Marvel Comics has removed an image from a recent issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that references a book questioning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The artwork containing the reference has been altered for all subsequent editions.
The reference appears in the middle of a surprising story arc within The Amazing Spider-Man series, written by Nick Spencer with artwork by Ryan Ottley. The story arc features a divided Peter Parker/Spider-Man pair - literally. The two halves of the iconic character were split into two people, with one taking the duties of the wall-crawler and the other remaining focused on the grounded life of university student Peter Parker. While introducing a fun and shocking twist, the storyline also allowed for Ottley to incorporate a slightly provocative reference - or so he thought.
Detailed by THR, Marvel Entertainment and Ottley have edited the panel containing the reference for later editions of the comic. The reference itself was contained in an image of Spider-Man branding himself with logos of numerous companies and icons for endorsement deals. One of the logos read, "CES Letter," the title of a book by ex-Mormon Jeremy Runnells, which questions the church's origins and practices. The panel containing the image will now feature alternate logos for Spidey's endorsement deals, cleanly omitting the controversial title. The altered logos will be featured in both digital and reprinted releases, as well as collected editions.
Marvel released a statement regarding the changes, saying, "The art reference in Amazing Spider-Man #4 was included without awareness by Marvel of its meaning. As a policy, Marvel does not permit hidden controversial messages in its artwork." Additionally, Ottley shed some light on his thoughts regarding his artistic choices:
"I’ve spoken with Marvel about my recent artwork, and I have no animosity toward members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My entire family are members, as are many of my friends, and I would never include anything mean-spirited about them or their beliefs. The reference was in regards to a subject I am interested in and a personal decision I made in my life. It has nothing to do with the character, the story or Marvel."
While his statement does leave some ambiguity regarding his original intentions in referencing the book, it will, hopefully, calm any disappointment among Mormon fans of the Spider-Man series. With Spencer's twist on the Peter Parker/Spider-Man dynamic already shaking things up for the character in the comics - not to mention another storyline in Jessica Jones featuring the death of Mary Jane - readers have a lot to be engaged in without having the external controversy added in. Despite this, it would be interesting to hear more of Ottley's thoughts on the original artwork. Was "CES Letter" a reference to his own departure from a faith that much of his family and friends shared? If so, it is a rather poignant idea to have Spider-Man bearing the logo now that he is free from the life of Peter Parker. Regardless, Marvel has decided to avoid any hint of a "hidden controversial message," and the future editions will hold true to that idea.