Could the next Spider-Man come from the Arab world?

Comic book author and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse executive producer Brian Michael Bendis says the region is full of great stories and characters

Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment
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No matter how far he travels, Brian Michael Bendis knows his most famous creation reached there first.

As the co-creator of Spider-Man’s alter-ego Miles Morales, now back on the big screen in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the American comic book author is thrilled by the global reception.

“It is startling in that I am here in Abu Dhabi and so far away from my home, and Miles is already here,” he tells The National during a recent visit to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

“It is hard to describe because you are sitting there in your room creating stuff and hoping to make art that connects with people, and here I am seeing kids reading and wanting this character everywhere I go.

"It's such a profound example of all that I ever wanted.”

First appearing in 2011's Ultimate Fallout comic, Morales is the latest character to become Spider-Man, after the death of predecessor Peter Parker.

Created with Italian graphic novelist Sara Pichelli, Morales, 13, son of an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, represents the latest milestone for the series.

Morales is the first African American character to be Spider-Man and the second Latino – the first being the Mexican-Irish Miguel O'Hara from the 1990s series Spider-Man 2099.

Bendis says Spider-Man, originally co-created by the late US author Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in 1962, can shift between race and cultures due to the universal subjects the series deals with.

“And that’s the genius of Stan, because he created the bulletproof theme for the books, which is ‘with great power comes great responsibility’,” he says.

"That alone is why I wrote these characters for 18 years because I never get bored. I can look at that theme and explore it in so many different ways.

“And then there is the head-to-toe covering of Spider-Man. This allows anyone, no matter where you are from or how old you are, to imagine anyone being in the costume.”

Credited as an executive producer of Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse and the acclaimed first outing for the character, 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bendis describes his role as providing background knowledge for script writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

"They put me on staff because they wanted to be able to reach me when they needed," he says.

"We got really friendly and we hung out and enjoyed each other's company, and they have done a really great job with the films."

A hero of our own

Bendis believes the next comic book hero could emerge from the Arab world.

He says the region's rich culture and history can inspire a string of evocative characters and stories.

"I genuinely believe there is an untapped market of really modern mythology that we can dive into and create the kind of stories that appeal to a new generation of kids," he says.

"They can read stories that mirror their world and ultimately see themselves in it.

"While you can get it from Spider-Man comics or Harry Potter books with all these great characters, there is something about experiencing a character from your part of the world.”

And chances are the more local they are the more global their appeal.

Bendis says the 60-year success of Spider-Man lies in Lee’s decision to base the hero’s original alter-ego, Peter Parker, in the middle American state of Ohio.

"What Stan taught us through his work and those of his collaborators is that the more specific you get with your story and your experience, the more universal it becomes," he says.

"It almost sounds counter-intuitive but it's not the case. I think it's necessary, if not important, to tell your own story from your region – even if you add a fantasy element to it – because then people know it's authentic.

“They will know that you are telling the truth no matter where in the world they are.”

Judging by his interaction with UAE graphic artists at the book fair, particularly at the pavilion of Emirati comic book studio Sandstorm, Bendis says the beginnings of an enduring comic book community is taking shape.

"What stood out to me is the colours and the artists here doing some interesting things with that," he says.

"Now this is the kind of artistically nerdy things we all like to talk about, but it was exciting to connect with them on that level.

“They are showing me through their work where they are coming from, and I totally get it."

Updated: June 07, 2023, 7:02 AM