Brian Michael Bendis has been the busiest person in comics for many years, and he’s about to get even busier. He and artist Michael Avon Oeming are the co-creators of Powers, a police-procedural comics series about homicide cops who operate in a world of superheroes and villains. The long-awaited live-action Powers TV show (starring Sharlto Copley, Susan Heyward and Michelle Forbes) will debut March 10 as the first original series on the PlayStation Network. Bendis is one of the show’s executive producers and writers; he’s also still writing the ongoing Powers comic book, as well as Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ultimate Spider-Man, The United States of Murder Inc., Scarlet and Brilliant, and he teaches comics writing at Portland State University.
He talked to Playboy about the long road Powers has taken to the screen and where he sees the relationship between comics and TV headed next.
The Powers show has been in the works for about 15 years now, it seems like.
We were optioned back when the second issue came out [in 2000]. We had that dream thing where you get optioned at San Diego [Comic-Con]. You go to San Diego with your little book, hoping to do well, and you walk out with a deal.
It was originally going to be a feature film, right?
They worked on a feature version of it for many years, with some interesting people attached — I got to work with Frank Oz for a year — but it wasn’t coming together. There were drafts of the script that didn’t have [the character] Deena Pilgrim in them, for example. And they’d come to me and say, “Why doesn’t this work?” I’d say, “Well, you’re trying to make Men in Black without Will Smith, I don’t know what else to say.” It’s a cop drama, not a superhero drama, and that can be confusing sometimes. Very smartly, some of the people in my camp were talking to some of the people at Sony Television, and realized at this point that it clearly would be a better television show than a movie anyhow.
We were able to slide it over to Sony Television, where we met a man named Chris Parnell who happens to be not only a Sony executive, but one of our biggest fans on the planet, and he quickly got it set up at FX. They actually did make a Powers pilot a few years ago. The pilot wasn’t successful, but it wasn’t a disastrous failure. It was right on the bubble there, so they put a writer’s room together for the rest of the season. And in that writer’s room was a man named Charlie Huston, who I knew because he had worked on Moon Knight! He ended up writing the best episode of that group of episodes that were commissioned. So much so that I called literally everyone who would listen at Sony and FX, and I said, “I know we’re all looking for Powers — that’s Powers.” And everyone agreed, to the point where everyone else got fired except for Charlie, and it became his show.
Eventually FX went their separate ways with us, but in a very nice way — it wasn’t a good fit for them. But Sony said: Listen, okay, PlayStation Network, first show on the air, let’s go. The only thing I was worried about was: Will people understand that it’s a show? Over the course of a year, here comes House of Cards, and here comes Transparent, and people very quickly got the idea that they can get their television from anywhere.
Those are the bullet points of a journey that’s taken one-third of my entire adult life. When it started, I had no kids; I now have four kids.
What kind of involvement do you have with the show as it is now?
It depends on the day, and when I’m needed. I was in the writers’ room when it opened, I was in the writers’ room when we were working on the last episode. There are very few things in the world that I can consider myself an expert at, but I can be the expert in the room when it comes to the world of Powers. But Charlie and Remi [Aubuchon] run the show. Charlie’s the one who discovered the way to include Mike’s [Michael Avon Oeming] voice in the show — you see Mike’s artwork on the show a lot. He found a very cool way to do it.
Has the long process of getting Powers on the air affected the way that you and Mike work with each other?
We’ve spent a great deal of time hugging and jumping up and down in place. Honestly, one of the great joys of this is that we were just becoming friends when we decided to do this together, and now we live in the same city and we’re family now. He comes over with the pages he has to draw today and he sits on my couch and watches dailies.
A dramatic show on PSN is such a new thing — what does success looks like for Powers?
My version of success and Sony’s version are probably two different things. My version is all personal: creative success and emotional success. This show is what I wanted. It’s adult and interesting and takes itself seriously but knows when not to take itself seriously and all that stuff. Here’s a show that I’m the opposite of embarrassed by, and that’s cool. As far as what they consider success, a second season will let you know.
A lot of characters and concepts from your comics are showing up on TV this year, between this, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage—
Quake! Daisy Johnson is on TV [on Agents of SHIELD]! Who’d have thought that?
How do you see the relationship between TV and comics changing in the next few years?
I’m enjoying the relationship! It’s very cool for a Captain America movie to come out and my name and Ed Brubaker’s name and David Mack’s name are all in the credits–we all came up together through Caliber [Comics]. Our job as comic book people is to stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, I think it’s the job of the television people to push past the adaptation and move into new areas as well. Whoever wins that race, it will be the viewer or the reader.
How does your time get divided between comics and television and other things these days?
I wake up and whatever needs to get done gets done. First of all, there’s parenting, but if today’s the day I’m going to be on the phone with you, then I’ll do the thing I need to do for Guardians of the Galaxy after dinner. Some people look at it and think there’s some magic trick, and there’s not. I just make a list of things to do and do them.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Do you think you’ll still be writing monthly comics? Do you want to do more teaching?
I think in about three years my hair’s gonna grow back. I really do. [Laughs.] I definitely will be teaching. That part of my life is very fulfilling to me. My book Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels came out this year — the experience of hearing from people who sat down and got to work after they read the book, that’s all I ever wanted from it. As far as the other stuff goes, in five years — I hope we’re on the seventh season of Powers! I’ve got a laundry list of comics to create, both for Marvel and for myself and my friends. I have at least five years of stuff ahead of me, just on my plate right now, and that doesn’t include what comes up tomorrow. And this TV stuff is very interesting and exciting, and Sony has just made an effort to continue our relationship together for years to come, so I will be doing that as well.
Douglas Wolk is a freelance journalist and critic who writes about music, comic books and other things for TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and a bunch of other places. He’s also the author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean and Live at the Apollo. He also wrote the Judge Dredd: Mega City Two comic series, recently collected as a graphic novel.