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Jim writes...

You may or may not have followed the hubbub earlier in the summer when Donald Glover (young and very charismatic black comedian/actor) was campaigning on Twitter for a chance to audition for the role of Peter Parker in the new Spidey movies. Nothing ever came of it, but it sparked a huge internet debate over whether a black Parker was true to the character.

I myself was very open to the idea. After all, nothing about Peter's character or circumstances dictates that he has to be white. Heck, May isn't even related to him by blood; the only characters that would need to be adjusted are his parents, Uncle Ben, and Ben Reilly-- assuming any of those even make it into the new film.

Given that SpecSpidey is my very favorite version of the mythos, and given that the show was notable for, among other things, mixing up the races of various (mostly minor) characters, I was curious as to your thoughts on the subject. Not to the point of any conclusion, but just a reasoned opinion. Are there some things about Spidey that are just TOO traditional, too sacred, that changing them dilutes people's perception of the character? Is his race one of them? You went with the classic white-with-brown-hair interpretation, and I don't think there are many arguments that you succeeded quite well at adapting Parker.

I'll admit I'm wary of making this post, as I don't mean for you to look like you're choosing sides or giving some definitive answer. After all, I've already made up my mind on the issue; I'm sure most people have. Or they sure seemed to have when this controversy was still fresh. But being that you are something of an expert at adapting this specific property, as well as someone who was willing to add diversity where it was appropriate, I'd really like to pick your brain and hear any thoughts you might have regarding this issue.

Greg responds...

I think of Peter Parker as Everyman, so I can see why Mr. Glover and others would identify with him and have no trouble changing his ethnicity.

I myself KNOW that Pete is (whether practicing or not) of the Christian persuasion, because I've seen him celebrate Christmas over and over, but it always struck me as window-dressing to make the character appeal to the widest possible American audience. Because he's ALWAYS seemed Jewish to me. Perhaps that's because Stan Lee was/is Jewish and wrote him that way. Or maybe it's just me, being Jewish, reading it in. I toyed with the idea of having Pete's late mother being Jewish on Spec Spidey. But really, what would be the point? (And that was without asking Marvel if they'd have an issue with it.)

So I don't in a theoretical sense have any problem with an African-American Peter Parker. If Nick Fury can look like Samuel L. Jackson, etc., etc., etc.

The question of course is one of ICONOGRAPHY. Is the caucasian, brunette Peter to iconic to change. I certainly felt that M.J.'s red hair and Gwen's blonde hair were too iconic too change (which at least suggests that they needed to both stay Caucasian). But what about Peter?

As you guessed, I don't have a definitive answer for you. Stan and Steve (and maybe Jack) designed the costume so that it would hide race and ethnicity completely. Then WROTE Spidey's dialogue as if he were a Borsht Belt comic. (See why I thought he was a Jew from Queens?) So maybe all that matters is the nebbish -- not the color of it.

But maybe not...

Response recorded on October 14, 2010