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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 16:20 GMT
Can Spiderman help UN beat evil?
By Thomas Lane
BBC News, United Nations

A man in a Spiderman costume (archive image)
Spiderman's debut with the Blue Berets is due in 2009
When critics attack the United Nations, they often accuse the world body of being a web of bureaucracy.

Now officials there are hoping to turn that image around by using the web of Spiderman.

The UN recently announced a union with the comic book company, Marvel.

Together, they aim to print a special comic that will see the superhero fight alongside UN aid workers and peacekeepers.

Marvel scribes have offered to pen the work for free.

The UN is now seeking private backing so it can distribute 1m free copies to American schoolchildren. The project's creator, the French producer Romuald Sciora, says he hopes it will then be translated into European languages.

'Desperate measure'

Already critics warn their spider-sense is tingling.

You can have Spiderman in a comic book all you want, but it's not going to change public perception
John Bolton
Former US envoy to the UN

John Bolton, the outspoken former US envoy to the UN, called it an "act of desperation".

He said the world body should concentrate on improving its overall performance.

"You can have Spiderman in a comic book all you want, but it's not going to change public perception," he told the BBC:

However, the UN's top man on the project says critics are missing the point.

Amir Dossal leads the UN Partnerships Office, which is putting up half the money for the project.

He told the BBC it was not intended to promote the UN per se, but rather to inform children about UN humanitarian causes.

The Spidey touch?

Nonetheless, diplomats and comic book fans alike are speculating why the UN should ally itself with the web-slinger.

A UN peacekeeper poses in a Santa costume to give out presents in south Lebanon, December 2007
The UN is not averse to recruiting children's heroes

Jerry Gladstone, co-owner of New York's Midtown Comics store, told the BBC Spiderman's face was better known than such Marvel companions as the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

His colleague, Brian Quinn, noted that Spiderman's story makes him "one of the most relatable characters in all of comic books".

"Spidey", he said, is "just an average guy" who struggles to use his incredible powers responsibly. That, he suggested, is not so far from the position of the UN.

Ultimately, though, the project's success or failure does not depend on the Green Goblin or Dr Doom, but on the reaction of its target audience.

The BBC asked several American schoolchildren on tours of the UN HQ what they thought of the idea.

Most said they would indeed be more interested if the organisation were associated with the wall-crawler.

One little boy, however, dissented vociferously.

"I don't like any superheroes," he told the BBC. "I don't think they're real."

The comic is set for release in 2009, so the UN will find out then whether fictional heroes can drum up real support.

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