Superman: Brian Michael Bendis on Hope and the Man of Steel

What does it take to write Superman? Brian Michael Bendis tells us the secret.

Brian Michael Bendis believes in Superman. Twenty-five years into a comics career that includes a massive 17-year stretch with Marvel Comics, the writer moved to DC Comics. And like Jack Kirby and John Byrne, two other former Marvel creators who built new legacies at DC, Bendis went to work on the Man of Steel.

“I wrote this seven-page Superman manifesto,” Bendis says. “I took a couple of months to really rediscover the character, not as a fan but as a co-author, as a steward. I dove in and found things that were truthful to me and things that surprised me about my connection to the character.”

That “manifesto” covered story ideas, new characters like the villainous Rogol Zaar, plans to give Metropolis a more pronounced identity, and more. But the key is always getting Superman right.

“The world has become so chaotic, and the news is sometimes so hateful and depressing that we’re not hearing a lot of hopeful stuff,” Bendis says. “I’ve been handed the character whose job is to remind you to be hopeful, through his actions and presence. I get to live in his skin and write him and remind everyone that the world is a great place worth saving and worth helping.”

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Bendis doesn’t buy the idea that a character as powerful as Superman isn’t relevant to modern audiences. “People feel that Superman is all powerful, so you can’t relate to him. But he’s all powerful and he’s choosing to do the right thing with every breath he takes. That’s an almost impossible goal. As a member of society, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? I’m writing a Superman reflecting hope in a world that desperately needs it.”

The writer needed to find some hope on a personal level as well. Shortly after signing with DC Comics, Bendis was diagnosed with an MRSA infection. It was severe enough that he was hospitalized for three weeks, unable to write, and unable to even see for a portion of it. He made a full recovery, but admits “there were some dark days” as he waited for the doctors to release him.

“Almost every day that I was there, Greg Rucka, who is a dear friend of mine and an underrated Superman writer, sat at the side of my bed and just talked about Superman with me in an almost quiet, meditative way,” Bendis recalls. “It was like he was Superman … It kept me hopeful and optimistic. When I got out of the hospital, I went flying right to my keyboard, because I was desperate to write the stories that you’re reading right now.”   

After a pair of short stories, Bendis’ tenure on Superman officially kicked off with The Man of Steel, a limited series which paired him with a different artist for each issue. “My overall philosophy as a collaborator that I’ve learned over the years is to not write for myself but to write for the artist, their strengths, their goals, towards what they want,” he says. “Every artist comes at you with a different energy.”

The Man of Steel introduced a new villain, new supporting characters, and even a new status quo for Clark Kent’s home life. The next phase of the journey is this month’s relaunch of both Superman (with art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado) and Action Comics (with art by Patrick Gleason). Each series will focus on different aspects of Superman lore.

Action Comics is about Metropolis, The Daily Planet, stories where Clark needs to be Clark and not Superman,” Bendis says. In addition to teasing guest stars like the Question and the Guardian, and an upcoming look at the various secret organizations within the DCU, Action Comics will prominently feature Lois Lane, who was sidelined during The Man of Steel. “There’s a mystery with Lois and it is something I’m very excited about,” Bendis says. “Ryan Sook is drawing Action Comics #1004. It’s so far the best script I’ve written for DC and it’s all about Lois and Clark.”

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Superman will take a slightly different approach. “Superman has the biggest adventures [and] the biggest villains,” Bendis says. “The first year of the book is a gigantic story that will land on a huge moment for the DC Universe. I’m very excited about introducing this.”

The writer is well aware of the legacy built by other creative teams, citing Richard Donner’s Superman movie, Geoff Johns’ work on the character, Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” and others during our conversation. But he’s quick to note more recent contributions too. “Dan Jurgens, who kindly handed the baton to me after a 30-year run, has been so gracious and wonderful,” Bendis says. “And now I’m working with Patrick Gleason [on Action Comics]. His contributions to the Superman family are enormous so having him with me on this is brilliant and has made the transition so much fun. And, of course, Jim Lee was there to hold my hand on the first pages. He was a big deal, and it made it very special.”

Superman #1 is on sale now. Action Comics #1001 arrives on July 25. 

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