The exhibit? “Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton.” Bendis felt as though it was a sign.
At that moment, few people knew that Bendis was seriously contemplating a jump to DC Comics after almost two decades as one of the top writers at Marvel. But there he was, in his home town — which also happens to be the birthplace of the Superman comic and its creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — surrounded by curvy S’s and capes.
Bendis was so moved by the seemingly spontaneous superhero moment that he recorded it on video for his wife (convinced that she wouldn’t believe him) and later posted it to his YouTube channel. The comic book gods had spoken: Bendis knew it was time to take a leap, up, up and away to an uncertain but exciting future.
“I went through that exhibition, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s it, I’m doing it,’ ” Bendis told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
However, the transition from one comic behemoth to another wouldn’t be smooth. Bendis became ill in December and says he nearly died of a drug-resistant infection. He took his time recovering before it was announced he would be working on Superman at DC.
“I’m happy to report a complete, clean bill of health,” Bendis said. “Truthfully, this transition, having these new stories to tell and characters to write, has been very therapeutic.”
Though his first Superman story debuted in the 1,000th issue of Action Comics, Bendis’s full-time duties kicked off Wednesday with the release of “The Man of Steel,” a six-issue miniseries (the first issue was illustrated by Ivan Reis) that is a continuation of the story Bendis began to tell in Action No. 1,000.
Bendis knew right away that he would be creating a villain for Superman: He thought the superhero needed a new rival, someone who could get under his impenetrable skin. That villain, Rogol Zaar, appears in both the Action issue and “The Man of Steel” No. 1.
To research what kind of tricks a villain would have to have up his sleeve to make Superman uncharacteristically emotional, Bendis went to the best source. But while diving into decades of Superman comics, one question kept coming back to him: What’s up with the destruction of Krypton?
“As I was reading, I had this idea, ‘Wow, that’s weird that a planet just exploded,’ ” Bendis said. “Did anyone question that? Why did that happen? It doesn’t seem like it was even investigated.”
Bendis ran the idea by fan-favorite Superman writer/artist Dan Jurgens, who just finished the writing run on “Action Comics.”
“I called up Dan, and I said, ‘Should I ever do a story about what really happened on Krypton?’ And Jurgens goes, ‘Why, what really happened on Krypton?’ I knew from [his] inquisitive tone that [I] was on to something,” Bendis said.
Once “The Man of Steel” wraps up, Bendis’s writing time will be split between “Action Comics” and a new “Superman” series. Bendis says “Superman” will feature the biggest stories in the DC universe — the type of adventures only Supes could handle. “Action Comics” will have more of a focus on Clark Kent, with a look at his life as a reporter.
“Action Comics [will be a] Valentine to journalism today,” Bendis said. “The one choice [Superman/Clark Kent] made for himself is [being a] reporter. He could have chosen anything, but he decided ‘I need to have a job where I can tell the truth and the truth that I can’t get to as Superman.’ And I love that about him, and we’ll be focusing on that.”
Despite flirting with the idea of starting his DC career with other characters — including the other two-thirds of DC’s famed trilogy, Batman and Wonder Woman — Bendis says the connection between Superman, his home town and the Jewish upbringing of his youth was too sentimental to pass up.
“If you grew up in Cleveland, especially if you’re a little comic-book Jewish person, all you hear from people is rock and roll was born here and Superman was born here,” Bendis said. “Finding out that someone like you can do that for a living is a big deal.”
Bendis said he has already created 14 new characters to add to the Superman universe. One character just as important as the Last Son of Krypton? The city of Metropolis. Bendis was known at Marvel for being a champion of diversity with co-creations like Miles Morales and Riri Williams. He sees Metropolis as a gateway to something similar.
“To shove [diversity] in because that’s what I’m known for, that would be a mistake. But where story allows it, absolutely. Metropolis [is] this cultural, vibrant stew of people from all over the world. People would come from all over the world just to live in Metropolis, to be watched over by the most famous immigrant,” Bendis said. “I think the cultural vibrancy of Metropolis is going to explode from this. It’s not going to be this huge message, it’s just going to be there. Just flavor. The way we see the world. The world outside my window.”