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The Century Mark

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Marvel Comics held a conference with the creative team behind Ultimate Spider-Man: Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. Let’s make with the rundown.

The conference was pre-faced ominously with the absence of Mark Bagley, but it was covered up nicely when Bendis stated: “He quit the book.” (Later on Bendis clarified that it would be a year before Bagley was actually off the book). From there, praise was heaped on the current issue of Ultimate Spider-Man – issue #99. However, once the phone conference was well under way, attention turned to next month’s landmark issue.

Click to enlargeThe conversation started by pointing out that the 100th issue finds itself smack dab in the middle of the clone saga. Bendis pointed out that the saga touches upon very early story arcs, and that the build-up was quite intentional; even though clone had become the dirty “C” word of comics. He realized that if they did do the clone saga in the book it would have to be very pristine and perfect.

Bendis defended the inclusion of the clone saga by stating that: “People don’t remember that the clone saga – while it was occurring – was very popular and intriguing to most readers. It was only after there was no end to it that people started peeing all over it.” (Bendis made note he was trying to keep his language well behaved for the conference, hence the use of “pee”)

“So we tried to embrace what it meant for Peter.”

He then pointed out that the seeds of the story had been planted very early on. “Tell the stories that people can just pick up and enjoy. But if you stuck with us, and quite a few people have, it’s great to be able to pay off that loyalty with extra stuff. If you’ve been reading from day one, there’s so much to point to.”

As far as the return of Ultimate Gwen Stacy, is she going to be sticking around?

“It was in the making since her very unpopular death – and yes, I’m very well aware how unpopular that was – but when people yelled, I couldn’t yell back: Don’t worry, she’s coming back!”  the scribe said, confirming it was all a planned event, and not some quick gimmick.

Once the floor was opened for questions, the first question was what story Bendis would like to “Ultimate” next. And, being his usual funny self, Bendis’s reply was: “I’d like to do Ultimate House of M, Ultimate Civil War, and Ultimate Identity Crisis.”

Next, Bendis stated there would not be an Ultimate Scarlet Spider, but that the best part of the process was waking up and deciding what he could do with the big issue 100, all the options he did have.

Click to enlargeOf all the accomplishments Brian has had with Marvel, from redefining Daredevil to killing Hawkeye, he feels that Ultimate Spider-Man is the highest point of his career so far. “I can’t believe I got the job, I can’t believe I kept the job, and I can’t believe all the other events that arose because of it. It’s an amazing job, and I’m not leaving. They’ll pry it from my cold dead hands.”

As to breaking Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s epic run, Bendis admits at first he wasn’t even aware there was a record. However, at about issue #60 Tom Brevoort pointed it out, and Bendis and Bagley got together and decided that they were going to try to make it. “I’m very proud of it, not only because I’ve always been a fan of long periods of creative teams, but also because this day and age that sort of thing isn’t done. And I wanted people to see what that feels like.”

Whether he is remembered for this or not, Bendis isn’t too worried. Right now, he just wants to center on writing the best book possible. “Every collaboration I have is an attempt to do something genuinely beautiful.”

The best part about working with an artist for so long “was obvious” to Bendis, but he went on to add that the best thing about Bagley announcing that he was leaving was that people finally stepped back and appreciated his work. “When we get the pencils from Bagley, he has them completed. To be part of that weekly, I’m really going to miss it.”

A lot of the reason the book has been so consistently on time was due to Mark Bagley, and his professionalism. “I’ve learned a lot from Mark. Why aren’t people applauding this? He never misses a week. Now finally people are noticing.”

Speaking further on Gwen Stacy, Bendis was a bit surprised at how much fans reacted to her death. However, he defended it by saying, “It is Peter’s story, and there are lessons to learn in it. Hard, growing up lessons, and having his best friend die in his yard because he was Spider-Man was one of the harshest lessons we could have him go through. However, it did open the door for kitty Pryde.  So you get the good and the bad.” He then assured everyone that we would be seeing more of Kitty Pryde in the future.

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When he started the book, Bendis looked at the classic stories as if they were pop culture Shakespeare. The themes and lessons could be applied to different times and stay the same. Just like updates of Hamlet and MacBeth, updates of Spider-Man wouldn’t lose the essence of the stories. “I looked at it as if I was a director and was going to show an update of Hamlet to the fans. And the response was incredible.”

One hint for future developments that was dropped was that Jessica Jones would eventually make an appearance in the Ultimate Spider-Man book, as in the standard universe she and Peter went to high school together.

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As for upcoming plans for the series, there will be new situations arising in Peter’s life, and that will all be dealt with in the future, Bendis assured. “We’ll be seeing the next year of his life. The plots have already been plotted out for the foreseeable future, especially dealing with the follow-up to the clone saga itself.”

And so, it looks that the first 100 is just the beginning and that Ultimate Spider-Man will continue to be one of the premier Marvel titles – especially as long as Brian Michael Bendis is at the helm, which looks to be a very long time. Check out issue #99 on stands now, and get prepared for the landmark 100th issue hitting stores next month.

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