Spider-Woman cover that sparked outrage, and forced Marvel to apologize heads to auction

Marvel screwed up big time in 2014 when it hired 75-year-old Italian cartoonist Milo Manara, known for his erotic comics, to draw a variant cover for Spider-Woman No 1. Now, the original art is on the auction block and bids have entered five figures.

When Marvel Comics unveiled Italian artist's Milo Manara variant cover for Spider-Woman No. 1 in August 2014. there was no shortage of vitriol and condemnation.

Media outlets that would normally ignore the doings of the comic-book industry weighed in with outraged essays demanding Marvel "do better," as Time did. In writing about Manara's painting, in which the hero appears to be flashing an entire city's skyline while wearing no more than body paint, Vox wondered "Why Marvel gave us a sexualized Spider-Woman no one asked for." Elle put it plainly: "The image seems to toe the line of pornographic." The Guardian in the U.K. summed up the controversy thusly: "New Spider-Woman comic cover condemned for 'blatant sexualization.'"

Marvel's then-editor-in-chief Axel Alonso apologized, sort of, in a Comic Book Resources Q&A: "We apologize – I apologize – for the mixed messaging that this variant caused." But that didn't stop Marvel from publishing the cover, albeit with the Spider-Woman title covering its most offending part (as seen here).

Nor has it stopped Manara's original Spider-Woman cover illustration from becoming, so far, the most popular offering in Heritage Auctions' European Comic Art event, which takes place Oct. 3-4. Viewed online more than 7,000 times, already the artwork has seen extensive bidding, with more than 300 clients tracking the lot before the live auction begins on Heritage Auctions' website at 9 a.m. C.T. on Oct. 3.

"Whether you like it or not – and, clearly, many did not – this image is now part of comics lore and pop culture," says Olivier Delflas, Heritage Auctions' European-based Consignment Director for Comics & Original Arts.

Surely Marvel knew what it was doing when it hired the now-75-year-old Manara: For more than 50 years he has been best known for crafting erotic comic art in such titles as Genius in the late 1960s and early '70s, more famously Click in the 1980s and more recently The Borgias, his collaboration with filmmaker and artist Alejandro Jodorowsky. The artist's own website is quite explicit about his attraction to, well, the explicit: Following Click's popularity, it notes, "from now on Manara's career fully focuses on erotic productions."

That's quite clear in several other Manara originals available in the European Comic Art event, among them the undated Erotic Illustration Originalethe Saggitario cover art from 1989 and Cristoforo Colombo from 1991. All told, there are 12 Milo Manara pieces in this sale, a rare assemblage for such a coveted – and, yes, controversial – artist.