With Marvel’s Legacy event, attention turned last fall to numbering on comics — and we released our updated and exhaustive legacy numbering survey, looking at the highest-numbered North American comic book series across time.
A few things have changed since then: several of those Marvel titles had already ended or have had final issues announced, and DC restored the numbering on its longest-running titles in advance of April 18’s Action Comics #1000, which is also getting a hardcover companion volume, and Detective Comics #1000, which is still some time off.
Now, this week comes two items of significance for legacy numbering industrywide; first, Marvel began rolling out its plans for its “Fresh Start” event launching in May, essentially restarting its renumbered series yet again, starting with a new Avengers title. IGN reported that Executive Editor Tom Brevoort “did express an interest in keeping the legacy numbering around in subordinate fashion for select titles, but ultimately he favors keeping things as clear and unconfusing as possible for readers.”
[UPDATE: While the IGN report was as described above, Marvel posted Tuesday afternoon that it will be providing dual numbering on its titles.]
It’s a short run for this round of renumbering, and a reminder of the different and conflicting demands on numbering in general. While the benefit from legacy numbering is one that accrues over long periods as retailers don’t have to keep starting new subscriber files on titles, the greatest interest in continuous numbering comes from the aftermarket, which values ease of identification and which publishers receive benefits from less directly. Publishers see direct benefits more often from round-numbered anniversary issues — which is why we’ve seen publishers like Marvel and DC do restarts only to hop back for the anniversaries, as in the DC case above.
One option open to Marvel could be something like the “shadow numbering” the company did in the early 2000s, putting both figures on the cover, though perhaps in a way that the collector cognoscenti would be able to figure out, without confusing the new reader. [UPDATE: As noted in the above addendum, dual numbering appears to be what they’ve decided on, although as in the early 2000s case, the issue number that price guides and archivists generally refer to is whatever’s in the indicia. We’ll see how Diamond lists them.]
In connected news, somewhat surprisingly, DC sources announced that Mad would mark its move to the West Coast with a new #1, ending the previous series with #550, the April cover-dated issue. For decades, Mad‘s status as a magazine, selling mostly on newsstands and through subscriptions, tended to isolate it from Direct Market numbering tactics; issue numbers aren’t of importance in magazine market orders, and in fact the final Ingram order form included no issue numbers at all. But with DC’s pullback from the newsstand, the Direct Market’s influence on the title would presumably increase.
Mad had the clearest claim to being the longest-running current series with unbroken publication and numbering; the next candidate on the list, Heavy Metal, didn’t have ordinal numbering for many years, and its issue count contains a number of special editions not part of the series’ regular run. So it’s a race then between various Archie digests and Spawn, now in their high 200s.
Without knowing the Marvel situation — or DC’s plans for its legacy titles over the next few years — it’s unclear what our next five-year survey will look like in 2020. We can say that 2015’s highest-numbered issue, Walt Disney Comics & Stories, just had its 741st issue come out from IDW.
Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 years, including a decade editing the industry’s retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises.
He is the author of novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, Star Trek: Discovery – The Enterprise War, and his latest release, Star Trek: Discovery – Die Standing. Read more about them at his fiction site.
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