Brian Michael Bendis Switches Spider-Man and Wolverine's Brains On Disney XD [Interview]

Though writer Brian Michael Bendis may have created Ultimate Spider-Man in the comics, the prolific author hasn't made his mark on the cartoon version of the character... Until now. This Sunday on Disney XD, Bendis adapts one of the quirkiest stories in the history of the comic as a half hour show called "Freaky," which finds Spider-Man and Wolverine switching brains. The episode kicks off a three hour long marathon of Ultimate Spider-Man episodes in honor of Father's Day, and features Steve Blum as Wolverine, Dwight Schultz as Mesmero, and Peter Laurie as Sabretooth.

In advance of the episode, we chatted with Bendis about adapting his comic to another medium, what it's like to write several iterations of the same character, and when we'll get to see current Spider-Man Miles Morales in animated form:

MTV Geek: You probably get this one all the time... Obviously the cartoon and the comics are different, but what’s it like for you being the guy who created the comic to be working on the same sort of stories in a different medium?

Brian Michael Bendis: It’s pretty cool. I came in for the writers meetings... Jeph Loeb treats these shows like real network live action shows, where all the writers get together in a room and hash stuff out. There’s a lot of animated shows that are NOT done that way, writing assignments are handed out by the producers. This one has a real writers room with me and Paul Dini, and Joe Quesada, and Jeph Loeb, and all the Men of Action, and Steve Wacker... We talked out a lot of ideas, a lot of craziness, a lot of silliness.

For this one, we were talking about stuff that happened in the comic that would make a good episode, regardless of the differences between the show and the comic. I forget who first brought it up, but someone thought we could do something with Wolverine, and asked what we did with Wolverine in the comic, and I was like, “Funny you should mention that...” [Laughs] Because it is one of the most dumb things I’ve ever done, which was to have Spider-Man and Wolverine switch bodies.

I told them the story behind it, which was it was actually pitched to me by Editor Nick Lowe, he had this idea, and I told him that I wasn’t going to ever tell anybody that he came up with this idea, because I was worried he’d get fired for it. And then like three hours later, all I could think of was jokes - how funny it would be if Wolverine and Spider-Man switched bodies. And then I said, “Argh, now I have to do it.” I was doubly mad at him.

We did the comic as a palate cleanser, because something really dark had just happened. It was so out there, it was crazy. I told them the story, and they said, well, we have to do it here too... And then I realized I had to write this story again. Now, here am I, writing it for TWO different mediums.

It’s very different, the comics obviously working with its own logic. The show has Mesmero as the villain who switches them, and craziness happiness.

Geek: I’m curious about the humor... There’s naturally a lot of jokes in Ultimate Spider-Man #66 and #67 that depend on the visual timing of it being a comic book; versus here, you’re translating it to a moving medium. How did that affect how you approached the jokes?

BMB: I was actually able to shove a lot more jokes in, because it’s so manic. As soon as the body switch happens, which is pretty early on in the episode, you’re off and running, and everybody is running around. I showed the episode to my kids, who... My nine year old kind of gets it now, but my younger kid has no idea what writing is. She says all the time that I write Spider-Man, but she doesn’t know what it means. They laughed, it was a pretty good feeling to see kids laughing at a joke... I got a lot in, and it seemed to go pretty well.

I wasn’t there for Chicago, but the showed it in Chicago to kids, and supposedly the place got a little crazy, so I’m sorry I missed that - it’s kind of one of the best moments of my career, and I heard about it later.

Geek: In the original issues, there was a bit of an implication that Wolverine, in Spider-Man’s body, hooked up with Mary Jane... Are we going to get any of that here?

BMB: No, this is Disney XD, and there’s not one viewer that’s interested in that. On any level. As much as the comic book audience is interested in that, the Disney kids are not interested in it at all. [Laughs] I remember my kids, you bring up anything about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez kissing, literally my five year old runs around the house screaming, “THEY HAVE TO STOP IT!” So I know this audience does not want that.

Geek: [Laughs] Okay, so what’s your take on Wolverine in this episode?

BMB: It’s the classic Wolverine... What I’m thrilled about is that the voice actor of Wolverine is someone who has voice acted Wolverine in many, many Marvel projects. And his ability to express himself as Peter Parker in the Wolverine voice is probably the greatest part of the episode. He is so good at making you believe Peter Parker is stuck in Wolverine’s body with Wolverine’s voice. It’s kind of like, if he didn’t do it, it wouldn’t have worked... But he did it, and it’s great - so we were all thrilled that he could.

Geek: What about Spider-Man? At this point you’ve written Peter Parker in the regular Universe, Peter Parker for the Ultimate Universe, and now Peter Parker for the cartoon.

BMB: And video games!

Geek: That’s right! Well, when you write them, do they have different voices, or is there something that makes them inherently the same guy?

BMB: Well, it’s Ultimate Spider-Man, so the 15-year-old Spider-Man and classic Spider-Man are the same guy, but there’s differences. There’s a world of difference between what you were like at fifteen, and what you’re like now - I’m hoping there’s a world of difference! [Laughs] I don’t know you well enough to know, but I’m going to assume. That always goes into play, how old is the character that I’m writing. Beyond that, there is an element to Spider-Man that I try to write into that... Now there’s certain things you can do in the comic that if you did in the show, they’d end up a little grating, and vice-versa. You really have to take into consideration what medium you’re writing in, and what it will sound like... It’s such a gigantic difference.

I know it’ll sound odd, but when you really see it... There’s such a difference between a readers relationship with the written word, words staring back at them, looking back at them, versus dialogue that you see on screen and it whizzes by. There’s a real intimacy difference between the words, the dialogue, and the audience. I take that into gigantic consideration while I’m writing. I learned that when I worked in newspapers. My Editor said, when people see words in print, they don’t go away; they stare back at you, so they have a more powerful meaning.

Geek: With Spider-Men #1 hitting this week, how do you think cartoon Spidey would interact with Miles Morales?

BMB: I would LOVE to do the cartoon version of Spider-Men with Miles. I could not be happier with a comic book than I am with Spider-Men. I would be pitching that today, if I hadn’t finished all my episodes! [Laughs] It’s definitely something down the line that I’ll be showing to Loeb when I see him in a couple of weeks.

Geek: What else is coming up on your episodes?

BMB: This is my first episode that’s going to air... I have a handful of episodes coming up, from all walks of life. That’s what I’m most happy about with this job is that not only did I get to work with all these cool writers - and I didn’t know Paul Dini at all, but I’m a huge fan of his. So to just leech on to his brain and figure out how he does what he does was a lot of fun.

Every episode that I was the writer on is wildly different from the last.

It’s so exciting to write something for kids... Sometimes at panels we get criticized for not talking to kids, and so it’s nice to have a Spider-Man show that’s for kids, and it was a real challenge for someone with my interests.

Geek: Has working on this affected how you approach Takio at all?

BMB: Spider-Man affected Takio by... Watching kids react to your work in a way that’s way different than the way people react to your work online, absolutely made me think Takio was the right thing to do. I got this from my kids too... My kids are starving for new stuff, from anywhere. There’s really not enough material for kids to sink their teeth into if they have an interest. Definitely made me think, that’s how to do it. And kids don’t want to be written down to; they just want to be told a good story.

"Freaky" airs Sunday, June 17th at 11am ET/PT on Disney XD, kicking off the Father's Day Ultimate Spider-Man marathon!


VMAs 2018