Brian Michael Bendis previews his new DC comics about tattoos and revolution
After years spent writing superhero comics for Marvel (many of which went on to influence blockbusters like Spider-Man: Homecoming), Brian Michael Bendis announced last fall that he was taking his talents to the publisher’s primary rival, DC Comics. Ever since, DC readers have been treated to ads declaring, “Bendis is coming,” and his transfer will indeed have a huge impact on superhero readers everywhere. Later this month comes the first issue of Man of Steel, a Superman miniseries in which Bendis will begin a new chapter for the original superhero, and after that he’ll take the reins on both Superman and Action Comics.
But Superman isn’t the only reason Bendis came to DC: The publisher will also be taking on the library of Bendis’ creator-owned Jinxworld imprint, including two new series written by Bendis: Pearl, with artist Michael Gaydos, and Scarlet, with artist Alex Maleev. EW recently caught up with Bendis to discuss the two comics.
“When the announcement first came that I was coming to DC, everyone was like, ‘What characters is he gonna write?’ Superman and the other projects I have — yes, I said other projects — are so exciting I have to calm myself down. It’s such a unique, different experience than I’ve had before,” Bendis tells EW. “But what really made this deal happen for me to come to DC was the offer from [DC co-publisher] Dan Didio and everyone to give us meaningful partnership in letting us create our own stories and publish them through DC. They literally said, ‘Bring your books here, make these comics, we want them.’ You’re getting a sense of right now what I was so excited about when we first announced this thing: That I not only get to write the great characters of the DC Universe, but also publish these books we’re so proud of in a place we’ve admired for so long.”
Pearl is the first of Bendis’ entirely new Jinxworld comics to launch under the DC banner, and he recruited an old friend to help: Michael Gaydos. Bendis and Gaydos co-created Jessica Jones and her original Marvel comic series Alias. Pearl is similar to Alias in that it tells the story of a hardened woman trying to make her way in the world, but instead of a superpowered alcoholic private eye, this comic focuses on a tattoo artist who finds herself at the center of a yakuza clan war in San Francisco.
“As the legacy of Jessica Jones left our hands and became this Netflix pop-culture icon (which I can’t take credit for other than just being a proud dad), it said to me that whatever we do next has to be just as dense emotionally but completely different,” Bendis says. “Pearl is an assassin with an albino skin condition. When she’s upset, patterns start to form on her skin that she’s done to herself through an art form her mother taught her. She’s a very unique character, like Jessica Jones, and I’m hoping people will just trust us and meet her to see what’s so unique about her. She’s trapped in a modern-day yakuza clan war, which is somewhat based on real stuff, and like many many people she finds herself in a world she was born into rather than one she wants to be part of. We’ll explore that journey as she figures out who she is, as opposed to who she’s been told she is. She meets her counterpart from another clan and find out what they have in common is wanting to get out of this. Sometimes you just need that one other person to make that bold, brave step for yourself. That is what the first issue is about.”
Bendis’ other new Jinxworld comic for DC, Scarlet, features a female protagonist who did take a bold, brave step for herself: starting a revolution. Unlike Pearl, Scarlet will be a relaunch rather than a premiere. Bendis first started the story with artist Alex Maleev in 2011, and continued it with a second miniseries in 2016. Set in Bendis’ home base of Portland, those early volumes told the story of Scarlet getting attacked by a corrupt cop, who also killed her boyfriend. When Scarlet realized her assailant would never be brought to justice, she decided to take justice into her own hands. She began by killing the abusive cop, but when her message started to resonate with wide swaths of people, she took things even further and launched a new American revolution. The new Scarlet series (still written by Bendis and illustrated by Maleev) will pick up with the revolution in full swing in Portland, as authorities start to push back hard.
Obviously, the cultural climate has changed a lot in the years since Bendis began writing Scarlet. Political divisions have become more heightened and heated, and even Bendis has been surprised at the convergences between real-world events and his fictional material.
“This is the most unique experience I’ve had as a storyteller. I’ve written books for many years where the world changed while I wrote them, but never has it so affected the narrative. The real world has completely shifted under the feet of this book, like, four whole times since it started,” Bendis says. “It was written before Occupy Wall Street had even started. I imagined Scarlet as a book Paddy Chayefsky might write. I was watching Network, and Network is that kind of movie where it all seems like over-the-top parody that would never ever happen, and almost all of it has. Like every writer, I’m completely fascinated by that, so I sat there in my backyard thinking, what would be the story he would tell today using that mindset? That’s what started Scarlet. I thought I was 10 years ahead of anything like this ever happening. Then all of a sudden, the world shifted. If Chayefsky had decades, I was about three weeks ahead of the curve. But it felt like I was writing honest, and that’s a good feeling.”
Bendis continues, “It’s a dangerous book, because you’re following a world that may come about. We follow an alternative history based on the world we live in and push the characters into a situation that could happen. I don’t want them to happen, I don’t want people to do these things, but people are being pushed into doing them and things are going to happen. I wanted to explore the more extreme, violent ideas of what could happen, and how our country was based on these revolutionary and violent ideas. What would that look like today? With the media the way it is, the way stories are told to the world versus what’s really happening. I’m writing this new storyline where an American revolution has begun to take place in an American city, and the American government is responding in kind. It’s shocking to me how not sci-fi it feels right now. I don’t want it to happen, but I also can’t stop writing about. It feels like an answer to what has happened to us as a country and a world.”
Pearl #1 and Scarlet #1 are both due out this August from DC. Check out preview images from Gaydos and Maleev above.