Bendis and the Crazy People

More than most writers working in comics these days, Mr Brian Michael Bendis loves him some batshit crazy villains. Don’t get me wrong, I totally see the attraction of that, and hey, some characters just are that way to begin with. I mean, if you’re writing Loki, you know that his basic deal is that he messes with people pretty much because messing with people is what he does. (Well, if you’re writing Loki and your name’s not Kieron Gillen, anyways.) But it’s more than that with Bendis.

I’ve talked before about how messed up the Skrull plan in Secret Invasion was. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that was an isolated example.

Norman Osborn. The Sentry. Wonder Man. Wanda Maximoff. Veranke. All of them in one way or another, crazy. All of them nonsensically inconsistent in their plans and actions. And, it should go without saying, all of them written by Bendis. (And that’s just in the mainstream Marvel Universe. Ultimate Spider-Man has not lacked for crazy villains either.) It made a certain amount of sense with Wanda, who was drifting in and out of touch with reality – her perception of reality was inconsistent, it logically followed that her interactions with it would be. On the other hand, Osborn and Veranke in particular were depicted as super-smart schemers. And while there’s a case to be made for both of them that their egos brought them undone, that’s not a case that was made in the comics themselves.

Bendis likes to claim that it’s perfectly reasonable for their plans to not make sense, because they’re crazy. Unfortunately, that’s not how crazy tends to work. Crazy people’s actions might not make sense to us, but they should at least make sense to them. There should be an internal logic to them, and they should not be blind to the lack of it. It’s stupid people whose plans make no sense – and to give Bendis his due, he writes those villains well.

I’m not saying that his writing isn’t entertaining, because it is. For all that his characters tend to sound a little alike, Bendis still writes some of the best dialogue anywhere. It’s sharp, witty and naturalistic.

It’s just that he’s found this one lazy crutch for his writing, and used it pretty much to death. It’s time to move on. Bendis is one of the best writers currently working for Marvel. But he needs to challenge himself more. Recycling the same few ideas over and over is a disservice to his own talent, and to the reader.

Unfortunately, it seems that the next big Avengers plotline is going to be a rematch with Norman Osborn, so we’re not moving on any time soon. Alas.

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2 Responses to Bendis and the Crazy People

  1. Andrew says:

    Re the “crazy people=crazy plans” thing – while that’s certainly a good summary of how he’s talked about Veranke, he’s never made that claim about Norman Osborn. On the contrary, he’s stated that Norman’s motivations and actions are logically internally consistent.

    Thinking about your analysis of how he’s written Osborn, you’re right – he’s never actually gone to much effort to establish Osborn’s intelligence. Apart from a cannily judged PR move at the end of Secret Invasion, most of Osborn’s intelligence was established in issues of Thunderbolts written by Ellis & Diggle. I would argue, though, that the orchestration of his disintegration culminating in Siege was convincingly written in line with his previous characterisation.

    What bugs me more about Bendis is his treatment of magic and time travel. His stated aim with regard to his depiction of magic was to codify everything more exactly by giving it concrete definitions – but in the end, it all boils down to substituting page references in imaginary magical tomes for the old-school incantations. It makes magic feel more mundane, but it really doesn’t help clarify how the magic works to the reader in anyway.

    Bizarrely, his approach to time travel comes across much more like magic. Pre-Bendis you could actually follow the story logic of Marvel time travel plots. Bendis seems to use it as a magical handwave which can do anything “because time travel”, even if there was no logical way for the person to travel in time because they had already been killed.

    • Loki says:

      Yeah, Bendis’ bold new treatment of magic is apparently to rip Brubaker and Fraction’s way of labelling martial arts moves (which has now become standard across the Marvel line). Remember when Dr Strange used to improvise?

      And yeah, his treatment of time travel seems to be that because so many people complain that time travel stories give them headaches, ergo, if his time travel stories generate headaches, he must be doing them right. But his big time travel arc in Avengers was a confusing mess.

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