Brian Michael Bendis is
one of the most popular and prolific writers currently working in the
comics business. He's also probably the most overrated. I liked Bendis
well enough when I first discovered him, back when he was writing Sam
and Twitch for Todd McFarlane (and it was a much better book than
Spawn, although that's not saying much). He was a fresh new voice in
the comic writing stable, but next thing I knew it seemed like there
wasn't a single book at Marvel Comics that Bendis wasn't involved
with in some way. And now he's gotten stale due to overexposure.
These are just a few of
the million books that Bendis has written for Marvel.
The thing about Bendis is
that he's not necessarily a bad writer—it's just that his overexposure
has taken him well outside the realm of where his strengths lie. He's
pretty good at writing crime books, and now that his run on Daredevil
is over, he's only doing one of those (Powers). He used to be
pretty good at writing Spider-Man as a teenager (in Ultimate
Spider-Man), before he started making him sound Jewish. And if
Spider-Man, like Bendis, was Jewish, I wouldn't have a problem with
that. But he's not. And even if he does live in New York, where it's
probably fairly common to hear Yiddish slang on the street, it still
feels just as out of place to hear Spider-Man speak it as it would to
hear him suddenly start spouting off ebonics or cockney rhyming slang.
It just plain doesn't fit the character. Peter Parker is now dating a
Jewish girl (Kitty Pride, the X-Men's Shadowcat) and she doesn't speak
any Yiddish… only he does.
Okay, so he said "oy" a
couple times. No big deal, right? I can let him get away with that.
But "shmendrick"? No, I
don't believe for a minute that anyone who's not Jewish is going to have
any idea what that word means.
Speaking of out-of-character dialogue, let's take a look at this
Wolverine moment that really just speaks for itself:
I don't care what kind of
drugs Wolvie is on—he could be tripping balls after drinking an entire
swimming pool of PCP—there is simply no way those words would ever come
out of Wolverine's mouth in a single sentence—in any order. It's
simply not possible.
And I ask you, has posh Emma Frost ever sounded more dignified
than she does when Bendis puts words in her mouth?
As I recall, Bendis never
used to have this problem before Ultimate Spider-Man really took
off. But he's starting to have so many bizarre "what the fuck!?"
completely out-of-character moments that I feel like I'm reading some
12-year-old kid's Marvel fan fiction based on his role-playing game
experiences. I have a theory about this. Bendis has such an extreme
hard-on for Spider-Man that the more he writes, the more his characters
all sound like a 15-year-old Peter Parker (except for Peter Parker who
is starting to sound like an old Jewish man). Eventually, every single
line of dialogue by every character is going to sound exactly like this.
My guess is that these crazy out-of-character moments are just bumps
along the road as the transition to Total Parker Takeover takes place.
One of the more controversial books Bendis is writing right now is
The New Avengers, which has gone for 17 issues now and has still not
gotten particularly interesting. The problem is that Bendis took the old
Avengers team and replaced many of them with characters that we were
seeing too damn much already. So now characters like Wasp and Giant Man
have nary a mention in any Marvel titles, while Spider-Man and Wolverine
have added their zillionth in an already long list of monthly
appearances. And to make things even more boring yet, Spider-Woman
appears on the team along with Spider-Man, because apparently one
spider-themed hero just isn't enough.
I can just see how the conversation between Bendis and Marvel
Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada went now:
QUESADA: Alright Brian, who's in your New Avengers line-up? BENDIS: Spider-Man. QUESADA: Christ, he's in a lot of
books as it is. But he sells well, so sure. Who else? BENDIS: Spider-Woman. QUESADA: Okay, you can have her on
the team too. Who else? BENDIS: Spider-Girl. QUESADA: Okay, look. You've got
ENOUGH Spider-People on the team as it is. This is the New Avengers, not
the New Arachnids. Pick someone else. BENDIS: Venom. QUESADA: NO! BENDIS: I like spiders. QUESADA: I know you do, Brian. I
know you do.
Even from a purely visual
standpoint, the team is boring, with three of the members now having a
red-and-gold color scheme (Iron Man and the Spider-Twins) and two of the
others having a blue-and-gold color scheme (Wolverine and Sentry). One
of the main reasons superheroes wear such outlandishly colorful costumes
is so they can be easily differentiated from their teammates. It keeps
the art visually interesting, and helps the reader figure out who the
hell they're looking at, even if the artwork for that issue happens to
be really bad. Nowadays when you look at a battle scene involving the
team, all you see is a muddled sea of red, gold, and blue spandex
attached to god knows whose firmly muscled buttocks.
Evil beware! The
shrunken-headed heroes are on the case! I mean, look
at Captain America's head, seriously. It looks like a pin stuck in a
Bendis has proven himself
to be much better at writing books about one or two main characters
rather than those involving a large cast, so he's probably not the best
person to write a major team book like New Avengers anyway. If
you want an example, take a look at Bendis's House of M series,
which was supposed to impact the entire Marvel Universe, but really only
focuses on a small handful of characters, leaving the others all but
forgotten in the background. Now compare that to DC's Infinite Crisis,
written by Geoff Johns. Johns really knows how to balance an insanely
large cast of characters, giving everybody ample page time while still
bouncing around between various divergent plot threads, and conveying
rather well the idea that the entire universe of heroes is involved in
the events. Give them both a read, and you'll see a world of difference
in their writing styles in terms of handling major universe-wide
Bendis has a massive hard-on for a very small group of characters in the
Marvelverse, working them into just about every story he writes, whether
their presence is appropriate to the situation or not. I've decided to
measure his level of affection for each of these characters using what I
like to call the Bendis Bone-o-meter™.
Like Spinal Tap's amps,
Spider-Man goes up to 11. There is nobody in the Marvel Universe that
Bendis has a bigger man-crush on. If Bendis were to someday sign an
exclusive contract with DC Comics, you can bet your ass that he'd find
some way to work Spider-Man into his stories over there. Rumor has it
that Bendis sent out Spider-Man valentines this year, and by that I mean
they were all addressed to Spider-Man.
Second only to Spider-Man,
Wolverine finds a way to keep popping up in many of the books Bendis
writes. In fact, he and Spider-Man teamed up several times in his
stories before becoming New Avengers teammates. So now this "loner" who
doesn't like to work with others is on the X-Men AND the Avengers. At
any given moment in Marvel continuity, Wolverine can be found in New
York fighting alongside the X-Men and the Avengers, in Japan or Canada
seeking out his past, and in the Savage Land fighting dinosaurs. In
fact, the team recruited Wolvie after bumping into him in the Savage
Land, because it's a rule that anytime anyone goes to the Savage Land
for anything, they have to encounter Wolverine.
Tony Stark, Marvel's
resident drunkard, finds himself high up on Bendis's favorites list. He
always seems to dispense sage-like, fatherly advice to the other heroes
and has an annoying tendency to avoid using contractions when he speaks.
Despite having an
obviously huge fascination with Daredevil, Bendis showed a surprising
amount of restraint by not having him join the New Avengers team. They
did try to recruit him to the team however, where in a fit of
angst he told them that he was a loner and there was no way he could
Even though he killed off
Hawkeye, it's pretty clear now that he always intended to bring him back
in the House of M storyline. I'll probably get shot with an
acid-tipped arrow by some obsessed fanboy for saying this, but I've
never seen the appeal of Hawkeye. I'm one of the rare people who finds
DC's Green Arrow to be the cooler archer.
Whereas Tony Stark plays
the part of the alcoholic dad of the Bendisverse, Steve Rogers is the
kind of dad who can make you pee your pants in shame by standing in
front of a backdrop of the American flag and staring you down, all
because you weren't patriotic enough to satisfy him. It seems that if
Cap stands around posing with his shield long enough, he'll eventually
make the bad guys cry.
Bendis did for Luke Cage's
career what Tarantino did for John Travolta's. Which is cool and all,
because for years Luke Cage didn't get any page time at all. Now he's
getting so much page time that I'm actually starting to get sick of him.
And I like Luke Cage too. I don't want to be sick of him.
Spider-Woman is another
character who is having a resurgence in popularity, largely because of
Bendis. Frankly, I'd much rather have her on the Avengers than
Spider-Man, because she definitely fits into a group more than he does.
To be fair, this character
is Bendis's own creation, so he has every right to use her as much as he
likes. And I loved following her through her book Alias, where
she first appeared. Then that book went away, and she started showing up
in The Pulse instead, where she couldn't curse anymore. Then she
got pregnant, and then she got really annoying by getting herself into
dangerous situations, and doing everything short of running into the
middle of a superhero fight just so she could berate the combatants for
fighting around a pregnant woman.
Bendis apparently has no
love for this burly Viking god, as after his death around the time of
the Avengers: Disassembled story arc, there was barely even a
mention of him. My understanding is that his death took place in his own
book, but Bendis couldn't even spare a "Hey, where's Thor? What!? He's
fucking dead? That's a bummer, man" in the Avengers title.
For someone who reputedly
excels at writing realistic dialogue, Bendis not only makes most of his
characters sound the same, but he frequently has pairs of characters
fall into the same formulaic speech pattern "rapports" with one another.
Anyone who's read more than a handful of Bendis books knows exactly what
I'm talking about. For those of you who haven't, it goes a little like
ME: Man, I hate that Bendis dialogue thing. YOU: Bendis dialogue thing? ME: Yes. YOU: He has a thing? ME: He does. YOU: A dialogue thing? ME: Yes. A dialogue thing. YOU: I can't say I've noticed. ME: You wouldn't.
And so on and so forth,
over and over again. I don't know how many conversations I've read by
him that are built in that same annoying way. Most people don't talk
like that, but in the Bendisverse, apparently everyone talks like that.
So now I'm going to show you how to write dialogue the Bendis way. This
is his secret formula.
STEP 1: PERSON "A" MAKES A STATEMENT. STEP 2: PERSON "B" REPEATS STATEMENT
AS A QUESTION.
STEP 3: PERSON "A" GIVES BRIEF AFFIRMATION,
WHILE OFFERING NO EXPLANATION. STEP 4: PERSON "B" REPEATS QUESTION
IN A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT WAY, IN A FEEBLE EFFORT TO PUMP PERSON "A" FOR
MORE INFORMATION. STEP 5: PERSON "A" GIVES ANOTHER
CURT AFFIRMATION, WHILE STILL OFFERING UP NO EXPLANATION FOR THE
STATEMENT. STEP 6: REPEAT STEP 4. STEP 7: REPEAT STEP 5. STEP 8: PERSON "B" DISMISSES PERSON
"A" IN SOME WAY STEP 9: PERSON "A" PLAYFULLY INSULTS
PERSON "B" OR MAKES A JOKE AT THEIR EXPENSE. STEP 10: BOTH CHARACTERS REVEL IN
HOW WITTY AND CUTE THEY ARE BEING BY TALKING IN THIS ANNOYING WAY.
In a recent story arc of
Bendis's creator-owned title Powers (which is the best book he's
currently working on), he's framed the action of the story with these
seemingly unrelated stage rants given by random people who have nothing
to do with the story. Presumably, these rants are given in a comedy
club, although none of them have been remotely funny (just ranty). I
don't know why anyone would go to a club to hear people whine about shit
that annoys them if they're not going to at least be funny about it, but
one of these rants was a thinly veiled rant by Bendis himself about
people who anonymously talk trash about him on the internet. There's a
lot of that going on, and Bendis obviously revels in the attention (and
if you don't believe me, read a few issues of the Powers letter
column—he encourages these people). But in the interests of not being
anonymous, on the off chance that Bendis ever sees this article, my name
is Jason Grunert, and I live in Richmond, Virginia. There. I'm not
And again, Bendis isn't exactly a bad writer. But he should
never, ever be compared to the likes of someone like Alan Moore, who
I've seen him compared to several times. Bendis is a case of a decent
writer who blew up too big too fast, and I think the quality of his
writing has taken a severe nose-dive as a result of his newfound
popularity. Compare his early graphic novel Torso with his recent
work in Ultimate Spider-Man and I wager you'll find a world of
difference between their levels of quality. Bendis needs to get over his
own popularity and get back into the creativity that he used to be
Buffy the Vampire
Slayer fans brag about how Joss Whedon is so good at writing
dialogue that you can often take a single line by a character, out of
context, and still identify who said the line. Even if you haven't seen
the episode it came from. There are online quizzes out there based on
this premise. My argument is that with Bendis's dialogue you won't know
your Luke Cage from your Spider-Man. So in the interest of testing that
theory, I've created this brief BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS DIALOGUE QUIZ!