In 2000, Marvel Comics launched a new line of books that took place in a universe unencumbered by decades of long-standing characters and continuity. Dubbed the “Ultimate Universe,” it was populated by new incarnations of the publisher’s classic characters who had been updated and re-imagined for a modern day setting. The line launched with writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” #1, starring a teenaged Peter Parker who worked as a web designer instead of a photographer and whose Aunt May was a very healthy and active part of his life. Though he maintained the basic core of Spider-Man, becoming a costumed superhero after receiving powers from a spider bite and tragically learning the meaning of the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility,” Ultimate Peter Parker and his life were a marked change from what longtime fans were used to.
Fast-forward nearly twelve years later, and Peter’s belief in hit late Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom saw him transform into one of the premiere heroes of the Ultimate Universe, eventually leading to his death at the hands of the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn. Occurring in “Ultimate Spider-Man” #160 by the original creative team of Bendis and Bagley, the death of Peter Parker did not mean the death of Spider-Man.
In “Ultimate Comics Fallout” #4, in stores now, Bendis was joined by artist Sarah Pichelli to introduce readers to Miles Morales, a young man who was inspired by Peter’s sacrifice and decided to carry on the Spider-Man legacy. CBR News spoke with Bendis about the creation of Morales and the series that he’ll star in, which begins in September with “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #1 by Bendis and Pichelli.
The decision to kill Peter Parker developed out of conversations between Bendis and former Marvel Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada, and it was not something Bendis took lightly. “Peter Parker is closer to me and my writer’s soul than things I’ve actually created,” Bendis told CBR News. “If I was going to tell that story, it had to have meaning and something needed to be gained from it. I thought about that for a while, and then I realized two things. One, if Peter died saving his family in a way where he was wasn’t successful in saving Uncle Ben, things come full circle and it’s a very heroic death. And two, if Peter’s death becomes a public spectacle, it becomes an Uncle Ben moment for a new character.
“Once I had both of those points, I knew I had a damn good story that’s worth doing, and it’s a Spider-Man story that you haven’t seen before on numerous levels,” Bendis continued. “I was in. Then, Joe and I talked about who this new Spider-Man would be; where his values would come from and where his starting point was. We both agreed that it’s still about ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ it’s still about the legacy of Peter Parker. Because of that, it’s a Spider-Man story. The suit doesn’t make Spider-Man Spider-Man. Peter Parker makes Spider-Man Spider-Man. So we had a way where Peter makes this young boy Spider-Man as well.”
When Bendis and Quesada first began developing the new Ultimate Spidey, they considered placing an established Marvel character like Ben Reilly or Miguel O’Hara under the mask. “If you do something like that, though, there’s a portion of the audience that will disconnect from the character or be confused by them. If we’re doing Ben Reilly, they’ll expect another ‘Clone Saga.’ If we’re doing Miguel O’Hara, they’ll be waiting for the moment where he gets launched into the future to become the 2099 Spider-Man. All those things become questions, and that’s not what the story we we’re going to tell is about,” Bendis explained. “I wanted to create a new character and I wanted to put a new toy in the toybox. Marvel has been pretty good to me, and I’ve done pretty well with other people’s creations, so I wanted to give a little something back and put another toy in the toybox. I mean, I’ve killed enough things. I think my rule is, for every ten I kill, I put one back in the toybox,” Bendis said with a laugh.
Once the decision was made for an entirely new character to don the webs, a number of elements influenced his creation, from the alliterative nature of his name to his cultural and family background. “With Miles Morales, we started talking about what’s going on in New York City right now and what we haven’t seen done to death in these stories. We found a few things that were really intriguing to us. Over the course of the last several years, my life had changed a great deal with family-building and what it means for us to have a multicultural family. “>I expressed it a little bit in ‘Takio,’ but there’s just so much more to express about what it is to have a life that has all these things in it; the differences and the similarities. I wanted to write more about it,” Bendis said. “Obviously, like ‘Takio,’ this won’t directly be my life, but it’s the life of a lot of people I’ve seen and witnessed. There are people in my life that have very interesting lives and I want to write about that because I don’t see it in the fiction that I’m reading or writing.”
Despite what many fans believed when the new Spider-Man’s identity was revealed, Bendis and Quesada had already decided Miles parents were going to be African America and Hispanic when then began hearing about the internet campaign for actor Donald Glover of NBC’s “Community” to play Spider-Man in the next Spidey film. “I personally like [Glover] a lot as a stand up, as a writer, and I like ‘Community’ an awful lot. And, like everybody else, I woke up one morning and heard about the campaign for him to be Spider-Man. I was like, ‘He should be Spider-Man!'” Bendis said. “Initially, it didn’t even dawn on me that we were already working on a Spider-Man of a different ethnicity. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that it would be a big deal, even though Joe knew it was going to be. I don’t know why my brain doesn’t go there right away. In my mind, it’s not up to us whether it’s a big deal or not.
“So, Donald decides he wants to be Spider-Man, and me, Stan Lee and a couple of other people were like, ‘Yeah he should be Spider-Man. He would be a great Spider-Man.’ We had already started scripting this series when he did that bit on ‘Community’ where he came out in Spider-Man pajamas,” Bendis continued. “I was like, ‘That looks fantastic!’ It made me feel like we were on the right track. Obviously, in a couple weeks when people first read Miles, they’ll see he’s a very different and younger character than Donald’s character on ‘Community,’ but really, the idea of an African American Spider-Man was floating out in the ether in a bunch of different places.”
Donald Glover’s “Community” character, Troy Barnes, is a college age student, while Miles is a middle schooler attending a New York City charter school, a setting Bendis decided he wanted to explore after Quesada recommended he watch the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman.”
“[Joe] pointed me in this direction about what’s going on with charter schools in New York and Washington and other places around the country. That certainly is a landscape that hasn’t been done to death in fiction, and we thought it was pretty interesting. Also, my wife has a masters in education and this is one of her very specific areas of expertise,” Bendis said. “We’re going to take a look at that inside the book as well. You can see from the artwork that’s been shown that Miles and his family are obviously at a charter school lottery in the first issue.”
Peter Parker was still attending high school when he died, so there’s a not a huge difference between him and Miles in terms of actual age. In terms of maturity, emotionally and mentally, however, the difference between Parker, the veteran hero, and Miles, the rookie, will be considerable.
“Peter was 16, Miles is 13 and as everyone whose lived through those years knows, there’s a big difference between those two ages,” Bendis remarked. “Someone joked that I picked that age because I’m Jewish and that’s your Bar Mitzvah age, when you’re told you’re a man even though you don’t really feel like one. I guess I did subconsciously give Miles a Bar Mitzvah when I had that spider bite him, because there’s just something interesting about that age. He’s not quite yet on the road he needs to go down, and that road could lead him in many different directions. When you’re that young, your eyes are wide open. It’s a perspective we haven’t really seen before in superhero comics.”
In “Ultimate Comics Fallout” #4, readers got a quick glimpse of Miles in one of his first outings as Spider-Man. In “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #1, Bendis and Pichelli rewind the clock to properly introduce readers to the new Spidey, revealing how he came to take up the mantle of the Web-Slinger.
“We’re going to show you exactly how he got his powers and where he came from. Then we will drive up to the moment of Peter’s death, the moment where he first puts on the costume and the fallout in his life afterwords. That’s all in the first arc of the series,” Bendis said. “First, you’re going to learn how long he’s had these powers and what he has or hasn’t been doing with them. He realizes all that’s been a mistake once he discovers the true meaning of Peter Parker’s life and sacrifice.”
Miles may be following in Peter Parker’s heroic footsteps, but the new Spider-Man will have his own opinion and outlook on the world he lives in. “Miles is coming from a completely different upbringing than Peter. He’s going to look at everything that Peter has seen through different eyes and have different revelations about it. That’s what’s interesting to me,” Bendis said. “Here’s this kid whose decided to do the same thing Peter did, but everything about his upbringing and what’s been instilled in him is different. Because he’s so young, he’s yet to put these thoughts together on his own and now he has to, in a very exciting way. Decisions have to be made quickly.”
Unlike Peter, the biggest decision makers in Miles’ life so far have been his mother and father. “The shocking news — and you can see this in the art that debuted last week — is that, in Miles, we finally have a Marvel character whose mother and father are both alive and still together,” Bendis joked. “His father is alive and living in the house. He’s not a bad guy and has not been killed by bad guys. Both parents are alive and well, and raising him.
“You’ll meet Miles’ parents in our first arc, along with his best friend, who is my favorite person to write and Sarah’s favorite person to draw,” Bendis continued. “The cast will get larger and larger as we go. Some of the cast members will be from Peter Parker’s life. Jessica Drew will make an appearance, and so will Gwen Stacy and Aunt May.”
Outside of Miles’ personal life, Bendis also has plans to introduce the new Spidey to both new villains as well as familiar members of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. “Miles will get a very large antagonist. Remember, Peter had Norman Osborn and the Kingpin. There were quite a few other elements as well, so there will be a building situation,” Bendis stated. “Some characters are taking the opportunity of Peter’s death as their ticket to go crazy, and Miles will be there to stop it. There’s also going to be some brand-new characters that you will meet in the first couple of issues who will also be a very big deal.”
Bendis told CBR he has been enjoying writing the first couple of issues of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” quite a bit, partially due to the excitement of Miles’ newness and partially due to his creative partner in the endeavor. “The story came flowing out of me in the best way possible. It felt right the whole time, and it was also really cool writing for Sarah,” Bendis remarked. “We had an opportunity to practice on the stories before Peter’s death, so I knew what she could do and I knew I could deliver a script that would make her happy.”
After establishing Miles world and how being the new Spider-Man impacts it, the writer will move on to explore the character’s role in the larger Ultimate Universe. “Once Jonathan Hickman sets up shop in ‘Ultimate Comics Ultimates,’ we’ll start to connect to some of the things he’s doing in that book,” Bendis said. “There will be similarities between Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man, but Ultimates is a big global who-ha. Spider-Man has always been from the point of view of Spider-Man, and because he was a teenager, he had a smaller view of the world. Miles, though, is going to be desperate to be part of the Ultimates’ world. He’ll be heading towards them more than Peter was.”
Much of Ultimate Peter Parker’s world was defined by artist Mark Bagley, who brought Bendis’ “Ultimate Spider-Man” scripts to life for a record breaking 111 issues before leaving and then reuniting with the writer several years later for “The Death of Spider-Man” arc, which closed out “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Bendis is hoping to have similar long and fruitful working relationship with artist Sarah Pichelli.
“Sarah is kind of great at everything. I think we were all just startled by her amazing design and character work so much so that we weren’t paying attention to the fact that she was already good at the Spider-Man figure. We’ve talked at great length about the physicality of the character. Just because Miles has spider powers doesn’t mean he has to move his body like Peter moved his body. He’ll have a different physicality, and that’s interesting,” Bendis said. “Sarah has been working on that, much like Mark Bagley. When he was on ‘Ultimate Spider-Man,’ Mark said to me, ‘Just so you know, I’ll never be drawing Spider-Man the way you’ve seen him drawn before. I’m always going to find a different angle to draw him from.’ And he always did. If you go and look at those issue,s particularly #3-80, you can’t find a Spider-Man figure you’ve ever seen anywhere else. It was great. I love it when creators roll up their sleeves and try something new.”
The announcement that Miles would be the star of Bendis and Pichelli’s new Spider-Man series received a lot of media attention, far more than Bendis had foreseen. “The media stuff has been crazy surreal. Like I said, Joe [Quesada] saw it coming a year ago, but I don’t see how we control any of that stuff. We hit a slow news day twice with the death of Spider-Man. It was really cool and I’m very grateful, but this one was surreal,” Bendis said. “We pissed off Glenn Beck, and that was amazing. I don’t think Glenn Beck is an idiot because he’s a conservative. I literally think he’s just an idiot. Regardless of his belief system, he’s just a lunatic. So that was hilarious. Not that I’m going out of my way to find ways to piss people like that off, but boy is it so nice when you do it by accident. I told my wife that she doesn’t have to get me anything for my birthday because nothing will make me happier than this made me. I was happy all day.
“We also got some nice attention, too. One night, Mike Oeming was here and we were talking in my studio. The TV was on with the sound off and we look up and there’s the comic book on ‘The Colbert Report.’ I didn’t know it was happening. Then we rewind and watch the bit it and thought it was hilarious,” Bendis continued. “The next day, the same thing happened on the ‘Daily Show!’ We’ve got the TV on with the sound off and look up and Jon Stewart is talking about Spider-Man. That made my day! I love those shows, and it was nice to get the shout-out.”
Part of the reason the announcement of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man has received so much attention is due to the character’s ethnicity. According to Bendis, however, that element though is just one of many that make up the character and is not the focus of the ongoing story the wroter plans to tell in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.”
“Miles is a different ethnicity than Spider-Man has ever been before, but he’s not going to represent all that is race in this country. That is not what this story is about. It’s about a little boy; where he comes from and what happens when power is put in his hands. There are certain people that have tweeted me and emailed me that they think that the story is going to be about race. That’s not how I write. That’s not how I see the world,” Bendis said. “I don’t know anyone who represents all things to all people, and Miles won’t either. Miles, like every other character in fiction, will represent the writer’s vision of his life, and I’m excited to unveil that.”
Bendis has written the adventures of the Ultimate Universe’s Spider-Man since the character’s debut in 2000. In all those years, his enthusiasm for Spidey’s exploits has never waned, and now that he’s about to launch the adventures of Miles Morales in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” the writer is more excited about the book than ever.
“My dedication to this is pretty strong. My tenure on ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ already is far beyond what anyone ever though it would be, but if the marketplace will have it, I’ll stick with it as long as I can. It still is the best job in comics — and I’ve had some pretty amazing jobs in comics,” Bendis said. “I’ve enjoyed the last few months and this week. The relationship people have with Peter and the trust that a lot of people are putting in us is something I appreciate a great deal.”
“Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” debuts from Marvel in September