Earlier today, there was an announcement that Brian Michael Bendis was going to be writing a new Defenders comic book starring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, the same as the Netflix lineup. And in the discussion of that article, I found a lot of interesting things to talk about; primarily, the paradox of Brian Michael Bendis.
Bendis is an unusual writer, starting off as an indie writer with black and white crime and noir comics like Fire, Jinx, Goldfish, and Torso. It was in these comics that he developed a back-and-forth style of dialogue that would become known as “Bendis-speak.” What is Bendis-speak? It’s when someone says something, someone else repeats it as a question, and then the first person repeats the same thing. Often over and over again. Like this:
Or a more recent example:
This style of dialogue was more realistic, but it also tended to come off as slightly annoying (for given values of “slightly” depending on how often it was used). Bendis gained some popularity after his comic Powers came out and he was soon asked to write Ultimate Spider-Man for Marvel in 2000. After Bendis moved over to writing for Marvel, he began to write more and more high profile books, with Daredevil in 2001 and, eventually, New Avengers in 2005.
This, then, became the Paradox of Brian Michael Bendis: he was great at writing some stories. People loved his Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil runs. And yet, the big crossover he wrote that preceded New Avengers, “Avengers Disassembled,” was roundly mocked because of how it ignored established continuity, how it killed off characters for shock value, and how it just came out of left field. How could such a great writer write such a bad crossover? Was it simply the crossover itself?
As time went on and Bendis wrote more and more books, people began to notice this dichotomy in his writing. One story would be great, another wouldn’t. Team books, solo books, street-level characters, space characters. Bendis seemingly wrote them all and some of them he wrote great and some of them he didn’t. It seemed kind of random, actually. Perhaps it was because his writing was maturing — an infamous issue of Mighty Avengers had Doctor Doom call Carol Danvers a “cow,” but the current Doom that Bendis writes in Infamous Iron Man seems like he would never do such a thing. Had his writing simply gotten better over time...or had it gotten worse? His most recent run on Guardians of the Galaxy was criticized for being meandering and without much characterization or plot. How, then, was this the same writer as Daredevil and Alias, which often had deep characterization and careful plotting?
And then, in the comments for the article, I read this:
Worse yet are the rumors of him possibly spearheading a revival of the Fantastic Four. Better dead than BMB’ed.
Was this correct? Was Bendis going to start writing a new Fantastic Four? And...would that be so terrible?
One way to find out: one of the characters in Bendis’s most recent run on Guardians of the Galaxy was actually the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing. And Guardians of the Galaxy #15, written by Bendis with art by Valerio Schiti, was actually dedicated solely to him.
Previously: during Civil War II, the Guardians ship was destroyed, stranding them on Earth. (Yes, it’s silly they can’t hitch another ride out, but go with it.) And then an argument between Peter Quill and Gamora basically broke up the Guardians, leaving each character on their own.
Which meant that for the next six issues, each issue would focus on an individual character and what they did while stranded on Earth. Starting with Ben.
I love this. Ben Grimm was always the most humble of the FF, always thinking he was a burden to people, but he always turned out to be the most loved. Even by those on Yancy Street.
So Ben goes to get a slice of pizza and reminisces.
On the one hand, Franklin and Valeria Richards don’t really sound anything like themselves and look too close in age. But on the other hand, damn, do I miss the Fantastic Four. Even a single page like this makes me want to read more about them.
So Maria Hill shows up at the pizza place.
She tells Ben about Doom’s recent activities (i.e. his turn towards heroism).
The rest of the issue is Ben talking to Mary Jane Watson, who was Tony Stark’s assistant, about Doom and his interest in Tony. When Ben finally agrees to go and find Doom for S.H.I.E.L.D., Hill makes him an agent, complete with uniform and car.
I’ve read previous issues of Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy and they were not as good as this. This issue was, well, pretty damn good. His characterization of Ben was as good as any writer before and his plot away from the Guardians makes a lot of sense.
And what about Guardians of the Galaxy #16? Well, that issue was all about Groot.
And it’s in rhyme like Doctor Seuss.
I mean, ironically, this means that Bendis had to ground the Guardians on Earth in order to write some of his best issues. Which is the Paradox of Brian Michael Bendis.
So would he be terrible at writing the Fantastic Four? Not in my mind. His Ben Grimm is fantastic. Can he only write street-level characters? Not really. What about solo books as opposed to team books? Perhaps this is closer, as these two issues are solely focused on one character each, so it gets their voices a lot better. But even then, Bendis has had team books where each character got their own voice (even if they did tend to use Bendis-speak).
Perhaps its simply that Bendis produces so much work that of course some of it is good and some of it is bad. Perhaps he would be better concentrating on one or two books instead of four or five. But then perhaps not.
Now all I know is that I want a Ben Grimm: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. book by Bendis. For at least a couple of issues.