For two decades, Brian Michael Bendis was the ultimate myth-maker for Marvel Comics, where he created indelible new characters (among them the scrappy Miles Morales and flinty Jessica Jones, heroes that went on to earn sparkling reviews in a Sony hit film and a Netflix series, respectively) and revitalized old icons in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, The New Avengers, House of M, Siege, Daredevil, Invincible Iron Man, Age of Ultron and many, many others.
Now, after his shocking defection in 2017 to rival DC Comics, the five-time Eisner Award winner is shaping a new legacy with the newly launched Wonder Comics imprint and his latest creation, Naomi, a character that will reveal hidden truths about the DC Universe that will change it forever. (The cover of last month’s debut issue of Naomi, for instance, declared: “The biggest new mystery of the DC Universe begins here!”)
What is the secret of Naomi? How exactly will a young adopted girl living in the Pacific Northwest become a cosmic agent of universal change? Time will tell. The second issue of Naomi just hit store shelves but Deadline readers can scroll down to read an excerpt below.
Naomi is one of four titles under DC’s new Wonder Comics imprint. It’s joined by Young Justice, Wonder Twins and Dial H for Hero, each a decades-old property now getting a Bendis revamp. All of them are “junior varsity” superheroes, a generational group that provides ample opportunities for coming-of-age moments (be they bittersweet, bruising, or buoyant). It’s a youth movement that echoes all across the genre landscape (especially in communities like Riverdale, Smallville, Sunnydale, Panem and Hogwarts).
The poignancy of school-year stories became a Bendis hallmark during his signature run on the Ultimate Spider-Man series, which not only shaped the Marvel Studios version of Peter Parker it made Marvel publishing history: The tandem of Bendis and artist Mark Bagley produced 111 consecutive monthly issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, breaking the record of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s legendary partnership on Fantastic Four in the 1960s.
Today: Bendis and co-writer David F. Walker talk about Wonder Comics, the mysteries of Naomi and the singular thrill of witnessing a superhero “fly-by” whether it’s by Superman or Clint Eastwood.
DEADLINE: What can we expect from Wonder Comics imprint?
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Wonder Comics is an imprint I’m helping to curate with Alisa Bendis, my wife, here for DC Comics and we were focusing our attention on that magical time where you’re just becoming an adult and figuring out what the world is really like and what your place in it might be. One of the things we had running through the Ultimate universe was just where the characters were at that moment in time. That was something I wanted to continue to pursue but to do it at DC and with DC characters, who basically have a different set of rules behind them…at the same time I had come to David Walker and said, “Listen, you and I have been teaching together for many years and working together on projects but now it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and really dedicate ourselves to a new character and a new hero’s journey.” When all the stuff with DC happened I went to him and said, “This is it, we’re doing a book together.” He said, “Sure we are,” and walked away…
DAVID F. WALKER: Yeah I didn’t really believe him. The things we talked about doing, a lot of it was me humoring him. Really, not much has changed in our relationship. It works.
DEADLINE: The young protagonist of Naomi is an adopted child and her story connects to that background in a major way. Adoption is a topic that both of you have experience with in your personal lives. Was that an impetus to do this project?
BENDIS: It was a mixture of all the conversations that David and I had over these years. Between all the stuff that had gone on in my house [which is home to two adopted daughters] and the people I had met through the adoptions in my world and David describing the situations that he had gone through in Portland growing up. It felt like we had a lot of stuff to talk about for a new character that needed to be true and definitely needed to be in the DC Universe. I was so glad that the laugh went well a couple of weeks ago. The launch of going well was the last piece of that crazy, scary feeling that comes with introducing something new into the world. When people open their arms and hug it, that feeling fades.
DEADLINE: Can you talk a bit about Naomi as a character? And all this talk about this series changing the DC Universe in a fundamental way — is that as profound a happening as it sounds?
BENDIS: Naomi is a girl whose life gets turns upside when Superman bounces into town, quite literally, for a cameo appearance. It’s such a small town where nothing ever happens there and his appearance there rattles her. What’s interesting about Naomi is she’s adopted and she has a very happy, healthy life with her adopted family. But when Superman shows up — as the most famous adopted person in the universe — it starts her on a quest to kind of dig into where she really came from. It’s all connected to stuff from the DC Universe. The surprise is that her secret unlocks a door in this universe that no one knew was there before. So she’s bringing a whole bunch of brand new things with her. I’m pretty excited about all of that.
WALKER: Somebody was just asking me about all of that. A friend of mine that I was talking to the other day, he wanted to know what we really have in store. “You guys aren’t really –quote, unquote — changing everything about the DC Universe, are you?” I told him it’s not that we are changing everything: Superman is still Superman, Batman is still Batman. What we’re doing, though, is bringing in something so big that it will effect all of them. [It will alter] the perception of these characters and their actions moving forward. It sounds hyperbolic to say things are never going to be the same. But it’s true.
BENDIS: I just got the second issue in the mail and was looking at it and it’s beautiful. And I was looking through it and it’s a real detective story and it’s very quiet. And I smiled because two issues from now? This book is not quiet. Not at all. [Laughs.] It shifts gears hard based on the actions of one character and that’s very exciting.
WALKER: There’s a significant shift in issue No. 3 but that one is really just the appetizer before the main course. In issue No. 4 we just come out swinging and then there’s no stopping after that. That’s the issue where people will really realize, “Oh these guys weren’t kidding around.” This isn’t a joke or an exaggeration. Then from that point it becomes a question of how big is all of this going to be? And it’s pretty big.
DEADLINE: The first issue has an interesting clue: Naomi is baffled to find zero media coverage of Superman’s thunderous visit to her tiny town. I won’t say more but, that potential conspiracy element is communicated deftly by Jamal Campbell’s great artwork. His work seems grounded in a realistic way in the first two issues but, does that change as the story advances to a grander scale?
BENDIS: Let’s just say that issue No. 4 is when people will start to wonder if what we are doing to our artist, Jamal Campbell, isn’t some kind of abuse. There is so much work, so much design work, and it presents so many challenges to him. He’s our partner in this and he agreed to take this project on with lots of things in front of him. A lot of opportunities were right there for him to choose from and I couldn’t be prouder of him as a creator for making this awesome choice instead of choosing something that might have been a definite hit but less challenging. The challenge in front of him with us on this is, I feel, is the greatest I’ve ever asked of any creative partner on anything I worked on. I’m dazzled, just dazzled, by his work and his commitment.
WALKER: I’m the one that told Brian, “You know, we’re going to break this guy. This is too much.” I went to Jamal and said, “Okay we know this is too much. We’re asking you to do the work of like 500 artists — but you know it’s going to be worth it.”
DEADLINE: Brian, when you were describing the early sequence from the debut issue where Superman and the alien tyrant Mogul both tumble out of the sky and right into Naomi’s life — that moment and the perspective it presented reminded me of Marvels, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The heroes and villains in that series were like miracles or natural disasters — they are easy or safe to be around and they can make bystanders feel insignificant or inspired if they survive the experience.
BENDIS: We referenced Marvels in script, actually. So yes, absolutely, 100%, Marvels is one of those books that really informs story construction across all of comics. It’s such an elegant and simple method to change the storytelling but simply looking at the action from a different perspective. The perspective alters everything. We referenced Marvels when [artist Michael Avon Oeming and me] were working on Powers, too. What Marvels brought was a genuine “wow” feeling that sometimes gets sidelined in comics these days for a funny moment or snark. What Marvels did was help bring back that genuine mind-blowing reaction [that people would have while witnessing] these things. I mean if Superman flies by you that would be the end of your day. It’s a big damn deal. I don’t care what you’re doing, if Spider-Man swings by you are not going to shrug and keep walking. I used that philosophy throughout my entire run of Ultimate Spider-Man. No matter what happened, if Spider-Man flew by, the people watching would not get over it. Even if it happens every day, it still should shake people up.
DEADLINE: Superman doing a flyover should be a jaw-dropper. It’s like seeing Hailey’s Comet and Elvis Presley go by you at the same time.
BENDIS: Exactly. [Laughs.] You know I can give you a perfect real-world example. Years and years ago I saw Clint Eastwood come out of a men’s room and zip up his zipper. I have never recovered from it. That was all that happened, there was nothing else. He just kept walking but I still haven’t recovered.
An excerpt from the just-released Naomi, issue No. 2, from DC Comics…