'Spider-Verse' Oscars: Brian Michael Bendis Opens Up on Miles Morales
Spider-Man is up against some serious enemies this weekend, but it’s not Doc Ock or the Green Goblin. It’s other Oscar-nominated movies like Disney’s Incredibles 2, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai, and Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet, all of which are in the running against Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday.
Notably, Spider-Verse doesn’t center around Peter Parker, the brainy kid from Queens who becomes the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Instead, the film tells the origin story of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn who made his comic book introduction in the series Ultimate Spider-Man in 2011.
Miles was created by veteran Marvel scribe Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli. In an email interview, Bendis tells Inverse how terrifying it was to introduce a character such as Miles to a well-established continuity with a massive readership.
“It’s genuinely scary to put out something in the world that’s brand new,” Bendis says. “The extra added fear with Miles was that we were trying to be additive to Spider-Man. No one was asking for that. No one was going, ‘I wish Spider-Man was just a little bit something else.’ So changing something so drastic in the franchise is daunting. But we really believed in what we were doing. Anyone could wear the mask.”
The creation of Miles Morales had been brewing at Marvel since 2008, prior to the election of President Barack Obama. But his introduction was fast-tracked when Bendis saw the Season 2 premiere of the NBC sitcom Community, where Donald Glover — the actor/rapper fans petitioned to play Spider-Man in a movie reboot that would become 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield — wore Spider-Man pajamas in the episode.
Said Bendis in a 2011 interview with USA Today, “I saw him in the costume and thought, ‘I would like to read that book.’”
Fast forward eight years and hundreds of comic book issues later, Miles Morales is now the star of an Oscar-nominated movie. And his creator is still “unpacking” many feelings, among them gratitude.
“Gratitude on a scale I didn’t know was possible,” Bendis says. “I have so many feelings about this that I am still unpacking. All of them good. But Miles hitting this cultural home run that is the accumulation of literally hundreds of writers and artists from all over the world all gathered around this idea we had is startling.”
On what separates Peter Parker from Miles Morales, Bendis says there are huge fundamental differences. Not just in age or ethnicity, but upbringing.
“Miles has his family,” Bendis says. “His mother and father, he’s being raised by them actively. He also has good friends and his little circle.”
"Anyone could wear the mask.” - Brian Michael Bendis
Unfortunately for Peter, that wasn’t his story. “Peter was an orphan with a very old aunt. Peter was a very depressed young man and being treated very badly by everyone around him. That’s just the environment they are growing up in. It’s enormously different, so they react to it differently.”
The creator adds that that he doesn’t even get into their cultural differences.
“Miles is a growing accumulation of mixed-race household,” he says. “That is a vibrant and fascinating part of any one individual. You could have two kids growing up in that same house and have completely different relationships to their cultures. Miles, in my eyes, is just discovering his. While Peter won’t even admit that he’s really Jewish.”
Bendis is now working exclusively for DC, writing on titles such as Superman and Action Comics. He’s also introduced a new character, Naomi, a teenaged girl from Oregon whose life is turned upside down when Superman crashes into her hometown.
Like Miles, Bendis has high hopes for Naomi.
“Naomi was born out of the same good place as Jessica [Jones] and Miles,” he says. “She’s a very different character with a very different path but [co-writer] David [Walker] was there for the birth of Miles, and we both know when it feels right and everything about how has just felt right. All the pieces keep falling into place just as they need to. All inspired by real-life from so many different sources.”