Brian Michael Bendis on a New Superman Villain, The Question, and Dial H for Hero

Brian Michael Bendis unpacks the crazy revelations in Action Comics #1005. Plenty of Superman spoilers await...

This interview contains major spoilers for Action Comics #1005.

It’s been a minute since Brian Michael Bendis has taken over the writing chores of Superman and Action Comics, and since then, the famed scribe has rebuilt Superman’s supporting cast, redefined the underworld of Metropolis, and found shocking directions for Superman and his extended family. Well, Action Comics #1005 by Bendis and artist Ryan Sook really turns up the volume. Not only does the issue contain a shocking revelation on the new Superman rogue Red Cloud, it also features the Question and the return of crazy silver age superhero concept, Dial H for Hero!

There’s a lot to unpack about this issue, so we thought we’d let Brian Michael Bendis do it for you! Again, spoilers a-comin’ so go read Action Comics #1005 first!

At the end of the issue, we learn that the deadly Red Cloud is actually one of Clark Kent’s fellow Daily Planet reporters! We’ll let you discover which one, but suffice to say, Superman will now have to face a foe like no other, a reporter gone bad. With that in mind, take it away, Mister Bendis…

Ad – content continues below

Den of Geek: We’re here for Action Comics #1005, which just sounds odd.

Brian Michael Bendis: It’s always weird. I’m writing Action #1010 right now, and it’s very strange to type that number.

Whoa, that revelation! Talk about the creation of Red Cloud.

This is all spoilers, I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling. I was doing research on United States of Murder Inc., which is a lot of mob stuff. Decades ago, a mobster got a job at a newspaper specifically to keep an eye on what they know about the Family. That idea just stuck out to me. It could be used for someone at The Daily Planet. They can do what Clark does but for their own purposes. It was just so exciting.

It really reflected how bad at hiring Perry White is (laughs).

Even J. Jonah Jameson never went that far, and he hired Eddie Brock.

Ad – content continues below

Look who Perry hired. Even Clark, Clark is terrible.

Steve Lombard! They’re all terrible!

Oh my goodness, Steve Lombard! He’s an HR nightmare.

But this idea, that someone would use the Planet the way Clark does…someone really getting a job there that was immoral and making a life out of it was really intriguing.

There have been immoral people at the Daily Planet, but not a straight up super villain.

Yeah, someone who is flat out evil and never know they’re doing the same thing Superman does.

Ad – content continues below

It’s almost like a pseudo-Bizarro Clark Kent.

Yeah, in a way that hasn’t been done. Bizarro has shown up at the Planet.

Yeah, that was the beginning of Fake News. Let’s move to Dial H for Hero. I assume the inclusion of the Dial will lead into Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones’ Dial H for Hero Wonder Comics title.

Absolutely. It was the idea to craft them together for Wonder Comics. Action Comics #1005 is a nice introduction for what the Dial is for people who don’t know. It’s one of the best ideas of comics and this allowed us to introduce it into continuity and let people who kind of want to know that, yes, Wonder Comics are in continuity. I have people very worried or concerned if Wonder Comics will be in continuity. They are. This is just another hint that they are.

further reading: Grant Morrison’s Return to the DC Universe

Well, you made it clear that Wonder Comics are in continuity. I don’t know where that perception comes from.

Ad – content continues below

You know what? It’s one of three subjects that come up where that’s going to happen. People need to hear it. It’s okay.

Will the Dial story continue in Action or in the new book?

It’s a transition but it’s also an introduction. There will be more H Dial in Action, but this was really the introduction of the Question into the storyline which will build and build and build. It’s an extended cameo, but the Question’s presence will build into a big thing we’re going to do next summer. I’m excited about the Question because, wow! People really wanted me on the Question and it’s rare I give people what they actually want. I was excited to do it. I’m rarely on the exact same page as people. When it was first announced I was coming to DC, literally, the Question was the most requested character.

Yeah, when you took your place at DC, me and a bunch of Den of Geekers were talking about what books we would love to see you on. To a person, everyone said Question.

I was immensely flattered by that. I hold the character and his creators in the highest regard, including my dearest Greg Rucka. So, what we’re doing is, this is the introduction and we’ll slowly find out what the Question has found out about what Clark doesn’t know.

So, what’s the Bendis Question connection? To your old time fans it’s obvious, but why is the marriage of you and the Question such a thing?

Ad – content continues below

I think the Question fits into the same realm as Jessica Jones, the midlevel detective that can go to the highest heights or the lowest lows. Which I’m flattered by. Also, what will I do with all those non-facial expressions?

That’s for your artist to decide.

That’s right, and may I say? It’s funny, I so rarely do this. When Ryan handed in the pencils of the Question, I posted it online immediately. It was one of those joyous moments. I always wanted to write Action Comics, and to have a scene with Dial H and the Question in it, it was the most Action Comics DC scene I could ever write in a million years. Then Ryan handed in that artwork, and it was so gorgeous and I’ve loved Ryan my whole life and here we are making comics together. It’s the best feeling. That page of the Question made me so happy. It was also the final proof that this move to DC was such a good idea.

Did you pee a little when it was confirmed that Ryan Sook was going to draw the Question for you?

Yeah, I have an even more complicated answer. Ryan signed on to do these issues of Action. Next issue, I said could you draw Clark looking through the entire building of The Daily Planet in perspective, every corner of the Daily Planet and show every story that’s going on? And he did it!

You’re trying to kill the man!

Ad – content continues below

It’s amazing. What’s really exciting is that after this run on Action, Ryan and I are headed off to the biggest project either of us has ever tried.

And you’re going to break that news right now on Den of Geek, right?

Yes, it’s Sugar and Spike! (laughs)

God bless you. Dial H for Hero has always been one of those awesome fringe properties. China Mieville had a fun take a few years ago. Will Pfeifer did H.E.R.O. in 2003. Why do creators go back to this concept again and again?

It’s a phenomenal concept. It’s like the genie’s magic lamp. You rub the lamp and it grants your wish. But it’s so specific to our genre. Anyone in comics would be like, “Yeah, I’d like super powers for one hour.” It also feels like you can have all the fun with none of the responsibility.

I think you just hit a tag line for the new book.

Ad – content continues below

Yeah, it’s like I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, right? But honestly, it’s one of the first things that came out of my mouth when I started this run. I really believe Dial H is one of the best ideas in comics. The retro angle of the dial phone is back in vogue again. Sam and Joe were perfect casting.

further reading: Brian Michael Bendis and the Future of Jinxworld at DC

Tell us what you know about Sam Humphries’ coming series? He’s killing it on Harley Quinn these days. What conversations did you have with Sam about Dial H for Hero?

Well, Sam and I, the minute we started working together at Marvel on Guardians of the Galaxy, we did the Black Vortex together, we really enjoyed each other’s company. But my favorite Sam is Black Bird Sam (Note: Black Bird is Sam Humphries’ Image Comics project. Go buy it. It’s good.). For people who read Black Bird, you can see Sam is in a really special place lately. I approached him with this and asked, “Can I for some of that very special Sam Humphries magic in Dial H?” And it’s great, because it’s an idea Sam never wrapped his head around; he never thought about it. So, he really took the assignment and really made it his own. He and Joe are just amazing casting. I worked with Joe, I know what Joe is capable of, and Dial H is exactly what he should be doing.

Hey, DC has this new platform and there’s the CW. Dial H would make for a great episodic weekly TV series, wouldn’t it? Hint, hint.

I think that’s a great idea that we should make viral. Let’s get that out in the world.

Ad – content continues below

Talk about rebuilding the Metropolis underworld.

Yeah, people get focused on Superman’s level of power; they could miss ways in which to deal with him. This invisible Mafia is based on some real research and real behaviors the Mafia has had. You know the Mafia, the original Mafia, was a secret. People didn’t know about them for years. Until an informant walked off the street and told the FBI that there’s a Mafia. That’s how it was found out. Historically, this secret can go for a while. Here you have the people that are thriving around Superman’s life. And in a few issues we’re going to find out who is running the Metropolis mafia.

further reading: Brian Michael Bendis on Hope and the Man of Steel

Getting into the Kirby of it all with the Metropolis Mob stuff, I love how this issue feels like an old George Reeves Adventures of Superman episode with Clark Kent, intrepid Reporter front and center. That so feels like it’s in your wheelhouse. Talk about the appeal of reporter Clark.

Aww, thank you! We’ve talked earlier, we’ve been zeroing in on the idea that a lot of things Clark’s life that have been thrust upon him, the idea of responsibilities that the world gave you. For him, they were big. You are being sent to Earth and you’re going to be Superman. But what Clark decided to do with his life is be Clark Kent. He didn’t need a job. He didn’t need to be a reporter. He looked around the world and said, “What can I do for myself?” and the he said, “I’m going to be Lois Lane.” So, the Invisible Mafia, the entire focus of Action Comics is that hitting is not the answer. Clark is the answer.

Yeah, he really is that super tough reporter. Not the Christopher Reeve reporter, the George Reeves reporter.

Ad – content continues below

Yeah, we’re going to see in the next storyline that he’s going to go undercover. We’re going to see Clark be Clark.

So we did Dial H and we did the Question…

Will there be more Wonder Comics teases in Action Comics? Yes!

I live to see the Wonder Twins! Are we going to see more Bendis Question? And are there any other left of center DC properties you are dying to get your hands on?

Well, you’re going to see me write a lot of the Question, not necessarily in a solo book, but a surprising amount, so I’ll meet you halfway on that. At the moment I’m curating Young Justice which involves Amethyst and Gemworld, Dial H for Hero, Naomi, which involves her entire secret which is enormous, and the Wonder Twins. If you include everything that’s going on in Young Justice – which is Conner and, Cassie – we have eleven fandoms being curated in one imprint at one time. And that’s just what we’re starting with. It’s a lot. I’ll focus on these. Gemworld is enormous. It’s Lord of the Rings enormous.

further reading: Dan Abnett on the end of an Aquaman era

Ad – content continues below

Should I hold my breath for El Dorado and Apache Chief?

I’m hearing a lot of Apache Chief noise on Twitter lately. I’m not exactly sure. Because of Wonder Comics and Wonder Twins I’m seeing a lot of people asking for Apache Chief. I got like thirty Apache Chief tweets.

Have you goggled how to spell “inuk chuk?”

That’s the beauty of me. I never google how to spell anything.

What appeals to you about the character of the Question?

He’s one of those characters like Daredevil who’s always been handled by an exceptional creator. There’s never been anyone who has sucked at writing the Question. He’s always drawn great. Denys Cowan, that’s my jam. I’ve always loved pulp crime comics, so there you go. I’m such good friends with Greg Rucka, and him standing over me while I’m doing this is a little daunting.

Ad – content continues below

Red Cloud is revealed, so tease what’s next for Superman and this new villain.

That’s the cool thing. This is what I’m most excited about. It’s a rare opportunity for a villain, every issue of every comic a villain jumps a hero and isn’t successful. Someone jumps Batman every seven pages and Batman beats the shit out of him. This villain jumps Superman and shockingly was successful. That changes everything. She tried it, and now that changes her place in the DC Universe.

I’m guessing Red Cloud is from Gemworld.

Ha, no. But I will tell you there’s a connection between Gemworld technology and Kryptonian technology. They are both crystal based. There’s a little Wonder Comics tease. There you go.

Let’s finish with a tease on what’s coming in Superman and Action.

People can already see on the cover of the next issue of Superman that Jonathan Kent is coming back and he’s been aged up and been through a lot. People are already assuming the worst for me, that we’re turning Jon into a murderous Superboy. But that story we’re going to tell, I’m happy to say, is much more labored and about the characters and the family. We’re going to see what the secret between Jon and his grandfather is. I’ll give you two words: Crime Syndicate. It’s all these pieces, Zod and the Phantom Zone, it’s all these piece that come together in the Unity Saga which is going to bring into the DC Universe something we didn’t have before in modern day.

Ad – content continues below

You get yelled at for things you don’t do. I can’t recall you ever turning any character bad.

It’s funny. I think it’s me personally. Then you realize it’s all of us. When I was at Marvel and Geoff Johns was at DC, I said to Geoff, “You don’t get hit as hard as I do.” And he went, “What! Go look at the DC message boards.” It was funny, I was happy I did, he was clobbered. People are worried because they love Jon. When a character is beloved, and they see him on the cover with fire coming out of his eyes, they’re not wrong to be worried. But I can tell you that what’s going to happen to him is much more nuanced than people might think. And I love these characters. I’m not in the business to destroy their ideals. I want to explore them and challenge them and look to ourselves when we think about them. That’s what it’s about.

Action Comics #1005 is on sale today!

Marc Buxton is an English teacher/private tutor by day and a former comic retailer who reads way too many comics, often choosing his Wednesday haul over groceries. Read more of his work here.