Interview With Brian Bendis
(December 2003)


In January, Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev settle back in to Daredevil, returning to the book with issue #56, and finding it a much different place than it was in their last issue (#50), or for that matter, years previous. Newsarama spoke with Bendis about the current status quo.

There's no denying that 2003 saw a tumultuous run for both the creative team and the character. In the issues leading up to their arc entitled "Hardcore" (#46 - #50), Bendis and Maleev destroyed the power structure of the Kingpin in the New York underworld; unmasked Daredevil, revealing his identity of Matt Murdock to the entire world; pitted Murdock against the tabloid which ran the story; and brought back the Kingpin, who had been nearly killed by his lieutenants in a Caesar-esque uprising.

And then things really went to hell.

While Bendis was kind enough to give Matt a new girlfriend (Milla Donovan, a blind activist working for the Hell's Kitchen housing authority), "Hardcore" saw the Kingpin trying to reclaim his throne as the leader of New York's organized crime, intent on taking out Daredevil - the only true roadblock to his ascension, once and for all. To manage this, Kingpin sent Typhoid Mary after Matt (only to be defeated), and then Bullseye.

One of the more brutal battles between a costumed hero and a villain in recent memory, Daredevil's battle with Bullseye was the final straw, sending him on the hunt for Kingpin. It was no longer a "tit-for-tat" game for Matt - he took down the Kingpin - hard, proclaiming himself as the new Kingpin of Hell's Kitchen. And then…

A five issue arc written and illustrated by David Mack, starring Echo, a character from earlier in the series.

But now…the two creators who shook up Matt Murdock's world like it hasn't been shook for years are back.

And it turns out they were just getting started.

Newsarama: You've said on numerous occasions when asked about Matt's unmaksing, that you came up with a radical idea for Daredevil, and Joe Quesada said you could do it, but had to stick around to play it all out. Was the subsequent fall of the Kingpin part and parcel to the entire unmasking arc from the very start?

Brian Bendis: Actually no. this is a case of the story writing itself. I was actually going with something else, but all of a sudden, I felt Matt's frustration and came up with this. Then all these story ideas started going so I knew it had to do this way.

NRAMA: What then was the bigger story in your view - unmasking or taking down the Kingpin for good?

BB: The unmasking.

NRAMA: So - as far as things stood/stand at the end of your last issue before David's arc, explain the "Matt Murdock is Daredevil" element in the eyes of the everyday Marvel Universe New Yorker. It almost seems that the world found out Daredevil's greatest secret, and it cared about it for all of five minutes…

BB: Well, like many famous people hiding a secret, Matt is so litigious about it that most media just leave it alone. Its becoming urban legend, Matt is fighting it with sheer force of will. plus, he is doing so much good as Matt and Daredevil that most are just happy to benefit from it and don't really care. But it is a complicated struggle that never goes away.

NRAMA: So give a real world analogy - does Matt (prior to the new arc starting) have a certain notoriety, such as a suspect in a crime who was never found guilty, so that there's this "is he or isn't he?" air about him?

BB: Oh yeah, it's definitely the, "is he or isn't he?" It's gossip and fun for everyone but Matt and foggy.

NRAMA: Going back to your last arc, "Hardcore," which had the fight with Bullseye at the end of #49 - this was the one that originally, you were going to wait for Kevin Smith to be done with him in Target, right? If Target had shipped on time, would this arc have come sooner in your run?

BB: Yeah - it would have found its way at the end of the first hardback. It just had to happen. This guy killed two of his girlfriends, as the writer of the book, it just hung there.

But it all worked out great in the end, in #49 it became part of this steam roller of villains leading up to the finale. It worked out great.

NRAMA: But in that fight, Matt pretty much deconstructed Bullseye as a human being in that fight in a manner that showed just what a weak, pitiful, empty man he was. In your view - for as long as you remain on DD, is there any point to bring him back, or have you closed the door on him as far as you see him? After that knuckle-fed psychoanalysis, it's hard to see him ever coming back as a Colin Farrell-level, cocky jackass…

BB: I am done with a lot of the Miller Daredevil stuff, only because I said what I wanted to say with them. I expressed my love for them, but this new story is about new characters and ideas. But we will get some good classic fun from some older characters. Black Widow is coming back in a big way.

NRAMA: So the same goes for the Kingpin, then - the men in issue #50 as well as Matt totally deconstructed him showing him to be arrogant and, well, stupid. Is there, in your eyes, any bringing him back from that, or is he "done" in the same way Bullseye is as far as you're concerned?

BB: I think we'll do the next Kingpin story in The Pulse. There is a story there. It's a pretty good one, too. I'm still working on it though.

NRAMA: Moving ahead, then, and looking at just what leads to the new arc, take us inside Matt's head - what was it that snapped in such a big way this time to make him go after the Kingpin and not stop? He's had his girlfriends attacked and killed before; he's had the Kingpin throw psychos at him before. What was it about this point in his life that made all of this such a potent mix that he had to take him down for good?

BB: It's all of this. Plus the point of the new arc is just about this. All these things plus something that people may not see coming.

NRAMA: Well, while we're in Matt's head - he pounded the crap out of the Kingpin with his mask on, yet when he went to show off, throw him down and jungle-speaking, piss on him in front of the thugs, his mask was off…this was a power move, something to show that he is, literally the man without fear - a la, "this is who I am, bring it on if you think you can, I'm not hiding?"

BB: Oh sure it was a total mind f___. It was Matt saying plainly, "I am the man without fear." It was the exact opposite of issue #35 where he scrambled for his mask to hide behind.

NRAMA: That said though, was Matt…thinking clearly when he did this, or was declaring himself the new Kingpin fueled by adrenalin and emotion? After all, speaking realistically, there's a hell of a difference - and safety - between being the hero charging against the bad guys, or being the lone guy all the bad guys are gunning for…

BB: That is a very good question.

NRAMA: Going back to Marvel editorial was there any concern expressed over going this way with Matt? After all, he's a "hero" who's now in charge of something because he beat up the other guy - a very "might makes right" move…or is this all about showing how different Matt is from everyone else? After all, Spider-Man would never declare himself king of the 'burbs he and Aunt May lived in...he's such a nice hero…

BB: Well more than anything, this shows that Matt is not Spidey, Matt is totally unique in comics and this idea proved it. You could not do this with anybody else.

Marvel's trust of me is an honor I got here by pushing things as far as I can, which is what they want from me anyhow. Also, Daredevil is the book at marvel that has always pushed mainstream boundaries - it's almost our responsibility.

NRAMA: So - with your first issue back in January, how much time has passed since Matt took down the Kingpin?

BB: Well, as the Marvel Preview of Daredevil #56 - out now - illustrates, a year has gone by.

NRAMA: So we'll see how well his "I'm the new king" is going?

BB: I don't want to spoil but you get it all in the first ten pages.

NRAMA: Are we talking an equivalent network of operatives, spies, informants, etc. with Matt as the Kingpin had?

BB: Oh no. nothing like that. This is just Matt using his sheer force of will.

NRAMA: In "Hardcore" Matt was getting fairly chummy with FBI Agent Driver. Can an FBI agent look the other way while a guy sets himself up as the boss of a neighborhood?

BB: I bet not.

NRAMA: As solicited, issue #56 has a slew of guest stars - what do they come to Hell's Kitchen looking for?

BB: For what the hell is wrong with Matt. They are very disturbed by his new life. It's kind of a superhero intervention.

NRAMA: Of the heroes, you've got many of the "street-level" guys who are long-time friends, but also Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Strange in particular. Of those two specifically, can they really understand Matt or what he's done? After all, they both come from lives of relative privilege, while the gritty street is what Matt has known since childhood…

BB: Don't worry - all will be revealed.

NRAMA: So the heroes coming in won't have a consensus of opinion on what Matt has done?

BB: Oh sure, plus, Matt gets a little too comfy leaving him open to a takeover attempt. Which allows the West coast Yakuza come after him in force.

NRAMA: Of all the heroes coming in, is Peter Parker still going to be Matt's sympathetic ear? Why do theses two black sheep of the NYC hero community get along so well?

BB: They just do. But that's something that always rubbed my wrong personally. That's why I have their Ultimate counterparts so antagonistic. Peter has a great monologue in the upcoming issue.

NRAMA: Speaking of Matt's other confidants and friends, what's Milla's response to Matt's move? Being the wife/lover of the "Kingpin" wasn't a very healthy occupation for Wilson Fisk's wife Vanessa - kidnapped by sewer lords and all that…

BB: All good points…

NRAMA: Speaking of Mila - is there anything Alex can't draw? Believable costumed heroes, all-out action, and now very believable, beautiful women…

BB: Alex does love the ladies…

NRAMA: Wrapping this up then, will the "becoming the Kingpin" be the major theme for the next large chunk of time, or by issue #60 are we going to see Peter and Matt having coffee, with Matt saying, "Remember that time I took over Hell's Kitchen? That was some f___ed up sh__, man…" And then Peter gives him a nod, and "F-ed up, man. That was f-ed up…" And they both go and fight Galactus?

BB: Ha! Whatever the result, Matt has made a big, big, big mess of things and we both have a lot of cleaning up to do.