SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE: An Exclusive Look Back With Brian Bendis, Shemeik Moore And Others

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE: An Exclusive Look Back With Brian Bendis, Shemeik Moore And Others

Brian Bendis, Shemeik Moore and Jake Johnson provide an inside look at one of the best Spidey films ever, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The costume may look the same, but the man wearing it is not Peter Parker. His name (as moviegoers are well aware of at this point) is Miles Morales and not only did he bring additional diversity to the superhero genre, but he — in the form of 2018’s Academy Award-winning animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, coupled with the success of that year’s Venom — helped fulfill Sony’s long-held desire to create an expanded Spider-Man universe.

In a sense, the character’s roots can be traced to a 2000 “alternate world” reboot of the Spider-Man character in the comics, when writer Brian Michael Bendis came up with the concept for Ultimate Spider-Man. “The idea,” reflects Bendis in an exclusive interview, “was that Marvel had these characters and felt that they should be brought down to the basic idea — deshackle them from continuity. They did some research and people felt that if they picked up a copy of Spider-Man, they needed to read a thousand issues to really get a sense of the whole picture.”

Ultimate Spider-Man saw its first issue cover-dated October 2000. In effect, this series, which ran until 2011, presented a new Spider-Man for readers. “I wanted to go back to the initial concept that Peter Parker is 15 years old and gets bit by a spider,” Bendis explains. “That was the origin of Spider-Man. Now he’s in his thirties or something. Whatever it is, it’s off the mark from the initial concept. So let’s go back to the initial concept, except that it takes place today. Tell the story as logically and emotionally as possible, using this basic concept that it takes place today. Comics are a little bit more of a mature medium than they were in the 1960s. A lot more can and needs to be expressed to tell a more fully-layered story. The original Amazing Fantasy No. 15 [which marked Spider-Man’s debut] is only, like, 15 pages long, whereas we took the same story and spread it out over a six-issue arc.”

Flash forward a decade to Ultimate Spider-Man No. 160, and readers witnessed the death of that world’s Peter Parker. Enter Miles Morales, the half-black and half-Hispanic successor to the moniker, who, like Peter before him, was bitten by a radioactive spider and transformed. Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli were inspired in creating the character by both President Barack Obama and actor Donald Glover.

“The theme is the same,” Bendis offers. “With great power comes great responsibility. That was something that he was going to learn. Then he had to figure out what that means.”

At the time of Miles’ arrival, Marvel editor Alex Alonso said in a statement, “When the opportunity arose to create a new Spider-Man, we knew it had to be a character that represents the diversity — in background and experience — of the 21st Century. Miles is a character who not only follows in the tradition of relatable characters like Peter Parker, but also shows why he’s a new, unique kind of Spider-Man, and worthy of that name.”

Part of the inspiration for Miles came from the question that Bendis posed to Marvel’s Joe Quesada: was he representing Queens or Brooklyn, New York as well as he could? He felt he wasn’t and wanted to do better, “But,” he says, “from there came the conversation of, does Spider-Man himself represent that part of the world as best he could? And from that, why is he even a Caucasian? And once that idea’s out there, and I’m thinking about it, I thought, ‘But people really like Peter Parker; no one’s saying can you replace Peter Parker, we’re so sick of him.’ So it was a conundrum, but we had a story we really think we might want to tell here. We just decided once we had all the pieces together, we were off to the races.”

One of the reasons Bendis was proud of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that it asked the question, what if Miles had a very happy home life with parents that loved him, and it’s that love that fills him with the sense of obligation that he has to make the world a better place?

“You don’t see that in comics,” he states. “Everybody’s parents, particularly the father, in Marvel Comics has betrayed them, has been blown up or isn’t living. I wanted it to be like this, to have one whose dad loved the crap out of him, and I’m so happy that that’s represented in the film, and I was also so moved that the filmmakers were eager to use that idea. So that was very important to me.”

And in many ways it serves at the core of Spider-Verse, which focused on a Miles who acquires his powers and is still learning the ropes (webs) when he discovers that he is far from the only person wearing the mask. During this first adventure, which has the Kingpin tearing up the borders within the Multiverse to be united with another version of his currently dead family, Mies encounters, from parallel worlds, Spider-Gwen (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) and Spider-Ham (John Mulraney), though his most profound connection is with the now 40-year-old Peter Parker (Jake Johnson).

“Something that makes Miles different, other than the fact he’s Afro-Latino, is the fact that he’s coming into being Spider-Man in the shadow of another Spider-Man,” comments actor/singer/dancer/rapper Shameik Moore, who voices the character, in an exclusive interview. “He’s coming into being Spider-Man with way more responsibility. When Peter became Spider-Man, he was the only one. For him, there was nobody that set a precedent for what Spider-Man needs to be in the world, or in this city, or what his duties are. And Miles is forced into something and basically overnight has something to live up to. This is basically his coming of age story. It’s like we’re introducing the world to who Miles is in the Spider-Verse. Look, the story of Spider-Man is always going to be the story of Spider-Man: You get bitten by a radioactive spider, you wear the mask and you save innocent people. This story lives up to that, but there are a lot of things — because of who Miles is — that makes it unique.

“Miles still has his parents,” he adds, “and I think that’s a big thing. Peter doesn’t have his parents, and he lost his uncle. Miles’ mom and dad love him very much and they want the best for him. So I think his perspective as a kid growing up is a little different. He still feels safe going home and knows that there’s people that love him. He’s not missing parts of his life.”

Jake Johnson admits that the film’s message — that anyone can wear the mask — is a strong and necessary one at the moment, and he’s also delighted that Peter Parker is something of a mentor to Miles.

“This is,” he says, “a Peter Parker at 40 and so you’re inherently a different person. It’s what happens after the excitement of being a superhero, when the dust settles a little bit. It’s not a version of Peter we’ve seen before. The Peter we are familiar with is the wise-cracking character in his early 20s where everything is going his way. When you hit 40, a lot still goes your way, but a lot doesn’t. For the first time, Peter realizes that he has had some massive failures and some real misses. Without giving anything away about what those misses are, he’s feeling a little bit more heartbreak rather than just the ecstasy of being able to swing around from building to building and save the city. Yes, he can still save the city, but in doing so he loses a lot of the day-to-day things that would be nice for Peter’s life. He’s realizing at 40 that he’s been a very good Spider-Man, but not a great Peter Parker.

“What he’s trying to pass on to Miles is that it’s not necessarily your choice if you get chosen to become a spider-person,” Johnson elaborates, “but it’s your responsibility and you have to have faith in yourself that you can do it. At a certain point, you’ve just got to try. And, yes, you’ll lose certain things and you will go through major ups and downs, but it is, again, your responsibility. I think he’s trying to wake Miles up to the reality of the situation he’s in.”

Miles, notes Moore, is a young man given a lot of responsibility that he didn’t really ask for: “He’s creative, he likes to draw and listen to music; he has a spark in him and he’s confident, but anybody that’s given superpowers or any large amount of responsibility, you’re going to question yourself. I would describe him as a young man who’s finding his way and trying to remain the type of person that his parents have been raising him to be.”

Comparing Peter to Miles, says Bendis, is like asking the difference between any two people. “They are completely different people with completely different perspectives and experiences. The connective tissue, beyond the spider bites, is they both believe that with great power comes great responsibility, but they approach it so differently. It was that unique perspective that had people gravitating to the character, and not only is this film a chance to meet Miles, but it’s also an opportunity to examine the philosophy of Spider-Man from a completely different perspective.”

Co-director Rodney Rothman points out that all of this feeds into the very question that the creatives involved asked at the very beginning of the process: why another Spider-Man movie, particularly when you consider that there were three films starring Tobey Maguire, two in a reboot series starring Andrew Garfield, and three appearances at that point (Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War) with at least three more on the horizon (Avengers: Endgames, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man 3) by Tom Holland?

“The answer that quickly emerged,” Rothman explains, “is that if we made a movie like this, we had to really distinguish ourselves from the get go. We had to distinguish ourselves visually, we had to distinguish ourselves as far as the story we are telling and the characters we are telling it about, just to stand out from other things and just to be worth trying. From the very beginning everyone agreed we had to really push ourselves to offer up something different, a new kind of experience, a new kind of story. That story, of course, stems from Miles Morales, who’s 13-years old. He exists in a world where Peter Parker already exists. Spider-Man exists as a superhero. He’s a brand; there are comic books and movies about him. So the whole idea for Miles is that he’s gong to be stepping into the shoes of what’s essentially a hero of his.”

Opines Moore, “You can be confident in yourself, and still question what you’re capable of doing. At the end of this movie, I would say that Miles is Spider-Man. Yes, anyone can wear the mask but, at first, he didn’t feel like was worthy of it. By the end, he is.”

For Bendis, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse becoming a film is surreal. “I’ve been very blessed in this area with Jessica Jones and other characters making it out into the world of non-comics. But there’s something very special about Miles having found his legs like this under such talented filmmakers. It’s Spider-Man. This is as big as it gets, and it’s a testament to Sara and her completely honest storytelling and artistry that people fell in love with him so quickly. From the first moment they met Miles Morales, they knew he was a real person in the eyes of his parents (us). You can’t fake that. We really love him and that love has spread out. It’s an amazing experience I could never have dreamed of, because I didn’t even know it was something you could dream — and I can dream pretty big.

“But I’m considering this the day where I just found out about the Miles Morales Campbell’s Soup,” he offers with a laugh, “and a fellow writer just texted me to say there were nine Miles at his trick-or-treating. I’m floored!”

The sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse reaches theatres in late 2022.

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