there's time travel stories like Back to the Future, where it's all about, I've got to get back to the future.

To me, when I mentioned Plesantville — even though I know it's not technically a time travel story — what it is about is these kids seeing something about themselves that they didn't see before, and being changed by it.

Nrama: After eight years on Avengers, though those books were changing and evolving all the time, right now sounds like a particularly energizing time for you in your career — starting All-New X-Men, plus two more yet to be named new projects.

Bendis: It's very energizing. Other writers know what I'm talking about — there's the right kind of nervousness. You're nervous for all the right reasons, and that's how I've felt now, for many months.  then the pages start coming in from everyone, including some people you don't know about yet, and It just relieves you.

 

Nrama: OK, I'll poke around about one more thing — are you and Mark Bagley doing something together in the Marvel Universe post-Avengers Assemble?

Bendis: Me and Bagley are dedicated to Brilliant right now. We're finishing up Avengers Assemble, and then we'll be doing Brilliant together. So we will be together throughout, but Bagley has another assignment coming his way. All I'll say about that assignment is that these are two dear friends that have never worked together, that I'm very excited to see what they do together. I think they're going to kill it.

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