The ‘Donald Glover For Spider-Man’ Campaign: A Comic Book Historian’s Take On The Heated Debate

Yesterday, we reported on some comic creators’ reactions to the recent fan campaign to cast “Community” actor Donald Glover as Spider-Man.

Initiated by a post on io9 titled “The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy,” the campaign kicked into high gear when a reader dropped the name of Glover, a 27-year-old black actor, in the comment section. The actor subsequently echoed the suggestion on Twitter and encouraged fans to make it a reality. Glover even created a Photoshopped image of himself as Spidey and started a Twitter hashtag for the campaign: #donald4spiderman.

The rest, as they say, is online history. The hashtag became a top trend on Twitter and the resulting Facebook group has attracted more than 8000 members at last count.

The public debate, however, has crossed the entire love-hate spectrum, with various arguments for and against the actor in the role, including much buzz about the race-bending aspect of such a casting decision. Comic creators and various celebrities have made their opinions known, and today I spoke with noted comic book historian Alan Kistler for his take on the big Spider-Man debate.

“I personally have no problem with Spider-Man being played by a black actor,” said Kistler, an occasional Splash Page contributor who’s also been featured in various comics-related documentaries (including featurettes on the “Justice League: The New Frontier” and “Adventures of Aquaman” animated films, among others).

“There is nothing in the comic or the origin of the character that has to do with what ethnicity [Peter Parker] is, the color of his skin, or his background,” he explained, “only that he’s a kid from Queens.”

First created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, Spider-Man has changed costumes over the years, but unlike many of his peers, the face under the mask has remained the same for much of the character’s existence. The movies have thus far followed suit, with actor Tobey Maguire playing Spidey in the first three films, and a recently released casting list suggesting five relatively unknown white actors for the upcoming reboot of the franchise.

However, the notion of Glover playing the character has prompted many fans and prominent creators to rally behind the casting.

Alerted to the casting suggestion, “Ultimate Spider-Man” author Brian Michael Bendis wrote “I support this!!” on Twitter yesterday. He was joined by various others creators in and around the Marvel Universe who were surprisingly frank about their support for Glover, given the heated debate that’s still raging on many message boards around the online world.

“The coolness of Spider-Man’s costume is that it could be anyone — it gives you no hints of race or nationality,” explained Kistler of why Peter Parker’s race has never played a big role in the character’s history.

However, Kistler was quick to indicate that Spider-Man has had at least one non-white alter ego in his history. In Marvel’s “Spider-Man 2099″ series, the hero’s title was used by Miguel O’Hara, a Mexican-American scientist who gains similar spider-powers as Peter Parker.

Kistler also cited a storyline in a lone issue of Marvel’s long-running “Amazing Spider-Man” series in which it’s hinted that an African-American archeologist in the far-flung future is destined to become the new Spider-Man after uncovering some of Peter Parker’s DNA on one of Spider-Man’s old webshooters.

“We never actually saw it happen, though,” said Kistler. “But who knows? Maybe we will now.”

Let us know what you think of the debate in the comment section or on Twitter!