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Meta-Messages – The Hidden Spidey Insult That Got an Inker Fired

by  in Comic News Comment
Meta-Messages – The Hidden Spidey Insult That Got an Inker Fired

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Frank W., I feature a story I did as a Comic Book Legends Revealed nearly a decade ago that also works as a Meta-Message, so it should be featured here, as well, which is the hidden insult in Universe X: Spidey that led to the book’s inker losing his job.

Universe X: Spidey was a tie-in book to Universe X, which was, itself, a sequel to Earth X, an alternate future of the Marvel Universe by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. In Spidey, Peter Parker is retired from superheroing and his daughter, May, fights crime with a symbiote. In this one-shot, Peter is trapped in an illusion where Gwen Stacy never died and he lives happily married to her and May was never born. The book was written by Krueger and penciled by Butch Guice, with inks by three different artists. John Stanisci for the “present day” panels and John Romita Sr. and Al Milgrom for the panels set in the illusion (thus designed to look more like “classic” Romita Spider-Man style artwork).

Here’s a page showing Peter fighting to ignore the truth of his situation to instead embrace a world where Gwen Stacy and Captain Stacy lived…

Note the bookshelf in the background. This is from a re-issued version of the issue. I’ll show you later what was ORIGINALLY drawn there.

You see, throughout the issue, Milgrom filled in titles on the spines of the books in the bookshelf in the illusion. Just normal stuff like “Marvels,” which was drawn by Alex Ross, who co-plotted the series with Krueger…

or in a fight scene, “The Sound and the Fury”…

or here, some Spider reference and some other stuff I can’t read…

but originally in the panel I showed before, the books carried the following message, which could be read by turning the comic on its side…

“Harras, ha ha, he’s gone! Good riddance to bad rubbish, he was a nasty S.O.B.”

This was a reference to then-recently fired Editor-in-Chief of Marvel, Bob Harras. When the incident was made public, beside issuing edited copies to erase that message, Marvel let Milgrom go from his staff position (although he could – and did – still do freelance work for them).

Thanks to Frank for the suggestion of using this old Comic Book Legend here, as well. If you folks have suggestions for OTHER meta-messages, drop me a line at!

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