Comics on Film: Why Donald Glover's Role in 'Spider-Man' Is a Big Deal to Fans

Comics on Film: Why Donald Glover's Role in 'Spider-Man' Is a Big Deal to Fans

Jun 17, 2016

Although we're over a month removed from the release of Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War, fans are still exuding a great deal of excitement over actor Tom Holland's portrayal of – arguably – Marvel's most popular superhero, Spider-Man. He was only in it for a short time, but what was there left a very positive impression on those of us waiting eagerly for next year's Spider-Man: Homecoming. That film will feature Holland's first solo-led performance as Peter Parker, and will further plant him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This week, we also saw some rather surprising casting news that likely brought a smile to the faces of many a Spider-Man fan: actor Donald Glover, a successful comedy writer and performer in the sitcom Community, will join the cast of the new film in an as-yet unspecified role.
 
Glover's presence on the cast of the new film is something of a homecoming in and of itself, because although he's never been directly involved with Spider-Man before, he's actually been a pretty important figure for the Spidey for the last several years, even inspiring the creation of a new version of the character.
 
It all started with a campaign to cast Glover in the 2012 film...
 
In January of 2010, Sony Pictures announced that a reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise would be put into development after it became clear that original trilogy director Sam Raimi wasn't particularly interested in returning for a fourth installment starring Tobey Maguire. That month, Sony announced that director Marc Webb, fresh off of his independent hit 500 Days of Summer, would be assuming the reigns of the franchise with a new lead actor as Spider-Man.
 
As is common practice with the internet, as soon as it became clear that this would mean a new actor would fill the Webslinger's famous red and blue costume, message boards and legions of fans put forward their casting fantasies. This led to a very interesting op-ed piece at io9 entitled, "The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy."
 
This led to commenters making a suggestion of their own for the next actor to play Peter Parker: Donald Glover, a charismatic and hilarious performer, who has also demonstrated a great deal of love for the Spider-Man character himself. Almost instantly a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #Donald4SpiderMan popped up, as well as an associated Facebook group that accrued an impressive 3,000 fans within a week of being created.
 
Obviously, we know how things played out: ultimately, British actor Andrew Garfield would be cast as Peter Parker in what became 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, which led to a sequel in 2014. Even though Glover wasn't given the chance to embody Spidey, though, he would still leave an indelible mark on the character in ways he likely couldn't have anticipated. 
 
The Creation of Miles Morales
 
The creators working on the Ultimate universe at Marvel Comics were at something of a crossroads. This alternate version of the Marvel Universe was starting to become very convoluted, while sales were also seeing a decline. They needed to shake things up, and one of the ways in which they decided to do just that surrounded the universe's incarnation of Spider-Man.
 

While some editors at Marvel say that the idea was first sparked in late 2008 with the election of the first African-American President of the United States, the idea of introducing a Spider-Man of color took on greater prominence in the minds at Marvel after witnessing the immensely positive reaction to the campaign advocating for Glover's casting as Spider-Man. A second season episode of Community showing Glover wearing Spider-Man costume pajamas seemed to solidify the idea. In an interview with USA Today, writer Brian Michael Bendis said, "I saw him in the costume and thought, 'I would like to read that book.' So I was glad I was writing that book."
 
This is one of the seeds that ultimately led to the creators deciding to kill off the Ultimate iteration of Peter Parker, and to ascend new character Miles Morales, the 13-year old son of an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, to the role of that universe's Spider-Man. Created by Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, Miles would go on to become a fan favorite character for the relatable and grounded way in which he was depicted, as well as for some key character differences with Peter.
 
While both Peter and Miles had an aptitude for science, Bendis and Pichelli gave Miles a sense of self-doubt early on when the young hero realizes that both his father and his uncle had been criminals. He worried that the tendencies of criminality were hardwired into his DNA somehow, which led to familiar emotional elements for the character to overcome, even if they came from a pretty different place. Miles has managed to become extremely popular both inside and outside of the comics, and that's in part due to Donald Glover. For more on Miles Morales, check out a previous edition of Comics on Film, where we talked about the moment he met Peter Parker in the comics.
 
 
Glover Joins Homecoming
 
This week, it was officially announced that Donald Glover has joined the cast of 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, and will appear alongside Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Other cast members include Michael Keaton and Zendaya, whose roles have yet to be confirmed.
 
Given the fact that Miles is barely a teenager by the time he becomes Spider-Man in the comics and the depiction of Tom Holland as a 15-year old webslinger, it seems unlikely that Glover will be playing the character he helped inspire, but we don't know for sure. In any event, the Homecoming title is definitely proving to have multiple meanings over a year before the film is scheduled to release: Spider-Man himself is coming home to Marvel, and now Donald Glover is coming home to Spider-Man.
 
Spider-Man: Homecoming is scheduled to be released on July 7th, 2017.

Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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