Predicting Brian Michael Bendis’ DC Comics

News has broke broke a while ago (yeah, I’ve been procrastinating finishing this post for a while) that Brian Michael Bendis — acclaimed for his runs on Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil and Alias, not so acclaimed for his work on Avengers, X-Men and Iron Man — will be writing exclusively for DC Comics, after years of writing for Marvel. This is a big surprise, to say the least, and is something I have… mixed opinions on. But before I list the projects I both think Bendis will be good for and those I think he may get anyway, I’m just going to preface this post with a warning when it comes to Bendis’ writing.

Bendis is a writer who always starts strong, but his lack of long-term planning always rears its head. You have things like the mystery of Ronin’s identity: obviously meant to be Daredevil, Ronin was revealed to be Maya Lopez in the end, because she was just using a muscle suit! And just ignore that she’s deaf and could never have read Iron Man or Spider-Man’s lips! Or how Moon Knight didn’t end up affecting Age of Ultron at all despite that being most of its point! Or how the Skrull reveals in Secret Invasion were extremely (for the most part) disappointing! Because of his general lack of follow through, whatever Bendis ends up cannot be judged immediately. Because it will be a good comic at first. They always are. So before we shout that he’s the second coming, let’s give it a year or two. Let’s wait to see if his likely amazing premise is actually delivered on.

Without further adieu, these are the projects I think Bendis will get, and my opinions on his possible work on them.

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This is a good visual metaphor for what’s up with the Flash franchise right now.

The Flash

The Rebirth series of The Flash has been stuck in a rut since it began. Basically existing just so there is a Flash ongoing, the series seems to just be padding time until Geoff Johns reveals whatever else he has planned in his whole Rebirth saga. Not helping is the giant redheaded elephant in the room, as the series repeatedly dances around the issue of the original Wally West not being present. There’s also the issue of Jay Garrick, who was teased repeatedly before showing up in The Button, where he… teased things and went away again. The Flash is a series where it feels like not much ever happens, with forgettable stories by Joshua Williamson filling the pages, stories that rely heavily on old Flash tropes.

So with all that said, why would Bendis be a good fit for the series? Bendis is very good at keeping audiences engaged, even when he’s just making things up as he goes. And with The Flash, audience engagement is sorely needed. So Bendis could write whatever story he wanted, so long as it didn’t mess with Johns’ Rebirth saga. Also, Bendis, known for messing with characterisation with mixed results, could probably actually give Barry Allen a personality and have it stick, as opposed to how he’s written currently. Similarly, Bendis has experience with street-level superheroes, and I can see him using NuWally in interesting ways. Basically the only reason I’d be worried about Bendis on The Flash would be him messing with the Speed Force to pull some stupid stories off, and weird changes to characters that don’t need changes, like Jesse Quick and Jay Garrick.

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Damn you, old image size! Also, this too is a good visual metaphor.

Legion of Super-Heroes

The Legion has had a rough few years. When Geoff Johns brought back the “original” Legion of Super-Heroes, it was a welcome breath of fresh air after the “Threeboot” Legion, a sort of returning to the roots, with some modernising. However, after an initially good story (“Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”), the “Retroboot” quickly went downhill. From the mediocre Legion of 3 Worlds to the snorefest that was Paul Levitz run, DC just failed to do anything interesting with the Legion. Boasting weak characterisation (seriously, didn’t Paul Levitz used to be, y’know, good?) and just boring stories, the two ongoings by Paul Levitz were just boring, while simultaneously requiring readers to be familiar with very old material. And then the second ongoing was quietly cancelled, with the last issue in 2013 implying that these stories took place on the New 52’s Earth-2 (or at least an Earth similar to it)… except whether this applies to just the New 52 series or the Retroboot as a whole isn’t clear. Also, Phantom Girl ran away at the end of the run, and coincidentally, a version of Phantom Girl with a very similar costume is going to show up in The Terrifics… oy. And remember, we lost two other Legions to get these “originals” back!

So with all that mention of continuity, and with the overall importance of the Legion to the Rebirth saga and the DC Universe as a whole, why would Bendis get it? Because, for all of Bendis’ faults, he does still have a way with young people. His Ultimate Spider-Man perfectly captured how Peter Parker would be as a modern teenager, and his X-Men work did manage to portray a modern mindset regarding super-powered individuals and social issues regarding those people. The Legion is often at its best when the Legion are portrayed more youthfully, probably in their early 20s at oldest, and I always prefer them when they’re tackling issues of acceptance and providing an example of cooperation between different peoples. Bendis can do both, and while his characters do end up sounding the same a lot of the time, that’s a problem with the Legion a lot of the time anyway (especially under Paul Levitz). And the continuity issue can be easily sidestepped, since this new Legion seems like it will be a brand new version anyway (and that’s probably the best way to go about it, even if I’d love to see the “Reboot” Legion again). And most importantly: the Legion need a creator who will draw in lots of readers. Previously, it was said that Dan DiDio, Tom King, Hope Larson, James Tynion IV, Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens or Yannick Paquette would be the writer of the comic, with Tom King as the fan favourite candidate. Now, I’d love for Tom King to tackle the Legion. I can see him doing some amazing stuff. And he definitely moves comics. But he’s also known for being a more challenging read, while Bendis has a much more mainstream appeal. And, again, the Legion needs good sales, and everything that will make it clear that the Rebirth Legion will be new reader-friendly, because the Legion is intimidating. Bendis is a good fit for the Legion, if not the one I’d prefer.

JUSTL-Cv34-copy
Not as good a visual metaphor, but it’s the best I could find, okay?

Justice League

This is something I really don’t want to happen. The Justice League has been in dire straits as of late. After a well-received, largely self-contained run by Geoff Johns, the reins were handed to Bryan Hitch. Hitch, while an experienced artist, is relatively inexperienced when it comes to writing comics, and it shows. His plots are uninspired and feel incredibly repetitive, and his writing of the Justice League themselves is just off, with some really random characterisation. The only notable thing he did was add Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz to the League, and even then, that may have been an editorial decision.

With Christopher Priest set to take the reins of Justice League from Hitch, it may seem like the League wouldn’t get a new writer so soon, and maybe they won’t. But DC will give Bendis Justice League, if only to see if they can reproduce the commercial success of Bendis’ Avengers run. And it probably will work. Even with properties that probably shouldn’t be able to support multiple ongoings, like Iron Man, he somehow finds a way. And people probably will buy it, even if it seems more and more like his star is on the wane, because Bendis’ mainstream appeal is still really strong thanks to Jessica Jones and Daredevil (and Marvel should probably capitalise on that by reprinting his two Daredevil omnibi, for fuck’s sake). But there’s no doubt in my mind that Bendis is an ill fit for the series. It’s become extremely clear that Bendis cannot write a superhero team book. All his characters end up sounding the same and the man cannot pay off his stories to save his life, and these are things that he just wouldn’t be able to get away with in Justice League — crap, readers were already complaining about it way back when he started his Avengers run, when Bendis was more universally praised. While Priest’s first issue has yet to release, and while I question his ability to write works that are approachable for mainstream audiences, I think he’s a far better choice than Bendis. Like a lot of writers probably are. But if DC really needs to give Bendis a Justice League ongoing, they should at least give him a spin-off. Say, a Justice League International relaunch. Bendis is sorta funny, if not as much as he thinks he is, so he fits it perfectly.

Teen_Titans_Vol_4_19_Textless
Back to the visual metaphors! This time for what DC have done to these characters since 2011!

Young Justice

DC’s sidekicks have been in dire straights since the early 2000s. After cancelling both Titans and Young Justice, DC launched a new Teen Titans ongoing helmed by Geoff Johns with the Young Justice cast. The series is notorious for some ill-conceived changes to those characters, which consisted of a much angstier Tim Drake (Robin, now Red Robin), a Kon-El/Conner Kent (Superboy) who obsessed over his clone status, an angry and moody Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl) and a know-it-all and somehow more-annoying-than-he-already-was Bart Allen (Impulse, then Kid Flash then the Flash for a time before reverting back to Kid Flash). But that was the last time the series was anything even approaching good, and the New 52 series, obviously based on Johns’ run to some extent, wishes it was that good. Horrible changes to characters, idiotic stories, dropped subplots, an unlikable main cast who weren’t even heroic, and just… so much dumb! There aren’t enough words to sum up how bad both New 52 Teen Titans series were, and that’s disregarding what happened to the previous members before the reboot! While I find Benjamin Percy’s Teen Titans run to be shallow and just as bad as the previous series, even if it looks a bit better, we’re here to talk about Young Justice and its characters.

Young Justice is a strange situation, because DC have already taken steps to fixing the characters. So far, it seems like DC is taking a a scorched-earth approach to the Young Justice cast, disregarding most if not all of their New 52 stories. Tim Drake suddenly recounting his pre-Flashpoint origin as well as his time as Robin (which was removed in the New 52). A future Tim Drake (from an altered version of the story “Titans Tomorrow”) mentioning his friend Conner (a friend the main Tim doesn’t remember having, though Superboy may have exclusively gone by Kon-El in the New 52, I’m not sure) and Superman also noticing something missing when he recalls the Supermen who surfaced after his death (Kon was one of those Supermen and is missing from Clark’s flashback), clearly setting the stage for his return. Bart Allen was called Bar Torr in the New 52, and Joshua Williamson said he had plans to bring back Max Mercury, Bart’s mentor, a long time ago (although the new Wally West kind of fills Bart’s old role). Cassie’s origin is probably messed up thanks to Greg Rucka retconning almost all of the New 52 Wonder Woman stuff away as an illusion. It’s pretty clear that DC are setting the stage for a new Young Justice comic, especially since there’s already a Teen Titans ongoing that probably couldn’t manage four additions to its cast.

So why would Bendis get this project that DC already has planned out? Well, they don’t seem to actually have anything planned for the ongoing. They just have plans to bring back the characters, not to actually do anything with them afterwards. The characters themselves are in awkward positions, as Tim, Conner and Bart have had their niches filled: Damian Wayne is still Robin while Duke Thomas is Bruce’s sidekick, Jon Kent is Superboy and Superman’s sidekick and the new Wally West is the Flash sidekick (although Bart could easily serve as a sidekick to the original Wally West or Jay Garrick). This sense of displacement could actually be touched upon, and definitely sounds like something Bendis could do. As previously mentioned, Bendis has a talent for appealing to young people, and this wayward sense of displacement is definitely something that would play to his strengths — it doesn’t require any long-term plots, really, just character development and meaningful interactions. These are things Bendis can do and do well when he wants to. Not only that, but the upcoming third season of the Young Justice animated series means people will want to check out the comics, and Bendis is not only fine with “synergising” his comics with other media, but is also himself a draw for readers. With the scorched-earth approach DC are taking with the characters, it does give Bendis some room to define them, which may irk longtime fans given his track-record, but some restrictions in that regard will hopefully keep that from happening, e.g. James Tynion has rebooted Tim, Dan Jurgens or Peter J. Tomasi (probably Jurgens) gets to redo Conner, Joshua Williamson can have Bart (or Mark Waid, since I recall him saying he had a DC project lined up a while back) and whoever’s writing Wonder Woman at the time can have Cassie. With all that in mind, I would love a Bendis Young Justice comic.

Batman_Annual_Vol_3_1_Textless
Tom King’s Batman doesn’t suck, so I don’t need the visual metaphor… I didn’t plan this out well. Which, if you think about it, makes it this the perfect Bendis post! So ha! I did plan it out! And I didn’t even need a muscle suit!

Batman

With Tom King doing his usual Tom King thing over on Batman, it only makes sense for DC to publish a more mainstream Batman comic for the masses. Now, secondary Batman ongoings have always been of… iffy quality. Does anyone remember Batman: The Dark Knight? Or anything from the New 52 Detective Comics run? And no, Jason Fabok’s art doesn’t count. James Tynion’s Detective Comics is mediocrity in comic form, but it’s at least doing its own thing. All-Star Batman was… a thing that existed, but it largely felt out of continuity, telling stories focused on Batman’s villains before doing… something with the Blackhawks (to set up Metal from what I can tell). But with the current DC line-up, with King continuing to experiment and tell interesting stories with Batman, it’s a perfect time for a more mainstream approach. And no one is more mainstream than Bendis.

Bendis has always excelled at “street-level” superheroes, with an acclaimed run on Daredevil and an excellent original creation in Alias. Not only that, but Bendis is also good at grounded crime stories involving gangs, mobsters and the like, and it’s been far too long since Batman tackled anything like that. While I enjoyed Grant Morrison’s far reaching mythical approach and am enjoying Tom King’s grand character exploration, I think lots of readers would appreciate more down to earth stories featuring the Dark Knight. Things like Batman tackling simple mafia organisations are sorely missed from his more recent comics, where the closest we get to “grounded” is a secret organisation that’s secretly run Gotham since its inception that’s super duper mysterious and was also actually just preparing for some random event that feels tacked on at the last second because Scott Snyder stopped giving a crap! Yeah, not really enjoying Metal! But yeah, an approach to Batman that hearkens back to the days of Frank Miller’s seminal “Year One” arc would be a welcome change. And unlike many Batman side-titles, Bendis’ name alone would guarantee that it’s a strong seller. And being a side-title, hopefully it means he can’t mess too hard with the Batman mythos. My one concern would be DC wanting to capitalise on Bendis and cutting off Tom King’s run, instead giving the main title to Bendis. King has said that his run has been planned to be 100 issues, and as a huge fan of Tom King, I want to see him tell the story he has planned. So, DC, let Bendis play with the Bat-toys, just not the biggest, shiniest one.

And those are the comics I think Brian Michael Bendis will end up writing at DC. Now, I need to stress that these are comics I think he will end up writing, not comics I actually want him on. I may or may not make a separate list for that, depending on how much time I have, what with me already being behind on comics. Whatever happens, I do wish Bendis success at DC, and hope he rediscovers whatever helped him write gems like Ultimate Spider-ManDaredevil and Alias.

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