Brian Bendis lays bare the secrets of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director!
Maria Hill finds herself in a difficult situation these days. Booted out of S.H.I.E.L.D., we see her out on her own, more vulnerable than ever. Forced to ask for help—not necessarily Maria’s strong suit—she has shown up in JESSICA JONES, where the two have a bit of a frigid encounter. But big things will come for these two, as Maria embarks on a very different mission from the type we’re used to seeing her undertake.
We asked Brian Michael Bendis—writer of JESSICA JONES and co-creator of both Jessica and Maria—for his insights on the history and psychology of this most mysterious character.
Marvel.com: As a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and then head of the organization, Maria seemed like one of the good guys, but you get the feeling you can never fully trust her. Even going back to the House of M days, she feels leery of the Avengers, and they feel the same way toward her.
Brian Michael Bendis: I’ve done an immense amount of research on spy training and spycraft, and not unlike a police officer or a fireman, you’re trained to only see the worst in people. You’re trained to look for that thing other people don’t look for—those tells, those chess moves that are too complicated for us normal people, going about our days. She trained her brain to play the most complicated game of chess that could ever be played, and in doing so, you’re looking at everybody like a pawn or a player, and not as a human being, because you’re not allowed to since you have to send them on missions. And with that, people learn to mistrust.
Now the mysteries of Maria Hill—where she came from, who she is—there have been little hints and bits in my books and in [other] books over the years. But we’ve never shown who she is, where she came from, what made her, how she got so deep into the center of the Marvel Universe so quickly. These are big things, and they speak to the larger landscape of the Marvel Universe, secrets we don’t know about, secrets we don’t know about S.H.I.E.L.D., how agents are made, or how people find themselves in this position. And Maria, being at the center, really, of some of the biggest events in Marvel history—to my surprise—from Civil War to Secret Invasion—that takes a massive toll on people. So now that she has been ousted from S.H.I.E.L.D., the mysteries of her life are more fragile and the keeping of those mysteries is less important to other people. As leader [of] S.H.I.E.L.D., it was in everyone’s best interest to keep her secrets secret, but once you’re out, you’re out. The mystery of her was one of her strengths, because no one had any ammo on her. But now the mysteries are unfolding, and she’s more vulnerable. And she doesn’t have the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, so her secrets are her biggest threat, even more than who has them and what they’re trying to do with them.
I’m a big fan of John Le Carré novels about spies and what they do once they’re done being spies. And I thought, what a great opportunity now for Jessica to live in a John Le Carré novel as she discovers the history of Maria, which also is the modern history of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel.com: I find Maria a really a compelling character; not lovable, like Peter Parker, but interesting. What do you think makes her so intriguing?
Brian Michael Bendis: Maria has to make some hard choices, and the super heroes don’t always make it easy for her. The X-Men, the Inhumans, everyone is messing with her stuff. So somebody has to be the mom. And if you’re in that position, you’re going to be bumming someone out, and you’re going to have to make some choices that someone doesn’t like.
I always liked how Matt Fraction wrote Maria’s relationship with Tony Stark. Now there’s a person who can understand the complexities of her decision-making policies.
And she took over for Nick Fury after decades. Everyone had an opinion about him, but no one had an opinion about her. And she doesn’t give you much verbally, so you have to base your opinion on her actions. And her comebacks—I always write her with a little wit and comeback because I think that shows her intelligence. So that was what was interesting about her introduction to the Marvel Universe, she came in like a hurricane who no one knew anything about.
Did I think she’d still be around? Did I think she’d be a movie star, a TV star? Did I think she’d be so entrenched in the movies and TV, and the comic books? No I did not. I know I’m more known for Jessica Jones and Miles Morales, but I had this unique experience of watching Maria catch on like wildfire in the mid-2000s. A lot of people started writing her. I was surprised by how much people at Marvel were interested in writing her because no one knew anything about her. As much pride as I feel about Jessica and Miles and Riri [Williams aka Ironheart], Maria being in the “Avengers” movie was a huge deal. And it reminded me of how special it is to add things to the Marvel Universe.
Marvel.com: You would call her a control freak, right? Her desire to be in control may have led her to support super hero registration in Civil War, and to create Pleasant Hill, for example. But it also seems like she feels that, in her position, she’s required to take control.
Brian Michael Bendis: It’s an interesting conversation I’ve been having in a few of the books—also maybe in my real life. You get to a certain age and control is an illusion. The more you grow and the more complicated your life gets, the more you realize this, and that all you can do is the best you can do in the moment you’re in. And for people playing a more dangerous game than the one you and I are playing every day, that’s more frustrating and scarier. And so here she is, trying to control a world she can’t control, as Tony Stark is, as Steve Rogers is. Everyone is trying to do their part—and then her part has a giant floating tank in the sky. And she’s aware of that, and how it looks. And we talk about it in JESSICA JONES, that she’s aware that she was almost sold to the American public as a boogeyman because the American public actually need one. They need to be mad at something, so it’s, “Here, be mad at the big floating tank in the sky.” She’s the taskmaster, the head nun at the school, the one who has to put the hammer down. And some people are going to be happy about it and some aren’t.
Marvel.com: I think Maria sees herself as a pragmatist; not afraid to do what she thinks she needs to.
Brian Michael Bendis: Yes. She has to be. She’s faced with factual reality, but also with the breaking of the laws of physics and gravity and time and space. Just imagine, “Oh hey, the original X-Men are here from the past, and they’re not going home, and we don’t know how to get them home. Is there a law against this?” I always kind of looked at her as editor-in-chief of Marvel the company. There are so many super heroes running around, smashing into each other, clashing. And I always try to imagine Joe Quesada or Axel Alonso, with a bird’s eye perspective of all of our stories being told at once, and all of that on their desks, and the madness that must create. And for Joe and Axel, it’s all fictional, but for Maria, it’s all real! Imagine you’re sitting in your office and the events of the biweekly X-Men or Avengers all happened at once!
Also, Maria has a lot of secrets about other people, and there are secrets about herself that she may not know. She may have voluntarily brainwashed herself to spare herself from some horrible memory that is coming back to haunt her—or she knows stuff about the super hero and super villain communities that they don’t even know. And those secrets will chase her. And you know, some politicians and people in government get secret service, but not everyone does, and Maria doesn’t. It’s almost like they’re being set up to be put down before they become a problem.
Marvel.com: Underneath it all, Maria does seem to care about doing the right thing. Yes, she has a lot of ambition, and she sometimes leads with an iron fist, but at the end of the day, she cares about protecting ordinary people. Do you see her that way?
Brian Michael Bendis: I do. And I’m not just saying this as her “biological father.” I think she has an enormous capacity for good and selfless behavior, and has shown it over and over and over again. And she has made tough choices in the face of insurmountable obstacles without blinking. Even if you didn’t agree with the politics, her actions were heroic and patriotic. And she has never buckled from that, no matter how tough the job got. So I consider her one of the great heroes of the Marvel Universe. I think she kept stuff together with everything was going off the rails. I think without her behavior in the original Civil War, we wouldn’t even have a Marvel Universe anymore. I think without her, Secret Invasion goes the other way, SECRET WAR goes the other way. And I know some of these are stories I’ve written, but not all of them. She has made deep, huge, giant choices that have affected the lives of Tony Stark and Peter Parker—the biggest names in the Marvel Universe. She has protected them and kept them straight. Regardless of her demeanor, I don’t think she’s done anything other than heroic actions; at least at the moment she thought they were.
I think some of the super heroes who have pushed against her have actually appreciated that there was something to push against, because some of them thrive on revolution and rebellion. They were grateful for what she does, because it kept things calmer than they would have been otherwise. As a parent, sometimes I see my older kids looking at me like, “It’s 8:30, please tell me to go to bed because I’m tired but I’m not going to go on my own.” And that’s what Maria has to do.
Marvel.com: What would you consider the top three key turning points in Maria’s history?
Brian Michael Bendis: I think we did well with her debut because it landed well. It also wasn’t pre-sold, and I liked introducing a character without any hype. I must say I’m proud of how well she landed. Let’s just say I didn’t have everything figured out back then, so when things went well with Maria, I was able to say, “Ok, that’s something that works.”
Number two, I think Civil War was a big deal for her, the first one. When I close my eyes and picture her, it’s some of [CIVIL WAR artist] Steve McNiven’s work that I see.
And this is going to sound cornball, but I’d say the third one is going to be the story we’re doing right now in JESSICA JONES because it is such an illumination of her. I think if anyone is even vaguely curious about what her deal was, it’s a grabber. And also, I kind of enjoyed how long we could keep her mystery going. People were not angry at us, they kind of liked it. They got the sense that we knew her deal and we’ll get to it when we do. I get people asking me little fill in the blank things about her, like, what S.H.I.E.L.D. class was she in. And that makes me think people are going to be excited when we finally tell the story of who she is and how she got here.
So I do believe the third one is the one that’s coming out right now. What a great sales pitch, and at the same time, completely self-serving!
Marvel.com: Can you tease anything about what we might see in Maria’s future?
Brian Michael Bendis: This new chapter in Maria’s life is exciting because she’s out of her comfort zone and into a new world in the Marvel Universe. And I can’t tell you how excited I was that this was all coming out in other stories around the same time that Jessica Jones would be there to catch her fall. It’s a perfect place to unlock this mystery of this woman who’s one of the biggest mysteries in modern comics.
She’s in a place where it’s, now you’ve got to find out who you are. You’ve done this job for a while, you’ve made your choices, now you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and say, who am I? What do I have to offer the world? What next, what now? And those are some of the scariest questions [a] person can ask, no matter where you are in your life. And anyone can relate to that.
What’s going on in this book, and in other very big books at Marvel, with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the face of that part of Marvel, is going to be altered dramatically over the course of the summer. And those players, and their place in the Marvel Universe, will all deal with this big shift. Some will succeed, some will fail, some will turn, and it’s going to spill out into other books. Particularly, a very cool story is going on in SPIDER-MAN and INVINCIBLE IRON MAN because of this. So if you’re reading all of them, you’re going to be so rewarded. And if you’re just reading one or the other, we’re going to show you some cool, new stuff because of what’s going on with Maria and the future of that part of Marvel.