Meet Brian Bendis, the man who killed Peter Parkerby michael orbach, jta
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Spiderman heroically dispatched countless foes since he arrived on the scene in 1962.
Nearly a half-century later, Brian Michael Bendis managed to kill him.
In 2000, Bendis was hired to write Ultimate Spiderman, a modern-day retelling of the classic Spiderman story. More than 10 years, 160 issues and several blockbuster Hollywood adaptations later, Bendis did the unthinkable: He killed off the superhero’s famous alter ego, Peter Parker, and replaced him with a 13-year-old named Miles Morales, who is of Hispanic and African American descent.
“Marvel is a representation of the real world,” Bendis explained from his home in Portland, Ore. “Miles lives in Brooklyn — it’s actually Brooklyn.”
Bendis, 45, may be the most important comic book writer working today. He helped relaunch the Daredevil, Spiderman and Avengers franchises, and his titles typically sell more than 100,000 copies.
“Brian is a unique and important voice in modern comics,” said Danny Fingeroth, a longtime Marvel editor and the author of “The Stan Lee Universe.” “He displays a profound understanding of, and respect for, the histories of the characters and their universe, but understands that they have to be updated for a modern readership.”
Raised by a single mother in Cleveland, Bendis attended an Orthodox day school and discovered comic books as an adolescent. “I studied them like the Torah,” he said. “I memorized the ads. At 5, I literally stood on the sofa and said ‘I will be the artist on Spiderman.’ ”
Like others drawn to stories of caped crusaders and mega-muscled heroes, Bendis was searching for a stand-in for his absentee father. Stan Lee, the Jewish co-creator of Spiderman and other comic book heroes, became something of a father figure for him. But the rabbis who taught him as a child weren’t too fond of his hobby, fearing that his penchant for drawing men in tights indicated he might be gay.
“I would just start drawing without thinking and [suddenly] it’s a bunch of naked guys and I’d get sent home,” Bendis recalled.
After high school, Bendis attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. An independent comic book publisher picked up his final thesis and published it. After graduation, he continued working on comic books but supported himself doing freelance illustration and caricatures at bar and bat mitzvahs.
“It’s the lowest form of human existence — and I worked at McDonald’s,” he said.
Through the 1990s, Bendis hustled his work on the road with fellow independent comic book creators. Those years were somewhat of a golden age for the scene, producing a bevy of talented, original creators. But the period was financially rough for Bendis and his wife, Alisa, whom he met while doing a freelance assignment for the Hillel Foundation.
Even his successes didn’t change the basic financial equation. The day after his work on the crime comic Jinx won an Eisner Award, the comic book equivalent of an Oscar, he was back at a bar mitzvah drawing caricatures.
But when there was a shakeup at Marvel Comics, the new president and editor-in-chief wanted a fresh voice for the company. Joe Quesada called Bendis in 2000 and said he wanted to bring him to Marvel.
“I asked, ‘What do you need an artist for?’” Bendis recalled. After what Bendis describes as a long “dead” silence, Quesada finally answered, “You know your art isn’t that good, but you’re an amazing writer.”
Bendis’ first assignment was a four-issue run on Marvel’s Daredevil. After the first two issues, Quesada asked him if he was interested in writing Ultimate Spiderman. The series became one of the best-selling comics of the decade.
Bendis’ financial worries were over. He and Alisa began thinking about starting a family. Doctors said Alisa wouldn’t be able to have children, but as the couple prepared to adopt, she became pregnant with their daughter, Olivia. Later they adopted Sabrina from Ethiopia, and daughter Tabatha through a domestic adoption program. In December Alisa gave birth to a boy.
“Adoption is something I’m insanely proud of,” Bendis said. “My wife wanted to make a family of the world and help raise children with a lot of love that they might not have gotten otherwise.”
Bendis raised the idea of shaking up the Spiderman franchise at a Marvel creative retreat. “We thought about what we wished we could do differently,” he said. “We talked about that the New York in Marvel comics isn’t the one you see when you walk outside the door.”
Ultimate Spider Man No. 160 was published in 2011. In that issue, Peter Parker is killed by his archenemy, the Green Goblin. In the next issue, Morales inherits his super powers after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider.
The Jewish nature of comic book superheroes has long been an object of speculation, with much attention focused on post-Holocaust Jewish psychology and the yearning for powerful protectors of the innocent. But Bendis traces the connection back even further.
“The Torah is full of mythological sources of father and son, and so is Marvel Comics,” he said. “I think about my upbringing with a single mother — I have father issues — I was born to do this. That’s why I can write.”
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