BENDIS IS COMING!: An Exclamation... Or A Warning?
If you’ve been reading DC books the last few months or merely paid attention to comic book news, you’ve heard the news. You’ve seen the ads. In bold letters, they exclaim, “BENDIS IS COMING!” By now, you know he’s taking over the Superman books. You may have even read a little about his plans. Bendis coming to DC is some of the biggest comic news of this decade and him taking over the original superhero is even bigger news. If you’ve scrolled down to the comments sections of those articles, you’ve seen what fans are saying. There’s some excitement. There’s some fear. This coming Wednesday, he’ll no longer be coming, he’ll be there. Let’s talk about that.
Spoiler alert, but I haven’t come here to praise Brian Bendis or DC’s decision to give him the Superman books. In fact, full disclosure, I’m not a very big fan of the man, but we’ll be getting into that. I just wanted to lay that out at the offset. We can get started now.
Brian Bendis has become one of the more polarizing writers in the comic industry. It sort of makes sense, when you think about it. He’s pretty much been the top guy at Marvel for most of the last two decades and it’s rare that someone like that doesn’t have as many detractors as they do fans. His style of writing is distinct, to say the least, and you know immediately that you’re reading a Bendis comic. He eschews thought bubbles and caption boxes for rapid fire dialogue that let’s the reader know what’s going on in the character’s heads. He builds intricate plots, relying on that dialogue more than action to move the story forward. His comics are humorous, if you find constant quipping funny. In a lot of ways, he’s changed the way Marvel Comics has told stories, for better and worse.
The question on my mind, and a lot of other fans’ minds, though, is whether he’s right for Superman.
See, I can only speak for myself here, but when I heard he was going to DC, I groaned. Again, in the interests of full disclosure, I really only think that he’s done three great things in his career- Daredevil, Dark Avengers, and Siege. Beyond that, I find his work boring. He has good ideas, but his imagination doesn’t work very well once you get beyond street level. Like many, I think he doesn’t do individual voices very well. Most of his characters talk like Spider-Man, with a few exceptions (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Captain America sometimes, Norman Osborn, and a few others get the individual voices we’ve come to know; otherwise, it’s Spider-Man-esque quips for everyone else). His event books are long and meandering, except Siege. I can honestly say that House of M is my least favorite event book I’ve ever read. It’s a great concept, but, if you’ve never read it, be ready for issues #2-6 to be the slowest thing you’ve ever read in your life. You won’t believe how many times you’re going to see variations on characters saying they want to kill Magneto. I re-read it once a year to make sure I still hate it.
I still do.
A lot of people tell me that I’d like Alias or Ultimate Spider-Man and sure, I might. It’s possible. However, I’m an X-Men superfan and I stopped reading the X-Men books when he was on them because I was bored with what he was doing pretty quickly. For context, I’m a guy who kept buying the X-Men books when Chuck Austen was writing them and they were terrible. It takes a lot for me to stop reading the X-Men for any period of time, but Bendis succeeded in making that happen.
I don’t find his dialogue clever. I don’t find his quips funny and I hate the way he writes action in his comics. Bendis is one of those writers who has worked with some of the best action pencillers in the business, guys who can lay out dynamic, well choreographed action panels, yet the pages we’ve gotten from those books are always static and boring. Most of his issues of any of the Avengers books he wrote were people talking. This is the Avengers we’re talking about. If you write a six issue Avengers story and most of those six issues is people talking, well, that’s not an Avengers story. It’s a story, sure, and it may even be good, but the Avengers shouldn’t be boring. And Bendis wrote a lot of boring Avengers stories.
In the last few years, we’ve gotten a Renaissance in the Superman books. Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Dan Jurgens have taken Clark Kent and made him better than he’s been in years and they’ve done this by balancing the big action, Superman saving the day stuff, with the kind of character moments that are sometimes missing from Superman books. Writing Superman and making the character work as well as he’s worked since Rebirth is a tightrope, but the three of them walked that tightrope. The books haven’t always been perfect, but they’ve been very good for the most part.
The thing that has really worked for the Superman comics is how the new family dynamic has humanized the character. Superman has always been a sort of father figure in the comic industry, he’s the first costumed superhero, the example that all the other superheroes, regardless of what company they are from, try to be. That, plus his plethora of powers, has made it hard for readers to empathize with him. Giving him a family, though, has given readers a way to see him as one of us. It’s made him into a person we can understand because we’ve all had fathers and many of us are parents ourselves. Superman can’t be hurt, but his family can, even Jon, who has his father’s powers, to a lesser extent. That adds something to the character, a vulnerability he didn’t have before. Saying the Superman books are the best they’ve been in ages is a pretty popular opinion. Most people wouldn’t argue against that point. Sure, they’ve been better, but when you have a character as many of the greats have worked on as Superman, you’re going to get that.
Bendis is stepping onto Superman at a very good time for the Superman books. I think it’s because of how good the books have been lately that people are asking the questions they are. See, even for me, someone who doesn’t really like the vast majority of what Bendis has done, I’m a little excited in a strange way. I don’t think Bendis is very good at telling exciting, action packed stories, but I know he can do that, because I’ve read some good ones from him, like Avengers: Disassembled. When I read that he wants to do more with Clark as a reporter, I think that’s a great idea. When I read that he respects the Kent family, a weight is taken off my shoulders, because I love the Kent family.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, but we will riot if you screw with the Kent family, Bendis.
That said, I’m also scared because of all the problems I have with his style. I don’t want a Superman who quips like Spider-Man. When I hear that he’s created a new Kryptonian villain, I groan a little bit. Not because he’s not good with villains, but because I don’t think his style is going to work very well with a Kryptonian. And even though I know he’s said that he respects the Kent family, Bendis is a man who has never met a bit of soap opera-esque drama he didn’t like. These last few months, seeing the “BENDIS IS COMING!” ads has felt like a warning for me. It’s felt like the end of something, but when one thing ends, a new thing begins. If one isn’t open to beginnings, then’s what the point of life?
Another thing that really works in his favor for me is how genuinely excited he is. I think most of us agree that when Bendis is excited about something, when he cares, he can do great work. Even when there are stories of his I don’t like, I can tell when he cares and when he’s giving his all. Daredevil is him giving his all. The latter issues of his X-Men books are him not.
In the end, we won’t really know how he’s going to do until he does it. We’ll get our first taste next week in Action Comics #1000. I started out very pessimistic about this change (if we’re being honest, I figured they should have let him do a Gotham Central book; he’d be perfect for that), but as time has gone on, as I’ve read more of his interviews, I’ve felt better and better about the whole thing. I don’t like the man’s work anymore than I did before; I still find his stuff talky and boring; I still think he’s wrote some of the worst event books of the last twenty years; I think he’s bad at individual voices and his characters aren’t nearly as funny as he think they are. However, reading Superman has taught me a few things. One of those things is hope. Hope that things can be better, that people can and will do their best. The other is faith. I not only hope Bendis turns in work on par with his best stuff, but I have faith he will. My own trepidations and prejudices aren’t important. My hope and faith are.
I never thought I’d say this, but I have faith in him. That doesn’t mean it’s all going to be amazing. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like it all. Unless we’re talking about All-Star Superman or Morrison’s Action Comics run, there has never been a Superman run where I can say I loved every issue of it. That doesn’t make those runs bad and it doesn’t mean those writers are bad. Every new issue, every new story is a place for a new beginning. That’s the beauty of comics.
So, for those of you that are on the fence about the whole thing, that are scared, I want you to be like Superman. I want you to have hope. I want you to have faith. I’m going to give Bendis a chance. Are you?