Why Brian Michael Bendis went mobster again with United States vs. Murder Inc.

Contributed by
Sep 7, 2018

After building a world (and a television series) in which procedural crime fiction meets superheroes, the Eisner-winning creators of Powers, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, stepped back into the world of organized crime in 2014. United States vs. Murder Inc. imagined a world where the Five Families of the American Mafia never got busted, giving readers a taste of noir and hardboiled turf war.

The book's first story, which was originally published through Marvel's Icon imprint, focused on Valentine Gallo, a recently made man, who meets Jagger Rose, a mysterious mob hit woman. The challenge both of them face is as existential as it is criminal: Decide what side they want to be on as they uncover the Family secrets.

Four years later, Bendis and Oeming have created a second chapter, this time published through the Jinxworld imprint at DC Comics. Here, Bendis and Oeming take a look at Jagger Rose's side of the story, with the first issue reaching back to a pivotal moment in her childhood, when her violent aspirations emerged. It's a gut-wrenching tale that will leave readers wanting to know more about Jagger's early stories. With Issue #1 out now, Bendis spoke with SYFY WIRE about the new story and the growth and evolution of his work with his longtime collaborator and friend, Mike Oeming.

What you were setting out to do with Murder Inc. and specifically this new story?

For years I said I was going to do a Murder Inc. book and all the history of it, all of the characters, but other people have told that story – the real story of Murder Incorporated has been told over and over again. Thinking about Murder Inc. I was thinking, well, what are we going to bring new to it?

There was a time when the families seemed to have a lot more power, in the early '60s, and it got to a head and it fell. Instead of getting to a head, what if they pushed harder? If you look at the real-world stuff, there was a push to go for it. To really make a name for organized crime in the way we couldn't even perceive. That idea was so exciting to me, because that's just someone's sheer force of will. Someone deciding to do it. So we asked, what would happen?

So rather than charting through history, you chose to re-imagine history. That can be tricky, no?

What's funny is that you get to build a world, you ask, what would happen if this happened and then this happened and then this happened? It's time to build and build and build. All of a sudden, when you study the world as much as we do as writers, you start building an entirely different history that feels completely real.

US v Murder Inc. Interior 2

US v Murder Inc. Interior by Mike Avon Oeming and Taki Soma

There are other things like Man in the High Castle, there are alternative histories [being done] where once you get into it, once you get past the shtick or the hook of it, you can REALLY shine the light on what makes the world work. That's where we are now in United States vs. Murder Inc.

We're meeting the characters, and finding out what makes them tick. In particular, Jagger Rose, who's the hit woman, which is still an unusual thing for the families, even today, to use a woman as an enforcer. We find out how she came to be at a time when the United States and the Five Families are about to really go at each other.

Can you give us more insight on the relationship between Jagger and her Uncle Jake?

Jake is her cautionary tale, and that relationship will inspire her friendship with Valentine Gallo, the lead of the series. They've been put together and we've got a good sense from the last volume what's making Valentine tick and where his responsibilities are.

Now we're taking the story from her angle, and she's about to do something that very few people in the history of fiction have done, especially in comics. So we wanted to back up our story and show who she is and where she come from and when her choices get made. In the next issue we'll have a good sense of what's at stake.

It's hard to come up with new superlatives for Mike's art, but I cannot stress enough how far he's taking his storytelling. His composition and design are taken to another level with Murder Inc. How have you seen this development firsthand over the last two decades?

There's an added element to this, and that's our colorist Taki Soma, one of my dear friends and collaborators, who is Mike's wife. Between his wife and my wife, US vs. Murder Inc. is a family effort. We're constantly surrounded by the other Jinxworld artists Alex Maleev, David Mack, and Michael Gaydos, who are each completely immersed in doing the best work of their careers. You have to play at that level or go home. It's affecting everything that's going on with our books. So you're seeing a reflection of that.

US vs. Murder Inc V2No1 Splash

US vs. Murder Inc. Vol. 2 No. 1 Interior page by Mike Avon Oeming and Taki Soma

Mike and Taki's art is so cinematic, from how they set up scenes, use lighting and color to tell the story, set the mood and scenes, it's all very powerful.

Another factor is Mike's outstanding experience on Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye. One of the things we have always had is a constant collaboration. But because he can draw faster than most people, he can do projects with other people, and then bring that experience to our next project, as I do with my experiences with other books. Cave Carson was a real psychedelic book, and he was coming off the first hard-boiled Murder Inc. run. So we decided, let's keep going with a little bit of Cave Carson in his work here. Taki brought it too, and that's what you're seeing. There's a genuine evolution; if you look at the first issue of Powers, it doesn't even seem like the same guy!

Has Mike noticed how far he's come in his design?

A couple of years ago, Mike got into his head that he wanted to redraw the first year of Powers. I was like, NO! We can't George Lucas it! Move on! We were who we were then. That's how much of an evolutionist Mike has become, that he's re-looked at the work (that much) and thought, wouldn't it be interesting if we revisited that story today?

Was there any consideration to do these Jinxworld books as Vertigo books?

It's funny because when we were at [indie publisher] Caliber, us upstart indie guys trying to figure out what we wanted, Vertigo was absolutely the goal. If only we could be good enough to be considered. That was the gold standard of adult fiction, and we were making adult fiction. If Karen Berger could only find our work worthy, right?

Here we are decades later, we did great and found our way, and we were literally at DC, and someone high up took a look (at our Jinxworld titles) and said that these are a hell of a Vertigo run, these are four outstanding Vertigo titles, and I almost got tears in my eyes because I realized that was what our goal was. We did it. It's kind of a valentine to Vertigo, but we get to be a sister to Vertigo. It just shook out that way, and we love our company and it's a beautiful home for them.

United States vs. Murder Inc. (Vol. 2) #1 is out now in print and digital through DC Comics / Jinxworld.

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