Welcome to another installment of “For Your Consideration”, every one of which thus far has covered comic book and video game movies [and this week’s is no exception]. The point of this particular feature was to present just the facts, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions, as well as to cobble together a short post due to a lack of time to devote to a longer piece. The latter is less applicable this time around as this required a lot of research and was not at all published in a timely manner.
Thursday night marked the premiere of the first ever trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as well as the international trailer online. What caught my eye watching it, and what I’m going to detailing below, is the appearance of Ned Leeds, played by actor Jacob Batalon. Below I’ve compiled a timeline that tracks the history of that character, another character named Ganke from the comics, as well as the film franchise’s track record with diversity.
November 1964: Ned Leeds debuts in Amazing Spider-Man [Vol. 1] #18. His character is a field reporter at the Daily Bugle, where he meets Peter Parker and Betty Brant, the titular hero’s ex-girlfriend who he will one day marry. In later years Leeds went on to become the villain Hobgoblin for a spell, and was later killed [though you know what they say about death in comic books].
Ned Leeds is, as so many comic book characters at the time, a White man with brown hair and blue eyes.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (Vol. 2). Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Sara Pichelli.
November 2011: Ganke Lee debuts in Ultimate Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man [Vol. 2] #2. His character is the best friend of Miles Morales, a half-Black/half-Latino teenager and the new hero headlining the title.
As pictured on the left, Ganke is of Korean descent and a larger kid. The character is also shown to be a fan of LEGO blocks, or whatever non-copyright-infringing alternative can be found in the Marvel universe.
April 30th, 2014: IndieWire former chief creative officer for Marvel entertainment and founder of Marvel Studios Avi Arad is interviewed by Indiewire. When asked if “Spider-Man in the cinematic realm [would] always be Peter Parker” [in reference to Morales ever taking the role] he responded: “Absolutely.” I further covered his comments a week later.
February 9th, 2015: After a two failed Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield it’s announced that Sony Pictures would be partnering with Marvel Studios to produce a new film for the character that takes place within the latter’s cinematic universe. President of Sony Entertainment Motion Picture Group Doug Belgrad cements which iteration of the superhero will be webslinging across the silver screen, saying [emphasis added]:
“This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future.”
June 6th, 2016: It’s revealed that fourteen-year-old actor Michael Barbieri has been cast in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming.
ComicBook.com reveals that, according to its sources, Barbieri’s character will be new, and “based off the Ultimate Spider-Man character Ganke.”
As seen on the left, Barbieri is currently not particularly heavyset, and is also not Korean or of Asian descent at all. It’s also worth noting that Peter Parker and Ganke Lee do not currently have any kind of relationship within the Marvel universe as the latter is a stalwart part of Miles Morales’ supporting cast.
June 15th, 2016: Likely in response to an article making the rounds that directly states “Marvel Casts Michael Barbieri as Ganke in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming'” director Jon Watts goes on record to deny claims of whitewashing in a couple of tweets:
July 25th, 2016: At Marvel Studio’s film panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego this year three cast members are confirmed for Spider-Man: Homecoming. One of the three is Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds. The actor describes the role he’s playing as being Peter Parker’s “best buddy.”
EthniCelebs, while likely not the most reliable of sources, notes that Batalon was born in Hawaii and lists his ethnicity as “Filipino, possibly other”.
November 15th, 2016: In addition to the Comic-Con announcement made several months earlier, Batalon reveals on KHON 2 News, a Hawaiian program, that he will be playing Ned Leeds in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He reiterates that Leeds is “Peter Parker’s best friend in the film.”
December 8th, 2016: As mentioned, the first Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer premieres on Jimmy Kimmel Live!; the international trailer likewise makes its way onto YouTube.
December 8th, 2016: A number of top comments in a thread dedicated to the newly released trailer on /r/comicbooks focus on Leeds’ similarities to Ganke.
“So Ned Leeds is basically Ganke?”
December 9th, 2016: Comic Book Resources publishes an article titled “No, That’s Not Ganke In The Spider-man: Homecoming Trailer”. The second paragraph reads:
“Admittedly it’s a very easy mistake to make. As we see in the trailer, Batalon plays Spider-Man’s best friend and one of the only people to learn his Spider-secret. Ganke Lee, a supporting character introduced in 2011’s “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #2, is also the best friend of a Spider-Man and also knows his secret identity. And yeah, both Batalon and Ganke are of Asian descent (Batalon is Filipino American and Ganke is Korean American). To be honest, maybe Batalon should be playing Ganke. But he’s not — he’s playing Ned Leeds.”
The final line hammers that point home, with columnist Brett White writing, “So right now, Spidey’s best friend looks and sounds a lot like Ganke — but he’s not Ganke. He’s Ned Leeds.”
December 9th, 2016: Inverse, the website responsible for the article Watts was likely responding to back in June, publishes another titled “‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Appears to Have Jacked a Miles Story”. Their coverage includes tweets from comic book fans who find the inclusion of Ned Leeds as he appears particularly damning, with one noting:
The article also highlights a moment within the trailer, drawing comparison between it and a moment in the comic books.
Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man (Vol. 1). Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by David Marquez.
To summarize, Jacob Batalon will be appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s best friend. He bears a very heavy [no pun intended] resemblance to Ganke Lee, Miles Morales’ best friend in the comics. While the appearance of an Asian character in a major role certainly backs up Watts’ desire for the Queens depicted to reflect being “one of—if not the—most diverse places in the world” what may need to be addressed, by Watts or whoever else, are some fans’ concerns about poaching a POC character from another POC character’s story.
Miles Morales ever making an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to be confirmed, but the question many have been asking since Thursday’s trailer dropped was if Ganke showing up is even possible now that this Ned Leeds exists onscreen.