Before he revealed Matt Murdock as Daredevil, disassembled the Avengers, decimated the mutant population, penned the death of Peter Parker, Brian Michael Bendis was a crime-noir comic book creator. As an up and coming independent comic maker in Cleveland, crime comics were what he was known for. Before he was doused with mainstream comic attention, the writer was sharpening his skills publishing through Caliber Comics.
The early work was raw and full of energy. The creator who would go on to dominate the comic book landscape as Marvel Comics' number one writer for more than a decade was originally a double threat, not only writing his stories but drawing them as well. And while Bendis no longer draws his commercial work you can see the experimentation with page layouts and scripting that helped him craft his style for which he became famous in the series that originally began publication in 1994, “Goldfish.”
“Goldfish,” originally titled “A.K.A. Goldfish,” focuses on con man David Gold returning to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio after a lengthy absence. He is there to get his son. To keep him from a miserable life associated with the criminal world the boy’s mother works in. When his ex, Lauren Bacall, refuses to let the boy go, Gold, also known as Goldfish, turns it into a game that gets way out of hand.
One of the hallmarks of a Bendis comic is the true to life dialogue. It is quick and fast and full of wit. The primary characters are Gold and Bacall. Two opposing forces in the story from which all the parts revolve around. The characterization of each is well developed and comes through in the dialogue and small personality nuances that round out their stories.
In Goldfish, Bendis has made this grifter with a heart of gold a sympathetic figure. We wonder why he left Cleveland and his son behind. He seems to have made right with his past and the bad things he had done. His feelings for a waitress who works in his Ex’s club and the concern he has for her son reveal that heart he has but even that heart of gold he has does not preclude him from the cruel games he plays.
Bacall is the interesting character for Bendis. When she was young she was the perfect flirtatious foil for Goldfish. Their romance was steady and their connection was real, but as the years went by she rose to the head of crime in the city. Hardened by the life and ticked off at Goldfish, she is one single mom who you don’t want to mess with. Her likability is zero but her strength is off the charts.
The realism of the story is something that comes from the tremendous amount of research Bendis puts into the work from police ride-alongs and discussing the criminal element with the people who know it best.
The hopelessness of the ending, where Goldfish’s plans fall apart and his machinations end up in disaster are what place this book as a noir story. The desperation and the struggle that Goldfish underwent cannot end in a happily ever after.
As Bendis tells it, when Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada wanted to hire Bendis in 2000, Bendis asked what Quesada would like him to draw, Quesada said nothing, we want you to write, your art sucks. While Bendis' writing is what propelled him to stardom the art sucking is an overstatement. The work is rough and dense which works perfectly for the crime noir setting of “Goldfish.” It encapsulates the mood of the story as Bendis is pushing the medium with varying storytelling techniques. Some don’t always come off smoothly but they show the creators passion for the project.
“Goldfish” is the perfect example of where Bendis’ roots are as a storyteller are. Originally seen as the crime comic specialist he has taken those story beats and quirks and expanded upon them to provide a foundation for all his later work, from “Powers,” to “Ultimate Spider-Man,” and “Daredevil,” to “Avengers” there is a connection that can be found in this early work. The realism and honesty in his stories existed before he brought that realism to the world of costumes and capes.
“Goldfish” was recently printed in a collection from the Marvel Comics Icon imprint. Your local comic book retailer should have a copy. To find your nearest local comic book retailer click here and use to Comic Shop Locator.
“Goldfish” is also available digitally, along with Bendis’ other early work through ComiXology.com.