For nearly half a century, the theme of Spider-Man has been, “with great power comes great responsibility…”
This week Marvel Comics announced that they are passing the power and responsibility to the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. Morales is the first multiracial Spider-Man, a biracial teenager of African-American and Latino decent.
Brian Michael Bendis, created the Ultimate Spider-Man series for Marvel back in 2000, as a modernized re-imagining of Marvel’s long-running Spider-Man comic book. Bendis conceived Morales years ago, but didn’t reveal him until after Peter Parker’s death, at the hands of his nemesis the Green Goblin. Morales will pick up where Parker left off, as a super-powered teen from Brooklyn, New York, defending citizens against evil villains and crime.
The announcement of the new Spider-Man has created quite a buzz on the internet and major media outlets. On Wednesday, the American conservative radio personality Glenn Beck took to the airwaves proclaiming that the new Spider-Man is part of some sort of Obama administration conspiracy. “The new Spider-Man is really quite great, he looks just like President Obama,” Beck continued, “I think a lot of this stuff is being done intentionally.”
In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Brian Michael Bendis discussed why he created the character Miles Morales, some of the negative feedback he has received, and his future plans for the multiracial Spider-Man.
theGrio: What made you begin writing comic books?
Bendis: I loved doing it ever since I was a little kid. When I was six years old I declared to my mother and family that I was going to be the artist of Spider-Man, and I have stuck to my guns and here I am today doing it. It’s an addictive, fantastic situation that I find myself in.
How is the Ultimate Spider-Man series different form the Spider-Man series of 1962 that many of us grew up loving?
Spider-Man in the 1960s centers around a 15-year-old Peter Parker who is bit by a spider and becoming Spider-Man. What if that happened today? What would the stories be like? What would the language of how we told the stories be like? It’s not so much a re-invention of Spider-Man but rather taking the initial premise and filling it full of the modern techniques that we can do in comic books today. We began the comic book in 2000 and over the course of the decade we have given reader things they have never seen in a mainstream super hero before.
What inspired you to make Spider-Man a multiracial character?
Joe Quesada who was the editor-in-chief at the time had a conversation about how crazy it would be if Spider-Man really represented the racial diversity of New York City. Over the years I have been writing Spider-Man, so many people of different ethnicities come up to me to tell me that because of their ethnicity their favorite superhero is Spider-Man.
From head to toe, Spider-Man could be anybody, so many people fantasize that they could be him. Recently a good friend of mine who is African American, turned to me when I was nervous about the announcement of the new Spider-Man and said, “When I was a kid, they wouldn’t let me be Superman or Batman but they would let me be Spider-Man.”
Did the star of NBC’s Community, Donald Glover, and his viral bid to play Spider-Man at all influence your decision to make the comic book character multiracial?
We were in the process of creating Miles Morales, and I turned on the television one day to see Donald Glover dressed up in a Spider-Man pajamas and he looked great! I think Donald Glover’s internet campaign to play Spider-Man also made me want to see a black Spider-Man. It just felt right. It felt like New York City. It felt like Spider-Man, and it just felt long-overdue.
Tell me about Miles’s family. Will his mother and father be in the storyline? Will his love interest be black or Latina?
Mile’s mother and father are alive in the series. The mother is Puerto Rican and the father is African-American. We are very excited about a superhero in the Marvel universe who has both of his parents. Usually your father is the villain or disappeared or was murdered trying to save you. So we are very excited about Miles having conversations with his father and mother.
Miles is a little younger, he’s 13. So his crushes and girlfriends are going to be meeting him at an insanely awkward stage where he is about to turn 14. We are not 100% sure about who is love interest will be.
Has there been any negative feedback from your decision to make Spider-Man a multiracial character?
Not directly to my face. Most people are more mad that something has been spoiled. There are some people who just really love Peter Parker, don’t like change and have a lot of emotions invested in the character.
The other stuff I hear is vaguely racist. Some people don’t even realize that they are being racist. The level conversation is a bit lower than what I hoped for. I have gotten a few racist messages on Twitter though. However, I have been getting a lot of positive tweets to counter the negative messages.
Glenn Beck’s recent comment was the highlight for me. I never imaged my decision would get this low on the food chain. Glenn Beck’s crazy conspiracy that this is somehow Michelle Obama’s fault really made my whole day, because this is just crazy to me.
If you were asked to cast the part Miles Morales for a big screen Hollywood movie who would you cast?
He’s a younger kid, so he would be an unknown actor. We would cast out and go for some sort of young and up-coming talent. Donald Glover is too old for the role. Maybe if Jaden Smith wanted to audition we would let him.
As a Caucasian male writer, what kind of research will you do to ensure the ethnic authenticity of Miles Morales?
I am Caucasian and I have a mixed race family. I will do what I do with every character regardless of race or creed. I usually start by basing the character on someone I know and have a lot of access to, not just with Miles, I did the same thing with Peter Parker. I look for someone in the real world whose voice I know and I understand and then base the character on that. I start from there and then at one point you just let the character take over and the character finds his own voice. I have already written the first six issues of this series and I am enjoying Miles so much.
Will Miles Morales use any slang, Ebonics or Latino colloquialisms?
He might use them very slightly. A lot of slang sounds good in real life, but on the page it is very hard to read. I am much more interested in speech pattern than I am in dialect. In comic books the words stare back at you, so its much more difficult to read any slang.
What do you think makes Miles more special and unique than Peter Parker?
They are both equally unique, in my opinion and I will have to prove that in my writing. But what stands out about Miles is that he has a completely different world view than Peter Parker, yet has to carry the same theme. It’s the same theme that has been with Spider-Man for all of these decades, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Miles will have to learn what that means.
If President Obama gets a chance to read a copy of the new Ultimate Spider-Man, featuring Miles Morales, what do you hope is response is?
I hope he says, ‘hey that’s awesome!’ I know that he is a Spider-Man fan and I hope the comic book ends up on his desk, and he gets a chance to read it. I am also hoping that he has much more important things to do with his time.