"Anyone can wear the mask," Miles Morales says in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Academy Award-winning animated movie that just became available on digital video on demand services.
That sentiment -- with just slightly different wording -- is something that Miles's co-creator Brian Michael Bendis has said a lot over the years. Basically, he reasoned, why should Spider-Man have to be a white guy at all, when the costume covers every inch of his skin? Spider-Man could be anybody.
During an interview with ComicBook.com today in support of Into the Spider-Verse, Bendis said that it was actually Teen Titans Go! actor Khary Payton who presented Bendis with his own "Uncle Ben moment" and helped him cement that message.
“There was an actor named Khary Payton who people know because he’s the voice of Cyborg for a lot of things at DC, but I met him because he was cast as Cutter in the original Powers pilot for FX that never aired,” Bendis explained. “It was around that summer that Miles was going to see the light of day; people had found out and I remember it being described to me as, ‘Hey, are you doing the brown-skinned Spider-Man?’ That’s how it was being perceived. [Payton] pulled me aside and he was the one who told me the story about, ‘Hey, I just want to tell you that when I was a kid, my friends wouldn’t let me be Batman or Superman because of the color of my skin but I could be Spider-Man. Don’t mess this up. He was the one who pulled me aside and said, ‘here is a truth from my perspective.’ And that was kind of my ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ speech. He kind of Uncle Ben-ned me right before it was time to go.”
Payton's is a microcosm of a larger observation that has been part of Spider-Man's appeal for years -- the idea that with a full-facial mask he could be a stand-in for whoever you want him to be -- but it was Payton who really gelled how that notion played into racial identity for Bendis, and since that theme had become so important to the film, the writer wanted to be sure that he expressed publicly how much he appreciated Payton's input...in part because he felt like he has not always expressed it just that way.
“The reason I brought this up is that with the movie, someone recently had posted on my Twitter feed the original New York Times story about Miles. I looked at it and went, ‘ooh,’” Bendis admitted. “Sometimes you’re not thrilled with how you sounded ten years ago. I read it, and there’s me saying those exact words and I was like, ‘oh s—t.’ I was on message! And I did feel like Khary had inspired me, and I wanted to give him more credit than I have given him in the past.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is still in some theaters (with a wider re-release coming this weekend to celebrate the film's Best Animated Feature Oscar win), and is also available via Streaming Video on Demand services. The movie will be available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as for rental on digital services, beginning March 19.
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