Brian Bendis - Wrapping it All Up & Starting Dark Reign

Best Shots Extra: Secret Invasion #8

Secret Invasion #8
Secret Invasion #8

The bad guys lost, so the good guys must have won. Right?

Don't be so sure. With the release this week of Secret Invasion #8, readers found out that the Skrulls invading Earth may have lost the war, but victory for the heroes is anything but sweet. When the smoke cleared, The Avengers lost one of their founders, a baby has disappeared, and the war has ended with a shift in power that leads the Marvel Universe into what the publisher is calling "Dark Reign," complete with new titles, new teams and a new leader named Norman Osborn.

Almost five years in the making, the story of Secret Invasion has dominated the Marvel Universe since March, spanning an eight-issue miniseries by Brian Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu, as well as dozens of tie-in issues and spin-offs. As the story ended this week, Newsarama talked to Bendis to find out more about what's coming in Dark Reign, as well as looking back Secret Invasion's end.

Newsarama: The Secret Invasion may be over, and the Skrulls didn't win, but Brian, it's not really a happy ending with who did win, is it?

Brian Michael Bendis: You know what? It's just like any war we've ever seen in the real world. There are winners and losers – physically, politically, mentally – and that's how this shook out too. And it's not even what Norman was looking for necessarily, but it's how it shook out, and he grabs it. He goes for it.

NRAMA: Is the dark turn at the end something that was always planned, or is it something that came to you as you were writing the story?

BMB: No, it's part of the original pitch. What I pitched was that what happens at the end was there's a power shift in the Marvel Universe that creates a situation where most of the heroes get to feel what it feels like to be Peter Parker all the time, that even when you win you lose. And it was interesting to me to have Luke Cage or Clint Barton or even Captain America feel like they know what Peter Parker always feels like. And everyone got charmed by that idea at Marvel.

While I was putting it together, Warren [Ellis]'s Thunderbolts run made it very clear that if one would choose to do so, Norman was on track to head toward this kind of storyline, very organically, very in-character, and very much within the realm of what was going on. When Warren left Thunderbolts, I kind of raised my hand and said, "Hey, you know that thing with the thing there? This is it." And everyone said yes, including Warren, thank God in heaven, and I got to go write my Warren Ellis fan fiction. So that's great. So yeah, that's where we ended up.

NRAMA: And from that came Dr. Doom, Osborn, Emma Frost, Namor, The Hood and Loki uniting as the Dark Illuminati on the last two pages of Secret Invasion?

BMB: The idea was, in the original pitch, that there was a secret group, a cabal, that got put together that was the mirror image of the Illuminati, with five or six characters who almost mirrored the other group. And we see them from their day one. I thought the most intriguing character would be Namor, who's on both secret little groups and is the only one that knows both exist.

NRAMA: Namor kind of walks the line between both sides, doesn't he?

BMB: Yeah, and he always has. He does whatever's best for him and his kingdom. I love the relationship between him and Doom. I always have. The only change that was made from the original pitch was that Magneto was not available. So we sat down and thought, who would replace Magneto? And the idea of Emma was brought up -- I think Fraction said Emma. And that's not something I would have suggested unless an X-writer suggested it. Emma now becomes the most interesting person in that room. Now, it's like, why is Emma in that room? And Matt and I have been working diligently to produce some really interesting stuff for her. So when you read Secret Invasion: Dark Reign, I actually rewrote it to be from her point of view, because I think her point of view is the most interesting. The initial meeting of the group will be seen through her eyes. I had the meeting set, but when Emma became part of it, it just became that much more interesting. So now Emma's the one who has to make some hard choices.

NRAMA: So we'll get to hear what's going on inside her head?

BMB: Absolutely. From page one of Dark Reign Special. Because we know what Doom wants, we know what Namor wants, we know what Loki wants, we know what everybody else wants. But Emma has wants as well. And is she willing to go this far to make them happen, in this climate?

And I'd like to publicly speak to Joss Whedon, whom I haven't spoken to about this. I'd like to tell Joss, I'm not going to undo all the work you did to make her awesome.

NRAMA: Well, that's good to know. You're starting a new Avengers that spins out of Secret Invasion called Dark Avengers. What role does the "cabal" play in Dark Avengers?

BMB: We'll talk about Dark Avengers soon, but Dark Avengers obviously rolls right out of the last couple pages of Secret Invasion and the Dark Reign Special. You'll find out who the Dark Avengers are, and why they are, and how they are -- all in the first issue. We're not going to drag it out. Right in the first issue, you'll find out who everybody is, including Iron Patriot. Very, very clearly. By the end of that issue, you'll go, "OK! Well, that's something!" And hopefully it will be enough to make you want to pick up the next issue. But it sends a lightning bolt across other books in the Marvel Universe as well. There's no way people can't react to it.

And then New Avengers #50 is a big one, as far as that's concerned.

NRAMA: Big as far as... what?

BMB: Dark Avengers. It's the New Avengers' reaction to the Dark Avengers.

NRAMA: That doesn't sound like it's going to be good. And it will send shock waves through the New Avengers team?

BMB: Absolutely. Double-sized, wrap-around cover. It's "big" in page count, big in words, big in stuff happening -- it's going to be big! [laughs] And what you'll have is a new roster for New Avengers, a new place where they'll live, a new agenda, and they'll be pretty much up against the wire as far as who the Dark Avengers are and what they can do about it, if they can do anything about it.

But the cabal itself will be popping up all over the place in parts or in whole, over the Avengers books, over the X-books, over a couple other books. Regardless if you want to follow Dark Reign or just follow your book, all you'll need to know is this group got together and why they got together and how uneasy the truth may be, or the agreements between the characters may be.

NRAMA: Is this "cabal" going to function like the Illuminati, controlling things from behind the scenes?

BMB: Yeah, and not to ruin the Special, but Norman pretty much puts it out there to them and says, the way it's been going has not worked out for you, or you wouldn't have even agreed to meet with me. Doom has no kingdom, Namor has no kingdom, Loki has no kingdom. It's not working. So Norman says, I'm willing to do that which Nick Fury and Tony Stark were unable or unwilling to do, and that is to work with you so we can put everyone at ease. And in return, I get credit for getting you guys to settle your asses down. And from there, plans are made. And the plans and how they are executed are what gets really interesting as the year goes on.

NRAMA: What does the existence of the cabal do to the various X-Men and Avengers books?

BMB: Well, they don't know about its existence. And the question is, when will they figure this out, how will they figure it out, and will it be too late to do anything about it by the time they figure it out?

NRAMA: But Norman's role is public. Even ignoring what this will do to Peter Parker, there are other Avengers who can see a problem here, aren't there? Won't there be factions among these Avengers books who will fight against him having control?

BMB: Oh, absolutely. There are going to be tantrums, there are going to be covert operations, there are going to be all kinds of dealings like that. But I think what charmed most of my peers about this, as well as my bosses, was that, like the Initiative, it created all kinds of new stories. You get the characters that you love, but in stories that you haven't seen them in before, including Spider-Man and Norman Osborn, including the Avengers, including the New Avengers, and including the Fantastic Four. All these characters have a new agenda, and a pretty vital one. One that's got many different aspects to it. So far, I've seen some stunning writing, particularly from Matt, who wrote an X-Men Annual that's fantastic and deals with some of the history between some of the cabal members.

NRAMA: Let's clarify what the president was saying about how the heroes shouldn't have been fighting each other and this should be blamed on Tony Stark. What happens as we go forward with the things that were established during Civil War?

BMB: Well, think for a second about real world scenarios. Think about Katrina, think about any wars -- immediately, people are thrown under the bus and ruined without even an investigation, and it's very politically motivated. It's very damning. And people kind of eat it up because they want it. They want someone to blame. They want to feel safe immediately. You know, there's an argument that people want to watch TV and not feel panicked. And some politicians use that fear to punish.

So what happens is, here's Tony, who put himself up on the mountaintop, very controversially, and chose to fight a battle that ended up killing Captain America, instead of doing this other thing. Although, people who are reading both Avenger books know, there's not much he could have done. But tell that to the people, right? You're the one that's in charge. So he takes the hit. He's out. And what happens is people like the president or other world countries, they want to keep their power, so they all band together and point to Tony to keep it off of them. So Tony takes the hit.

NRAMA: SHIELD is gone, so what are we getting now? The Marvel version of the Department of Homeland Security?

BMB: It's being replaced by something else, which will be debuting in Dark Avengers. But yeah, it is the world we live in where there's a new organization put forth to make us feel better, but it never quite does, does it? Never really makes us feel better.

NRAMA: Let's talk about some other things that were revealed in this issue of Secret Invasion. Jessica and Luke are obviously pretty upset now, right?

BMB: Yes. And that goes right next week into New Avengers. And I know some people will be irked that there's a little bit of a cliffhanger into another book, but I say to you that people who just wanted to read Secret Invasion, as far as you know, the baby was eaten and that's it. Story done. But 99 percent -- and I thought about this for awhile -- 99 percent of the people reading Secret Invasion were reading New Avengers. And because New Avengers birthed Secret Invasion, it seemed only fair to have something from Secret Invasion that kind of eased you back into New Avengers. And this was harmless enough to the people who were buying Secret Invasion, but strong enough emotionally to get you right back into New Avengers.

And for those of you who weren't reading New Avengers yet, I would like you to now read New Avengers because you want to see what happens to the baby. So I apologize for that, but this is the world Stan built, and there is always a next issue. I know it's a tiny bit of dirty pool, but hey -- there's a baby in jeopardy. E.R. does it every week.

NRAMA: It's also interesting to see how Nick Fury reacts to his former SHIELD agents. Not a lot of trust left there?

WWC: Hickman on Secret Warriors
WWC: Hickman on Secret Warriors
Secret Warriors

BMB: Yeah, the whole theme of this was, "Who can you trust?" And just because it's over doesn't mean everyone all of the sudden trusts each other. And Nick Fury, in particular, may be the most damaged of the group, may be the most distrusting, and turns is back on his older friends to work on his Secret Warriors. And that will be picked up in Secret Warriors #1.

NRAMA: We have Mockingbird coming back in this issue?

BMB: Yes! I'm very happy to say Mockingbird is back in full force in the Marvel Universe. You're going to get a grand reunion between her and Clint Barton in the pages of one of the Avengers books.

NRAMA: Which Avengers book?

BMB: I can't say yet! But it's going to be pretty cool. And you know Jim McCann said, they're like the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the Marvel Universe now. They have to find out if they even like each other. Do they even fit? And all that's pretty cool stuff. I'm looking forward to that. And then you get these two characters who have both been resurrected and been through the mill, and maybe they're different ages now. And that's all interesting. During the series, I could tell that even when we found out the first Mockingbird was a Skrull, I could tell people had this growing feeling that they kind of wanted her back. It was funny because in the beginning, it was like, "Who's Mockingbird?" And halfway through, they're like, "Oh, I like Mockingbird!" And I was thrilled, because I knew Mockingbird wasn't the most iconic character, but I knew people who liked her really liked her, especially her and Clint's odd relationship in the '80s. Hopefully her resurrection stops some of the pain of Janet's sad demise.

NRAMA: That's the next question. Janet?

BMB: Well, I'm sure no one on Newsarama has a problem with it. So I'm sure I'm speaking to deaf ears. No, I will say to those of you on Newsarama who think I hate the Avengers, and that I am ruining the classic Avengers to make New Avengers look cool [laughs] you're right! And now you have proof. So there -- you win!

But as far as Janet's demise, I know it's a sad one, but it's a sad one that you'll see right away in Mighty Avengers #20 how it affects the major Avengers players, including poor Hank. It's a very emotional issue. And I know it is, 'cause I even heard from the letterer. You never hear from the letterer! He said, "That was sad!" So we'll be dealing with it with much compassion and honor. Her death will bolster certain characters to do other things in Dan's book and in some of my books.

NRAMA: I got a hint from Dan Slott that we might see some classic Avengers uniting in Mighty Avengers?

BMB: Dan's got a whole thing cooking that I think people are really going to dig. And the Avengers books are going to rub up against each other nicely. But they're each going to each have a very unique theme and feel to them, which I think is the most important thing if you're going to have three Avengers book. They each have a very specific agenda and a very specific tone and feel. And maybe they'll even have different audiences -- who knows? But I have a feeling most people will want to buy all of them at the same time, just to enjoy that juxtaposition and how close they are to each other, but how different they are.

NRAMA: Thor made it pretty clear he didn't want to work with Iron Man, but will we see him show up anywhere near the Avengers?

BMB: Thor?

NRAMA: Yeah. He's got to be tough to write, and you haven't written him much before. You wrote him well, I thought.

BMB: Did I? You know, I rarely walk around talking that way, so it's hard. He's the only character there's not someone I know that I can base it on. Like, I know a Tony Stark. I know a Luke Cage. It's hard to even get your friends to talk like Thor, even if you want them to.

But I know Thor's got a cool issue #600. And Marvel's Free Comic Book Day will be a special issue written by me and drawn by Jimmy Cheung that stars Dark Avengers, New Avengers and Thor. What's really cool about that is I like when these Free Comic Book Day things are something A-list. It's a brand new story, and it kind of lays out the tone of the Marvel Universe pretty good, as far as the Avengers go.

NRAMA: Sue and Hank and everyone who was on the ship -- will we find out more about what was going on with these characters while they were gone?

BMB: Yeah, and see, I love this. These characters, for better or for worse, they wake up and all their relationships are different. Everything's been changed.

NRAMA: Particularly Spider-Woman! Are you dealing with that in the Spider-Woman comic you've got coming up?

BMB: Absolutely. I mean, she's Osama bin Laden. She's the face of terrorism, publicly and privately. Every relationship she's ever had in the world has been dramatically altered. There are people she's slept with, and she had no idea! There are friends she had that are better friends, and friends she had that are not friends at all, and enemies and whatnot. And even her relationship with Hydra has changed. And she's unaware how. So walking into a world like that, I think that's just juicy writer stuff. That's a lot of fun stuff to write.

NRAMA: You're writing a lot of comics going forward, Brian. Are you also coordinating what other writers can do with this "cabal" and the various characters who are behind Dark Reign?

BMB: I try not to be. Tom and the editors do that. I honestly don’t want to. I don't want to be told what to write and what not to write, so why would I want to do that to other people? But the only word we put out there, as we set up our main manifesto and where this is all headed -- there's a place it's headed that was important -- and we don't anyone to do anything to contradict that.

NRAMA: Uh oh... when you say it's all headed somewhere, does that mean there's another event coming?

BMB: What? Event? No! [laughs] No, there's no event, but there's a storyline. There's a larger storyline. Within that storyline, there's plenty of fun to be had, much like Secret Invasion and Civil War. For those who are creative and have the ingenuity, like Paul Cornell or Jonathan Hickman, guys who come up with takes that other people would not have come up with, there are a lot of places to shine.

The only note I put out there was I had this creepy feeling we were going to see Norman in every single book, like we saw Tony in every single book a year and a half ago. Remember how every character got to yell at Tony in their book? I just said, look, the good news here is that there are many members of the cabal, there are many underlings of the members of the cabal, there are many team-ups inside the cabal, so it doesn't always have to be Norman. Already, you can feel, there's a mystery that readers want to get into, but let's not make everyone get sick of him by April. So that's the only thing I said, and from there, [editor] Tom [Brevoort] takes over. And Tom is a story ninja.

NRAMA: I talked to Tom in Chicago about the coordination of Secret Invasion. Looking back, do you feel good about how it all came together?

BMB: Coordination-wise, I had little to do with it other than having witnessed what happened with Disassembled and House of M and Civil War and the things that worked and didn't work. I witnessed all of it, so I could help Tom with what he was already doing amazingly. And I do think this was the best coordinated event, the best tie-ins, as far as quality goes. The best tie-ins are the ones that you didn't even need to read Secret Invasion to enjoy them. Like you didn't need to read Secret Invasion to enjoy Hercules or Captain Britain. They were just good Skrull stories on their own. And Civil War had those too, where you could just read the tie-in and get it. That's good. And I felt like Secret Invasion had a lot of those. And yeah, we got out on time. I know we had a blip at the end here, but that just had to do with having four extra pages, and it's a lot of drawing. And I was very, very proud of this. I'm walking out of here relieved, honestly. It didn't tank. I have no control over that, but it's a relief.

NRAMA: Is this "manifesto" of the storyline that's coming up next also your brainchild?

BMB: Huh? There's no next event!

NRAMA: I didn't say event! I mean the "ongoing storyline" of Dark Reign and where it's eventually heading. Is that your baby too? You pitched it, right?

BMB: Well, the Avengers stories, just because of the characters and who's involved, do seem to be the center of what's going on. And because I'm writing two of them and I did pitch them out, it is something I put out there. So... yes is the answer. But that discussion of the ideas behind where this is going is for another time. Right now, it's just Dark Reign. Nobody needs to worry about something else down the line yet. Just enjoy Dark Reign for what it is.

NRAMA: You'd think after this, Brian, you'd be taking a vacation or something. But you're writing Dark Avengers, New Avengers, Spider-Woman, the Specials, and co-writing Secret Warriors -- not to mention your other stuff in Icon and the Ultimate universe.

BMB: No, honestly, Jonathan is writing Secret Warriors. But no, this is a miracle job. You know. You feel the same way about yours. It's like, oh, cool, I get to do this? Eventually they'll boot me, but as long as I'm here and I have the ideas and the stories and the inclination, I might as well do it.

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