In wake of the already critically acclaimed Captain America: Civil War, Marvel is looking toward its future on the printed page. Enter Brian Michael Bendis, the writer splitting the Marvel Universe in half (again) with Civil War II.
Bendis is a veteran in the comic book writing game. From working on iconic titles like Secret Invasion, Siege, and Age of Ultron to creating Black Hispanic Spider-Man Miles Morales, relaunching the Avengers franchise and breathing new life into Tony Stark in Invincible Iron Man, Bendis has done it all and more.
Now, in Civil War II, Bendis pits Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) against each other in a conflict of earth-shattering proportions. Ulysses, an Inhuman, appears with the power to experience the future, forcing Marvel heroes to decide how to use this power for good. If you know a bank will be robbed at a specific time on a specific day, do you plan a stake-out to see what happens, or do you arrest the suspect before it all goes down?
Some of the Marvel Universe’s newest, most diverse faces also join the battle. Spider-Man Miles Morales and recently promoted Avenger Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel) are among the heroes facing off against their own mentors, friends and even lovers. We caught up with Bendis to talk about the incoming conflict in Civil War II, how Tony Stark has grown as a character, and what it is like having an award-winning television show based on one of your creations (aka Jessica Jones).
You’re currently quarterbacking both Invincible Iron Man for Marvel and Civil War II. What has the experience of working on these books been like?
It’s actually been a very good one, I’m happy to report. As I get older, I seek out projects that specifically will be creatively challenging. When this was offered, it was like “Ooh, this is a challenge!” There are a lot of obstacles and I want to see what I can do with them. But on the same note, I knew that with the right artist and right editorial team it would be a fun experience. I said “yes” right away because you could tell this event was going to be interesting.
Since you have already written a lot of the characters involved in Civil War II this must be an exciting return. But, can you talk more about Iron Man? He is again a leading face in Civil War II, just like the first time around—the main difference being that now he seems to be on the moral side, as opposed to the institutional. What led him to this change of heart?
What immediately struck all of us when we started working on the event was that the entire landscape of the Marvel Universe is completely different than it was in Civil War I. We had a more traditional cast then: Captain America, Thor, etc. We grew up knowing them. Now, we have Miles Morales, Kamala, and Carol Danvers. We have a rise to prominence of more diverse characters. Thor is a woman now, Captain America is African-American. Some of them are characters we know and some are brand-new but if you lay it all out, it’s totally different and that’s really exciting. The characters that are still in the regular positions, like Tony Stark, have been through a lot. He especially has learned a lot of lessons that he can now apply. [It’s him] going, “I learned a lot from Civil War, and Secret Invasion, and Original Sin. You know what? I’m going to come at this differently.” It’s an event where the previous events actually affected the mindset of the characters.
How did you come up with the concept for Civil War II?
Me and Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel, started talking—not about this event, but about the things we saw happening in the world that were unique and interesting that have not been represented in the fiction we have been writing. One of the things we were discussing was personal accountability and how fascinating it is that people are shocked that their behavior online is actually affecting their livelihood or their relationships in the real world, or how they can’t get a job because of some nasty stuff they put on Facebook three years before.
It’s amazing how some people just don’t think that there is value in their words or that their words don’t matter. They think they can just type any nonsense they want and at the end add “just saying…” and that makes it all OK. It’s kind of a unique thing to this generation. There has always been some form of it, but not as cut-and-dry as now. So when it came time to do Civil War II, that seemed like a good jumping-off point for the theme. It was different than the original one. We wanted it to be a spiritual sequel, not a beat-for-beat, here-we-go-again sequel. After that, Axel called me up and said “Listen, we were just talking about this behind the scenes but, would you like to do the big event? It seems like if we do this right it could be a proper sequel to Civil War.” That sounded interesting.
You can definitely still see the lingering effects of the original Civil War. For example, Captain America and Iron-Man are still on opposite sides. But what is more interesting is that Captain America is no longer the leader of Iron-Man’s opposition. Now it’s Captain Marvel.
Well, what we also got very excited about was the idea that as the story continues and more information and head-butting goes on in the seven issues, certain characters have their point of views challenged and and switch sides. The first issues have some characters thinking a certain way, but that doesn’t mean it will last until issue 6. We have in Ulysses, an Inhuman that can project the future, [questions about] his powers, their success rate, and how they work that make some heroes question what they are doing and how they are doing it. It’s very cool to have a character go “This is what I believe in and this is what I stand for and I will fight to the death for it.” And then it’s also very cool to have them go “Well, would you fight to the death if it was this?” and keep challenging their goals.
That’s interesting, since in the first Civil War Spider-Man was the character at the center of that conflict of emotions. He was on Iron Man’s side and later on he switched, for one reason or another, to the opposition. Will there be a specific character in Civil War II that will have a similar experience?
There will be a handful. When we presented the idea for the book to the core room of creators at the Marvel retreat, almost everybody wanted their characters to be the one to switch sides like Peter Parker did in the first one, because it is the sexiest, most thing you could do. But what was also interesting was laying out the premise of the theories, then assigning characters out to writers and asking them, “Which side do you think they are on?” We let the writers pick sides and some are obvious. Carol and The Ultimates had already started [in their book The Ultimates] proactively stopping disasters before they happened. So that was easy. At the end of the day, the tally board was evenly matched, which is good.
If all the writers had picked one side and there was nobody but Carol on the other side, or vice-versa, then there would be something wrong with the idea of the story. This got laid out very organically. Then we put out the challenges before the characters. In the midst of this, the biggest players will be, without spoiling anything, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers, the Inhumans, Hulk, Miles Morales and the Guardians of the Galaxy. We wanted to focus the new energy of the event on newer characters because more surprises can happen there.
I definitely see the positives in situations where the heroes could prevent a crazy super-villain from doing something terrible. Carol once used Ulysses’s powers to stop Thanos. And maybe Spider-Man could have saved his Uncle Ben.
Yes, all heroes have been in that dilemma. Their origins are wrapped around events like [the death of Uncle Ben]. But in a sense, if you put it out there, in real human terms, this Inhuman is profiling people. They are being accused of something before they do it and that is something that some of the heroes absolutely can’t abide.
Racial profiling is still a controversial topic of conversation. Did you pick up anything from real-life events for the book?
Yes, I did. It is very much on my mind as a human person, not just a writer. I’m the father of a multi-racial household and every time I see footage of a police officer pinning down a young African-American girl at a pool party or something like that, it makes my skin crawl. I’m a big fan of the police and I write books specifically glorifying the jobs that police do. But at the same time, I also write about police corruption because I can’t shake how much it bothers me. How often, year after year, people get filmed abusing their authority. It drives me nuts. You can’t be shocked you’re being filmed anymore.
It shows a systemic problem that bothers me a lot. When someone comes up to someone who feels the same way I do and says, “Listen, this person is going to rob this bank on Thursday at noon.” It’s one thing to go to the bank and wait to see what happens. It’s another to go arrest that person in their house. This phenomenon gave us a great opportunity to examine what that means and the good and bad is. From Carol’s point of view, she is like, “You’re telling me the world is still turning at the end of the day and everyone is safe? I don’t care.” That’s what a lot of people think. If it keeps us safe, that’s fine. With no judgement I wanted to put both sides of that argument on the page.
The concept of the book seems very Minority Report-inspired in that you can predict a crime before it happens. Was that an influence on Civil War II?
I do understand the natural connection to Minority Report, I’m actually a huge fan of the movie even more than the book or the TV show. But beyond the technology to predict the future, we have here an organism that can predict the future. From that premise all the way through to the end, it’s very different to Minority Report. It would be very crappy of me anyway to just rip off Minority Report. (Laughs.) I wanted to make sure that we had something unique and different that could stand on its own, even next to something like Minority Report.
I also wanted to ask you about War Machine and what happens to him in the first Civil War II story and Captain America: Civil War. The events in the movie affect Tony Stark in a very visceral way. In the book, similar events happen. What will be the fallout of that situation in the book? Will it impact the characters in a similar way as it did in the movie?
I was aware of what happened to Rhodey in the Civil War movie when we were putting this book together. The idea of an inciting incident that could equally affect both Tony and Carol very personally was something I wanted to do. I wanted them on equal emotional footing. And, oh my god, guess who is Tony’s best friend and Carol’s sometimes lover? Both Tony and Carol could say of their actions, “Rhodey would want this,” and they would both maybe be right. I didn’t want to do anything too close to the movie but at the same time there just was no other character that could represent something so meaningful to both leading characters.
So I brought it up to the room [of writers] and certain people who were very involved in the movie agreed that there was no other character who could serve this function. It has to be character and story first so don’t worry about the other stuff. So yeah, Rhodey is having a tough time at the moment. (Laughs.) But for those fans of Rhodey I will say that in the next few issues of Iron Man, there will be quite a celebration of War Machine as a character and his friendship with Iron Man. He hasn’t been a big part of the books in a while so it’s nice to have them reunited again and experience their relationship.
I also have to ask you about your other comic book projects and how well they have evolved as television series. Jessica Jones had its first season on Netflix, Powers is going for its second season on the Playstation Network, Miles Morales is now part of the mainstream Marvel Universe—lots of your characters are being brought onscreen.
I can’t believe how much of our stuff is popping onto the screen—and there is some stuff no one even knows about yet coming. I am so relieved that so many of them are shows that I would watch, of high quality. I mean, Jessica Jones just won a Peabody Award. It’s crazy! It’s not just that we got a show, it’s that we got a really, really good television show. I’m just over the moon excited that its happening when I am still a creator in the mix of things.
What’s the difference between crafting these characters for the page and for the screen?
There is a Venn diagram that overlaps the two. When I’m writing for Marvel, there’s more or less, depending on the character, a shared feeling about them. The character is not yours, or Marvel’s, it’s the world’s. Tony Stark is the world’s character and everybody has an idea of what he is, so you are kind of writing into that. At the same time, you are writing for your artists. I take that collaboration very seriously. I write for them and I imagine the world the way they perceive it to write to their strengths. And it’s not hard because everyone I work with are among the best creators making comics right now, so to write toward their strengths is almost an obligation.
Then, when you are working with television, where I do most of my work outside of comics now, the similarities are very interesting. First, you are writing characters that are out there on some level. Even Powers, while not as well-known as Iron Man, has thousands of people that have read the book and have opinions on how that should be. And here you are putting it out there in some other medium. Instead of being just me and Michael Avon Oeming putting it out of my basement, it’s 60 to 100 people working on the show. That can be interesting. On top of that, I had the experience of writing the comic the same week I was writing an episode of the show and it felt like a completely different part of my brain was being used. When I’m writing the show, I’m writing for the actor, just as I would write for an artist in the comics, knowing exactly what they can do and what they haven’t been allowed to do yet.
Lastly, what can we expect from the first issue of Civil War II?
First, we celebrate our retail partners with Free Comic Book Day. And the FCBD issue is a brand new story, not a reprint. You get that, read it and get one of the first incidents of the storyline. Then, after that will be Civil War II #0 that continues to set the stage and lets you know what all the players are doing and where they are at. Two weeks later, you get an almost triple-sized Civil War II #1 that gives you the immediate fallout of what happens in the FCBD issue and a big slice of whose side everybody is on and how it all comes to be. We hit the ground running with a lot happening right away.