The Surprising Spider-Mex!

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Some news broke over this past weekend that I really wish could have broken one weekend earlier, because it would have made for the perfect Valentine’s Day post.

In case you’re unaware, Twitter essentially lost its mind when someone posted about this alternate continuity of Spider-Man comics published in Mexico, wherein Gwen Stacy was not only never killed off… but married Peter Parker! As Gwen Stacy is unofficially…

Oh what the heck, let’s make it official: As owner, originator, and sole writer of this blog (in addition to being one of its two subscribers), I formally declare the comic book character of Gwen Stacy to be the patroness saint of this blog.

There.

Now… as official patroness saint of this blog, anything involving Gwen Stacy is going to get attention around here, but this was a lot bigger than just any ol’ news. We’re talking about an alternate world of comics where Pete married Gwen, just as God and Stan always intended. To say I was excited would be quite the understatement. My second most powerful emotion was confusion/bewilderment, as it seemed impossible that such comics could have existed without my knowledge. Third (and a very close second) was the rabid desire to SEE THESE COMICS—particularly the one where Pete and Gwen get hitched.

But back to the beginning: Where did this all come from, anyway?

Tweeting Past the Graveyard

It started last Friday with a simple, innocent question posed to the Twitterverse, courtesy of one Chris Ryall: what never-before-collected comic series would you like to see collected into a new TPB? A user named “David” offered a quite-unexpected response the following day, setting off the twitter storm:

As I said at the beginning, I was floored when the news reached me early Sunday morning. I suppose it also says a lot about me that I heard from literally every fellow comics-geek I have ever known that day, all of them excited to break the news to me and/or ask if I knew anything about it.

Well I didn’t know anything about it, which was very embarrassing, as I pride myself on being one of the foremost experts in the world when it comes to comics of the Silver and Bronze Ages—with even greater expertise when it comes to Spider-Man, specifically. (These may be useless categories in which to have expertise and thus shouldn’t be taken pride in, but I’m shameless when it comes to my geekdom.)

So how could I have not known about this? And how do I correct this major gap in my knowledge? In this day and age, we all start (and usually finish) in just one place: To the Google-mobile, Robin!

El Hombre Araña

I grew up and read my comics in the 70s and 80s, during the original heyday of Spidey’s pal (and fellow ESU student) the White Tiger (aka “El Tigre Blaco”), so I’m well aware that the Spanish name for Spider-Man is “el Hombre Araña.” After some cursory web searching for the specific title El Sorprendente Hombre Araña, I discovered that this was intended to be a direct translation of “The Amazing Spider-Man.” However, over the course of my research, I’ve also seen it pointed out that Sorprendente is probably better translated as “surprising.”

The two best articles I found on the history of Spidey in Mexican comics are here and here—they’re in Spanish, naturally, but Google Chrome should translate the pages for you lickety split. There’s also The Amazing Spider-Mex page here.

But the best source for our specific endeavor today would be the comics themselves. It took a while, but employing the web-searching skills I’ve honed for nearly a quarter century, I did find a digital copy of El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #128, the “wedding issue” pictured in the tweet embedded above. After reading the issue (plus a little further researching), it pains me to say that nearly everything the original tweeter claimed was false.

The assertion that is most easily disproved is that the publisher, La Prensa, “did not believe Mexicans would read Spider-man after Gwen Stacy died.” While this may be true in isolation, it is not the reason Gwen remained alive in their comics. La Prensa actually lost the Spider-Man license in 1973, a relatively short time after Gwen was killed off in proper Marvel continuity. The last La Presna issue was #185, dated October 26, 1973, while “The Night Gwen Stacy Died!” from ASM #121 had a cover date of June 1973—not a great length of time at all, and certainly not enough to require much in the way of filling.

The statement “They created 45 original issues after Spiderman 119 where she lives” is also untrue. As I just said, La Prensa lost the pub rights around the same time of Gwen’s death, so they never really had to deal with much in the way of post-Gwen storylines. The main reason they were putting out so much of their own material was because they were trying to keep up with a weekly pub schedule. In addition, most of these “original issues” weren’t all that original. (More on this later.)

Finally, referring to El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #128 as a “wedding issue” is somewhat misleading. While a wedding does take place in the issue, it occurs in Peter Parker’s imagination, not the reality of the story.

“The Marriage of Peter Parker”

Here are some story pages to give you an idea what was going on:

Some rough English translations, courtesy of Google Translate: “Finally dear reader, we present the story that you all expected, although it would be best if you read this page quickly so that you can learn what really happens…”

Gwen: “Oh Peter, I am the happiest woman in the world… we will never separate… but what’s wrong, my love? You don’t seem happy…”

Pete: “Eh-excuse me Gwen, I just got a little distracted.”

Pete’s thought balloon: “She can’t see that although I am also happy, I am afraid that if she discovers my secret identity our happiness will be over…”

Aunt May: “How happy I feel, my dear Peter has become a man… I know I will miss him, but it is the law of life…”

Title: “The Marriage of Peter Parker”

Caption: Yes, Peter Parker has managed to turn his dream into reality, but what about Spider-Man?

The story takes place with Gwen still living with her aunt and uncle in England, where she went to live in the wake of her father’s death. Aunt May laments the couple’s separation and, with the support of Anna Watson, writes Gwen a letter. Later in the story, Gwen appears to be on a plane with her uncle returning to New York, but we don’t see her again in the issue (apart from the fantasy sequence).

Meanwhile, the Green Goblin returns and kidnaps Aunt May, which eventually lands her in the hospital. Spidey then battles the Goblin and gets knocked unconscious, leading to a dream sequence where he marries Gwen and they live happily ever after.

I should point out that every figure of the Goblin in this story was swiped from either John Romita (ASM #39-40) or Gil Kane (ASM #96-98). More on the swiping to come.

Spidey ends up winning the battle by forfeit when the Norman Osborn personality reasserts itself. We end with Pete visiting Aunt May in the hospital, wishing his dream could be made reality. “But … as long as Spider-Man exists … Can Peter Parker make his dream come true? Only time will tell!”

Again, note that in the symbolic panel that ends the story, the Pete & Gwen figures were swiped from the cover of ASM #87:

…While the Spidey figure was swiped from the cover of Captain America and the Falcon #137 (wherein Spidey guest starred):

Swiped

I managed to find and view many more issues of the original, ten-year run of El Sorprendente Hombre Araña online. The bulk of the early issues are straight reprints translated into Spanish, with only the last few years featuring “new” stories. I put “new” in quotes because while the stories are kinda, sorta new (as well as often being rather weird by North American comic sensibilities), most of the art is just swipes. Nearly every cover is also put together with repurposed swipes—see for yourself.

Now let’s take a gander at El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #149 to get a deeper taste. The vast majority of the story is just swipes from Amazing Spider-Man #14 (with the Kingpin taking Ox’s place):

Page from El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #149…
Page from Amazing Spider-Man #14, source for the swipes seen above.

La Prensa was also doing a Spidey newspaper strip. Here’s one example:

…Again, mostly swiped art. Honestly people, I did this all the time between the ages of six and nine, usually with tracing or carbon paper. Anyone wanna pay big bucks to see these “original” comics of mine? They’re pretty close to the same level of creativity as these issues of Sorprendente. Get in touch via crusty@paradoxcomics.com and I’ll be happy to provide my PayPal info.

Back to the Beginning

Getting back to the original Twitter question: Should this stuff be reprinted? In a word, no.

First of all, you would need photostat proofs to reprint it, which I’m sure Marvel doesn’t have. I imagine they’re piled up in a Mexican office building somewhere, assuming they weren’t destroyed or stolen decades ago. Either way, this makes reprinting a practical impossibility.

Secondly, to reprint this material would be redundant. As I’ve shown, these so-called “original” stories already are, essentially, reprinted material—with art that’s almost entirely swiped. Such tales make for an interesting curiosity, but that’s about it.

And third, even if you had proofs and didn’t care that the art was largely swiped, we have another problem: some of that swiped art does not even belong to Marvel, so if they dared attempt to reprint it they’d likely be sued. Let’s take a glimpse at Sorprendente #148 as just one example. Right off the bat, look at the cover.

That’s Vampirella. I don’t know precisely where the figure was taken from, but it’s clearly her. (By the way, we don’t see her in the story despite her appearance on the cover. Go figure.) In the story itself we have Spidey fighting this group of costumed femme fatales called Las Satanicas (“The Satanics”). Sounds intriguing, right? Once again, the figures of these ladies are all swiped from Gil Kane—but not from any Spidey story he drew. No, I’m pretty sure these were swiped from an old Batman story of his, with the original figures being Batgirl, Catwoman, or possibly both.

Even if I’m wrong about the original source, there are other, more obvious examples of swiping from DC and other publishers. Just check out that one cover of Arañita #94 from the Código Espagueti link I provided earlier. The grim reaper drawing was clearly taken from an old Batman cover by Neal Adams.

Arañita #94

 

Batman #237 (Dec. 1971)

In this case it looks like it’s a freehand swipe, not a direct tracing, but still—I’m pretty sure this would be considered stolen art in a court of law.

Taking all this into consideration, I think it’s safe to say we’re never going to see any reprint collections of this material.

Wedding Portrait

But at least we have this awesome cover, right—with Gwen in that wedding dress and Pete in the tux?

Sunday night I posted this image to Facebook and jokingly observed: “Not only did Pete and Gwen get married in Mexico, but apparently Gwen was a Satan worshiper– check out those pentagram earrings!”

Having given the matter further thought, I think it’s highly probable that this image is a swipe as well. The Pete and Gwen figures have a Tom Sutton-ish flavor to them, and the Satanic connotations of the pentagram earrings would lead me to believe it was taken from a horror story that likely saw print in one of those classic Warren mags like Creepy or Eerie or possibly even the aforementioned Vampirella. My pulp mag expertise is not on par with my comics expertise, so I can’t be completely certain, but I would be willing to bet some money on it.

Now having said that, do I still think this image is awesome? Hell yeah. If someone were to make a poster of it, would I hang it on my wall? Again: hell yes.

Post-Prensa

Getting back to Spidey’s broader history south of the border, after La Prensa lost the rights to the character in 1973, Spidey moved over to OEPISA (Editorial Organization of Publications SA), who continued doing Spider-Man stories, along with reprints of material from Spidey Super Stories under the banner of Arañita Super Historias.

Sidebar: Speaking of which, can we get back to Arañita #94 for a sec? Why is Spidey shown facing the personification of death on the cover of a kiddie comic?

The webhead would then move yet again in 1980 to Novedades Editores. It was this group that finally reprinted ASM #121. Check out their cover.

It’s funny that the original, U. S. edition had all those faces on the cover as a sales gimmick—one of them was going to die, but you had to buy the issue to find out who. This version has all the same faces, but tells you up front, “La Muerte de Gwen Stacy!” Uh, why do we need all those other faces on the cover then? You just defeated the whole purpose of the design!

In any case, Spidey has jumped between different publishers a couple more times since then, but by all accounts these outfits just did straight reprints with translated English; no funny business worthy of any further discussion.

Gwen-a-mania Runnin’ Wild

So most of the info in the tweet that started all this was wrong, but there were a few kernels of truth. One was that Spidey was clearly very popular in Mexico and throughout South America. Another was that Gwen Stacy was very popular as well—or at least her badonkadonk was.

For all of you deprived souls out there who have never seen Dave Chappelle’s inimitable Chappelle’s Show and thus have no clue what a badonkadonk is, it’s what you rest your mug on when you saddle up and ride.

But the greatest truth revealed by the tweet had nothing to do with any of its content; it had to do with the larger reaction to it. As the crew over at comicbook.com put it, the fans went “nuts” over it.

On a more personal level, I can only shake my head in disbelief over how this has all unfolded. This blog was essentially born out of my love for the Gwen character and my dismay at her treatment. When I published my doctoral dissertation on Gwen in mid-2014, the character was a dead property with seemingly no future. Then Spider-Gwen was born shortly thereafter, and it’s like the sky has been the limit ever since. I ended that post with the following quote from Scott Brick: “She [Gwen Stacy] was a much-loved character who died according to the whims of her creators, yet she’s stayed alive seemingly according to her own.”

Right now it feels like the character of Gwen Stacy has more life than she has ever known before.

The Amazing Spider-Band

In completely unrelated news, I discovered some new (to me, that is) Spider-Man music courtesy of a post to one of my comic book groups on Facebook —check out The Amazing Spider-Band here:

Yet again I find myself humbled by my own ignorance, as this first came out in 2002 and I had never heard of it before. These are great renditions of some of the music used in the classic Spider-Man cartoon of the late 1960s. Give it a listen, I think you’ll enjoy them.

 

 

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