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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #413

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Welcome to the four hundred and thirteenth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twelve. This week, learn the truth behind the backwards issue of Amazing Spider-Man! Discover how Chris Claremont wrote a year’s worth of stories with an X-Men member that he ended up having to stop using after just three issues! Finally, marvel at the strange origins of the Starjammer named Hepzibah!

Let’s begin!

NOTE: We’re trying something a BIT different just for this week and having two pages rather than three. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1 and 2 on the top and the bottom, as well).

COMIC LEGEND: Marvel was going to do a backwards issue of Amazing Spider-Man that you would need a mirror to read.


In late 1982, Marvel came out with John Byrne’s Fantastic Four #252, which was told in “landscape” format…


Here’s an example…


At the time, FF’s assistant editor joked that FF editor Tom DeFalco felt that if people thought that THAT was something, wait until they see the backwards issue of Spider-Man!

That comment was then taken and published in fan papers as a real project.

DeFalco picked up on the idea and in the next fan press conference, DeFalco revealed the backwards issue of Spider-Man!! An issue that you would need a special Spider-Man mirror to read! Here is one of the sample pages of art…


This, of course, was a hoax.

DeFalco just had someone take an inventory story (they told the gathered fan press that the issue was drawn by then-regular Amazing Spider-Man artist John Romita Jr. but it was really Don Perlin) and reverse the dialogue. The “official Spider-Man mirror” Was just a regular white mirror that they had stuck a Spider-Man sticker on.

DeFalco used the whole meeting to throw in little hints that it was a joke, like noting that it would be a #1 in April (April 1st, April Fool’s Day). Very clever stuff by DeFalco.

Thanks to reader Steve for suggesting this one (he remember reading something about a reverse issue of Spidey years ago) and thanks to Marvel Age #1 for the information and the page!


Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!

Does Fred Astaire’s Will Really Stipulate That He Can Never Be Depicted in a Film?

Did Johnny Carson Really Accidentally Cause a Toilet Paper Shortage in 1973?

Was Jim Thorpe Really a Ballroom Dancing Champion?

In What Bizarre Fashion Was the Original Lassie Purchased?

Did John Wayne Really Add a Little “Awe” to His Cameo in The Greatest Story Ever Told?

On the next page, learn which X-Men character Chris Claremont wrote a year’s worth of stories for before he had to give the character up three issues into his run!

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Cool legends, I never knew about these.
One problem I noticed though. There is a small error on page 1 under the Spider-Man page: “official Spider-MAn mirror” should be “official Spider-Man” mirror.

As I recall, what Claremont said isn’t that he couldn’t pronounce her name, but that her name was actually a scent, as that is how her race communicated.

David McDonnell

April 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

Well, I was there for the BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN Press Conference Experience, a witness to history.

Let me paste in here (and revise) five previously unpublished graphs I wrote two years ago for a pal about this experience:

After some time in the comics press doing a news column, MEDIA REPORT, for TBG/later CBG (THE COMIC BUYER’S GUIDE), I joined comics legend Jim Steranko’s MEDIASCENE PREVUE in 1980. While there, with Steranko’s OK, I eventually freelanced for COMICS SCENE, a new magazine from the folks behind STARLOG and FANGORIA. That led me to a full-time job at STARLOG.

Cut to fall 1982-spring 1983. I had joined STARLOG in New York City as Managing Editor (I would serve as its Editor from 1985-2009). With my COMICS SCENE compatriots Bob Greenberger and Eddie Berganza (both later editors at DC Comics where Eddie still works), I attended monthly press conferences at Marvel, then our neighbors, located just a few blocks down Park Avenue South from STARLOG’s longtime offices.

In these meetings, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter dispensed news nuggets and press releases in a small conference room surrounded by six to ten perhaps-overserious, young journalists (we three from STARLOG/COMICS SCENE, the rest representing CBG, THE COMICS JOURNAL, THE COMICS READER, etc.; TCR’s rep, for a time, was Bob Harras, later a Marvel and DC editor). These press conferences were an effort to try to improve Marvel’s then-contentious relationship with the comics press. And so, at one 1983 meeting, Shooter and Tom DeFalco calmly unveiled Marvel’s upcoming publication: the BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN comic, a special one-shot with all of its word balloons and captions printed in reverse! They could only be read, we sheep-like press were told, with the aid of the Official BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN Mirror! Quickly, DeFalco produced photocopied black-and-white backwards pages (one of them is posted in Brian’s entry) and a hand mirror (sporting a colorful Spidey decal). Of course, actually, any mirror could be used for the decoding, but Marvel wanted readers to buy the Official Mirror! We comics press looked on in wonder (or perhaps stupor) at this absurd project, but none of us got it.

They were kidding! It was all a joke, a complex hoax (complete with props) to put one over on the press (and perhaps punish us all for past criticism of Marvel and the controversial Shooter). Naive as I was then, I didn’t have any prior experience with officials actively lying to my deadpan face. A joke! Ha-ha! We fools should have realized it. After all, the BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN idea was amazingly idiotic—and there were references in the meeting to April and firsts.

Ironically, because of publication schedules, I don’t think any of the comics press got bamboozled into actually printing the “news” (today, thanks to Internet swiftness, it would have been posted 20 minutes after the meeting and then recanted mere hours later). And Marvel, wisely, then killed their press conferences; nobody much wanted to attend them anymore.

As I recall, what Claremont said isn’t that he couldn’t pronounce her name, but that her name was actually a scent, as that is how her race communicated.

He says “I can’t pronounce your name, m’love–remember that?”

How well was the landscape issue of Fantastic Four received by readers back then? Anyone?

That page looks like it’s entire in reverse, no just the dialogue, as a normal flow of a page I think should go from left to right (the movements of Spidey, directions were it’s looking). sorry for my english!


From what I recall from the letters page (the one for this issue was also published sideways), this Byrne experiment didn’t seem to generate much response one way or the other. Definitely nothing like his Alpha Flight #6 “several blank pages” issue, which I think a lot of people liked or loathed.

I think his later two-concurrent-stories top-and-bottom issue (277) got a bit more response too. I, for one, liked that Byrne was always trying new things like this.

I remember just loving the FF issue when it came out. It was a little odd to read at first, but I remember really thinking it was a great idea that worked at least for one issue.

I’m not talking about in the comics. This was in an interview that Claremont gave the pheromone explanation.

There’s a major part of this story that people often fail to report.

About a month or so before the above press conference, my assistant editor and I were sitting in my office, joking about the idea of doing a BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN. Unknown to us, a reporter from a certain fan mag overheard us and told his editor about the BACKWARDS issue.

The fan mag called me the following day and I told them that it was a joke. Marvel had no plans to do a BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN.

Assuming I was lying, they printed a story about it, anyway.

After that first story was published, a few more fan mags called, wanting details on the the BACKWARDS SPIDER-MAN. I told each and every one of them it was a joke. They didn’t believe me, either.

Shortly before the press conference mentioned above, Shooter called me into his office and asked me about this so-called BACKWARDS issue because reporters were bugging him about, too. I told him what had been going on and he told me to handle it.

I decided to go with the joke and got a page of Spider-Man artwork shot backwards and had my assistant paste the Spider-Man sticker on a toy hand mirror–

–And then I ad libbed the above press conference.

During the press conference, we handed out a direct market order sheet which contained the upcoming comics that Marvel planned to publish for that particular month–and the BACKWARDS issue was not included on it.

Yes, it was a joke–maybe a joke in poor taste–but I only continued it because the reporters wouldn’t believe me when I told the truth.

That’s the biz!

So if the other Starjammers were similar hat-tips, who were they tipping to?
Interesting legend, in any case.

So if the other Starjammers were similar hat-tips, who were they tipping to?

The Starjammers’ computer, Waldo, is a Robert Heinlein reference. Ch’od is meant to look like the Creature of the Black Lagoon. Corsair is a pretty standard swashbuckler riff. Raza, I dunno.

Thanks for the extra info, Tom!

So if the other Starjammers were similar hat-tips, who were they tipping to?

At the time, since they were introduced as foils for the Legion-based Imperial Guard, there was a good deal of effort to try to identify them with the Legion’s enemies, the Fatal Five. Raza, the cyborg, could be seen as a counterpart for Tharok, and Ch’od and Validus were both big, but beyond that, it broke down pretty quickly. I think Marvel’s editor mentioned it in the letters page, pretending not to know who the Fatal Five might be.

@ Aaron, also: I don’t remember any outcry about the FF landscape issue at all, either. I do recall more complaints about the Alpha Flight issue that dhole referenced — most people were annoyed at paying for “blank” pages. I thought it was clever. Of course, comics were 60 cents then, so it wasn’t quite the same as it would be now, when you’re paying $3 or $4 an issue. I find decompression annoying now, so I’d really have issues with blank pages, even with dialogue.

Thanks, Brian and Rob.
I much preferred Keith Giffen’s parody of the Alpha Flight issue to the original—”We could have Black Panther fight the Shroud in a coal mine!” “But then the letterer has to do their dialogue.” “So we make it the dark side of the moon, there’s no air, so no speaking!”

If I’m not mistaken, something like two months before John Byrne did the sideways/landscape FF issue, Dave Sim had already done the same with a few of issues of “Cerebus”. (Issues #44-50.)

I dunno. I always thought that Ch’od looked more like Colossus Rex:

than the Creature from the Black Lagoon:

@Rob M: I remember trying to match the Starjammers up with the Fatal Five. Along with the similarities you mentioned, there’s also the fact that Corsair and the Persuader both carried archaic-looking edged weapons.

I believe Cockrum specifically cited the Creature of the Black Lagoon in regards to Ch’od. Cockrum was a major fan of the Creature of the Black Lagoon. He even got to do the artwork for the Aurora model kit of the Creature!

And, over a decade after the sideways FF issue, the experiment was dusted off for a crossover between Todd McFarlane’s SPIDER-MAN and Rob Liefeld’s X-FORCE (issues #16 and #4, respectively), both illustrated in the landscape format.

I seem to recall it is now canon that Corsair named Hepzibah after a skunk in a comic strip from back on Earth (without naming the comic strip) because her real name is an unpronouncable combination of pheromones. Not sure when this was introduced though.

I could have sworn when I read about this waaaay back in Comics Buyer’s Guide, they said it was Jim Shooter’s idea and he did it to ridicule the press for reporting obviously false comics news.

Here is Dave Cockrum in an interview that ran in “The X-Men Companion Vol. 1″:

SANDERSON: Were (The Starjammers) developed pretty much each with his own individual name and appearance that he has now?
COCKRUM: Yeah, except for Hepzibah, who was a last-minute addition.
SANDERSON: Why is Hepzibah named after a Walt Kelly character?
COCKRUM: (laughter) Because she’s a lady skunk! Chris says she’s a cat but she looks like a skunk to me. That’s not actrually her name, but I don’t know what he real name is. It’s just that Corsair calls her Hepzibah.
SANDERSON: Because he used to read Pogo.
COCKRUM: Yeah, sure.

He goes on to say the scents she emits are pleasant.
COCKRUM: The lizard’s name is Ch’od. By the way, it’s a Hebrew sort of ch…that’s my homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

in Vol II, Claremont offers up the pheromone explanation, but I couldn’t easily dig that one up from the basement, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Some context for which character is Hepzibah in the first two images would have been nice. I figured it out, but still, I looked at them having no idea who is who.

that’s my homage to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Thanks, Ted!

The collection of the Morrison/Quitely “E for Extinction” New X-Men arc contains “The Morrison Manifesto”. This is basically Morrison’s original proposal for his New X-Men run with handwritten comments from Editor Mark Powers commenting on what is written. In this proposal Beast is not a member of the New X-Men. He was brought in to replace the recently dead Moira MacTaggert as the scientist who discovers the human race is dying and mutant-kind will take over. This might explain why Claremont was given Beast and then had to remove him as a Morrison’s run needed a scientist whereas Beast wasn’t integral to Claremont’s plans.

Thirteen-year-old GarBut bought and loved FF #252 off the rack, and has often wondered why landscape isn’t used more often.

Those “Bizarro Spidey” (ha!) and Hepzibah Legends are cool.

The Claremont one is interesting, though. I’m wondering how not having Beast meant Forge and Dani weren’t usable (as intended).

Also, I know you point out to people when the Xorn issue comes up that Morrison spelled his intentions out from the get go on that point, so why didn’t GMozz know from the get go that he was using Beast?

Classy of Claremont to lead into the New XMen run, though, even though it torpedoed his own plans.

And may I say it because no one else seems to: I wasn’t a fan of the 3 page Legends at first, but I got used to them and really, some of the hate brought me around to liking it more. But I like the 2 page even better. We get one lead off Legend, and then 2 on the second page, and this will allow in the future connected Legends to be featured on the same page. Plus your links split the second page nicely. So I like this format fairly well, and since we’re obviously getting a multi page Legends, this seems to be the best look to it.

Mike Loughlin

April 6, 2013 at 5:41 am

I had always wondered why Hepzibah went from being a skunk to being a cat. I always chocked it up to artists drift from the original model. Thanks, Ted, for digging out the Cockrum interview.

Rollo Tomassi

April 6, 2013 at 7:12 am

And now I know how to pronounce Ch’od! Yay!

Yeah, I always knew about Hepzibah, but that’s because I grew up reading Pogo long before I picked up the X-Men, and it was pretty obvious when she was introduced.

Didn’t know about X-Treme X-Men–didn’t know that it was even a series that existed in the first place, I mean–but if anything’s marketed as “Extreme!!!” that’s usually a pretty good sign to stay very far away.

And, ummm, I’ve already forgotten what was on the first page. I’m sure it was great, though.

Remember getting this issue as the start of my 1st subscription to a Marvel Comic. Thought it was a great idea but found it hard to hold open to read. But still a great .

And I remember the free tattoos in the book.

The backwards Spider-Man hoax actually was reported as fact in the bigger fanzines. Cat Yronwode reported it as such in her news column in The Buyer’s Guide. The Comic Reader also treated it as a fact, but only after editor Mike Tiefenbacher sent an upcoming comics list with the backwards Spider-Man issue to Marvel to confirm accuracy–and the list was returned without mention of any hoax. The Comics Journal was the only fanzine to quickly tumble to the joke, and after reporting it as fact on one page, added a hoax disclaimer on the next.

The whole thing caused enough uproar in the fan press that Marvel devoted a November 1982 press conference to it. Marvel, represented by Tom DeFalco, Ann Nocenti, Peter David(described as a PR department staffer), and Jim Shooter(who left the conference shortly after the start) largely criticized the reporters for not figuring out the joke, not bothering to ask about the issue, and reporting rumors and innuendo as news in general. This prompted an angry editorial by Gary Groth in Comics Journal #79(1/83) that, among other things, questioned if Marvel could be trusted not to disseminate false items in the future(an interjection by Peter David at the conference ,”Jim Shooter did not kill Gene Day”, in apparent response to Howard Zimmerman’s Comics Scene editorial, also came in for criticism). The tail end of a subsequent Groth interview with DeFalco, reproduced here verbatim, addresses this:

Groth: It seems to me that if you spread rumors and innuendos to the press, you’re doing the same thing you’re accusing us of doing in the first place, and that it’s counter-productive.
DeFalco: Right, however, the only rumor I might have spread is the rumor that we’re going to spread rumors.
D: The only rumor that I might ever spread is the rumor that we are going to spread rumors and innuendoes.
G:That certainly makes sense. So…the fact that you said you were going to spread rumors might itself be a rumor?
D: It could be.
G: But it might not be.
D: But it might not be.[Pause] Remember, Gary, you’re talking to the guy who came up with the silly issue of “What If?”. Anything is possible.
G: I can appreciate that.
D: You can appreciate the silly issue of “What If?”
G:No, I can appreciate your sense of humor, I just think it might be a little misplaced here, especially when we’re trying to report the news as accurately as possible?[Long pause] Do you concur?
G: Do you concur that your sense of humor might be misplaced here considering that we’re trying to report the news as accurately as possible?
D: Anything is possible.
G: That’s a non-answer.
D: I think you can always find a place for humor.[Pause] Are you running out of questions?
G: I find generally that you won’t support what you said at the press conference.
D: No, I told you I will support it.
G: There will be an article[detailing fan press inaccurately reported stories] coming up in “Marvel Age”?
D: Yeah, I’ll do a detailed report, and I will release it at the press conference so everybody will have a copy. What I’ll do is prepare it, release it to the press conference, give it to Peter David for “Marvel Age”. For all I know, at that particular month in “Marvel Age”, they might be producing the New Banana Man comic book, and the article might get bumped, but at least the fan press will have their copies.
G: That would be very helpful.
D: OK. I’m sure I made enough of a fool of myself in this conversation…
G: I’m not sure that’s entirely possible.

The press conferences never really got better after that.

Outrage over a mere joke, at least if it was from Marvel’s offices, does indeed sound like standard Comics Journal protocol.

That Groth/DeFalco dialogue is great stuff. “Third base!”

That Groth/DeFalco interview — wow, I’ve never seen somebody so completely dominate somebody else in a friendly interview. That’s awesome.

An interesting thing about Kelly’s Hepzibah is that in her first appearance in Pogo she was actually a reference to a character in ANOTHER comic strip.

When first we meet Mam’selle Hepzibah, she is wearing a trenchcoat, buckled and belted.
The entire look, including Hepzibah’s hairstyle, was a homage to Miss Mizzou, a character appearing at the time in Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon – who in her first appearance had such a garment as her only wardrobe.

Caniff and Kelley were great friends, and both of them as well were friends with Al Capp, so there were gags and references between all three of them – such as one of Caniff’s characters having a job interview with Cap in a Sunday strip. Hepzibah’s initial appearance was one such reference.

Regarding the FF sideways issue, I always considered needing arrows to direct you to the next panel as a failure. Quickly flipping through that issue it appears to be the only instance of such, though. It looks like Byrne made a mistake, didn’t realize it till later and he or someone in production threw in the arrows at the last minute.

Captain Haddock

April 8, 2013 at 9:14 am

Imagine that DeFalco interview in this day and age of instant (over)reactions on the internet, there would probably be entire forum subjects dedicated to “Backwards Spiderman?” “Why backwards Spiderman is the death knell of Marvel”, “Backwards a hoax?”, “Defalco’s lack of respect”, “Client’s overreaction”, and so on and so on :P

Jeff Nettleton

April 9, 2013 at 8:01 am

Re: The Starjammers

The Fatal Five thing sounds like fans stretching for a link, based on the Imperial Guard obviously being an homage to the Legion. Corsair is meant to essentially be Errol Flynn, a gag which had been used before (sort of) when Nightcrawler used his image changer to give himself a normal appearance (early issues of the New X-Men). There, his face was Errol Flynn. Cockrum is a huge fan of swashbucklers, so that pretty much explains him. Raza could have some design influence from Tharok and Persuader, but you could throw in the character Poison Paul, from the movie Crimson Pirate, as well as the gladiator trainer in Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators (a cheesy Italian gladiator movie). Both were bald fighters. Heck, add Yul Brynner and Woody Strode to that list.

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