Brian Michael Bendis interview: Ultimate Origins

 height=(WoW APR 08)

Brian Michael Bendis is the popular writer of such books as New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, House of M, and Powers, to name but a few. This month, he begins Marvel's Ultimate Origins. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke with Brian about this new book.

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Westfield: What can you tell us about Ultimate Origins?

 height=Brian Michael Bendis: I'm very, very excited about this book coming out. We actually sat down and planned out a lot of this stuff when we first were putting together the Ultimate Universe. I got the job to write Ultimate Spider-Man and Mark Millar was writing Ultimate X-Men. We got in a room with Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas, who was running things at the time. We tried to figure out what the Ultimate Universe means. What's it all about? What's the overall theme and tone of it? The regular Marvel Universe was kind of birthed out of nuclear paranoia with the Cold War and everything was about radiation. That's totally understandable. That's the world they were living in in the early 60s. That's not really the world we live in now. We're not sitting here worrying about being radiated by evil Commies. That's not something we think about. So we thought about what this world was going to be and what people worried about. We thought genetics is something that people are scared about and it's the topic of the week. It's always on the front page of the paper on some level. From there, we didn't change the origins or anything, but it sort of felt like a whole back-story, and a conspiracy, and a free flow of ideas that comes out of that genetics idea. From there, we started putting together all the relationships. A lot of the stuff we decided we didn't need to show until later. You don't need to see how Xavier got the X-Men together; the X-Men are together. That was the feeling. We said when it's most necessary, we'll unveil it all and we'll show how it's all connected. We've hinted since the first year of the Ultimate Universe that there's a lot of connection between the characters that the characters aren't even aware of. We've always had that template to use while we were working, but we never showed the template to the audience. Now, with Ultimatum coming, which is this big, Jeph Loeb smashing-all-the-toys event, we thought now was the perfect opportunity to show you how everything came to be. It's literally the origin of Captain America, Nick Fury, the Hulk, the X-Men, and more. Tons of Wolverines. Tons of characters who we've only hinted at. Their connection is what I think people are really going to be excited about finding out. Like where Nick Fury came from and what exactly his relationship to Wolverine is, and exactly what his relationship to Captain America was prior to Ultimates #1.

 height=Westfield: Does this cover a number of years?

Bendis: Yeah. It pops back and forth from modern day to the past from World War II to the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It bounces all over the place. It also bounces between stories so you're getting a little bit of Wolverine, a little bit of Nick Fury, a little bit of Hulk, and how they connect.

Westfield: Looking at Marvel's description for the book and hearing what you're saying, it sounds like this is somewhat similar to what you were doing with New Avengers: Illuminati. Is it, or is that a wrong assumption?

Bendis: I have to say you're wrong on that one. Illuminati was more about a secret history. This isn't a secret we're unveiling, it's just stuff we've never shown you. Does that make sense? I said a couple buzz words there so I can see how you could see a similarity. This feels more like epic story telling to me. To me it feels almost like The English Patient or a David Lean movie, just this sweeping epic that goes from the battlefields of World War II, to Iraq, to the Savage Land.

Westfield: Are there any characters you're really enjoying working on in the book?

Bendis: Yes. I'm very excited about showing the history of Nick Fury. Nick Fury flat out lied to people about stuff. Most of the stuff we know about Nick Fury, he told somebody and he just lied. And there's a damn good reason he would lie. That stuff's a lot of fun. The Captain America scenes were a lot of fun for me. I've never explored that origin before, either Ultimate or classic, so it was very fun to adapt that story.

 height=Westfield: You're working with Butch Guice on this. How is working with him?

Bendis: I've been a big fan of his since the 80s when he was Jackson Guice. I think his new style is just fantastic. So it's a big thrill for me. And he really cares.

Westfield: What do you think he brings to the story?

Bendis: First of all, he's a phenomenal storyteller and draughtsman. This is one of those instances where a new voice for the Ultimate Universe is perfect. Someone who hasn't worked on the Ultimate Universe coming at this from a fresh perspective. Perfect.

Westfield: You're working on this, which is a big story. You're working on Secret Invasion, which is a big story. And you're doing the Avengers books, which are big stories. How do you keep this all straight? Do you have to use flow charts or something?

 height=Bendis: I don't actually write them all at the same time. I know some people think I'm writing the Avengers with my foot and Ultimate Spider-Man with my left hand. Whatever I'm working on at the time, that's what I'm working on. The key to anything I've done writing comics over the last few years is that I'm always very ahead of my deadlines. Deadlines are not a part of my life. With that, I can get up and whatever's in my head that day, I can just write that. Sometimes I think I'm going to write about Daredevil, but today's a Spider-Man day. My brain's just there. If my brain is there for two months and doesn't come out of it, that's what I'll do. When I'm done, I'll go on to something else. So I can write whatever I'm inspired to write, which makes it pretty pure. Also, sometimes I'll see an issue of Avengers or Spider-Man that ship the same week and there's been a year between the time I wrote the two books. People reading them think I wrote them the day before they got them, which I understand, but it's funny because I'm not the same person I was when I wrote that other book. Ultimate Origins I actually wrote about a year ago. Most of it. I haven't finished the last issue yet because I want to tie it more closely to Ultimatum. I wrote most of it before I started Secret Invasion, but because Ultimatum wasn't ready, we decided to hold off on it. I put it down and went on the Secret Invasion and came back to it and re-read it all and was able to look at it with fresh eyes. That's the best thing when you can come back and look at it with fresh eyes and not even remember what you wrote. You can say, "Well, that's not funny" or "that sucks."

I love to write. It actually makes me a more whole person, I've discovered. I'm a better human being if I accomplish something. Thank God I have an outlet and that it's what I do for a living. It's not hard to write a lot when I've created a situation for myself that makes it so rewarding. Not to sound corny. It's a spiritually relaxing experience, on top of the fact that everyone's so nice to me. People are reading it. It's a very exciting experience.

Westfield: As we've mentioned, you're also doing Secret Invasion. Is there anything you'd like to tell people about that?

 height=Bendis: Just an hour ago, I was just putting the final, final touches on the lettering. I'm really picking it to death like a maniac. It really came out as something special. Laura Martin's doing the coloring. You always have the best intentions going in, but when you see the final product, it's like "Whew! It doesn't suck." You can do everything right and still have it not come out good. This is really exciting and I'm excited for people to see it. What I think people will be the most surprised about is that there's a lot in the first issue. I kind of have a history of doing some slow burns in story telling and a lot happens right out of the gate. The first issue is packed full of Skrull reveals and earth-shattering nonsense. It's not like we're waiting for issue six to go "Ah ha! Told ya!" The slow burn has already happened in the Avengers books over the last year or so. That's all out of the way, so you're coming in guns a blazin' for this one. And that's a promise.

Westfield: Is there anything else you're working on that you want to let people know about?

 height=Bendis: There's always Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man, which I'm very, very proud of. I think, when you asked about Secret Invasion, that as we're getting near the end of it on my end, I think the thing I'm most excited about is the tie-in issues on Avengers. I can't think of where it's been done before, and I'm not trying to declare something as a first, but we rewind the clock and show a lot of stuff dramatically that's been hinted at over the past couple years. It shows all our cards. It's a very unique story telling experience. Though Secret Invasion is very large on its own, the Avengers titles, to me, make the entire event something very, very unique and special. It's definitely the largest thing I'll probably ever write. If you put it all together, it's 24 issues. It's a real show. Everyone's getting their face time, and the Skrulls are getting to present their ideals, and we get to see it from their point of view as well. That's the thing I'm most proud of with the event and I'm excited for people to have that experience.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Bendis: I read some good books. I read The Killer. It's from the same guys that are publishing Mouse Guard, and it's really good. That and The Escapist by Brian K. Vaughn. I like to recommend things that are not just me, me, me. Those are the two best books I've read this month and I just want to tell people to buy them.