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Amazing Spider-Man comic featured an obscure anti-Mormon reference, and Marvel has already scrubbed it digitally

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Aug 29, 2018

The new Amazing Spider-Man comic is only four issues into its run and it's already run into an unexpected controversy. And no, it's not writer Nick Spencer — who famously made Captain America a Hydra agent in the Secret Empire event — who's under fire.

Instead, it's artist Ryan Ottley, who got into hot water with the fourth issue of Marvel's recently renumbered series, including a visual reference to a notoriously anti-Mormon writing. In a panel of the issue (which went on sale last week), Spider-Man is seen covered in patches with corporate sponsor logos, including one that clearly says "CES Letter." That is a reference to a contentious book of the same name, written by Jeremy Runnells in 2013, that the author billed as a "search for answers to my Mormon doubts." The book raised questions about the faith and its history. (CES stands for Church Education System.)

The patch has already been replaced in the digital version of the comic with a logo that says "Cortex" (see the lower right corner of the panel, above) and will not appear in subsequent reprints or collected editions.

In a statement obtained by SYFY WIRE, Marvel said, “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. The reference will be removed from all subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks.”

The Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the controversy, also published a response from Ottley: “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.”

In this series, which debuted in July, our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has been split in two, "one mild-mannered civilian, Peter, and one fast-talking superhero, Spider-Man," as narrated in the comic. This leads us to find out "who is Spider-Man without his sense of responsibility?" It was this morally ambivalent half of the character who was wearing the patches.