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‘Powers’: Spotlight on Brian Michael Bendis

Powers is now back for Season 2 on the PlayStation®Store, and already it seems like this season is a big step-up from last season. Season 1 was solid, but it seems like the cast and the writers are really finding their groove this season now that the characters are better established. The excitement has had us talking about the Powers comics a lot lately, and I binge-read through all of them to get myself pumped for the show coming back (#ThankYouBasedComixology). This has been a HUGE year in general for the book’s creator, writer Brian Michael Bendis. Between Powers and his 2001 work Alias being adapted into Jessica Jones on Netflix, we’re really starting to see the crossover appeal we’ve always known he’s had. Now that Bendis is becoming more and more of a recognizable name on TV, we thought it would be fun to take a look at his career so far and his other lesser-known works. Hopefully, you can find some new comics to read that you wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.

Brian Michael Bendis TV

If you have been reading mainstream comic books in the last 10 years, it’s probably safe to assume you at least know the name “Bendis.” There are a lot of great creative voices who have been architects of the Marvel Universe, but Bendis has probably shaped the modern era of Marvel more than any other individual writer. His work at Marvel is also representative of a larger shift in the industry towards less traditional superhero comics. His first big assignment at Marvel was the ongoing series Ultimate Spider-Man in 2000, a now-legendary run that has seen the death of Peter Parker, the introduction of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe, and is still continuing today with a recent Spider-Man #1 release. Prior to that though, most of his work was in creator-owned indie comics, and he arrived at Marvel at a time when the company was close to bankrupt.

ultimatespidermansuit

Bendis had already made a big name for himself, mostly writing and illustrating pulp-influenced crime stories. Many of these are available on comiXology and there are some really great ones worth checking out: FireFortune and GloryA.K.A. GoldfishJinx, and Torso are some of the highlights. His status as an industry outsider gave him a great eye for deconstructing the standard building blocks of superhero stories, with a perspective that feels fresh even now reading these stories for the first time 15 years later. Marvel made a name for themselves in the 60’s when they introduced radically different characters like the Thing, a superhero who didn’t want to be a superhero. This is a storytelling idea in comics that’s practically cliche by now, but Alias and Powers both found new takes on it. They’re both written with an obvious love for the superhero genre, but featuring protagonists who had the ability to become super-heroes and chose to reject it. Jessica Jones of Alias still wants to use her powers to help people, but the life of a costumed crusader was too much for her… her earliest stories show a woman who basically has PTSD from dealing with the insanity of battling super-villains, and whose biggest problem beyond paying the rent is making sure her coping mechanisms aren’t too unhealthy. Christian Walker of Powers was a superhero for years until giving it up to defeat his greatest enemy, who admitted that he couldn’t even remember why the two immortals were fighting anymore. Powers uses Christian Walker to answer questions about how a legal system would have to evolve to deal with super-heroes and villains, focusing on the street-level duties of homicide detectives. This aptitude for street-level stories would also greatly assist Bendis in his other classic Marvel run around the same time, his early work on Daredevil

Powers Christian Walker Comic

 

The real beginning of the Bendis Era of Comics though is when Marvel finally gave him the keys to the Avengers, starting with his landmark story Avengers Disassembled. The first thing Bendis did was break the Avengers down, literally and metaphorically, dissolving the original team that had been running since the Silver Age so he could figure out how they worked best and rebuild them from the ground up. New Avengers #1 is arguably one of the single most important issues of the modern era just for how fundamentally Bendis changed the status quo in the Marvel Universe. For years the Avengers had been Marvel’s top superhero team, and the roster was a mixture of top-selling characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, with characters who just couldn’t seem to find a home in their own books: Hawkeye, Hank Pym, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the Vision. New Avengers was so huge because it decided to finally bring together all of the characters who had been hugely popular at Marvel for years, but had just never really had the in-universe spotlight for some reason. He added Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Luke Cage to the line-up, and took it as an opportunity to raise the profile of deserving but less-popular characters like Sentry and Spider-Woman. The result was an Avengers book that was… well, just more fun than traditionally serious Avengers comics had been for a long time.

Spider-Man New Avengers 7

More than that though, it gave us a Marvel Universe that felt more unified and cohesive. Rather than a sort of exclusive club, the Avengers would slowly morph into an organization that united Marvel’s heroes together whether they be X-Men or Fantastic Four or Hulks. It made the Marvel Universe feel less like something that was constantly being tugged into a million directions at once, and more like a grand epic story with a central vision to its characters. It helped a lot that Bendis would be heavily involved in plotting/writing the next several years of crossovers… House of MSecret War, not Civil War but many of the great crossovers that spun out of it, Secret InvasionDark ReignSiege. Bendis gave us a great era of crossovers in his early years at Marvel, mostly because he knew how to reward fans with slow storytelling that took the time to set up greater plot threads for the future. He also had the sense to realize that the fun of a book like Avengers wasn’t seeing a group of superheroes punch some boring alien all at the same time, it was getting to see the way they interacted with each other as equals. It’s the same character-oriented approach to storytelling that made Justice League International such a hit at DC when Justice League books had been stagnating for years. There have been a lot of other great writers involved, and I don’t want to give Bendis the credit alone, but I really believe his run on Avengers was responsible for taking them from a team that was just holding down one book a month to a franchise that now supports five or six books a month.

Civil War II

Bendis has pretty much left his mark on just about every major hero at Marvel, and he’s still going strong with Civil War II coming out now. He’s gotten his fair share of criticism also, which I think is sort of unavoidable if your work in comic books becomes popular enough. It seems like he’s taking the time to do more creator-owned solo projects again, like his recent new series Scarlet working with frequent collaborator Alex Maleev. Bendis has always had a career full of surprises, and he’s always kept us guessing where it’s gonna go next. There are people who love him and people who hate him, but it’s hard to deny the huge positive impact his work has had on the comic book industry. I don’t know what his next big project is gonna be… but I do know that Bendis always makes me feel like the best stuff from him is still yet to come.

Thanks for reading! For more information on Brian Michael Bendis and his work at Marvel Comics, check out the Marvel Database on Wikia! 


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Billy Arrowsmith

Billy Arrowsmith is an amateur writer and comedian who runs the DC Comics Database, the largest online resource for DC Comics. He is a sensitive bad boy with a heart as big as all outdoors.

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