DALLAS – They called him The Amazing Spider-Steve, this man who spent decades amassing what The Hollywood Reporter described as “perhaps the most unique Spider-Man collection in existence.”
His secret identity was Steve Levine, a Los Angeles defense attorney whose clientele once included the rich and famous. Levine was a luminary himself in the comic-collecting community, having devoted most of his life to collecting everything Spider-Man. And that meant everything. Every comic book, of course, and every toy and T-shirt, too. All the original art he could score. And every book and magazine and advertisement and product featuring the Spider-Man. For starters.
How this happened, Levine said not long ago, “I have no idea.” He was only half-joking.
“I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have a life,” Levine said. “I did get married, had a career, had a daughter. But from 1998 until the present, I just always loved finding things that you just can’t find with Spider-Man. When I say everything, I kind of mean it.”
Levine never intended to part with his collection; it was too much a labor of love to sell. Then came the diagnosis: In November 2016 Levine was told he had cancer. For years, he fought it: “We agreed to survive a few weeks at a time, just survive and live until the next treatment,” says his wife Cathryn. “Steve was the ultimate superhero in his battle with cancer.”
Levine died in February.
Earlier this year, Levine attempted to auction off The Spider-Steve Collection – as it’s known – to a single buyer. He simply didn’t want to burden his wife and young daughter with what his oldest friend, Nick Segal, calls “one of the most comprehensive and loved collections of all things Spider-Man.” He hoped, too, that the sale of the collection would help his family financially in his absence.
Now, several highlights from The Spider-Steve Collection will be offered by Heritage Auctions, beginning with the June 17-19 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction.
In that sale there will be 22 pieces from Levine’s assemblage, most of them original pages of comic-book art from 1965 to 2009 by the likes of Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., John Buscema and Todd McFarlane.
RELATED CONTENT: Holy Happy Ending, Batman!
Among the offerings is Page 18 from 1969’s Amazing Spider-Man No. 75, in which Spider-Man watches the vanishing of the villain called Silvermane, who seems to de-age until he fades into “nothingness.” Romita and inker Jim Mooney feature the hero in every single panel as he anguishes over the heart-rending end of the gangster born as Silvio Manfredi. The page echoes the image on the cover of this classic issue.
From one year earlier comes another Romita (and Don Heck and Mike Esposito) must-have: Page 4 from Amazing Spider-Man No. 61. Its three big and bold panels feature everything one could want from a Spider-Man page: web-slinging over New York streets, a little fretting over the fate of Gwen Stacy and father George and, for kicks, a crash-landing through a window into an apartment filled with gun-toting villains who say things like, “Grab your hardware! It’s SPIDER-MAN!"
From Amazing Spider-Man No. 78 come two remarkable pages, offered separately, from John Buscema and Jim Mooney. On Page 9 and Page 10 of this issue, which debuted Hobie Brown’s Prowler, Peter Parker wanders the streets of New York bemoaning the loss of Gwen Stacy to Flash Thompson, fends off a couple of hoods and even complains he didn’t have time to study. This is vintage Stan Lee – less about the hero, more about the man beneath the mask wondering where it all went wrong.
And here’s something extraordinarily special from Buscema and a cast of all-star inkers: Page 58 from 1981’s Marvel Treasury Edition No. 28, a sequel to 1976’s iconic Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. Not only are both heroes featured; but here, too, in the final panel is Dr. Doom. A little history from an oversized comic.
Levine, being Spider-Steve, assembled pages that spanned decades and creators – yes, from Ditko, represented here with a fast-paced 1965 page from Amazing Spider-Man No. 25 featuring Betty Brandt and J. Jonah Jameson, to McFarlane, whose offering from Amazing Spider-Man No. 314 is a unusually quiet slice-of-life with Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May.
Here, as well, is a handwritten note the reclusive Ditko sent in 1973 to an illustrator who had asked to be Ditko’s apprentice. Yes, the signature and return address on the envelope make this valuable; but the advice remains, well, priceless.
“I am glad to be in this position to help the Levine family,” says Matt Griffin, a consignment director in Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art category. “And I’m glad Heritage is here to help them through this process at a difficult time. Obviously, these are extraordinary pieces under any circumstance. But knowing where they came from, knowing who collected them and why, and knowing why they are being sold adds a certain poignancy to this story.
"It’s one thing to own a piece of comic history, an original Spider-Man by Ditko, Romita, McFarlane," Griffin said. "But knowing that it was Steve’s makes it that much more special.”