When Brian Michael Bendis first started at Marvel, he was this young, up-and-coming writer whose independent work was hailed as giving the industry a fresh, new voice. Marvel gave him the chance to develop that voice on some of the publisher's highest profile characters, and today he's one of the architects of the Marvel Universe.
Now it's Bendis' turn to pass it on. With the announcement in Wizard World Chicago of the Secret Warriors series launching in January, Bendis is working with what he calls a "new voice" in the industry, Jonathan Hickman, the writer of Image Comics' Nightly News, Pax Romana and other projects.
Set to debut right after Secret Invasion the Secret Warriors series will be co-plotted by Bendis but scripted by Hickman and will focus on a team of young heroes put together by Nick Fury.
Newsarama talked to Bendis in Chicago, and in this first installment of a two-part interview, we discuss the Secret Warriors series, why he thinks this is a story that should be told, and why Hickman's the man to do it.
Newsarama: Your fans have been hearing hints for awhile that you were doing something with Nick Fury. What's the idea behind this series?
Brian Michael Bendis: I had this idea with the Caterpillar Files that we did in our Secret War series where Nick Fury has these little files that only he has. Like, these characters that could go either way that he was keeping an eye on, most of which are the bastard children of Marvel characters who are on either side of the fence, who either do or do not know. They don't even know that they're connected to these characters. They don't know who their father is. They don't even know where they came from. And he's keeping an eye on them.
NRAMA: And he pulls out these files when he needs them?
BMB: Well, when the Skrull invasion goes down, as we've already discovered, Nick Fury was one of the first people who knew anything about it. If you don't know who you can trust -- I use that line from The Untouchables where if you can't trust the apples, you don't pick them off the ground; you pick them off the tree. So he went to these files that only he had, that the Skrulls wouldn't know about, and trained these kids. And he's doing so without any connection to any authority or organization.
NRAMA: Completely on his own.
BMB: Yeah. And that really, in a way, makes him a terrorist. He's really a doing something like David Koresh. You know what I mean? But I thought that was an interesting thing. What's the line between terrorism and being a vigilante?
NRAMA: He's kind of developing his own military.
BMB: Exactly. So this was what came out of it. And they're a big part of the invasion. They were already introduced in Mighty Avengers. And now in Mighty Avengers #18, we're going to show you how Nick trained them and what it's like to be trained by Nick Fury, who's lost all his friends and family and everything he believed in. SHIELD's been compromised in his mindset.
NRAMA: So the team is introduced. Where did the idea for an ongoing book originate?
BMB: Initially it was going to be me and Howard Chaykin doing a Nick Fury series, but obviously, the book became about these kids and Nick Fury's place in their lives. And that became so much more interesting to me, because it wasn't just a Steranko rip-off and people doing Nick Fury over and over and over again. It was a completely new situation for him with new stories and new characters.
It became something I just didn't physically have time to write myself. But I had all these ideas and story beats. I had it all laid out, but I couldn't physically write it. And at the same time, all year long on my site and your site I've been touting the work of Jonathan Hickman over at Image Comics. I thought Nightly News was phenomenal. I thought everything he's done since then -- Transhuman and all this stuff -- really showed that guys like him and Matt Fraction have lots of new stuff to say and lots of new ways to say it. Nothing excites me more as a fan. Certainly, part of my gig at Marvel is to keep an eye out for guys like this and point to them. And I've been pointing to Jon since I read Nightly News.
NRAMA: Was this something you were talking to him about? Doing something at Marvel?
BMB: I didn't even know the guy. I didn't know if he wanted to do anything at Marvel or anything. But I said, boy, wouldn't it be great to see him do Marvel comics? So when this came about, Marvel didn't want the idea to just float away. And Tom said, hey, what about Jonathan Hickman? And I said yes! I'd actually rather read his version of this book than mine. And I love me!
So yeah, we called Jonathan. I had already emailed him a couple times in the past. Just friendly stuff. And so I said, are you interested? And he said, yeah man, I'm pitching! And I said, well guess what? You just hit a home run. I've got something right up your alley. It's Nick Fury. It's espionage. It's superheroes. It's kids. It's angry. It's everything that's you. And it's ready to go.
We came up with the situation that wasn't too far off from the situation I had with Bill Jemas when I first started Ultimate Spider-Man. Bill had been plotting Ultimate Spider-Man for months.
NRAMA: And had tons and tons of notes, right?
BMB: Yeah! Months before he even knew my name. So when I got the gig, he literally came in with stuff on cocktail napkins and envelopes and all this stuff he'd been writing and thinking about. Some of it was fantastic and some of it was delirious, and I picked out the good stuff, and there was Ultimate Spider-Man.
I'm doing the same with him. I'm giving him every idea that's in my head and I'm saying, go with it. So Jonathan's going to make a really major splash, and I'm very happy to introduce his work. Not only do I think this book will be great -- I think it will be like when I started at Marvel and people found my independent work. I hope people will now go find his independent Image work. And that's very exciting too.
NRAMA: Why is this story ideal for Hickman?
BMB: If you read Nightly News, it's almost like a manifest of this attitude of, like, 'I'm so angry!!!' and 'Everything's wrong, corporations suck and this sucks!' -- he's got a lot to say and a lot of ways to say it. And I think where Nick is, and where these kids are, is a perfect way to get all these different points of view of the world.
And I personally feel very antsy about the debut of a new book. It's got to have something very unique to say, thematically or structurally. It can't just be -- here's a new book. I always think about that. Even Spider-Man -- why is this being published? And are we hitting that goal? And Jonathan writing this book absolutely needs to be published. I think just like Fraction on Iron Fist or even when me and Mark were introduced to Marvel readers when the Ultimate line started. We were the guys coming out of independent books. I see someone who has something to say, so we're bringing him in to see if he has something to say at Marvel. And I think he will.
He got the job. Three days later, he handed me 15 different cover designs for the first issue. He's not even the cover designer. And that also made me feel really great, because when I was coming up as a writer/artist, I also couldn't figure out where the line was. Like what's a writer or what's storytelling.
NRAMA: It wasn't divided in your head into two elements?
BMB: Right. It was all the same in my head. And I was drawing the issues myself and handing them to the artist. I can remember Bagley going, no -- don't do that. I was like, oh... I didn't know. No one told me not to. So I felt a little kinship here. I know that feeling. He doesn't even know what to do with himself. He's drawing the book already. And that's a book I want to read.