Donald Glover grew up with Spider-Man as his No. 1 superhero, and while he doesn't get to wear web-shooters or red and blue tights, at least he's getting to voice a precocious version of Marvel Comics' iconic wall-crawler.
The new season of Disney XD's animated series Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors will take Peter Parker through various parallel worlds, including one where he meets Miles Morales, his half-Hispanic, half-black counterpart, voiced by Glover. The season premieres Sunday (9 a.m. ET/PT), and the "Spider-Verse" arc of episodes airs next year.
In 2011, Miles was introduced to comic-book readers in Marvel Comics' Ultimate Spider-Man series by Brian Michael Bendis, after the writer saw Glover's Twitter campaign to play Spidey in a live-action movie — and witnessed Glover dressed up in Spidey pajamas on the NBC sitcom Community.
"I don't think it's hit me necessarily yet how big of a deal that is," Glover, 30, says. "I'm very grateful for that, and it's cool to read the comic now."
The cartoon Miles is very close to the comic-book version: The 13-year-old is still getting used to being a superhero when he meets the dimension-hopping Peter (Drake Bell), who's trying to stop his old nemesis the Green Goblin from collecting the DNA of various Spider-Men — from Spider-Man Noir to the porcine hero Spider-Ham — for nefarious reasons.
It's an emotional moment for Miles, though, because in his world, Peter is dead.
"He meets someone who is his hero, and that comes across completely in Donald's performance," says Stephen Wacker, a former Spider-Man editor at Marvel Comics who's now vice president of Marvel Television's animation division. "He's got a real warmth that suits the character really, really well.
"If you've read Miles Morales comics, Donald's voice nails what you've been reading."
Miles is also a character cut from the exact same cloth as the original Spidey, Wacker adds. "He's a kid you can root for, who you want good things for, who suffered some loss of his own, and we're seeing him come to terms with his new powers and how to use them."
Miles is a high school student who tries to balance a family life with moonlighting as Spider-Man, Glover says, "and it's a lot of pressure for a kid to be yourself and have all this responsibility. Miles is really brave, and that's a cool attribute to have when you're that young.
"I admire anybody who allows themselves to be themselves. Especially a kid."
Glover, who has a high voice, didn't have to pitch it up too much to play a teenager with a heap of youthful optimism. Actually, there wasn't a whole lot of pretending to be someone else needed.
"That's the great part about the Spider-Man costume: He can be anybody," Glover says. "Spider-Man could be a girl. Spider-Man could be an old man. You don't know. So I just tried to be as me as possible, because you're always just going to bring it back to yourself when you watch the show."
Kids come up to Glover at his Childish Gambino concerts asking him to sign their Miles Morales comics. The actor can relate since he, too, was a Spider-fan from way back.
"I never liked Superman that much, because I was like, 'Yo, this dude can't die. It's too easy,' " Glover says. "Batman is pretty fly. He's a close second, just because he doesn't really have powers. He's just a justice-driven vigilante.
"Spider-Man is the best because you just don't know who he is, and he's funny and he's poor. I understand Spider-Man a lot on that level. He's just trying to make it."
Glover still gets a kick out of how much has come from one comment about wanting to don tights and be Spider-Man. Voicing Miles is not exactly the same thing, he says, "but it's pretty good. I'm still holding out, though.
"I still have hopes to do something like that one day. I don't look at this as second place. Spider-Man, he's such an icon — you have to do something with him."