For comic book fans, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which opened June 2, is the next chapter in Miles Morales’ journey that started in 2018 with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. For sneakerheads, the new movie means new Spider-Verse sneakers.
Israel Mateo, Jordan Brand’s Footwear Designer on Jordan Special Projects, led the creation of the Air Jordan 1 “Next Chapter.” As seen on Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the shoes, like Miles, find themselves in the middle of a growth spurt.
Mateo’s team collaborated with Sony Pictures to design a sneaker fit for a hero traveling through the multiverse. They incorporated different shades of red, mimicked the film’s use of Ben-Day dots in its animation, and used multiple textures that make the shoes Morales wore look like they’re glitching as he travels from one universe to the next.
Mateo spoke with Andscape about his design choices, his experience teaming with Sony Pictures, what Miles Morales means to him, and, of course, geeking out about Spider-Man.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
What are the differences between the Air Jordan 1 ‘Next Chapter’ and Air Jordan 1 ‘Origin Story,’ which was released with the 2018 film?
The ‘Origin Story’ was an attempt at offering something slightly different than what the [Air Jordan 1] ‘Chicago’ actually is. Some of it had to do with inspiration from the suit that Miles wears in the movie. Some of it was inspiration from the art form that led Sony to their new cinematography style in both Spider-Verse films.
After the first movie and that first shoe, we had the challenge of doing the same thing again. Sony was very adamant about how authentic it was for Miles to keep the Jordan 1s because they were a gift from his Uncle Aaron. It was something that got passed down to him. It was very authentic for the youth to be into Jordans that way, which he holds onto in his rite of passage.
For Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, we had to be able to tell a story that was authentic and made sense compared to what Miles was going through in the film. And co-director Justin K. Thompson points this out: If you’re looking at fragmented pieces of reality and how those things converge, then in essence, you would have infinite amounts of possibilities around what is in the one universe. Him saying that made me think there’s probably a Michael Jordan in every reality.
You were not only tracking Miles’ journey but also multiple versions of Michael Jordan throughout the multiverse. How did those different versions inform the design?
With an unlimited amount of Michael Jordans throughout the multiverse, their shoes may look different. What happens if, instead of standard leather, you have this washed leather and patent leather again? As you go through that, you can see that the shoe glitches in and out of what it could have been. The shoe is all different possibilities of what that shoe could have been in 1985 or whenever that particular universe brought Jordan into the conversation. Jordan changes the reality around what Miles is wearing and it’s the one thing that stays constant throughout each universe because Michael Jordan is that great.
Before the Air Jordan 1 ‘Next Chapter’ was even a thing, was there ever a desire to use another Jordan model for this Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?
No, it was better for it to be right and authentic. And especially for something that not only I’m a fan of, but so are many youths either Miles’ age or younger.
The Jordan 1s are pretty fly. I don’t think that any kid necessarily has to have that change of shoes. And it’s cool that Miles gets to keep them.
On top of that, those shoes tend to last a really long time anyway, so I think it could be cool where you take Miles through stages and they’re just something that he doesn’t or won’t let go. A few movie characters have strong connections to their shoes, like Robert Lee ‘Marlboro Man’ Edison in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.
What’s the story behind the Ben-Day dots? I know you read comics as a kid and Ben-Day dots were a staple in comics for decades.
They used the Ben-Day dots in this film as an homage to the art form, and they melded that print process into the film process. They used all of those offsets with the third layer of Ben-Day dots to add another depth dimension and how they depicted the characters around them in that field.
As it relates to this shoe, Ben-Day dots were the purest form of tying back to the comic books without being directly referential. I worked hard to find a paperlike substance and it’s supposed to look like an old faded comic book.
Who came up with the idea for the glow-in-the-dark soles for the Air Jordan 1 ‘Next Chapter’ and tying that in with Miles’ powers?
Oh, that was me.
The challenge was taking a look at how Miles can adapt to different surfaces with the camouflage and then tying it to his lightning strike [power]. So, he’s one color, but then the lightning strike is another.
I just wanted to have that grand effect. It’s one thing to have something glow the same color that it is because it’s just getting brighter. It’s even more effective if it changes color. I tried that out with the development team until we got it right.
Depending on how much you charge the shoes, sometimes the glow looks like white light. But it really is green. The green going through that red is what gives it more of a white look.
Tell me what Miles means to you.
He means a lot. I’m Dominican. I was born in New York, and I lived in Ridgewood, Queens, which borders Brooklyn, so I have some family in Brooklyn.
But we also are similar in that we have comparable background heritages. In his case, he’s American on both sides, but just having that Hispanic heritage and that Afro-Latino heritage is important to me and it’s something that you don’t always get to see. We don’t always see that the ‘top of the mountain’ can be any color.
And like Miles, no one has a set story for me or can tell me you can’t do this because of where you come from. I think all of those things, along with the superhero aspect of this, break a lot of boundaries people thought were concrete and they’re not.
Sony has been the keeper of the Spider-Man flame for 20-plus years now. What was it like collaborating with them on the character?
It was wonderful. All of the things that I’ve learned from watching films and listening to directors tell stories about the dichotomy and the fight or struggle between studios, talent, and creators is always mind-numbing. And those things end up being detrimental to the viewer. But when I see this movie and know it could not be as good as it is without this studio.
For me, it was, I don’t want to say a layup, but it seems so. I could see it from the very beginning. And we all worked towards one vision. It was beautiful to see that they were really into it and they integrated the shoe into the film in the purest way possible without making it feel forced.