This Be the Spider-Verse: Inside Avi Arad's Amazing Fantasy
The same month Spider-Man made his first appearance in the pages of Marvel Comics‘ “Amazing Fantasy” #15, Avi Arad turned 14 years old in Ramat Gan, Israel.
“I was born before Gutenberg’s printing press was invented,” he laughs. “Actually, my first love was ‘Iron Man’. Where I come from, ‘The X-Men’ were called ‘The Invincibles’ and ‘Iron Man’ was ‘Man of Steel,’ which was actually a DC name. In Hebrew, though, they sound the same.”
But heroes, by any other name, still smell as sweet. In fact, Spidey’s debut marked the final issue of “Amazing Fantasy,” but the book was relaunched the following year with a much more familiar title: “The Amazing Spider-Man”.
A few years after he first met Spider-Man, Arad came of age and served in the Israel Defense Forces until a serious injury left him hospitalized. After he recovered, Arad moved to the United States where, not unlike Peter Parker, he began attending college in New York. After graduation, he found himself working in the toy industry and, by the early 1990s, became the co-founder of Toy Biz and the executive producer of several Marvel cartoon series: “X-Men,” “Iron Man,” “Fantastic Four,” and, of course, “Spider-Man”. From animation, he moved to live action, at first producing telefilms like “Generation X” and “Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD” before finally bringing Marvel to the big screen with 1998’s “Blade”. Now, with more than a dozen “Spider-Man” feature films, the release of “Into the Spider-Verse” is an animation homecoming.
“It was actually Amy [Pascal] and myself. For me, it was, ‘Okay, we’ve done live action. I think there’s such a unique opportunity to go into animation.’ It was scary,” he smiles. “Well, not for me. I’ve always gone against the streams, so I was okay with that. Then Amy called Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller]. They were intrigued. They said, ‘If we can do Miles, we’ll do it.’ Their instinct was on the money.”
“They had a way to do something with Spider-Man that was not derivative and that was to start a whole new universe,” Arad continues. “I think that the fact that we have Miles, a 13 year old who’s black and Puerto Rican, [makes it work]. His love life has no tears. Maybe one. It’s just such a unique opportunity to the younger kids, especially, giving him a mentor. He’s cool. He’s thoughtful. He has to learn to take a risk. The story, as all Spider-Man movies should be, is emotional, funny and the cast is out of this world.”
“The reaction to Miles that I receive every day — and it is every day — is so much more profound than anything I ever thought I would get in comics,” Bendis told Comic Book Resources in a 2015 interview. “When someone reaches out to you and says, ‘I’m a mixed race person,’ or, ‘I’m a mom, and my child really gravitated towards Miles because he sees himself,’ it’s a really special thing.”
“It touches the culture,” says Arad. “The music tells you where you are. The kids have no problem whatsoever understanding alternate universes. The reason it’s so easy to believe is because, between Marvel, DC and ‘Lord of the Rings,’ fantasy is at the forefront. They accept that. They don’t need any extra pseudo-science if the story is good.”
With a near-perfect critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s safe to say that audiences are finding a lot to relate to in the “Spider-Verse” story.
“You see these iconic things in there and you say, ‘I know the world!’ But the story is not about me,” Arad continues. “The story is about him. Don’t forget, Peter Parker never had a mentor. That mentor story is fantastic. It’s classic. To have a 13 year old go, ‘How did I get in the middle of this?’ It’s not him going, ‘I want to kill myself.’ It’s not ‘Spidey no More’. It’s totally different. ‘Spider-Man No More’ is the greatest saga ever, but now we’ve got a new saga and it doesn’t matter what your age is. It’s what you’re willing to do [inside].”
Arad confesses that he’s still not sure which “Spider-Man” movie is his favorite between his top two: “Spider-Verse” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”.
“Of course, my favorite Spider-Man was Tobey [Maguire],” he says. “He was the perfect Peter Parker. He was kind of naive with big eyes. He’s unaffected. The other one was very emotional. But that’s good. There should be multiple Spideys… I think that the best thing Andrew Garfield did was at Comic-Con when he came out in a costume and said, ‘Everybody can be a hero.’ You could see on the faces of all the people in Hall [H] that it was touching.”
Sadly, “Into the Spider-Verse” marks one of the final cameo appearances from Stan Lee, who created the character alongside Steve Ditko and who penned the first decade of Spidey adventures.
“Stan wrote it until 1972,” Arad lovingly recalls. “That’s Stan. That’s him. Kind. I was with Stan and we went to a restaurant. There used to be a hamburger place on Sunset. I forget the name. We went into the restaurant and Stan parked. The guy moved his car or something. All of a sudden, I saw this temper. I looked at him and he went, ‘He moved my car! I didn’t want anybody to touch my car!’ I said, ‘Stan, what’s the matter with you?’ He said, “I love my car!’ All of a sudden, I realized that he does have some temper. Good! He’s human!”
In fact, it was Arad that convinced Raimi into include a cameo from Lee in the first “Spider-Man” movie.
“[T]hey asked Sam, ‘What made you want to do the cameos?’ He said, ‘I didn’t want to do it! I thought it would be like putting Shakespeare in a Shakespeare play. But Avi made me do it!‘” Arad laughs. “…[Stan] loved doing it. Stan is a ham. We shot him for ‘Venom’ in San Francisco. It was cold and he was quite frail, but he loved doing it. So we got him out of the car, because he loves to do it. But the line in our movie couldn’t have more wisdom. Anybody can eventually do the right thing.”
With the colossal box office success of “Venom” and the incredible response so far to “Spider-Verse,” Spider-Man’s future outside of the MCU is looking very bright.
“I think you’ll see a lot of [movies], but it’s the zig and the zag,” says Arad. “You know what’s coming on the live action. It’s ‘Morbius’. ‘Morbius’ is very different from any of the movies that we’ve already made. As long as we find a tone that is different, versus always the same skinny guy flying and all this stuff, there’s no reason not to make it because we used to fight like crazy… The biggest opportunity is Spider-Verse because there’s no limit. There’s absolutely no limit.”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” hits the big screen this Friday, December 14th.