The astonishing sale price of Page 25 from Marvel Comics 1984’s Secret Wars #8, featuring the origin of Spider-Man’s iconic black costume last week, sold by Heritage Auctions for millions, has been widely reported in the mainstream press, worldwide. Marvel UK’s first originated cover appearance of the black costume came in 1985, on the cover of a Spider-Man weekly comic, published in 1985, drawn by John Stokes – and comic archivist David Roach recently shared the art online.
Last week, the page of Marvel’s Secret Wars, drawn by Mike Zeck and others, telling the origin story of the Web-Slinger’s now-iconic black costume, sold at auction for $3,360,000, shattering all previous comic art records.
The page was the big reveal, teased on the cover of the issue, where Peter Parker actually got his spiffy new black costume. But… it’s a costume with a secret! Because it very soon turns out to be alive and have its own agenda – a character of its own, in fact – who would become Venom.
The costume first appeared months earlier, of course, making its debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #252, when characters from this series returned to the Earth. But there was no explanation for Spidey’s new duds. … Until this page was published, seven months later!
There were three inkers on this issue, pencilled by Mike Zeck, so it is unclear which one(s) worked on this page… John Beatty, Jack Abel, or Mike Esposito.
The Black Costume’s Marvel UK Debut
Now, comic archivist and artist David Roach has shared the cover art for an edition of Marvel UK’s Spider-Man comic, published in April 1985, the first cover originated especially for the title to feature the black costume, created for Marvel UK by John Stokes, which might be of interest to the web-slinger’s many fans.
The cover prefaced big changes for Spider-Man comic at the company, and was published just ahead of the debut of a new Secret Wars weekly comic on the UK news stands, in April 1985.
“With all the hoohah over the (insane) price the Secret Wars Black Spider-Man costume page went for, it reminded me that I had a Spider-Man illustration buried deep in my collection, which I’d never really paid much attention to,” David posted to Facebook, where he regularly shares some amazing US and British comic art, the delight of comic fans.
“I’ve had this for years but never had any idea if it had ever been published,” he added. “I must admit, I had assumed it was a try-out page or art sample.”
In fact, the art is is the published cover for Marvel UK’s Spider-Man #632, cover dated 20th April 1985, with original art by John Stokes, the second Black Costume cover to be published in the UK, after a reprint of the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #252 on Spider-Man #631, by Ron Frenz and Klaus Janson.
Former Marvel UK Editor-in-Chief Richard Starkings recalls returning the art to John during an office clear out.
Fine art, theatre designer and illustrator John Stokes is perhaps best known for “Fishboy” or for his years of work for IPC (and a long run on “Star Trek”for Valiant) and Marvel UK, particularly, for many, his work on “Black Knight” for Hulk Weekly. However it’s still the wonderful adventure strip “Marney” from Buster, collected by Rebellion in 2017, where Stokes’ work truly shines. He’s also been a contributor to several of Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics specials in recent years.
Inside the actual issue of Spider-Man 632 – an issue that trailed major changes of for the title and an announcement from its anonymous editorial team that they were leaving the title, replaced by another anonymous editorial team! – is another “first”. This was an extra “introduction” page, created especially for the Marvel UK title (a regular practice, often used to make more sense longer US comic stories in a weekly format) to a reprint of The Amazing-Spider-Man, drawn by Barry Kitson – which he believes is one of the first pages he inked himself.
The art by John Stokes for Spider-Man comic is one of many originated covers drawn especially for many Marvel UK titles since the company launched in 1972, 50 years ago this year, an anniversary in part being marked with a new Captain Britain Omnibus, now currently scheduled for a March release, and a Knights of Pendragon Omnibus, now currently scheduled for a March release.
Perhaps some enterprising publisher might seek out more of these wonderful covers created especially for Marvel UK, and publish a collection? Hopefully with a cover price that’s a lot less than the millions Mike Zeck’s Secret Wars art sold for!
• If you’re a John Stokes fan, you may also want to track down his work adapting Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, published by Classical Comics in 2009
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