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DAREDEVIL: Brian Michael Bendis

The writer on his Daredevil arc with writer/artist David Mack, and the current Ninja mini-series.

By James Busbee     December 13, 2000

There's something about Daredevil. He's never Saved Our Entire Planet, spawned an epic crossover, or starred in a cartoon or major motion picture. Kids don't go crazy at the sight of a Daredevil action figure, and hot young actresses don't dance around in Daredevil underoos. And yet, Marvel's blind urban crimefighter has inspired some of the finest comics work of the last three decades.

Now, writer Brian Michael Bendis, riding the twin crests of popular and critical acclaim with his work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Powers, is joining forces with artist (and best friend) David Mack to take a crack at the Man Without Fear in an upcoming four-issue arc, kicking off with issue #16 in January. Comics' hottest writer is taking on comics' most sophisticated superheroand Bendis can't wait.

A View from the Street

Told from the perspective of Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, Bendis' arc will provide a unique perspective on Daredevil and his city. 'When I was offered a Daredevil arc with David Mack,' says Bendis, 'I crafted a story which had a theme I wanted to do forever, and one I really thought needed to be done in a Marvel comic that can be as serious as Daredevil can be.'

In the story, Urich is offered the chance to cover the Kingpin's high-profile trial. Instead, he takes an interest in a mentally disturbed boy named Timmy, a boy who carries secrets involving both his supervillain father and Daredevil himself.

'It's a very interesting point of view, one we haven't seen before,' says Bendis. 'As much as Ben knows Daredevil, Daredevil's this ethereal, mysterious character who lives in a world above him. So we see how he sees Daredevil, and it's not exactly hero worship.'

Looking for more hints? Forget it. Bendis is remaining tight-lipped. 'We're telling a pretty interesting story, so I'm trying not to give too many details,' says Bendis. 'I like to preserve some of the surprises. These days, you're stuck between a world of hyping the product because you want people to know about it and then just giving away everything. I want people to discover what the theme isif I do like Spike Lee and talk all about what I've done before it's come out, there's a pretty good chance you'll see it and go, 'wha--? I didn't get all that.''

'Brian and I had some long conversations about what we wanted to do,' says Mack. 'We both agreed that our work is most powerfully felt when we can pour some of our own life experience into the work. We wanted to put some experiences from our own childhoods into the story. Sometimes the most personal things are the most universal.'

Creatively and professionally, the Daredevil arc already marks a dream come true for Bendis. '[Writer/artist] Frank Miller was creating his Daredevil issues (vol. 1, #156-#190) at the most important time of my life, as far as the blossoming of what was important to me as a storyteller,' he says. 'Creatively, he was trying to accomplish with a cinematic style of storytelling what I'm trying to accomplish with a lot of the different things I do. He opened a lot of doors in my head.'

Plus, Bendis has the pleasure of working with Mack, one of his oldest friends. 'He's such a talent above and beyond what most people consider a comic book artist to be,' says Bendis. 'He doesn't need to be drawing Daredevil from someone else's script. So if he was going to do that, I was really going to have to give him something of a challenge.

'He doesn't have any limitations as an artist, and I find myself always fighting with mine. It's so cool to write for someone who has such a command of so many different mediums. I can't paintI've tried and tried, and I'm just not good at it. So to work with him is a thrill, because I get to see my stuff as if I'd painted it. We're now at the same place in our careers, and to be there at the same time is fun. The fifteen-year-olds in us are going, Woo-hoo! We got Daredevil!

Mack feels just as strongly about Bendis. 'From the beginning, we've been able to objectively critique each other's work, give suggestions and fuel each other's passion for improvement,' says Mack. 'Each of us has been in constant flux, straining to grow as artists and writers, and tirelessly and prolifically trying to reach and cultivate our audience. Bendis has been an invaluable friend and asset personally, artistically and professionally.'

Marvel's new editor in chief, Joe Quesada, for one, is more than happy with their collaborationand the finished product. 'Together, their stuff is amazing,' says Quesada, who recruited Bendis and Mack for the Marvel Knights line Daredevil headlines. 'These guys really inspired each other to reach new heights, and this Daredevil story is one that people are going to be talking about for a long time.'

Daredevil: It's Ninja-riffic!

Ironically, although the Daredevil arc was Bendis' first shot at the Man Without Fear, it didn't turn out to be his first published Daredevil story. That honor goes to the current Daredevil: Ninja mini-series, a three-issue all-out ninja brawl that's far removed from Bendis' more serious main series arc.

'After I had crafted that [main series] story, Joe and I were talking about Daredevil in general, and I mentioned a couple things that I loved about Daredevil,' says Bendis. 'One was that, since Frank left, we've never seen the flat-out Kung-Fu movie aspect of Daredevil, where it felt like a Jet Li movie in some places. So I thought, wouldn't it be great to do a mini-series that was unapologetically ass-beating! But we had to find the right artist, one that relished choreography, mood lighting and ass-beating ninjas fighting with fluidity.'

As it happened, Quesada already had a man in mind for the job. 'I'd just seen this Website (www.lockblok.com) by a guy named Rob Haynes, where he's got this Flash movie of Daredevil, Bullseye and the Black Widow just all-out going at it, beating each other up,' says Quesada. 'I showed it to Brian, and I said, 'You think we can get this guy?' Brian said, 'What are you talking about? This guy would love to do Daredevil!' So we got him.' Haynes ended up doing a fill-in issue of Daredevil (#12), but the mini-series allowed him to cut loose.

'I really wrote Ninja with Rob in mind,' says Bendis. 'Rob's fight scenes really are choreography, almost like dance scenes. It's really a cool looking bookit's unapologetically a lot of fun.'

The plot, as with most Kung-Fu movies, is minimal at best. Somebody has stolen the staff of Daredevil's mentor, Stick, and DD's gotta get it back. Along the way, he ends up neck-deep in ninjas. 'I thought of a way to bridge the gap between the Frank Miller run and the Kevin Smith arc (vol. 2, #1-#8),' says Bendis. 'There's actually a defining thing between the two, although the plot isn't really the focus here. It couldn't be more different than what I'm doing with Dave. I really feel like I've accomplished two totally different things with Daredevil.'

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

There's something indefinable about a character such as Daredevil that permits such divergentand yet validapproaches to him. Bendis has an idea why. 'Daredevil's really a renaissance superhero,' says Bendis. 'He's an attorney, a superhero, a crusader, a masterless ninja. There are so many facets to himhe's a lawyer who's also a vigilante! Plus, you can't take away from the fact that he may have the coolest costume in comics.'

Daredevil was, of course, one of the host of characters born out of writer Stan Lee's Marvel explosion in the early 1960s, and Bendis believes that genesis has much to do with his enduring appeal. 'A lot of these characters who have stood the test of time don't have just one hook,' says Bendis. 'Things come and go in our culturestuff like Beavis and Butthead, The Transformers, things like that. But Stan Lee's characters stand the test of time because his genius created characters who had all kinds of problems. I mean, Daredevilthis guy's handicapped! And yet he's fearless and truly cool. Daredevil flying over the rooftops is as cool as when Spider-Man swings on his webs. It's unbelievable and awe-inspiring every time I see it.'

These days, Bendis is something of a renaissance man himself, winning praise from both fanboys and mainstream press alike for his work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Powers. Mixing influences from cinema, literature and even music with a reverence for classic comic lore, Bendis stands poised to introduce comics to a whole new audience.

'I firmly believe that comics are a bastard art form,' says Bendis. 'Sting says the same thing about rock and rollit only really flies when people take other things and bring them in, like opera or country or R&B or jazz. It's the same way in comics. There's no one thing that makes the comicit's not line art, not painting, not photography, not screenwriting, not poetry, not proseit's all those things, plus tons more stuff. Anything you can throw into the mix to tell a story sequentially makes a comic better.'

Bendis cites a diverse group of influences, including writer-director Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), author Richard Price (Clockers) and director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas). 'A lot of comic book writers try not to put a lot of themselves into the work, but filmmakers don't necessarily think that way,' says Bendis. 'I always like to try to take on a theme that is personal to me. Sometimes, with Ninja, there's just unabashed fun. But I always want to create a story that accomplishes something within the confines of the comic book, but also includes something that's important to me.'



But he's also intensely aware of the need to get and keep new readers in the current shaky market. 'I learned my lessons in my own comics, that there's no reason to be different for different's sake,' says Bendis. 'You don't want to be Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. You want the story to come first, to tell a complete, entertaining story from beginning to end. I'm always hyperly aware that people are spending three dollars, four dollars, whatever on me, and I really feel a huge obligation to pack that comic full of entertainment. Not to get too mushy, but fan support is a gift, and I want to give back to the fans.'

And he's going to be giving back for months to come. In addition to DD and Ultimate Spidey, Bendis is working on a still-secret Marvel project featuring some of his favorite 'toys.'

'I'm kind of a Marvel kid,' says Bendis. 'DC has made me offers as well, but I keep gravitating back to the Marvel side. There's a Batman story in me somewhere, but not this year. Right now, I'm really dying to do all this Marvel stuff. I really feel fulfilled creatively. I'm excited to have all these opportunities. I remember when it wasn't like this...and this is better.'

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