The first trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming gave fans their first good look at most of the major players in the film. In addition to Peter Parker, Tony Stark and the Vulture, we also got to see several of the supporting characters in Peter’s high school. Perhaps the supporting character who got the most screen time was Ned Leeds, Peter’s best friend who (inadvertently) discovers that Pete is actually the Spider-Man. Cue the destruction of one LEGO Death Star.
Ned hasn’t appeared in any of the previous Spider-Man films, though his name was used as a reporter for the Daily Bugle during the marketing campaign for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Despite this, Ned is a long-time character in the Spider-Man comics. Fans might not have recognized him at first in the trailer, though, because the Ned Leeds of the comics is significantly different than the version who’ll appear in Homecoming next year.
Introducing Ned Leeds
Ned Leeds was actually one of the early characters introduced in the Spider-Man comics, making his debut in 1964 in The Amazing Spider-Man #18. He was a reporter for the Daily Bugle and was introduced to Peter Parker by J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary Betty Brant. Both Peter and Ned are interested in Betty romantically, though neither makes much headway in winning her over at first. Ned would win out in the end, though it would drive a wedge between him and Peter for a while.
Ned left for Europe on special assignment, and returned around the time that the Scorpion attacked the Daily Bugle for the first time. He protected Betty while Spider-Man fought the villain, which was the beginning of him winning her over. Peter struggled with his dual identity as Spider-Man and how Betty might take the knowledge, even as Ned encouraged him to open up to her and reveal whatever it was he was keeping from her. Ned had asked Betty to marry him, but she loved Peter; in the end, though, Peter pushed her away. Ned held a grudge against Peter because of the way that he’d treated Betty, though Betty herself realized that it had all been an act. Years later, in The Amazing Spider-Man #156, Ned and Betty were finally married.
As time went on, Ned found himself tangled up in a number of Spider-Man’s adventures. Often this was because he was chasing a story, but there were times when he was simply trying to help Peter as well. Unfortunately, one of these events would change his life forever when he followed the unmasked Hobgoblin after the villain escaped following a fight with Spider-Man.
Ned and the Hobgoblin
As Ned followed the Hobgoblin, the villain became aware that he was being tailed. Instead of simply killing Ned, he captured him instead and proceeded to brainwash him into thinking that he was the real Hobgoblin. This gave the villain a patsy that he could use in case the police or Spider-Man came too close to capturing him; he could simply set Ned up to take the fall while he took a break from his costumed identity.
The plan worked well, with Ned actually starting to engage in criminal activity wearing a Hobgoblin costume. The original Hobgoblin brainwashed Ned on a regular basis to make sure that the programming stays in place, which causes Ned to become increasingly unstable. Eventually his marriage to Betty suffers and she seeks solace from Flash Thompson. The original Hobgoblin frames Flash to take the fall for both his and Ned’s crimes, though Flash is eventually cleared of the charges.
The original Hobgoblin then decided that this would be a good point to retire from his life of crime and set up Ned to take the fall.
Feeling that Ned was too unstable to rely on any further, the Hobgoblin leaked Ned’s identity and an upcoming travel destination to the criminal underground. At a hotel room in Berlin, Ned received a package containing a Hobgoblin suit; this triggered him to adopt the Hobgoblin persona once again and put the suit on. He was still getting into the suit when mercenaries stormed his room to collect on a hit that was put out on Hobgoblin. The mercenaries kill him, and it becomes public knowledge that the Hobgoblin was Ned Leeds.
Years later, in the Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives limited series, a new Hobgoblin was arrested and testified that he had taken the mantle from Ned; he claimed that Ned was the original Hobgoblin, which frustrated the actual Hobgoblin. He ended up coming out of retirement and set the record straight, since he’s far too proud to let Ned get the credit for everything that he’d done. Betty manages to play on the Hobgoblin’s ego to the point that he grants her an interview to set the record straight; the interview is a trap, however, and Spider-Man captures and unmasks the Hobgoblin. Ned’s name is cleared as he is revealed to have been a victim the whole time.
Ned Leeds in the MCU
The Ned Leeds that appears in the MCU is a high school student and Peter Parker’s best friend. He appears to have very little in common with the Ned Leeds from the comics, though. Instead, he bears a striking resemblance to another Marvel Comics character: Ganke Lee.
Ganke is a Korean American teenager who appeared in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics after the death of the Ultimate universe’s Peter Parker. He was the best friend of Miles Morales, who became the second Spider-Man in the Ultimate series. For a long time he was one of the only people that Miles revealed his identity to, and this gave Miles someone that he could confide in as he tried to balance being a hero and attending high school. Ganke was a massive geek and was kind of awkward, though his heart was always in the right place.
Based on the first trailer, it appears that the Ned Leeds character in Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows heavily from Ganke’s character right down to the way he looks. It’s unclear if the character will be a mix of Ned and Ganke or if he’s mostly Ganke with a different name, but either way it’s difficult to say that Ganke didn’t influence the character in several ways. Only time will tell how much of the classic Ned remains in the character, though if he retains at least part of Ned’s ability as an investigative reporter then he could be a great ally for Spider-Man to have.