Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. Creator-owned series. Brilliant.
The two creators are certainly familiar with each other — they collaborated on 111 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man together from 2000 to 2007, breaking Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Marvel Comics record of 102 consecutive Fantastic Four issues; a number once thought untouchable. They also worked together on The Pulse, Mighty Avengers and flashback scenes in the Alias arc “The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones.”
That prolific partnership stalled in 2008 when Bagley signed an exclusive deal with DC Comics. Late last year, Marvel announced that Bagley would be returning to Marvel Comics for the “Death of Spider-Man” story, starting with this coming Wednesday’s Ultimate Spider-Man #156. But the reunion doesn’t end there.
Brilliant is the debut creator-owned comic book from Bendis and Bagley, starting in July from Marvel’s creator-owned Icon line and announced Saturday evening during Marvel's Cup O' Joe panel at C2E2. It takes place in, effectively, the real world, and is centered around a group of geniuses on a college campus tackling their latest intellectual challenge: making superpowers real.
Though Bendis is a veteran of creator-owned comics (Brilliant is his fourth Icon title, along with Powers, Scarlet and recently released graphic novel Takio), this is Bagley’s first. For an archetypical superhero artist who has worked on everything from New Warriors to Justice League of America, it’s a pretty sizable change of pace.
Newsarama talked to both Bendis and Bagley via email about Brilliant, learning about the origins of the project, the differences in their working dynamic between this and their superhero comics, and whether or not we’ll see Bagley sticking around the Marvel Universe while working on this project.
Newsarama: Brian, Mark, starting off with a bit of a boring, though pertinent, question — what's the format we're looking at for Brilliant? Miniseries? Ongoing?
Brian Michael Bendis: This is a long miniseries so I guess the technical term is maxiseries. But it's really something in between. And if everything goes well this would be the first of a few. But we'll see how this one goes.
Mark Bagley: Bimonthly. I'd really like to keep my toes in the mainstream universe, as I still love superhero comics.
Nrama: OK, with that out of the way, next thing I'm curious about is how long this series has been in the works, given that you guys first started on Ultimate Spider-Man together in 2000. Is it something that's only been cooked up since Mark's return to Marvel late last year, or maybe something that the two of you had been kicking around for a few years now, and never had the opportunity until now?
Bendis: I honestly can't remember the first time I broached the subject with Mark. It was definitely before he went to DC. It was something I thought we should do a while ago but other things in my life, and his, always got in the way of doing this with him. I definitely brought this up when we were finishing up our first run on Ultimate Spider-Man. I knew this would be an outstanding experience for the both of us, and necessary experience for Mark. He had not done a creator-owned book and I knew how important the creator-owned experience is for anybody.
Bagley: Brian actually came to me with this just before I left Marvel for DC, as a "Hey, stick around, we can do this." I'd already made some verbal commitments and didn't feel that I could change course at the time. I told Brian I'd wished he'd come to me a few months before, but amazingly, Brian said he'd wait for me (he loves me).
I wanna be clear, I didn't tell Brian I would definitely be back to Marvel after my DC commitment. But it was nice to know this was waiting for me.
Interior art from
Brilliant #1.Nrama: And given that you guys have been working together so long, is the collaborative process between the two of you any different for a creator-owned title than it is in say, Ultimate Spider-Man (or Mighty Avengers, or Pulse, etc.)?
Bagley: Not really. We are all about the work. Doing a professional job that is quality and approachable, and bottom-line marketable. We both love what we do, but we understand that without an audience you have nothing. I think that we make a really great team because our sensibilities really complement each other.
Bendis: We certainly know each other's strengths and weaknesses. So working towards those is always a blessing and a challenge at the same time. but for people who are looking for a book where two creators are completely in sync with each other and challenging each other to do excellent work... Mark and I are definitely that. But our shorthand is really about visual language. The real fun is to help Mark discover the secret language of creator-owned comics. The magic of owning something and having no rules or editorial guidance. Pure expression. It's a lot of fun to watch someone discover new things about themselves and the creator owned book always allows that.
Nrama: Mark, as noted, this is your first creator-owned comic. Is that something you had been looking to pursue for a while? Or is this just the right project at the right time?
Bagley: I've really wanted to do something creator owned for a while now, but I knew I would need a collaborator because I'm just not a writer. The timing is perfect, and Brian is the perfect partner for me.
Nrama: Brian, clearly you've written a lot of comics, both in and out of the superhero genre. But like Scarlet, this seems like a very different comic from you, from the fact that it stars college-age students — as opposed to teenagers (Ultimate Spider-Man), young kids (Takio) or adult superheroes (Avengers) — to the genre. Is this a deliberate effort to explore new territory?
Bendis: I'm sure subconsciously it is but it's not like I sit down and make a list of things I haven't written about yet or people I haven't written about. I do consciously try to discover material and themes and things that are completely unlike the other books that I do. Especially the other creator-owned books that I do. It's exciting for me and I think it seems exciting for the people who buy my creator-owned books. Almost unanimously they told me that that's what they want from me. I have a wide berth of things that interest me both artistically and narratively. I am just as interested in the Avengers books as I am in Scarlet or Brilliant.
Nrama: Mark, you've been known to change up your art style as the story necessitates — artistically, how are you approaching Brilliant? Is it anything like a comic you've done before?
Bagley: I actually don't usually intentionally alter my "style." I just draw to what the material requires. That said, Brian and I have decided to try and go straight to color from the pencils… no inker. So I'm trying some new techniques to make that look as cool as possible. I'm still feeling my way through that process.
from Brilliant #1.Nrama: Brian, what can you say about the world where Brilliant takes place? Since it's one where superpowers are — at the beginning, at least — science fiction, is it safe to assume that this is happening somewhere close to the "real world"?
Bendis: This is the real world. This is happening today. It happens at a fictional Seattle nouveau Ivy League school where the geniuses of the next generation have gathered and a couple of them have decided and challenged each other to turn the science fiction of superheroes into science fact. That doesn't mean this is a superhero book because it is not. It is about what the world would really be like if a couple of kids cracked the code.
Nrama: It sounds like the story is driven by its ensemble cast, so, what can you tell us, at this point, about the main characters of Brilliant?
Bendis: Each of them are brilliant. Hence the title. [Laughs.] Each of them bring something very unique to the table; each of them sees the world for what it is and what it could be. Each of them is a little damaged and each of them has a very specific agenda as to why they're really doing this.
Nrama: Brian, the description of Brilliant given to press invoked movies like The Social Network, which you've gone on record in various venues as being a big fan of. Is it fair to say that films like that one played a vital role in inspiring you along the way to Brilliant?
Bendis: I love that movie and obviously Aaron Sorkin is one of my personal heroes. But I'll tell you what the genesis of this project, Brilliant, is. A few years ago HBO was kind enough to hire me to write a pilot for them that was based on the lives of a couple of the MIT blackjack kids that they had optioned. They were very nice guys and very interesting guys and they let me into their world. And their world was the world of unfettered genius. So the project at HBO didn't go anywhere, but I had done so much research not only about blackjack but about the lifestyle of geniuses on campus that it started me thinking about what would be the next big breakthrough. What could a genius or geniuses create that could really turn the world upside down? And how would the world react? How would they treat each other? Hopefully Brilliant is the answer to all those questions.
And because Mark is probably the best character actor comic book artist on the planet I came to him with this. I was so happy that he agreed to do it. Like Ultimate Spider-Man it is being tailor-made and written for his specific talents.
Nrama: Mark, obviously, you're a fast artist and can handle multiple projects at a time. While you're on Brilliant, can we assume that your work will also still be seen in work-for-hire Marvel comics?
Bagley: Brilliant will be bimonthly, so I should be able to do 12 issues a year of mainstream work as well... I still have a soft spot for superheroes.