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Friday, May 02, 2014 

Brian Bendis wants everybody to think he understands sexism, and diversity

New York Magazine's Vulture section interviewed Bendis about his work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, and wants everybody to think he's a true, honest-to-goodness expert on sexism and so-called diversity. At the beginning, they say:
[...] In the meantime, he’s also featured Spidey in his decade-long run as writer of multiple Avengers series, as well as in several Marvel-wide crossover events.
And they tell this without a whisper of complaint, not asking for a minute whether crossovers have become the doom machine of modern mainstream comics.
As you might infer, Bendis’s influence extends far beyond Spider-Man. He currently writes six monthly series, sits on a creative committee that offers consultation to the filmmakers behind the Marvel cinematic universe, and just got back from a company retreat where he helped the company plan the next few years of its future. And in a summer where Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Guardians of the Galaxy are all headlining tentpole movies, Bendis is writing flagship titles for all three franchises. In short, he is — and has been, for many years — Marvel’s chief ambassador for converting moviegoers into comics readers.
Oh really? Judging from sales returns well below 100,000 copies, there must be quite a lot of them, eh? But honestly, what sensible moviegoers would want to read his juvenile garbage?
[...] In your years of writing, have you added something to the Spider-Man concept?
Y'know, my job is very unique. I write Ultimate Spider-Man, which from the get-go was supposed to be starting from scratch, asking what would happen if Spider-Man started today and was not something that started in the 1960s. And the transition that we made was based on the fact that the concept of Spider-Man wasn't broken. The Spider-Man origin and its themes are pretty much perfect. So adaptations are much like a Shakespeare play: The trick isn't to fix it and say you know better than Shakespeare. It's to find the truth of it and keep the truth going for a new audience.

The most cosmetic change we made, obviously, is a couple of years ago when we made the determination that, if Spider-Man were created today, there's a very large percentage chance that, based on where he's living and who he is, that he would be a person of color. So we made the choice to send Peter Parker off with a heroic death and have a new young man take the mantle in the form of Miles Morales, who’s half Hispanic and half African-American. That gave a multicultural voice to Spider-Man that was always there, but never fully championed in the books themselves.

What do you mean by that? How was a multicultural aspect “always there” during decades of Spider-Man being white?
When you become the writer of Spider-Man, all of a sudden, every day, every week, every month, someone of color — all different races — comes up to you and tells you, "Spider-Man was my favorite and this is why," and then I hear a version of this story: "My friends, when I was a kid, wouldn't let me be Superman, wouldn't let me be Batman, because of my skin color. But I could always be Spider-Man, and Spider-Man became my favorite. As a little kid, I didn't even understand why he was my favorite, but it was because anybody could be Spider-Man under that costume, because it was head-to-toe." That's not why we created a Spider-Man who’s a person of color, but afterwards, I was like, "Oh man, this was subconsciously why we did it."
I think this whole argument is silly and borders on insulting. Why shouldn't anybody approve of a black or Asian kid dressing up as Superman on Halloween just because Kal-El is a white humanoid? I'm sure there's plenty who do, and their circle of friends have no issues. But he's right in a way that, if Spider-Man were created today, it's more likely he'd be depicted as someone of a Black, Latino, Hindu or Asian background because that's what the corporate mindset dictates. If Stan Lee created Spidey today and wanted to make him white, chances are he wouldn't be allowed to, as though it were wrong.

And I'm sure Spidey's not the only superhero who wears a full mask and could end up being anybody underneath: what about the original Golden Age Atom, Al Pratt? Even Spoiler from the Batbooks could be anybody under the outfit, but that's not what counts. What does is the story quality. But don't expect Bendis to ever admit that.
Marvel’s comics output has suddenly become very inclusive of nonwhite, non-male characters in the past five or six years. Was there a conscious effort to make that happen? Some big meeting where the editors said it was time to pay attention to inclusivity?
There was no big meeting. It's a few things. I know I sound like I'm a hundred years old when I say this, but with the growth of the online comics community came more awareness of the world and who's really reading these books. And y'know what? Sure, there are people who look like Captain America who read comics, but there are very few people in the world who look like Captain America. I go to conventions, and you meet hundreds of people over the course of the day, and no two of them look alike. You see women and people of color who love comics, and there's nothing representing them in a way that isn't sexualized or something.

Now, you can't make these decisions [to be more inclusive] consciously, because then you're just writing in reaction to things, and that doesn't work out, dramatically. But subconsciously, if you look at the world around you and see your readers, you go, I wanna write something that I know is true. So you start writing women better and you write people outside of your experience better, because you look at pages of other people's comics and you don't recognize it as the world around you.

You attempt to rectify that — sometimes subtly, sometimes boldly — and if enough people are doing that, there's a sea change. And then you go to the publisher and say, "Miles is gonna be half Hispanic and half African-American," and they go, "Oh, good, we should publish more of that." And it's not just me: It's [fellow Marvel writers] Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ed Brubaker and others who fight the good fight and put characters out there that don't represent everyone, but all of them put together represent more of the world that we live in. And the response you get back is something else, boy oh boy.
Who do they think they're kidding? Whatever attempts they've made have been symbolic at best, and politicized at worst. And predictably, they ignore Bendis's very own grave errors, like turning Scarlet Witch insane for the sake of it back in 2004, sticking her in a storyline where Hawkeye takes advantage of her in 2006, and later on, Rick Remender's termination of Wanda and Rogue in Uncanny Avengers. I don't see how that's being inclusive. His takes on Tigra in New Avengers and on Jean Grey in All-New X-Men is also insulting. And what about that storyline where Spider-Woman was held hostage in the nude by the Wizard? Pretty sexualized tale that was, if you ask me. But he's right in a way that some of the characters they've featured of recent don't represent everyone. At least not if it's ideology and politics in discussion.
...there’s been an insane outpouring of fan support for Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, which both star female superheroes — and a lot of that response came before the books were even finished.
Yes! Because that fandom was there, patiently waiting for just that! Saying, "Please show us something like that," and once it's there, they throw their hands in the air and rush to buy it. They were always there. They were always there! Waiting for just this thing that's fun, exciting, and representative.
Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, yes, but to say the Muslim Ms. Marvel is something people literally wanted is incorrect, and sales bear this out. And I'm wondering if that's why they pulled out of bookstore sales recently, because they were ashamed of anybody with common sense finding out more easily.
Do you think the wild success of the Avengers movie franchise has changed how writers approach Avengers comics?
I think there are certain actors who have embodied certain characters so perfectly that, if readers don't see a semblance of that in the comics version of that character, they won't see it as correct. Robert Downey Jr. is, of course, the pinnacle of this. But I think the first time it happened was with Patrick Stewart as Professor X. It could be that some people heard a voice similar to his as Professor X, but now I think it's all they hear. And now, if you write it as not sounding like that voice, people will just see it as wrong.
The success of the movie hasn't changed how any writers deal with the comics, as Remender's aforementioned story makes clear. And why should readers base their judgement on what the movies show? Insulting to the intellect. And now, here's where he indirectly addresses the case of Janelle Asselin being persecuted online, and never once admits his own mistakes that might've influenced the very people he speaks of:
What’s the superhero comics industry’s biggest challenge?
Oh, I got a pile of stuff. Just yesterday, a woman wrote an article analyzing what she thought was a poor comic book cover, and she was met with just a bunch of shitty anonymous people being awful to her online. I think that a huge problem is people who read comics and don't understand the point of superheroes, which is to be the best version of yourself. You love Captain America? Well, you know what Captain America would never do? Go online anonymously and shit on a girl for having an opinion.

I would like there to be more of a connection between why people read these stories, and how they act. You should see Peter Parker and then want to act like Peter Parker. You shouldn't want to be Peter Parker because you want to sling webs and punch people. It should be because you want to be someone who lives with the idea of "with great power comes great responsibility." And that means that the power of the internet and the power of your ability to interact with people, should be treated like a power. You should treat it like a responsibility.
Look who's talking! The same guy who's been peddling discrimination and other insulting takes on women in his own writing. Who is he to address this issue, when he can't even admit he wrote some terrible stories that could've appealed to and influenced the very people he speaks of? In fact, how can his argument about Peter Parker work if readers take to modern Spidey books, and find little more than a character depicted as a jerk, or worse, as a guy with tentacles who switched bodies and brains with the real deal? How can anyone reading Spidey today be the best version of themselves if Peter hasn't had the best of himself in a long time? Who truly doesn't get the point of superheroes then?

Some of the commentors at Vulture are aware of what Bendis is really like, and here's what they say in response:
Read his comics and you will see that he absolutely does not [get it]. Under all the praise heaped on him in this article, is a real problem with his storytelling. Going into it all now would take up too much time and space, but for one, all of his characters sound the same. They all sit around a table, eating cereal or playing cards, speaking with the same tone and cadence. Having read pieces of his work since 2004, it's wildly aggravating.
I'd also argue that there are some very sexist undertones to much of his catalogue.
Indeed! And then:
All his characters sound like teenagers but his women tend to be the worst. They all have the EXACT SAME VOICE and they usually get reduced to love interests. Strong women are reduced to pretty much nothing, Emma Frost, Magik and X-23 have lost their edges and complexity, Jean Grey has become his new Jessica Jones....Kitty Pryde is...

He recently wrote a "females go shopping issue", where the Stepford Cuckoos were reduced to preening and shallow teenagers and Emma Frost was....uh..again..terrible.

He writes men horribly but it's nothing compared to his women.
You got that right. And then:
Thank you! Totally agree. His All New X-Men is an insult to the X-Men. He's a pretty terrible storyteller who just doesn't get the characters he is writing. His Emma Frost is......wrong.
Sometimes, I wonder if Frost was ever written well enough. Next:
Don't get me started on how bad his Emma Frost is. Joss Whedon he is not. Bendis must have a mad libs template that he fills out for whatever book he writes.
Seriously? Whedon gets it? The following doesn't agree:
LOL @ the idea that Joss Whedon got anyone right in Astonishing. Hysterical.

And yes, that shopping issue. There has never been another X-writer who had the women go shopping.
Actually, Chris Claremont did in the late 80s (at the Hollywood Mall), but that's another story, and probably better we not get into it just now. What matters is that NY's Vulture section is letting Bendis off scot free from his wrongdoing, making him look like a saint while absolving him of all bad writing he's ever done. Nobody concerned about sexism in comics should look to him for insight when he's part of the problem. In fact, they shouldn't rely on him for insight on diversity either. Nor should they count on NY Mag to give a convincing take on the issues, and they've just proven it with this fluff-coated dud.

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Heh. Watching white male leftists get hoisted on their own petard? Priceless. Once you've bowed the knee to PC, there's nowhere to go but further down. No sacrifice is sufficient for the unclean at the altar of political correctness.

LOL. It always amazes me to see the left sacrifice their own on the altar of political correctness.

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