That's what Civil War 2 is about? The loss of Rhodey?
Marvel Comics’ second Civil War is in full swing now, with the main miniseries and multiple tie-in issues out in the wild. Civil War II started with a major character death and superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis explains why it had to happen that way.Hmm, I wonder what was left out? For now, it's pretty apparent that this was done as yet another excuse to force 2 or more heroes to clash with each other over something that didn't have to be. Other recent examples include Tony Stark vs. Bruce Banner.
When I spoke to Bendis over the phone last week, the topics ranged from his feelings about seeing Alias adapted into Jessica Jones for Netflix, the second season of Powers and being an Aaron Sorkin fanboy, but I felt like I had to ask him about the character death that brings Iron Man and Captain Marvel into conflict. What follows is an edited version of our conversation on that topic.
io9: Did you already know that Rhodey was going to be seriously hurt in the Civil War movie?If he thinks we're fooled by his defense that Marvel doesn't let him do nearly everything, forget it; we've already seen what he did with Scarlet Witch back in 2004, and what followed was pointless, even disgusting.
Brian Michael Bendis: I did. It’s hard for [me to have] people to see [that plot point] because the movie and comic are coming out on top of each other. But those are drafts I read years ago. When we were putting together Civil War II, other than the [similar] title, is almost a different sub-genre of comic book making. It’s about something completely different, starring completely different characters [than the movie].
The one hurdle I had was the idea that [Iron Man and Captain Marvel] are both smart, good people and they’ve been through Civil War. What would make [these characters] throw the gauntlet down again? It was really what other writers had gifted me—that Rhodey was Tony’s best friend and also romantically connected to Carol—and then I said out loud [his death] is something they would fight for.
The [central] idea is good but something personal would really help the audience get to that ‘they’re going to do it again’ thing. Do you know what I mean? They have to go the distance. It just so happened that the same person was Tony’s friend and Carol’s romantic friend and I did say out loud, “I don’t know exactly where they’re going to land in the Civil War movie but I know Rhodey gets hurt and I’m worried about even the concept of poaching something. It’s not something I want to do. Nobody at Marvel on any level felt that what it was because they saw where it was coming from.
I know people think that Marvel lets me do whatever I want. But that’s not a relationship that I’m interested in or would be very helpful to anybody. People who do really keep me honest said, “Oh no, no, no, this is a completely different story.” We knew what we were going to get out of it down the road.” So I went with it. I thought I would get more sass about that. I didn’t. I was surprised.
I can't think of any moments in the past (pre-2000) where Rhodey was a boyfriend to Carol, so I can only assume this was a more recent concoction of Bendis', and now, look where it's leading to - a squabble between IM and Ms. Marvel, just for the sake of rifts. Is he implying they're not very smart, or good? Well it's no surprise what he must think of Tony, since Marvel spend about a decade turning him into a jerk, or worse, ever since the first Civil War came out.
Speaking of sass, you may or may not know, I wrote something rather strongly felt about Rhodey’s death. It hurt to lose him.I think I can figure what's going on here. Now they're trying to prove they're capable of putting a non-white character through the wringer, as if it hadn't been done before. Except that Power Man went through something like that for a brief time after the cancellation of the series he shared with Iron Fist (Luke Cage was framed for murder, and had to exonerate himself). And I can only shake my head in disbelief at his claim nobody would buy a series where the hero wasn't put through frequent misery all the time. All he's doing is perpetuating the lie that brightness and optimism are "bad", when the Fantastic Four used the angle for many years and nobody had any serious complaints. Worse, it seems like forcing the heroes into utter misery's become the main worry now, but not stories where the heroes figure out how to help guest stars find their way out of the darkness. That's what's bringing down mainstream superhero comics today.
Bendis: No, it did. May I say, I agree with you. It hurt to write. We talked about, yes, an African-American man dying in this world that we’re building. We had a lot of conversations about that as well. And then we came to the conclusion that by diversifying the line as much as [Marvel has], one of the traps would be to not put any of these characters in a situation that would be dangerous, right?
Bendis: The fear is that there won’t be any drama. Like if nothing bad is going to happen to Miles Morales, then why would you buy Miles Morales? You’re buying it for the events and the drama and for stuff to happen. I used to get crap like this when I was writing Daredevil.
They said, “Man you hate Daredevil. You never give him a break.” I said, “You wouldn’t buy the ‘I’m giving him a break book?’” You wouldn’t buy it. I know you wouldn’t. So that went into the equation when thinking about it. If the story is going this way... cannot do something. Any other reason just seemed false and bullshitty.
And did it really "hurt" Bendis to write Rhodey ending up in this mess? I doubt it.
My biggest problem was, after losing Bill in the first one, it’s such a well-worn annoying trope when it comes to black characters in pop culture and genre fiction. It’s like, “Okay, yeah, we can lose him because whatever imagined numbers for our audience won’t care about him.”Gee whiz, this man is so boring! He whines about supposedly having to come up with a sacrificial lamb at all costs, as though there absolutely has to be a sacrifice, and won't think of alternatives to a story about alleged motivation and clashing over it all. Even the interviewer's side sounds ludicrous, because there are fans out there who care about Rhodey as a way to tell stories while he's alive, and not turned into a victim on the alter of artistic bankruptcy. IMO, he is "whitesplaining", and even "mansplaining", given his own leftist background.
Bendis: May I say you’re completely right. I’m not colorblind and please understand, I’m not whitesplaining or mansplaining. Ask me questions and I’ll tell you what I was feeling about it. I’m not saying it’s the only way to feel or that this is the last statement on the subject, because I don’t think it is at all.
But, when putting it together, as I just explained to you, Rhodey is this character to both of these people. For this idea of a personal tragedy within both characters, at the same moment, he’s the perfect and only candidate. I literally couldn’t think of anything else.
I went through all of the Avengers. I went through their history with substance abuse and alcohol abuse that they had. But all of the history with these characters and Rhodey had the most powerful impact. We have things coming out of the other side and characters coming out of the other side who will be motivated by this death. I literally almost begged editors who I knew to find me anything else, because I worried about it. There was nothing else.
Then I was faced with the idea if I don’t go down this road with this story, that at this moment is telling itself, if I don’t do that, then isn’t it kind of the opposite of the right thing to do? Are we not now treating characters equally? Isn’t diversity about equality? If this was a white character, we wouldn’t think twice about it.I think he's coming off more as a moral equivalency specialist. Missing here is whether a character death alone makes for a talented script. No, it doesn't not guarantee that at all. So because they've spent years killing off white protagonists or turning them evil, that suddenly makes it okay to do it with black protagonists too? Absolutely not. And contrary to his defense, I think he's got plenty of influence. No of course it's not 100 percent, but he has had considerable influence in all the time he's tarnished Marvel with his pretentious approach to storytelling.
Bendis: In this instance. I’m not talking about all the incidents, which obviously, I have no control over. But this story, this character, this moment, it was thought about a great deal. [...]
Bendis: I just want you to know that a lot of thought went into it and, at the end of the day, the short answer is it’s bullshit not to kill the character only for that reason. I know not everyone reading this will agree. I’m with you on that. It wasn’t done sloppily or colorblind at all.Yawn. Keep droning on and on please. They haven't put much thought into anything since Disassembled in 2004, so why should we believe any were put into this new mess either? Interesting that he, of all people, is willing to argue that race alone is not a reason to avoid killing a character in a superhero universe. If it were somebody of a conservative/Republican leaning, I'm sure they'd get lambasted for that, though the main point overlooked here is that no matter a character's race and such, killing off any and every supporting cast member to allegedly create drama is does not a good story make, and it's long gotten past the point of reprehensibility and revulsion.
I appreciate that. So as a bit of a segue, it seems that you’re setting things up for the new character Ri Ri to potentially take on the War Machine mantle in Invincible Iron Man.What they think of the new cast member will probably be a lot more than they'll think of Bendis' writing, which sure isn't thrilling many new people. So now it's not just Thor as a white humanoid being replaced by a woman. Now even black stars aren't immune to "diversity" at all costs. What next, will Power Man and Iron Fist be replaced by women in both roles? And Misty Knight/Colleen Wing by men in theirs?
Bendis: Yeah. Perfect example, by the way of what I’m talking about. There’s a lot more going on in the books than just that. I’m sorry. Go ask your question.
Should we not be surprised to see her stepping up in a bigger role in the Marvel Universe?
Bendis: Well, a lot is going to happen in Civil War 2. There’s a lot going on with that character, we just introduced her. We don’t even know her backstory or her family situation or anything like that. We do know that she’s probably smarter than Tony, which is a lot of fun to write in a book starring the man who is always smarter than everybody in the room. Or thinks he is.
I will tell you we’re enjoying her a great deal on our end. I’m curious to see what people think of her in a few months. But yeah, you’re going to see more Ri Ri coming up.
If he's implying Tony Stark's not a smart man, that only compounds their whole view of him for the past decade, which again, has seen Tony made out to look bad, and even have his parents retconned into step-parents, among other pedestrian ideas. Tony, like countless other fictional characters, is only as smart as the writers can make him, and if awful ones like Bendis are only interested in making him look stupid, then obviously, they're not true fans.
So now it looks like Jim Rhodes has become the latest publicity stunt sacrifice, this time just so they can prove they're capable of doing in a guy of different racial background. But killing off characters not only doesn't guarantee the story will be written well, it doesn't guarantee convincing drama either. And modern Marvel's had none of that for years.