This week Marvel stalwart Brian Michael Bendis both re-upped his Marvel exclusive contract and announced that he would be leaving All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men at the onset of the upcoming Secret Wars, when Uncanny reverts to its original numbering for issue #600. The writer has helmed these core X-Men titles since the start of Marvel NOW! in November 2012, after his departure from a game-changing run on the Avengers’ franchise.
Bendis is unquestionably one of Marvel's top writers, but more than that he’s Marvel resident kingmaker – their go-to writer when they want to instill instant market credibility to a property.
When a launching - or relaunching - a comic book title is a priority for Marvel, Bendis is no doubt atop their very short list.
With Marvel's entire line seemingly up for grabs thanks to Secret Wars, the possibilities of Bendis’ next titles are nearly limitless. But let’s try to zero in on some likelihoods.
But first some ground rules. Newsarama is assuming that in all probability, Bendis will be sticking with Miles Morales, and that likely means a high-profile launch during Secret Wars and/or the resulting all-new Marvel Universe. We’re also assuming he remains at the helm of Guardians of the Galaxy, which leaves the two X-Men-sized holes in his schedule.
For months Bendis has been raising, or responding to, the possibilities of a solo title for Jean Grey - a character he brought back into the fold after her most recent death in Grant Morrison's storied New X-Men run. In fact, Bendis specifically stated in a tumblr post in September that he would be discussing a Jean Grey solo comic at a pre-New York Comic Con Marvel summit.
Bendis has already gone on record as saying his proudest moment from his twin X-Men runs is in fact bringing back Jean Grey and bucking trends of the past with the character.
“I will say I’m personally proudest of doing a Jean Grey story that didn’t end with her murdered,” Bendis said. “The people always said they wanted Jean Grey back and we brought her back. Literally every day, someone wrote me and said, ‘Are you going to kill her? Are you killing her? When you gonna kill her?’ But we told a great story and we didn’t do it so that was exciting.”
With Marvel having recently launched solo titles for Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler, a Jean Grey solo series would not be out of character. If Jean Grey does indeed find herself in a starring role after Secret Wars, dollars to donuts Bendis would be at the helm.
And literally as this story was being written, Marvel revealed they’d be making a “Forceful” announcement of a new "game-changing" Secret Wars related title they’ll announce Friday on the female-oriented daytime chat show, The View. Assuming, like their announcement of the female Thor a few months back, Marvel would gear a female-oriented announcement to the program, our bet is that this will have something to do with the Phoenix "Force" (we see what you did there, Marvel).
Could we see an announcement as early as tomorrow, perhaps with a version of Jean Grey in control of the Phoenix Force, making her of one of the most powerful forces of good in the Universe - Marvel's very own Wonder Woman?
We might be getting a little ahead of ourselves with that last part, but Marvel’s cryptic pre-announcement only emboldens our speculation of a Brian Bendis-Jean Grey series of some stripe.
But even if accurate, that would leave one more question - assuming there are two slots in Bendis’ schedule, what makes sense for another?
There's always the possibility that Bendis could take the reins on the Amazing Spider-Man franchise - the Peter Parker Spider-Man franchise that is - in its entirety. But with over a hundred issues starring the Ultimate Peter Parker under his belt, Bendis has touched on all of Peter's biggest villains, his relationships, and even his death. Plus Amazing Spider-Man already has a pretty solid lead writer in Dan Slott who seems to have plans for Peter through the next millennium.
It also seems unlikely Bendis would go back to the Avengers well, even with the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron - named after a story Bendis wrote - on the horizon.
More likely that that, we suspect Bendis would turn towards characters he has yet to write. With the aforementioned Avengers: Age of Ultron now just months away, and leading directly into Captain America: Civil War, there's a chance Bendis could turn to some key movie characters, such as Hulk or Black Widow.
Black Widow has recently been starring in a generally well received solo title from Nathan Edmondson, but the iconic Hulk has yet to find real sales success as a solo character in some time, a circumstance Bendis could likely turn around.
Assuming his future is indeed tied to his habit of rehabbing extant film properties, you also can’t discount Bendis landing on a post-Secret Wars Inhuman or Dr. Strange title. Current Inhuman writer Charles Soule has been announced as the writer of not one, but two upcoming new Inhuman ongoing series Uncanny Inhumans, and Inhumans: Attilan Rising, so could Bendis take Inhuman off Soule’s busy hands?
We know building the Inhumans brand at Marvel is a key priority of their's given the property's role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.I.E.L.D. and their 2017 solo movie, and that’s exactly the sort of assignment Marvel gives to Bendis.
And that’s not even mentioning the possibility that Scarlet Witch, a character Bendis famously used to devastating effect in both "Avengers Disassembled" and House of M, might herself be an Inhuman.
Similarly, we know there is a Dr. Strange ongoing coming in advance of his solo movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and Bendis used Strange pretty extensively during his Avengers run as well as more recently in Uncanny X-Men.
Finally, for these same reasons, you can’t discount Black Panther, a character we also can assume Marvel will be launching an ongoing solo series for, likely before or during next May’s Captain America: Civil War that will star Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in advance of his solo movie the next year.
But there's also one more iconic franchise Bendis has yet to handle that could be perfectly suited not only for his writing style, but also fits exactly in his niche of books that need a high-profile boost along with some rehabilitation: the Fantastic Four.
Marvel readers and observers seem uncertain as to what Marvel's plans are for the Fantastic Four following the upcoming cancellation of their title. Some more cynical readers are convinced the publisher has some Machiavellian plan to scuttle the title just to spite 20th Century Fox's upcoming film reboot, perhaps in an attempt to bring the film rights back in house.
Frankly, Marvel seems too smart to believe anything they can do on a comic book publishing side that will affect the film rights, and too bottom-line oriented (can you tell we're trying not to say "greedy") to bury the property out of spite. Let's be honest, they certainly haven't failed to exploit X-Men and Spider-Man on the comic book side, two other properties they don't hold the film rights to.
No, our bet is whatever their plans are for the Fantastic Four, long term or short, it isn't to bury it for too long.
Bendis has a brief history with the Fantastic Four, co-writing the first six issues of the then best-selling Ultimate Fantastic Four with Mark Millar in 2004.
But more recently he’s hinted at some sort of Fantastic Four tale he seems to want to tell someday. He’s enigmatically hinted at something he calls the “Baxter Building Murders” in the pages of both All-New X-Men and Daredevil: End of Days.
Marvel has acknowledged struggling to make the Fantastic Four connect with the market in recent years. Jonathan Hickman and James Robinson were by no means half-hearted attempts, but Fantastic Four may represent the perfect storm of circumstance Bendis’s kingmaker status is wielded for.