Brian Michael Bendis: Inside Marvel's ''Secret Invasion''
The author talks with EW.com about his new ''event'' comic, what he and his colleagues discuss while playing ''Call of Duty,'' and why superheroes never really die
Think of Marvel’s Secret Invasion author, Brian Michael Bendis, as a Comic Book Guy equivalent of Quentin Tarantino. Much like the director (who paid his dues behind the counter of a dusty L.A. video store), writer-illustrator Bendis also did his time as a clerk before helming potent, homage-packed indie projects, and ultimately landing on his industry’s A-list. Granted, Bendis worked at a nondescript comics store (in a far less sexy metropolis: Cleveland); got his start crafting starkly artful, hard-boiled graphic novels (see Jinx, Powers, Torso); and then signed a contract with Marvel. But his steady ascent into the Geek Pantheon is no less remarkable. Just consider his most famous devotees: Charlize Theron, David Fincher, The O.C.‘s Seth Cohen, and so on. Now, with Ultimate Spider-Man, a couple of Avengers titles, and The House of M stunt under his belt, Bendis is embarking on his most ambitious undertaking yet: Secret Invasion, Marvel’s eight-issue ”event” comic (issue No. 1 goes on sale April 2).
More than three years in the making, the title has generated enough anticipation that a seeming rogue Marvel employee (codename: Marvel Boy) recently created quite the Inter-nerd stir by leaking possible Invasion plot details. We wouldn’t want to spoil the story, so here’s what we can tell you: Invasion finds the shape-shifting alien Skrulls infiltrating Good Guy ranks — undetected! — while sundry superheroes, confused as to who’s real and who’s fake, succumb to paranoia. So how does this exercise in dividing and conquering end? EW.com found an exceedingly good-natured Bendis (now 40 and living in Portland, Ore.) tight-lipped on the resultant math, but eager to discuss his master plans both in the worlds of comics and Hollywood.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s say you’re a fan of the Marvel universe, but you’re not an expert. Why should you read Secret Invasion?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: The Skrulls were invented back in the day when Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Cold War were a big part of the [Marvel] universe. And we’re kind of back in that: The subtext of this story is not knowing if you can trust your friends or family. Years after 9/11, we go on a plane and start scanning the crowd…we can’t help it. Plus, it’s every character in the Marvel universe interacting with each other in a completely unique way. It’s the biggest disaster movie the Marvel universe, we’re hoping, would ever see.
Why the Skrulls?
They don’t invade because — ”Muhahaha! We need the Earth!” — but actually on a deep, religious level they already believe Earth is part of their empire. In the past, they were written as laser-gun toting, spaceship aliens. [But] they are shape shifters. Just think about what that means — they [could] infiltrate us and feed off our existing fears and paranoia. And it isn’t government or religion that stands in their way, it’s the people who have the physical [super]power to step up. Once the Skrulls announce their intentions to the world, they say, ”You’re destroying your world, the way you live. One of you will live in excess right next to someone who’s starving, and none of you do anything about it. Our system works. Our system is complete. We’re coming to give it to you.” For some people, that’s a damn attractive offer. They don’t feel like they’re being invaded. They think, ”Finally someone’s here to save us.” So what’s right or wrong?
NEXT PAGE: How Nick Fury, the Fantastic Four, and Iron Man factor in to Secret Invasion
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Nick Fury, a decorated spy working for the counterterrorism group S.H.I.E.L.D. has come back from hiding. Why bring him back?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I’m really excited about this. We actually took Fury off the table years ago. He was our James Bond. He was our superspy. Our big plot-starter. Why he bailed was as interesting as him bailing. Where did he go? Why did he leave? Did he know this Skrull thing was happening? Did he figure it out? And if he did, is he doing anything about it? So [I address] where he’s been and what he’s been doing. We have two issues that show exactly how the Skrulls went after him. And what Nick Fury does is he comes back, but he comes back with a pile of brand new Marvel characters that we’ve invented. Because if you can’t trust — what’s that line from the Untouchables? — ”If you can’t trust the apples, you don’t pick them off the ground, you pick them off the tree.” So he has brand-new young characters that he’s been training that he can trust, knowing that he can’t trust his old friends [who could actually be Skrulls in disguise].
How do the Fantastic Four, who seem to have the most history with the Skrulls, figure into the story?
They’re very prominent. Particularly Reed Richards. The Skrulls have been around since, I think, issue 2 or 3 of Fantastic Four. And throughout the years, Reed Richards was always the thing that stands in their way. They don’t have a great hatred for the human race, but they really can’t stand him. And so they literally have declared a jihad on the Fantastic Four. So he, like Tony Stark [a.k.a. Iron Man], has to be dealt with. And dealt with severely. But at the same time, Reed’s connection to them may be a key to how they were able to accomplish all the things they’ve accomplished anyhow.
Will notable characters die in Secret Invasion?
Yes. I’m sorry to say.
Which begs the question: Why don’t superheroes ever really die?
We argue this all the time. This is an excellent Call of Duty argument.
My friend who has played Call of Duty online with you and your Marvel cohorts, said that as a collective group you’re…”challenged.”
[Laughs] We’re too busy yenta-ing it up, as we say in the Jewish community. We’re gossiping, too busy talking nerd talk and not paying attention. But it’s all right if we can turn it into a story-beat meeting — which it does, cause we’re sharing a lot of characters. We end up rationalizing anytime we spend there. It’s a meeting!
So, basically, you’re armed with imaginary guns while discussing why superheroes don’t die for good?
We’re blowing each other’s heads off. And responding by shooting each other again. Yes, it probably has some connection…. I do try to think very carefully about anyone who’s going to pass away in my book — if it does enhance the story. If there’s a way to avoid a cheesy resurrection. As a fan, I get skeeved by the cheesy resurrection.
What’s the cheesiest resurrection ever?
The only thing popping to mind is the Phoenix, Jean Grey. Because it’s happened, like, five times! Because her name is Phoenix and she rises, ”Okay, I’m with you there.” In the pre-Internet age, Jean Grey and Elektra were both characters where you went to the store, bought the comic, came home, and went, ”What?!!?” And that is such a great feeling. You didn’t see that coming. And you want to reproduce that feeling as a writer. So a lot of us have this instinct to kill both of those characters again…then bring them back to life. And it does have a Kenny-from-South Park feel after a while.
So these Secret Invasion characters who perish — they’ll die for good?
Well, that’s another thing. They’re not my characters [i.e. Marvel owns them]. I’m here for a while. I’ve got a nice contract. But eventually you’ve got to realize that anything can be undone.
NEXT PAGE: ”The Marvel universe will not be the same.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much input did you have in this event, and what kind of directives did Marvel give you?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: I was writing both Avengers books [the New Avengers] and [Mighty Avengers], so I was pretty much there for everything…. I’m also part of that room [in a Marvel retreat that takes place in New York City each year] that decides those things. Me and Jeph Loeb [DC’s Batman: Hush] and Ed Brubaker [Captain America] and Mark Millar [Civil War] are there. We scream and yell at each other — it’s hilarious. You’d literally think that real political agendas that affect the world were being [debated]. In fact, me and Loeb were having at it just at the last retreat.
What were you fighting over?
Skrulls. But that’s what you want. If the idea can survive the room, it can survive the Internet. I’ve got a wife and a mom and people who can be nice to me every day. You need these people to come in and tell you if it sucks.
So how does Secret Invasion end?
The Marvel universe will not be the same.
That’s what everyone says about an event comic!
Well, we’ve proven over time that House of M, Civil War, Secret War — none of these did leave the universe the way it was. The criticism going into Civil War is that it’s going to be a draw: Captain America’s dead and Tony Stark is running the world. That wasn’t the way it was when we started. These are big things for the characters. So on that note, we can only stand by our track record. But that’s why you buy the book. The Avengers teams will be dramatically shifted. There will be a huge upset of power in the Marvel universe. Huge.
And the Skrulls?
They will be running the place. That will be the power shift.
You’re actually working on some non-comic book projects now, right?
I’m writing a pilot for HBO that’s non-comic book-related that I’m really excited about. It’s crime-y. It’s in the genre. It’s con artists. It goes back to my Goldfish days. You know that movie out now, 21? The MIT kids who figure out how to play blackjack mathematically? This is a college show about Mike Aponte [who’s depicted in the film]. He’s now the No. 1 ranking blackjack guy in the world. I’m also writing a movie for Fox/ New Regency that Zak Penn [who scripted X-Men the Last Stand] is producing. Like a summer thriller thing that matches in tone with Secret Invasion a bit. It’s an original script about the Bermuda Triangle. People haven’t really dealt with this before. It’s got a great history. It’s about the genuine mystery behind it — all the conspiracies. And something bigger happens.
What about your comic-book properties?
Not to be bragging, but I can’t help it — just last week I had lunch with David Fincher, who is my hero. He gave me the update on Torso [which Fincher is directing]. They’ve already done location scouting. It’s heading towards production. They’re negotiating right now with a big movie star. And I don’t know what’s going on with Jinx. I turned in a draft [to Universal a while ago], and they liked it. Small rewrite. Wasn’t bad. It was one of those great experiences. There are directors hovering, and I don’t even know if Charlize Theron [is still attached]. Listen, if she told me to f— myself today, that’s okay. She’s stood around and sold that project for us. It was really cool of her. She cashed in her Oscar golden ticket for us.
Click to see EW.com’s exclusive first look at Brian Michael Bendis’ Secret Invasion