After a career spanning almost two decades at Marvel, the prolific yet polarizing Brian Michael Bendis recently announced his plans via Twitter to join the “Distinguished Competition.” As surprising as the announcement is, what also stood out is how atypical an incident it was — exclusivity deals are often worked out while the writer is already on a project with the company! Though no official reason has been given, some speculate it’s due to the writer not having as much sway, to disagreements over David Gabriel’s comments regarding sales and Diversity. No matter the impetus, Marvel’s landscape may look very different in the coming months.
“Event fatigue” has become a well-known term among fans as of the last decade or so. In broad summary, it’s when comics publishers produce crossover events one after another, each threatening to change everything, before ultimately returning to status quo. While it may be a tired trope now, were they not successful in some way, the method would have been long abandoned. Spinning out one after another, events like “Avengers Disassembled,” “House of M,” and “Secret Invasion,” all written by Brian Michael Bendis, shaped how Marvel as a company told and structured its stories. On the other hand, the format tends to be a bit of burden for many reader bases. Sales may go up, and the universes may be more connected than ever, but with poor narratives across multiple titles, the “House of Ideas” seemed to be running out. If a part of the reason Bendis left was in fact due to poor sales, partially related to event fatigue, Marvel as a publisher would have to look at restructuring its storytelling efforts.
Bendis as a single writer, showed more attention to women and minorities in 17 years than Marvel did collectively as a publisher.
Brian Michael Bendis, while not responsible for every major event in Marvel, was behind a large majority of them. Let’s not forget how quickly the events were released, oftentimes while Bendis was writing another title for the publisher. The writer was also notable for revitalizing interest in characters such as Daredevil, Captain Marvel, even the Avengers as a franchise. Starting in the early 2000’s, it was difficult to find a book that Brian Michael Bendis wasn’t working on. Since the announcement of the departure, perhaps Marvel hires several writers to fill the potential void. Imagine how much room there is now that arguably their biggest fish has left the pond. Less event-focused stories can leave room for more character-driven stories, similar to Tom King’s Vision.
In addition to numerous crossover events, the writer also penned various solo issues. Jessica Jones is now a household name thanks to her Netflix series, but started in 2000’s Alias. The series was one of the first titles published under Marvel’s MAX imprint, focusing on mature stories like DC’s Vertigo. Alias starred a woman protagonist, though not overtly sexualized or shallow as a lot of women were written at the time. The series also famously resurrected Luke Cage, who’d languished on the sidelines after a string of ill-received stories in the late 90’s. Those are but two examples, but Bendis as a single writer, showed more attention to women and minorities in 17 years than Marvel did collectively as a publisher. Love him or hate him, his impact on the Marvel Universe is what most take away when reflecting on characters like Wanda Maximoff, another previously under-developed woman character.
Several characters were created by Brian Michael Bendis throughout his tenure with Marvel. Characters like Maria Hill, Ultimate Nick Fury, Daisy Johnson from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Ganke Lee, who was the clear inspiration for Ned Leeds in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Speaking of some of Bendis’ more famous works, he also created Miles Morales, and most recently Riri Williams. All this is just a long way of saying that Marvel has huge shoes to fill. Despite David Gabriel’s statements, the publisher has to notice the visual impact that Bendis has had. There’s no better time than now, to fill that void behind the scenes, and not just in what character is coming next to screen.
This isn’t new or profound, but yes, Marvel needs to include more women and people of color among its development staff, and long-term. For as much as Bendis attempted to paint the Marvel Universe with a variety of colors, a criticism often heard is, “Yeah, but this is still a white man, so nothing’s really changing, and I don’t care what his adopted children look like.” There are extremely talented written and visual artists among the African-American and Latinx communities, artists like, Sara Duvall and Vashti Harrison coming first to mind. Deep down, David Gabriel has to realize that it’s event fatigue and poor stories is what’s killing sales. With the loss someone who I thought would end up Editor-in-Chief at Marvel one day, a smart Marvel opens the doors to a world of talent practically invisible to them. Clearly, the publisher has an interest in diversity, as Ta-Nehisi Coates and more recently Nnedi Okorafor have shown, but let’s continue. Strike while the iron’s hot to work in some actual Inclusion, from creators who’s experiences you clearly want to showcase.
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