Brian Michael Bendis Talks SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, JESSICA JONES' Cancelation, And More - EXCLUSIVE

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Executive Producer Brian Michael Bendis talks about the creation of Miles Morales, his favourite Stan Lee memory, his hopes for Superman on the big screen, and much more!

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won an Academy Award this past Sunday but given the overwhelmingly positive response to the movie when it was released last year, that didn't come as much of a surprise. Miles Morales' creator and perhaps the world's most prolific comic book writer, Brian Michael Bendis, served as an executive producer on the animated film and I recently had the chance to interview him.

A UK reprint of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 which was released way back in 2002 was the first comic book I ever bought, so it was a genuine treat to sit down and talk to the man who has written everything from The Avengers to Iron Man, Superman, and X-Men

In the following interview, we talk in detail about Into the Spider-Verse and Brian takes us into the process of creating Miles Morales and killing off Peter Parker. He also touches on his favourite moments from the movie and reflects on some of his favourite Stan Lee memories. In addition, we discuss what the Superman scribe would like to see from the Man of Steel on the big screen. 

It's a great read so you should definitely check it out, and I obviously want to thank Brian for taking the time to talk with me. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is out now on Digital and is available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on March 19. It also swings back into select IMAX theaters this weekend.

Congratulations on the movie winning an Oscar this week! I'm guessing it's been a pretty amazing few days for you?
Very surreal. Very amazing. It's hard to describe. It's a dream come true that I didn't even know I had!
It must be nice to have some good news following the cancellation of Jessica Jones which I would imagine must have come as a bit of a disappointment to you last week?
Yeah, it is and it isn't. It was such a good experience. A lot of things happened in my life that year that were quite amazing because of that show and now that I'm not at Marvel, I'm kind of disconnected from it so it didn't hit me too hard. I'm hoping to show finds another home somewhere. A lot of people were watching that and all the Marvel shows; Luke Cage broke the Netflix server when it debuted! I hope all those shows find a home as it would be crazy for them not to.
Going back to Into the Spider-Verse, I was wondering if you could tell us what sort of role you played as an executive producer in terms of developing the movie. Or were you not that hands on?
I was a consultant which meant they would send me early cuts of the movie to give notes on it but they were the authors of the film and I think I was there literally just to haunt them: 'We've got Brian here, we can't mess it up!' It was pretty great and what was cool was seeing the early drafts of an animated movie, and I've been in this situation a couple of times, you slowly watch all of the special stuff get sucked out of it for commercial purposes and it always makes you sad. In this instance, more of the special stuff kept being added so I had the unique experience of watching the opposite of the usual thing that happens and it was quite magical. 
It's obviously a phenomenal movie but was it challenging for you to hand Miles over to another creative team? 
I've learned from my peers that came before me. I've watched people like Alan Moore struggle with the process and fight against it and I've watched other people be a little more zen about it. I decided what my place in it would be and so I was totally cool with letting my boy go out into the world. The other thing is, I've had an inordinate amount of good luck with people adapting my stuff, and making it better than the source material quite often. Some little things and some big things; people don't even realize how many characters in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were created by me and Alex Maleev and Maria Hill, obviously, in The Avengers movies...a whole bunch of stuff has made its way onto the screen with such love and care, like Jessica Jones. I kind of enjoy the ride and if I do my job as an honest storyteller, it makes their job easier and somewhat harder. I was very honoured by Phil Lord saying at the Oscars during the press conference that we'd laid the tracks so strongly for him that it made it easy for him to tell his version of the story. I enjoyed that part of the process a great deal and it's fun to hand it off.
Going back to the beginning of Miles' story, the Ultimate version of Peter Parker obviously had a huge fanbase so did you ever have any reservations about killing him off to introduce Miles and did you get any creative pushback from Marvel when you told them what you wanted to do?
It was an interesting thing. Sometimes when decisions like this are made, it's out of some sort of desperation or sales are down but in this instance, our sales were very strong and we were doing very well. One of the things I liked about working with Joe Quesada was that after each success, Joe would question everything. A lot of people in success just lay back and go 'Yes!' but for creative people, that's a death sentence. With success, Joe would go 'What have we done wrong? What can we do better?' So, we started talking about Ultimate Spider-Man, which was chugging along very nicely, and then we got on to the subject of Brooklyn and Queens and what they feel like and how they were represented in the book. I thought we had not represented them well and then I wanted to do better.

From that conversation, started the 'Why was Spider-Man even white to begin with?' What are the odds if you put all the pieces together in a story and look at the world? Was it important or necessary that Spider-Man be the story of a white child? It really isn't. We started talking about what ended up being Miles and it took about a year. There wasn't pushback so much as 'Do we dare? Do we try? Are we brave enough? Is this good enough?' The one rule we were really breaking is that no one was upset about how we were handling Peter Parker and taking something away from someone that they like and replacing it with something they don't can be a recipe for disaster. No one had said, 'If only Peter Parker was a little more...something!' So, for us to offer that idea was going to be a challenge but we had the benefit of The Amazing Spider-Man with Dan Slott, so whatever we were doing over here with our book, people knew that Peter was fine over there. We were a little emboldened by that. I was personally scared but it was that creative scared that you have to go with.
It must now be extremely rewarding for you to see that, regardless of his race, everyone has now embraced Miles as a character and that there are a lot of people who want to see him replace Peter Parker as the live-action Spider-Man as well? 
I'm stuck alone in a room typing all day and I'm aware that being an author, my social media is skewed positively towards me and my work, so it's hard to see what other people think of that sometimes. The first time I even had a hint of it, they had announced Tom Holland as Spider-Man but Miles was trending for that entire first day and it was the first time I realised people even knew who he was. Soon after, Spider-Verse started to become a thing but from the first get-go of finding that out, I didn't know people liked him! I knew when it first came out that there was quite a kerfuffle in the media and it's really funny that there's this thing going on right now where people are saying me and Kelly Sue [DeConnick] creating Miles and her developing Carol into Captain Marvel and no one was complaining like they do now. That's what I'm hearing and that's hilarious. That's not true! People were complaining a great deal and, in fact, I even talked about it on Seth Meyers, that they went after us hard in the media. For comic book people, it's strange to attacked in the mainstream media so comparing that to this, it's very surreal and bizarre.
The movie features a really wonderful tribute to Stan Lee so I was wondering if you have any memorable interactions with him that you'd be able to share with us, especially given his role in creating Spider-Man?
I had a lovely, small relationship with Stan. Other people had a lot more robust relationships with him but every interaction I had with him over the years was quite wonderful, including when I was a kid. The last meeting I had with Stan was a lunch that went on for hours and if you Google it, I did it as my eulogy for him in The New York Times. They made a comic book about my lunch with Stan but with regards to Spider-Man, I was worried even with the earliest days of Ultimate Spider-Man. Just the announcement that we were starting Spider-Man over from scratch...I was so excited to have the gig, it didn't occur to me that anyone else would even have an opinion on the idea of it. I remember getting a call from a reporter, who is actually my editor on Superman now, saying 'Hey, I just talked to Stan about Ultimate Spider-Man, do you want to hear what he said?' I froze because the idea of him even talking about didn't occur to me.

It was so surreal. That was when I found out that from the earliest moment, he was 100% on board, 100% supportive, and behind the scenes, unbelievably supportive in ways I wouldn't even describe publicly because I wouldn't want to cheapen it. Even the idea of Miles was something he was super cool and into and I can imagine other creators, maybe even myself, getting a little bit like, 'What are they doing?!' He was all in and got it as a creative person. He's the one that said in an interview many years ago that he was the one who was tearing up the Marvel Universe and changing it faster than any other editor ever had. He was the one that threw out The Avengers by issue #16 and put Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch on the team and people were yelling for his head. He said that if he was still Editor in Chief, we wouldn't even recognise the Marvel Universe so we, as creators, are way more respectful of his work than he would be and that opened us up creatively with a lot of choices we made.
Thank you for such an insightful answer. Going back to your movie work, I know you were once part of Marvel's Creative Committee and James Gunn has talked about some clashes there, but I was wondering what your experience working in that team was like? 
I had a wonderful time. For me, it was like going to a writer's workshop of like six people and just tearing apart a story. It wasn't my story so there was no ego, it was just about craft. Everything that I learned from whatever we were working on, whether it was Thor: The Dark World or the first Iron Man and screenplays that never saw the light of day, I was learning an immense amount about crafting a story or reminded of stuff that I knew that I fed directly into my work. It was like doctor's school for writers and I loved it. Whatever stress James is talking about, I wasn't in the room for that part and also, I signed an NDA so couldn't even say if I was but I genuinely wasn't! You say NDA and people think you saw something but I didn't see nothing! It was a pretty cool thing. Imagine this. Literally, you get to see the first cut  - and every other cut – of a Marvel movie six months before everyone else gets to see it; would you do that for free?
I would pay to do that!
Exactly! They were paying me to do this for many, many years and every time, I would be like 'Yes!' [Laughs] It was great.
I know this might be tough to answer given everything that's going on with the Disney/Fox merger but is there anything you can tell us about your secret Marvel movie you're working on with Tim Miller?
I'm literally working on it today. I know there's confusion and guesswork about what's going on with Fox and Disney but I have no information about that. I do not know what is going on with anything other than that I have been contracted to do something I'm very excited to do with someone I really, really like as a creator. I think Tim is one of the best ever and I'm having a really good time doing it so we'll see what happens. That's an NDA too so that's all I can say about that! Honestly, someone asked me about this the other day and I Tweeted, because I was literally taking a break from writing it to check Twitter, and someone said 'Hey, what's going on with that thing?' and I said I'm working on it right now so I didn't realise that was news so, yeah, I'm still working on it. 

Going back to Spider-Man, I was wondering if there was any scene, in particular, that really resonated with you?
Well, yes, there are a couple of things and I happen to know from the filmmakers that they were very excited to show me those because they knew as storytellers that they were special to me. They kept a couple things in Miles' life that were important to me that no one else cares about. A lot of the stuff is about his home life and the joyfulness of his relationship with his parents. If you look at the history of the genre, it may go down as the only time a superhero has been successful in the mainstream and had the love of both of his parents. Usually, they'll betray him or have been blown up or shot, so my hypothesis as a storyteller of whether someone can be heroic with the support of their family is proven right and I'm so happy to have seen that happen. I know that sounds ridiculous but it's a trope and cliché that does work in the genre but it doesn't mean it's the only thing that works. 
I wanted to ask what you think should come next for Superman on the big screen, especially as if seems the Man of Steel has been a tough nut to crack in recent years?
I don't have any information about this but I think Spider-Verse is the best thing that ever happened to Superman. I think it illustrates where comic book storytelling can go on film. I'm not saying the same kind of story should happen to something like Superman but when you see a movie rip apart a couple of genres and mediums and then take the genre and create something new with it with a new medium, I think Superman has the same ability to do so. If you look at the first Superman movie and how epic it was and how interesting it was as a film...well, I'm excited to see what could happen next. 
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