Amazing Spider-Man #121.
Image: Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Tony Mortellaro, Dave Hunt, and Artie Simek (Marvel Comics)

Even as moviegoers get reacquainted with Peter Parker Marvel Studios’ latest release, Spider-Man: Far From Home, a piece of the character’s comic book history was only uncovered earlier this year for American fans thanks to IDW Publishing President Chris Ryall.

Ryall—who has been nominated for Eisner and Eagle awards for his work as a comics writer and co-wrote IDW’s revival of Rom the Space Knight in 2016 — asked his followers on Twitter to name their favorite comics series that had yet to be collected as trade paperbacks. But even he was surprised when one fan posted the cover to what they said was a Mexican comic published in 1973 showing Peter Parker and his partner Gwen Stacy getting married, a story that was never published by Marvel in the U.S.

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Mexican readers, though, saw the happy couple on the cover of issue No. 128 of El Sorprendente Hombre Araña.

Cover of El Sorprendente Hombre Araña No. 128.
Image: José Luis González Durán (Reprinted courtesy of Comic Book Resources)

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The happy scene was a stark contrast to the 1973 story that haunted U.S. Spider-Man fans for generations: “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” which showed her accidental death as a result of a battle between Spidey and the Green Goblin.

“Those of us that were kids or saw it in reprints that had to live through that Gwen Stacy death and the trauma that caused for Spider-Man fans, to see a cover where they’re actually standing up there getting married with that fun Romita-style Spider-man in the background was a blast,” Ryall told us in a phone interview.

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That discovery would lead to Ryall making a connection with artist José Luis González Durán, the 86-year-old artist who penciled Spidey’s Spanish-language adventures in that country.

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“I’ve been pretty steeped in comics and comics lore my entire life and I’d never even heard that there were 45 issues that diverged from the Marvel Comics storyline back in the day,” Ryall said. “That felt like this amazing revelation.”

Leading up to Ryall’s discovery, the story of Sorprendente Hombre Araña and its now-defunct publisher, La Prensa, had received sporadic coverage online. The Spanish-language news site Código Espagueti reported in 2017 that La Prensa began publishing the title as a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man in June 1963, just three months after Amazing debuted on U.S. newsstands. The translated version was also published in other Latin American countries as well as U.S. states with sizable Latinx populations like California and Florida.

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However, Sorprendente was enough of a hit that La Prensa switched it to a biweekly publishing schedule, requiring more content than Marvel’s monthly output. To fill the gap at one point, stories from Tales To Astonish and The Avengers were republished under the Sorprendente banner.

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Years later, when demand for Spider-Man content in Mexico grew to the point that La Prensa was selling a weekly run, the publisher made a licensing deal with Marvel allowing it to print its own separate slate of issues, divorced from Marvel’s U.S. continuity, with Durán—who was already drawing a Hombre Araña newspaper strip running in the country—selected to be the penciler.

“I thought it was impossible for me to be chosen, since I was still so new to the job,” Durán said in a 2012 interview. He also said that when brokering the deal, La Prensa showed his work to Marvel as proof of concept for its alternate run, which spawned the 45 original stories including Sorprendente #128, which featured the cover with Peter and Gwen seemingly ready to tie the knot.

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However, Comic Book Resources debunked the idea that it was a “wedding issue,” revealing that in the story, Peter is actually dreaming about marrying Gwen:

A stunned Spider-Man dreams of marrying Gwen Stacy.
Image: José Luis González Durán (Reprinted courtesy of Comic Book Resources)

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Ryall said, though, that the dream sequence did not dampen his excitement about the discovery of Durán’s work. Besides engaging in what he calls “an ongoing conversation” with Marvel, he is trying to locate relatives of La Prensa’s former management to make sure that anyone with a legal claim to the material can be compensated accordingly for that work.

The last U.S. story La Prensa translated and reprinted was Amazing Spider-Man #120, the final issue before Marvel published “The Death Of Gwen Stacy.” Beginning in 1974, a separate company, Editorial OEPISA, relaunched Sorprendente once again reprinting Marvel’s U.S. content. Mexican publication rights for the character in Mexico have been handled by various companies in the decades since.

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Reached for comment on both its current publication agreements and the new round of attention toward Durán’s work, a Marvel spokesperson told us, “We’ve been looking into these stories for a while.”

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Durán, who still lives in Mexico, did not respond to an online request for comment from io9. However, earlier this year he told The Guardian that he was happy that his work was receiving newfound attention online.

“It surprised me enormously since for 48 years, nobody cared about my work,” he said. “For me it is pleasant, because with this I was able to find new friends, and that gives me life.”

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After Durán’s work came to light, he connected with Ryall via Facebook. Despite a language barrier, Ryall told us, the two men spent “a couple of hours” chatting online.

“He said he’d reached the point where he just admitted to himself that his career was never going to break out beyond the work he did in Mexico; he was never gonna get the recognition that he’d always hoped for,” Ryall said.

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Ryall, whose company has already published several collections of Spider-Man comic strips from American newspapers through its Library of American Comics imprint, told us that he has obtained hundreds of scans of Durán’s newspaper strips, which number in the thousands. The IDW president’s goal, he said, is to collect both the Mexican strips and the original Sorprendente stories for eventual publication in the U.S.

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But beyond satisfying his own curiosity as a fan about Durán’s work, Ryall said, he wants to fulfill one wish for the artist.

“He just said that, even at this late date to think that his work might be seen and absorbed and enjoyed by people in far greater numbers than before is something that he would love to see happen. I don’t want these books to be a posthumous thing,” Ryall said. “I want to be able to send him copies of this and let him see his work in this way. That also puts some urgency on it for me too—to make this happen while he’s able to enjoy it.”

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Born in Mexico and based out of California, Arturo R. Garcia’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and Snopes among other outlets. He’s covered two Democratic National Conventions and ten San Diego Comic-Cons, and there was a Rocky Horror Picture Show convention named after him.

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