Brian Michael Bendis Tells All About His Role in Failed Spider-Man Musical
In the 1990s, Brian Michael Bendis was a semi-successful independent comic creator. Writing and drawing a bevy of crime books such as Torso and Jinx. He was making a name for himself and making a living — no small accomplishment for someone releasing comics out of Cleveland.
Then in 2000 he created Fortune and Glory, a three-issue autobiographical story about his escapades in Hollywood, which was courting comic creators to be fresh screenwriting voices. It was filled with incredulous moments and embarrassing meetings as it chronicled a writer navigating a byzantine world.
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It was also a hit, the biggest at that point in Bendis’ ascending career, and earned him three Eisner Awards, the comic industry’s version of the Oscars.
“It weirdly ended up being the first actual hit book I ever did,” Bendis says, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from his home in Portland on a snowy afternoon. “I did it just to blow off steam and it ended up being a thing that people connected to.”
Now, over two decades later — after becoming one of the biggest comic book authors of all time with his work at Marvel Comics and co-creating Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino Spider-Man who is arguably the most popular comics character created this century — Bendis has produced a new autobiography, a follow-up titled Fortune & Glory: The Musical!
The new story will come out in weekly installments in the author’s Substack newsletter starting this week, running bi-weekly. Once done, the installments will be collected in a print edition from Dark Horse Comics. Fortune & Glory focuses on Bendis’ time writing the ill-fated Spider-Man Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
“Every time I bring up, even to people who know me very well, that I was, for a moment, the writer of the Spider-Man Broadway musical, people stop what they’re doing and say, ‘Tell me everything.’ And I realized that yeah, that is a good one.”
With songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge and direction from Julie Taymor, who squashed naysayers by adapting Disney’s The Lion King into a Tony Award-winning blockbuster musical, Turn Off the Dark was supposed to be the rock opera for the 21st century. Instead, it became one of the most notorious productions in Broadway history and its most expensive. The production was troubled, actors were injured performing stunts, Taymor was replaced, and it kept being retooled and retooled in previews before officially opening in 2011.
Bendis was hired early on, but even then, when he was already in the midst of his Spider-Man and Marvel success, he knew he was out of his depth.
“Why was I hired in the first place? Why would someone with Julie Taymor’s experience and pedigree look at someone who’s never actually sat through a musical and want them to write a musical?” Bendis asks, still in disbelief all these years later.
“It was a struggle and I shouldn’t have …,” Bendis trails off before blurting out, “But I had to try! We’re creative people, and an opportunity was put forth, and it would have been too crazy not to attempt.”
And it became the excuse to frame the new autobiography around his love for comics, how he got into comics and how he got into Marvel.
Unlike the first Fortune and Glory, Bendis is not drawing this story — not that he didn’t want to.
“The plan was always to draw this one,” Bendis says. “I even held it up a few months because I was going to retrain my drawing brain and I was going to get there. The reality is, when the first one came out, I had no children. Now I have four children. And my four children are all that age … well, the window of how long they’ll be here in this house closes with every day. It became clear I was not going to be able to draw it.”
Instead, the art duties are being handled by Bill Walko, a cartoonist with whom Bendis worked on a eulogy for pop culture icon Stan Lee for The New York Times. Titled My Moments With Stan, it detailed the author’s key meetings with the co-creator of many of Marvel’s heroes and villains.
“It spoke to the energy I was looking for, so when the reality set in that my fatherhood takes precedence over drawing hundreds of pages of this, I turned to Bill and asked him if he wanted to draw my head 4,000 more times. And he said yes.”
Bendis will draw some covers and what he calls “special parts.” The new Fortune and Glory is almost completed. Bendis wanted to have it all done before having it begin publishing but is now adding what can only be described as “appendices,” additional anecdotes “that were cool but don’t fit into the narrative but that I still think we should do.”
The work, in color, in contrast to the original’s black and white, will run between 150 and 180 pages. Installments will run anywhere from six to 12 pages, he says.
Bendis says that fans and friends have been asking him to produce a new graphic memoir for years. “People know I’ve been in some rooms since this had happened,” he notes. “I was in the early MCU rooms in the early stages. My whole Marvel adventure.” But he didn’t see a story.
For him, the reason the first Fortune and Glory connected to the new story was due to the tale being about a man who didn’t know what he was doing. And his time at Marvel was very fruitful. So much so that his creations and stories continue to influence the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This year alone his influence was felt in movies such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the upcoming animated feature Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Disney+ series Secret Invasion. “I’m glad it happened to me, but it’s not good drama.”
But being involved in a failed Broadway production involving one of the biggest and most loved characters around the world?
“When I tell people the story, it really does turn heads,” he says.
Check out a preview below.