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[This story contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home]
Among the big surprises and world-ending threats in Spider-Man: Far From Home, there’s also room for budding romances. In the days since the film opened, the relationship between Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) has quickly become a fan favorite pairing.
Jon Watts pushed to get Ned and Betty together in Far From Home and came up with the idea of them becoming a couple during a flight to Venice.
“This movie is about Peter being out of sorts, emotionally, and in terms of what his place is in the world,” co-screenwriter Chris McKenna told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “He goes to Europe chasing this girl, and immediately his best friend gets a girlfriend. It just completely throws him for a loop. All of those things are fun in terms of playing with the high school comedy of it all.”
Ned and Betty have a long history in the comics, and it isn’t nearly as cute and innocent as in the film. Before going further, it’s important to note the Ned in Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man movies isn’t actually the comic book Ned Leeds at all; they share a name, but that’s it. In fact, the MCU Ned is actually drawn from the comic book character Ganke Lee, a supporting character in the Miles Morales mythology of Spider-Man, not the Peter Parker version at all.
Though audiences are likely sad about Ned and Betty breaking up in the movie, those shippers can take some level of comfort from the fact that, in comic book lore, Ned and Betty eventually got married. Unfortunately, the marriage did not turn out well.
The comic book relationship between Ned Leeds and Betty Brant is quite a ride, fueled by twists that could be politely described as “like every bad stereotype of poorly written soap operatics, only more so,” not to mention a particularly confused period of communication between writers and editors.
When originally created for 1963’s The Amazing Spider-Man No. 4, Betty Brant wasn’t a high school contemporary of Peter Parker’s, but a colleague at the Daily Bugle, where Peter had started to sell photographs of Spider-Man in action; the two would briefly date, although Betty would end the relationship and quickly move on to dating Ned Leeds — a relationship that would quickly lead to marriage. (They started dating in 1964’s Amazing Spider-Man No. 18, Ned’s first appearance, and Ned would propose in 1965’s ASM No. 30; those 12 months include the six-month period where he was overseas on assignment.)
Although the courtship was fast, the period between proposal and marriage was significantly longer; the two wouldn’t be married until 1976’s Amazing Spider-Man No. 156. Perhaps the delay was due to the fact that the two weren’t good for each other — it wasn’t long after the marriage that the two were estranged, with Betty seeking solace from Peter, leading to the two of them brawling over her; Betty would also become close to Peter’s high school bully Flash Thompson, because…that was the only plotline writers could come up with for the character at the time, it seemed. Flash’s own marriage was also collapsing at the time; creators at Marvel were clearly using their comics as therapy in the 1980s.
If only Ned Leeds could have been given equally banal stories. Instead, he was being portrayed as increasingly angry and erratic, in part to make him a viable candidate to be the then-archnemesis du jour, the Hobgoblin. Introduced in 1983’s Amazing Spider-Man No. 238, the Hobgoblin was a villain who updated the dual gimmicks of the original Green Goblin: He had a Goblin motif in terms of costume and weaponry — explained away by his discovering a stash of the Green Goblin’s costuming and gear — and he also, as in the original Green Goblin comic book stories, had an identity secret even to the readers.
Co-creators Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. played with the mystery of just who the Hobgoblin was across a number of months, but ended up leaving the Amazing Spider-Man comic book series before the question was answered; subsequent creators had their own take on the villain’s identity, as did the series’ editors, which meant that when the “truth” was revealed in 1987’s The Amazing Spider-Man No. 289, it likely surprised a lot of people…including those who had previously written and drawn the Hobgoblin to that point. Nevertheless, the Hobgoblin was revealed to be Ned Leeds.
The reveal made some degree of sense, even if Ned hadn’t been the choice of any of the Hobgoblin’s writers to that point. (We’ll come back to that in a second.) If Ned had turned evil, then it was a culmination of his earlier anger issues and paranoia, and an explanation for why he’d been such a jealous, cruel husband to Betty. And he had been strongly teased as a possible Hobgoblin since the villain’s debut. Everybody wins, right…?
There was one big problem, however; Ned had actually been killed off in an unrelated comic book some months earlier. Ned died in Spider-Man versus Wolverine No. 1, murdered by KGB agents for being, essentially, in the wrong place at the wrong time on a trip to East Germany. It’s an intentionally brutal death, one intended to show how out of place Spider-Man is in the environment (and story) he’s found himself in, but it left some plot holes that needed to be filled in awkwardly — not least of which how random KGB agents had defeated a legitimate supervillain who had super strength and high-tech weaponry. (The solution: They were no longer KGB agents, but trained super assassins who made it look like the work of KGB agents — undercutting the point of the earlier story, but these things happen.)
With Ned dead, everyone moved on…for about a decade. In 1997, Roger Stern returned to Marvel and sought to rework the mystery of the Hobgoblin’s identity, revealing that he had never actually been Ned Leeds all along; instead, he would be Roderick Kingsley, an evil fashion designer (No, really), who had been Stern’s choice for the villain’s identity all along. In the three-part Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives miniseries, Stern offered up quite a rewrite of what had gone before, including the addition of a disguised twin to explain how Kingsley and the Hobgoblin had been seen together previously.
What this meant for Ned Leeds was another retcon, to coincide with the earlier retcon that he had actually been the Hobgoblin all along. Now, per Stern, he was never actually the Hobgoblin, but had instead been hypnotized by the Hobgoblin to believe that he was the Hobgoblin, to throw everyone off the scent…and that the hypnosis had the side effect of making Ned mentally unstable and prone to paranoia and anger, thereby offering up a reason for his being such a needlessly cruel character for all those years. It was, finally, redemption for Ned — except, of course, he was still dead.
The Hobgoblin chapter of Comic Book Ned Leeds’ life is one that, in a perfect world, would never have happened, and a problem that would appear to be easily avoided in the MCU. There’s just one problem: Jacob Batalon is on record as being into the idea of eventually turning into the Goblin-themed villain onscreen. Sorry, Betty, this might not end well.
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David O. Russell
the banshees of inisherin