The first trailer for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” revealed a lot about the wall-crawler’s first solo film as a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We got to see his web wings in action, saw more of his dynamic with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), got our first look at Michael Keaton’s imposing Vulture, and got a peek inside the life of a high school student that also has superpowers. We also met a number of Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) high school friends, including Liz Allan (Laura Harrier), Michelle (Zendaya) — and Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon).
That’s right, Ned Leeds, not Ganke.
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.
Director Jon Watts confirmed that Ned Leeds is in the movie during this summer’s Comic-Con International. An unconfirmed call sheet was leaked in August and it listed Batalon as Ned Leeds. Then last month, Batalon himself confirmed that he’s playing Ned Leeds to a Hawaiian news station.
Okay, so…who is Ned Leeds?
One of Spider-Man’s earliest supporting characters, Ned debuted in 1964’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #18, meaning he was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko — the two masterminds behind Spider-Man’s creation. But the Ned Leeds of the comics is quite different from the Ned Leeds played by Batalon. For one thing, Leeds wasn’t one of Peter Parker’s high school pals. In the Lee and Ditko days, Parker split his time between his classmates and the staff of the Daily Bugle, the newspaper where he freelanced as a photographer. Ned Leeds was a reporter for the Bugle and also a rival of Peter’s. The high schooler had a crush on J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary Betty Brant — and Leeds was dating her.
Leeds would remain a supporting character in “Amazing Spider-Man” for the rest of Lee and Ditko’s run, sticking around in the book until 1969. He returned a few years later and, in 1976’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #156, Leeds and Brant were married. Leeds continued on as a supporting player in the flagship Spider-series and then…well, and then Ned Leeds got roped into the Hobgoblin drama, thus redefining his entire role within the Spider-mythos.
The Hobgoblin was introduced in 1983’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #238, and the glider-riding, pumpkin-throwing supervillain’s secret identity was a closely guarded secret. It also was not agreed upon beforehand, so when the creative team turned over and tensions between the writers and editors flared up, all plans for the villain’s big identity reveal got real confusing.
To sum it all up, taking into account the 1997 “Hobgoblin Lives” series that set the record straight regarding the Hobgoblin’s origin, Ned Leeds was brainwashed into being a Hobgoblin and performing criminal acts in the actual villain’s name. His frequent brainwashing sessions with the real Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, caused his home life and work life to crumble. The Hobgoblin ruse proved to be a fatal one; Leeds was killed by an assassin in 1987’s “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine” — a move possibly made by the writer out of spite as part of the behind the scenes battle. Unlike plenty of comic book characters, Ned Leeds has actually stayed dead all this time — and he’s still dead, almost 30 years later.
Except now he’s alive and on the big screen, as a totally different character, played by Jacob Batalon. Making matters even more confusing, Batalon really seems to be playing Ganke — except he’s not named Ganke. So why isn’t Batalon playing the character that he’s so obviously… playing?
It probably, maybe, has to do with Miles Morales.
Let’s talk about Ganke Lee. The Korean American teenager was introduced as part of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe — not the main Marvel Universe (you know, the universe where all that Ned Leeds/Hobgoblin stuff played out). The Ultimate Universe was launched in 2000’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” #1 to give a fresh start to the Marvel Universe. The total continuity reboot allowed Marvel characters to be reintroduced and reimagined for the 20th century. After a decade, the Ultimate Universe itself grew to be dense in continuity as writers felt free to take radical steps with the alternate universe characters. That included killing Peter Parker himself, thus leaving the Ultimate Universe without a Spider-Man.
And that’s when Miles Morales, a young high school student who also got bit by a radioactive spider and was gifted with similar=-yet-different spider-abilities. Following Parker’s death, Miles took up the Spider-mantle and amassed a supporting cast of his own. Ganke Lee, Miles’ classmate and best friend, became Miles’ closest confidant and quasi-sidekick. Ganke and Miles were inseparable, and their dynamic was a big part of the “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” era.
When Marvel made the deal to add Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they were faced with reimagining the character for the 21st century. Plenty of fans wanted Marvel to skip over Peter Parker entirely and just introduce Miles Morales as the Spider-Man. But Marvel, as the studio’s president Kevin Feige pointed out in April 2015, always wanted to have Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige didn’t rule out Miles’ eventual involvement, though. “Miles I think is awesome,” he said. “I think there are opportunities for him for sure if this all works.” (Sidenote: it’s been reported that Miles Morales will be the lead of Sony’s in-the-works animated Spider-Man feature film)
So Marvel always wanted Peter Parker to be their first Spider-Man, and they also wanted their Spider-Man to be firmly rooted in high school — an aspect of the character that the previous two film iterations glossed over. But when you look at the Spider-Man comics of the Ditko and Lee era, when Peter Parker was in high school, he was kind of a loner. He had friends and romantic interests, but he didn’t really have someone to confide in. Peter didn’t meet his best friend Harry Osborn until college, and the same goes for Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. Basically, Peter Parker didn’t have a Ganke in the comics… so Marvel Studios kinda gave him Ganke, but named him after Ned Leeds — maybe so that should Miles ever get the live-action treatment, Ganke can be right there beside him.
What does this mean moving forward? For one thing, it gives Marvel the option to grow Batalon’s Ned Leeds towards his comic book counterpart. For all we know, the Ned in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” could have a knack for reporting, something Ganke has not exhibited in the comics. Future “Spider-Man” films could make Ned Leeds a journalism major, and he could even start dating Betty Brant (once the MCU introduces the entire Daily Bugle set-up, that is). Let’s just hope they steer clear of the Hobgoblin mess. There are ways to make Batalon’s character less like Ganke and more like Ned Leeds, and they might have already done that in this film. So far, we only have the trailers to go off of.
So right now, Spidey’s best friend looks and sounds a lot like Ganke — but he’s not Ganke. He’s Ned Leeds.