EVEN THE most casual of chats can turn into a comic-book idea when Brian Michael Bendis is on one end of the conversation.
That’s what happened awhile back when Bendis (known for writing such previous creator-owned works as “Powers,” “Scarlet” and “Brilliant,” as well some of the top titles at Marvel) and frequent collaborator Michael Avon Oeming were discussing the Mafia.
“We were toying with doing a crime book, and Mike said this idea about ‘What if the five families never lost?’ and I thought he was pitching, but he was just talking, saying nerdy things,” Bendis told the Post’s Comic Riffs.
“I literally went back, pulling all the research I’d been doing all these years [on the Mafia] because I’d always been toying with doing [another crime title],” Bendis continued. “And I said, ‘Here’s what we’ll do.’ And [Oeming] goes, ‘When did you come up with this?’ And I said, ‘No, you came up with it,’ and he said, ‘What?’
“It is Mike’s co-creation on every considerable level.”
And just like that, “The United States of Murder Inc.” was born.
The latest original tale from Bendis and Oeming, “Murder Inc.” (which will be published on Marvel’s Icon imprint this month ) takes place in an America in which the mob never lost its stranglehold. The five families have survived and taken over a large section of the United States. They’re so successful that the government has no way to fight back, not having the resources to take back any lost land.
Bendis will tell his mob tale through the young eyes of a recently made man by the name of Valentine Gallo and a hitwoman named Jagger Rose. Before he can enjoy his status after finally becoming part of the family business, Valentine discovers something so shocking about the world he’s living in that it unravels everything he’s ever believed in. What that exact secret is, Bendis promised, will be revealed in the first issue of “Murder Inc.”
Valentine and Jagger “head out of the territories to Washington to deliver something, and by doing so create quite a dramatic change in everything that’s been happening in this world that we’ve created,” Bendis said. “We’re going to meet a lot of new characters, and we’re going to see why the world is the way it is.”
Younger readers who may only know Bendis through his work at Marvel Comics might not be aware that he wasn’t always in charge of superheroes.
“I broke into comics doing crime comics, and literally the entire time, people have been asking me to go back to do crime stories,” he said. “The only thing holding me back was just this feeling like I wanted to do something that I haven’t seen before.”
Bendis said that half his brain is always focused on the Marvel universe. For him to once again enter the creator-owned field and dedicate part of his imagination to a new universe, he had to be sure that he would be creating a story that hadn’t been told before. “It’s a very crowded marketplace, and I just wanted to make sure we had something unique and special,” Bendis said.
The writer said “Murder Inc.” — which is inspired by his fascination with real-life old-school Mafia tales, as well as everything from “GoodFellas” to “The Sopranos” — will deliver to fans a lot of the same things that they like about “Powers,” but also be a very different type of comic.
Bendis said the work he’s been able to do at Marvel over the years — ranging from his run on “The Avengers” and two versions of “Ultimate Spider-Man” to his most recent work on multiple X-Men books and “Guardians of the Galaxy” — have brought him some of the proudest moments of his career. But universe building is different he said. There’s something about creating a new world from the ground up (as he’s once again doing with “Murder Inc.”), and having that new universe be well-received by fans, that gives him just as much satisfaction.
“World building, creating characters from whole scratch and having people love them, is truly an amazing experience, and it’s almost impossible to describe unless you’ve felt it,” Bendis said. “There’s no other way to say it. It’s just an honor.”