For comic book writer Brian Bendis, the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is personal. Bendis is one of the co-creators of Miles Morales, the character who's made his big-screen debut in Sony's animated blockbuster. The film has been a tremendous success, grossing over $360 million in the global box office and even winning the Oscar for Best Animated Movie of 2018.
Brian Bendis is one of the most celebrated comic book writers today, and over his years at Marvel he wrote popular and influential runs of Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy. He received a Peabody Award for his work as co-creator of Jessica Jones on Netflix, and for years served as part of Marvel's Creative Committee, consulting on every Marvel movie from Iron Man through to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. All in all, it's impossible to overstate Bendis' influence on the current comic book industry.
We had the opportunity to speak to Brian in the aftermath of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Oscar win, and ahead of this week's home release of the film. He shared some details about Miles' creation, and the reason he believes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has been such a hit.
Screen Rant: First of all, congratulations! How did you celebrate that Oscar win?
Brian Bendis: We got invited to a bunch of Hollywood stuff, and instead we decided to stay at home and watch it with my family, I did it with my closest friends and family who were with us when I was sick last year. My family and Kelly Sue, who was the author of Captain Marvel.
A lot of people don't know this, but we were living in a house together when I was developing Miles and she was developing her Carol run. So it's very emotional and weird for us to watch both our debuts go into this next level, like, right on top of each other. Like, just as Spider-Verse gets to DVD, here comes Captain Marvel. And they were literally made in the same house.
Screen Rant: It was just meant to be.
Brian Bendis: It was just a very strange eight years.
Screen Rant: OK, let's do a quick dive into the creation of Miles Morales. So how did you come up with the idea of this particular all-new Spider-Man?
Brian Bendis: Well, it was a long gestation period with a lot of people, but it started back at Marvel, with Ultimate Spider-Man, a comic book I did with Marvel for many years. It featured a 16-year-old Peter Parker, the base idea of Spider-Man, in a modern setting, not unlike what the Tom Holland movies are right now. One of the things I liked working with Joe Quesada at Marvel, Joe would never bask in success, that's when he would be questioning, "What can we do better, what more can we do in this time of success?" - and we started talking. I said, I don't think I'm representing Queens or Brooklyn as well as I could, I'm gonna do better in my representation of that part of the world, and then 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, and -- but, people really like Peter Parker, no-one's saying hey 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, but y'know, no-one's asking for it. So, we just decided once we had all the pieces together --- it took about a year, a year of thinking about the charter school, thinking about his name, what his powers are, what's different about his perspective of the world versus Peter's? And once we had that, we were off the races.
And one of the reasons I'm most proud of this movie is that it goes, well, what if this boy had a very happy home life? That his parents loved him, and it's because they love him so much that he feels this deep obligation to make the world a better place. Like, you don't see that in comics. Everybody's parents - particularly the father, in Marvel Comics - their father has betrayed them, has been blown up, y'know, or isn't living. And 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.
Screen Rant: Did you always suspect Miles was going to be a hit?
Brian Bendis: No, I had that nervous energy of, "This could go either way." And - for the sake of other writers who are reading this - that's the best feeling. You have to do it. A lot of people back down from that, and sometimes it blows up in your face, but when it doesn't, you end up with a Miles Morales.
Listen, you're writing for Screen Rant, you're a pop culture professor, you know your stuff. It's filled with things that should not have worked. Nobody was bored of Peter Parker, nobody wants more out of Peter Parker, people like it, y'know? Also, the story of Miles Morales involved Peter Parker dying. That could've really blown up in our face. All of these choices and elements could've literally backfired, but we felt from our deepest honesty of storytellers we were coming from a good place. So, we had to go for it.
Also, we haven't mentioned Sara. I had the backbone to put Sara Pichelli and Joe Quesada just constantly keeping it as real as it could possibly be. Sara is an amazing designer, and she's been doing amazing design work on all the characters in the Ultimate universe. And the idea of designing somebody new with her was just overwhelming to me, based on what I'd seen her do for Gwen Stacy.
Screen Rant: How did Sara come up with that brilliant costume design?
Brian Bendis: Well, Sara started playing with it and I don't remember whose idea was, like, a reversal --- like, black and red --- but I got excited because, that's kind of like, black and red is kind of like my favorite look, and had been for like 20 years, so I was like, yeah this is my favorite kind of look. So, it was being developed along these lines and I gambled a lot, and then Joe came in, I think it was Joe who put on the reverse-webbing. And I remember thinking, "Oh, that looks amazing," and what a dick move from Joe because it looks amazing, and now he's gonna go and do something else and now Sara has to go and draw that every issue. Reverse-webbing is very difficult to draw. But yeah, it was Sara with a little help from Joe, and it was super-exciting to watch it develop.
It was one of those things that happened very quickly - sometimes it takes a long time to create, but this one y'know, it just really came to be.
Screen Rant: Obviously, now we've got an animated hit, what do you think has made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse such a great success?
Brian Bendis: They found the stuff that I thought was special and they built upon it, and made it more special for them. It really leaned into the stuff that made Miles special, and by doing so --- I've learned as a storyteller, later in my life but you do learn it through experience that the more specific the details of your story, the more universal it actually becomes. So by leaning hard on the very specific family life and the charter school and everything in Miles' world, way more people who have never had any of those elements in their life somehow find a connection to it. And I was so grateful that they kept that stuff in, and then built upon it. Like, they had reached deeper into Miles' connections with his family in a way cinema can. And I was so happy to see that, and I know when I hear from fans that that's the stuff that they feel connected to.
Screen Rant: What moment in the film really stood out to you as your favorite scene?
Brian Bendis: Mine is gonna sound weird, because it's not gonna be anything to do with me. But, the Kingpin sequence morphs into a Bill Sienkiewicz Valentine --- he's one of the great artists of comics, who had done this Daredevil graphic novel, it wasn't even about Spider-Man --- where he had created a visual of the Kingpin that was so striking, that other artists can't get over it. So it became a Valentine to this Daredevil graphic novel, not even a Spider-Man, so we're now turning the Spider-Man references into Daredevil references, into great artist references, because he had made the greatest contribution to that character. And I said, "Now it's not just me liking a movie 'cause this is so awesome and builds on the stuff I did," now we're into this, like, film-making. And also, I'm a big Bill fan, seeing that was lovely to see.
Screen Rant: So, I couldn't resist asking - the relationship between Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen was so much fun in the film. What are your thoughts on the potential romance plot going forward?
Brian Bendis: It doesn't matter what I think, I'll tell you what my seven-year-old daughter thinks! So, remember, my daughter was a baby when all of this was being gestated in the world that she lives in, right. But now, she's the biggest Spider-Gwen fan in the world. So, I'm in my office, she comes storming in with one graphic novel that I and Jason Latour did together, where Miles and Spider-Gwen team up and they kind of go back and forth between the universes.
And in there, there's um - Miles is very taken with her, as he would be because she's awesome, right? And so we do a cover with them making out. And also, just for those people who don't know, in this version of the story Miles and her are much closer of age. And, so the cover of the two of them kissing. She comes storming in my office, and she goes, "What is this?" And I go, "Oh, we did that when you were like two years old," and she goes, "Was I old enough to talk? 'Cause if I was old enough to talk I would've said, 'No!'" and then stormed out of my office. And I think that would be the definitive statement of that.
Screen Rant: So, what other characters have you created that you feel could work in a similar sort of animated movie like Spider-Verse?
Brian Bendis: Oh, all of them. Honestly, after seeing Spider-Verse, the flexibility of animation and for those of us who really study storytelling really diving in there and looking at what they've done, it somehow is a perfect film and then also an invitation to other people to pitch further with their stuff. Every comic book artist felt, not only was this a Valentine to them, but it was also a call to get to work. Do more, do better. It's up to us. And so, it's hard not to imagine anything being adapted by excellent people.
Screen Rant: Do you think Miles Morales will make his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well?
Brian Bendis: I have no idea, I would love to see it, but not my call! This is where I become Zen, and hope for the best for all involved. And listen, we are so far beyond what I had dreamed of as my dream for Miles. We are so far beyond that. I have a Campbell soup can with Miles on it! What more could I possibly want! All I ever wanted for the character was exactly what the message of the movie was; which is for empowerment, and people to see themselves in a different way because that was from our very first issue what we were talking about. So for them to take that, and for them to offer it to the global stage. My Twitter feed is filled with kids from all over the place, looking at it right now, writing this little note, and I love how empowered they are. It's all I could have ever wanted. So, right now, I'm gonna just enjoy what we have.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is out now on Digital and is available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on March 19.