Back in late April of this year I did a Comic Book Spotlight article titled Guardians of the Galaxy: Why Bendis Succeeded and why Abnett andLanning Failed for the release of the new Guardians of the Galaxy film. The entire article in question was more or less an excuse for me to sink my teeth into both versions of the book and tearing the old version a new one by way of negatively comparing it to the version Bendis started back in 2013. At the time of its release it was by far the most viewed article on the site as well as the most talked about with the article getting far more comments and sparking more discussion than any other article up to that point. It also happens to have been one of the most controversial. After it was published it seemed like everyone and their mother had something to say about it. Some people respectfully disagreed. Some attacked my intelligence and ability to review comics. Some were just fans of the Abnett and Lanning run who felt that the series was underappreciated and under promoted by Marvel during its initial publication. But the most common thing that I read were the attacks against the writing and character of Brain Michael Bendis and how his influence has supposedly brought the entire industry down. And seeing as how he has a new series out that is clearly aimed to cash in on The Defenders Netflix show, I decided that now would be a good time to tackle this subject as well as give some thoughts on the new Defenders comic series. So, let’s shine a spotlight on the Defenders, Bendis, and the sins of the Comic Book industry.
The most reoccurring thing that I read in the comment section about Bendis, in the opinion of the commenters, was that he’s a talentless hack who is only interested in cashing in on trends and popular films and T.V. series and is sponging off the hard work of other writers and artists. And to be fair, there is some truth to that. A good chunk of his work in the Ultimate Universe, for example, often amounted to little more than a rehash of the classic Lee/Kirby/Ditko works of the Silver Age with only slight, and often questionable, variations on the original stories. When reading his run on Guardians of the Galaxy it’s very clear that the looks and personalities of the characters and overall tone of the book were altered in order to be more in line with the James Gunn films. Civil War II, also a Bendis book, was an unmasked attempt by Marvel to cash in on the release of the latest Captain America film. And then you look at his Defenders book and things become even more damning.
The book itself is okay. The thing about “The Defenders” is that it has always been something of a loose title. Whereas The Avengers have always had a number of seemingly permanent, iconic members, (Captain America, Iron Man, etc.), and a mission statement, The Defenders was always a title that writers and editors just kind of gave to a group of heroes who usually already knew each other to do something together whenever team up books were popular without as much of a long-term cause as you might think. In many ways, the new book does feel like it’s being more or less true to that premise. It follows a group of heroes who, at the very least have a professional relationship with one another and have come together to fight a common foe but is more than likely temporary team up. In this case, the team up is triggered by the return of the villain Dimondback who has apparently coming back from the dead with super power and tries to kill Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist. And if you have seen any of the Netflix shows you can probably tell where this is going and where the Bendis criticism comes into play,
The looks and personalities of at least two of these characters seem like they were directly lifted from the shows in order to keep the book more in line with them. Dimondback’s reappearance as the main antagonist was a choice that was clearly influenced by his antagonistic role in the Luke Cage series as well as his acquisition of superpowers that was hinted at in its final episode. It also wouldn’t at all surprise me if it turned out that his resurrection and new drug turned out to be related to The Hand and the mysterious corporation that was responsible for giving Jessica Jones her powers. They even managed to throw The Punisher and Electra in to the mix as wild card obstacles. Night Nurse makes several appearances throughout the comic and I’m honestly surprised that her look has more or less stayed the same as it was before. But the real question that we should all be asking is in the end, does it all work?
At this point it really is too early to say. As of writing this article the book has only released four issues and hasn’t really given any hits as to where it’s going beyond these four teaming up on a possible permanent basis. I can say, however, that the book is very readable. It’s not Bendis’ best work or is it the best book to feature these four characters but it’s certainly not the worst way to spend an hour or so. What I can tell you is that the book will inevitably attract the ire of so called “fans” who think that Bendis is Satan because he opted to take the helm on a book that clearly drew inspiration from an alternate medium that was going to happen regardless if he was doing the writing or not.
Here’s the thing guys. Bendis’ so called sins against the industry are, by in large, the sins OF the industry and have been since the start. Don’t believe me? Well let’s go back to the early days of the industry with its most iconic figure, Superman. You see in the original comics Superman couldn’t fly. To travel he would just leap long distances like he was John Carter or something. But then in the early 40s Paramount acquired the rights to do a cartoon based on the popular comic that were eventually produced by Fetcher Studios and later Famous Studios, (check them out because they’re great). But upon viewing the test footage of Superman’s leaps the producers deemed it to silly looking and asked the publishers permission to allow the character to fly. Not long after the character in the comics begun to fly and since became one of the most popular superpowers of all time.
Now fast forward about 20 years. The Adam West Batman show is on and soaring in popularity. To cash in on this the Batman comics began to take on a look and tone that was more in line with said TV series and arguably kept the book and character in the popular conscience for the time and perhaps all time. It was also the series that invented the now iconic Barbra Gordon Batgirl before she made her debuted in the comics. It was also the reason why characters like The Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman were restored to A-list villain status after a long period of being in the background. Heck, the Joker of all characters was saved because a certain editor was dead set on axing the character but found that he was unable to thanks to his popularity on the T.V. show.
Fast-forward another 30 years and we come to the Timm/Dini D.C. Animated Universe which many consider to be the greatest adaptation of the comics of all time. Arguably its greatest achievement was in Mr. Freeze. In earlier storylines Freeze was more or less just a bad guy with a cool gun, (no pun intended), and had little to differentiate himself than any other bad guy otherwise. But what Timm and Dini did was give the character a Shakespearean tragic backstory in the Emmy winning episode Heart of Ice. This specific backstory would eventually find its way into the comics, the video games and film adaptations until it was altered, (for the worse in my opinion), in Batman Annual #1 by Scott Snyder.
Finally, we have the modern era where the list of film and TV influences goes on and on. When the third Spider-Man film was released back in 2007, Peter Parker apparently put the black suite back on for the first time since Mephisto knows when. Back in 2013, Jason Aaron’s book Thor: God of Thunder seemed to have temporarily made the Dark Elf Malekith its main antagonist to tie better into the film Thor: The Dark World and the armor of the race has since changed to reflect the armor worn in the film. The X-Men had at least three different series in early 2016 that involved the character Apocalypse in some way to tie into the X-Men: Apocalypse film that was being released that summer. 2015 saw the release of Rage of Ultron a little over a month before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even Gregg Land is promoting a book titled Return to Planet Hulk that is due for release in the fall to, in part, tie into the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok film that clearly takes large portions of its plot from his iconic work. Within the next year or so it wouldn’t at all surprise me if we see some revival of The New Mutants series, a high-profile Deadpool comic with Cable and Domino as prominent characters, a Dark Phoenix related storyline, an Infinity/Thanos related book and some revival of an Antman/Wasp romance. And all of these things will happen with or without Bendis.
Now, Do I wish that the medium stood more on its own? Well sort of. It’s a double edge sword. On one hand, it’s easy to see just how positively external media has influenced the comic book industry. Without it, it’s highly doubtful that the majority of us would be talking about it today and it’s unarguable that said external media has changed the industry for the better at times. On the other hand, it does really get tiresome when every four months or so an entire series has to stop its narrative dead in its tracks to tie into a storyline related to a film. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that comics are being used as testing grounds for future ideas to be used in said films but that’s a discussion for another day. Either way, people need to stop trying to demonize one or two individuals for it. Bendis and people like him are not the problem. Even the external media that is influencing them isn’t the problem. The industry itself is the problem and that very problem is in its bones and I’m tired of people trying to demonize otherwise great writers and artists for trying to and succeeding to work effectively in it.
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