How Legacy Numbering Has Changed Over Time

Publishers' commitment to high issue numbers has waxed and waned

by John Jackson Miller

Most American magazines are known by their cover dates; logical, as most are considered to be disposable. An issue of The Atlantic, for example, goes from being a current affairs publication to a historical record the longer it sits on the shelf; buyers want to know when the issue they're picking up was published, and while most covers are post-dated a month or two, most readers understand that and track back accordingly. Consequently, while most magazines do have a numbering system, it's usually found inside, as part of a volume with numbering that restarts annually or every six months — an indicator for binderies that are preserving issues for libraries. The October 2017 Atlantic is Vol. 320, No. 3, for example, but it's doubtful anyone refers to it that way.

But while some bound-together editions of comic books exist, comic books were not generally considered candidates for binding by many libraries — ironic, of course, given today's market for collected editions. Comic books, as discussed in my companion essay on numbering's origin, likely took their preference for whole numbers from dime novels, most of which really cost a nickel and which likewise weren't considered of interest to many librarians. Rather, these serialized fiction magazines — precursors to pulps — found that whole numbers offered a cue that helped readers to know what they'd already read. If you'd just read Back Number Bixby's adventures in Fame and Fortune Weekly #258 in 1910, you'd assume that #259 was next.

That benefit would serve comics readers, too, as more and more titles presented continuing stories. With notable exceptions, serial numbering without yearly volume restarts has been the practice for the vast majority of comic books published in North America since the 1930s. Escalating issue numbers have been such a familiar feature to comics for so long that humor publishers have lampooned them, such as when Bongo skipped around with Radioactive Man's numbering; DC even took an entire month off to show what issue #1000000 of each of its comics would be like. Readers inherently understood what was being done in DC One Million; you couldn't try that with Time magazine!

A simple signifier of tradition

When Comics Buyer's Guide passed its 1,354th issue in 1999 — matching the highest non-stunt-related issue number ever to appear on an American comic book, Dell's Four Color Comics — I decided the very next issue should focus on numbering restarts, which by that time were rampant. The situation had not improved in 2006 when I coined the term "legacy titles" in my Comics Buyer's Guide #1614 column to refer to "any series currently being published that can trace its numbering directly back to the Silver Age or before."

Breaks in publication were permissible under my definition; so were title name changes and publisher switches, so long as the numbering was preserved. Restarts were, too, provided the restarts were subsequently undone with original numbering restored. I also first used the term "legacy numbering" in that column, and CBG subsequently used it in later issues. I cannot say for certain that I was the first to use that particular term, but I have not been able to find any earlier reference to it.

Certainly the concept had existed earlier, as had tactics for showing where issues of a relaunched title fell within their earlier sequences. When Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti drew their cover for Daredevil #1, the Marvel Knights relaunch following Daredevil #380 in 1998, they worked a tiny 381 into the signature, setting a practice that continued in the title for some time.

A few years later the numbers found a more formal place in Marvel's cover boxes, a term known in fandom as "shadow numbering." The first issue of Iron Man I wrote, for example, may be Vol. 3, #73 in the indicia and on every correspondence I ever had about the issue anywhere in the process, but it's shadow-number #418 on the cover, right beside the smaller number. (That three-letter indicator is "PSR," the short-lived "parental supervision recommended" label on most of Marvel's books in that era.)

And stretching much further back, fans had themselves already affixed continuous sequential numbering to titles that began without it, such as Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, which originally restarted with #1 at the end of each year's volume. The number #53 appears nowhere on Vol. 5, #5, but it's sat next to the issue number in the Grand Comics Database listing as well as countless other indexes, back-issue advertisements, and price guides in years since. At the moment this sentence was written, for example, most of the eBay listings for the issue are for #53.

So with readers caring so much about issue numbers, why do series ever restart? That question barely needs to be asked today, or ten or twenty years ago: While it can be done to indicate a creative transformation, more often the driver has been sales, and the attention that a new #1 brings to a series in the Direct Market.

Rationales for restarting — and restoring — legacy numbering

Back in that 2006 column, for example, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort cited a survey of retailers who were asked in about how "Heroes Return" should be numbered. As part of its "Heroes Reborn" initiative, Marvel had restarted the numbering on Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man in 1996; when that program ended after only a year, Marvel asked retailers whether the series should resume their original numbering, continue with the lower "Reborn" numbers, or roll all the way back for new #1s again for the second time in fourteen months. "And the retailers told us they'd order more than twice as many Fantastic Four #1s as they would Fantastic Four #14s or #416s," he said. So the second renumbering happened — and indeed, preorders went from 130,000 copies on FF Vol. 2, #13 to 210,000 copies on Vol. 3, #1. Click to see the preorder reports for those months.

It turned out that the boost lasted, literally, no time: by Vol. 3, #3 two months later, which retailers ordered before #1 hit the shelf, preorders were down to less than 122,000, lower than it had been under the old numbering. The "first-issue premium," in this case, was exactly that, a 62% one-time bump. But that bump is still money in the bank, short-term, and the Direct Market delivers it reliably — and did so long before there were variant covers, as DC found in its post-Crisis on Infinite Earths wave of relaunches.

DC's commitment to ongoing series and preserving numbering had been obvious from any newsrack in the days before comics shops; as will be seen below, in 1975 it had a dozen titles above #200 and another 11 above #100. It had even preserved Tarzan's numbering from Gold Key.

The story had always been that in the 1950s, retailers were put off by low issue numbers, fearing that kids wouldn't like an untried series; that explained the herky-jerkiness of numbering at Atlas, which would start issues arbitrarily at a number above #1, and which also would rename an ongoing series rather than start a new one, regardless of the content of the titles. Charlton practiced the latter as well, turning Lawbreakers into Lawbreakers Suspense Stories into Strange Suspense Stories into Captain Atom, managing to switch genres twice in the process.

I've tended to be skeptical of that explanation; I can't imagine kids were put off by low issue numbers, or that retailers would even care to look. When I asked Paul Levitz about it several years ago for another column, he suggested it was really more about logistics. In the days before computers, it wasn't worth the time and expense of setting up a new title in distributors' systems when you could simply rename an old one and keep on selling. "The reason not to reintroduce or relaunch would have been that, in most cases, the relaunch wouldn't justify an increase in copies."

So Marvel must have found a good financial reason for Amazing Spider-Man #1 not launching as Amazing Fantasy #16 — just as it sought a benefit when it restarted the series in 1999, and when it went back to the original numbering in 2003 just in time to catch #500, an anniversary issue. It didn't stick: the book has since been restarted twice more, for the same reasons.

With Marvel's "Legacy" initative in the fall of 2017, all Marvel's long-running titles went back to their legacy numbering, including a number of series like Venom which never had any numeric legacy to speak of at all. Marvel has released visual guides to how it arrived at its issue numbers, some paths straightforward, others convoluted. The rationale for changing, I suspect, is that as I contended in 2006, prolonged publsher loyalty to numeric continuity does offer some benefits that low numbers do not.

As those perusing dime novels found, uninterrupted numbering tells readers where they are in a serial. It certainly makes the lives of collectors easier, both when it comes to finding and organizing issues. It offers fewer jumping-off points, while there's no reason a #1 is necessarily needed for a jumping-on point if a book is marketed properly, as, say, DC found with "Hush" in Batman #608. And there's also, going back to our 1950s examples, a logistical distribution/retail rationale: one reason that sales of an ongoing series tend to look like the sales of the previous issue is that there's a certain inertia in the pull-and-hold systems retailers use. A book that's already set up and has subscribers in their systems has a reader base that is at least theoretically financially committed. If the replacement series isn't along immediately, the job of selling the new series may have to begin from scratch. The new title may launch higher than the old one, but it's possible some customers might not make the transition, and long-term prospects may suffer.

Trends in legacy numbering

One way to study the success rate of restarts and restorations over the years is to look at issue number trends on all titles, and how they've changed. To this purpose, skip down after the break, where you'll see I've updated the charts I first generated in 2006, taking a look at all the series numbered above #100 at five-year intervals from the dawn of comics. The data is summarized in this graphic above, but you'll want to dig down into the explanations and listed series for more.

You'll find that looking at them is like looking at the rings of a tree. You can see where the good seasons were, where the periods of extended growth must have been. And you can see where the forests were chopped down, either to thin out and make room for new growth — or, more often in later years, to get a one-time benefit.

Legacy numbering across time: A survey

The tables below look at what the highest-numbered issues were as of the final month of the year at five-year intervals, beginning in 1935. I looked at issues cover-dated December or just before; the issues may have come out earlier in the year since most covers are post-dated. The number of first issues in the year is an approximation, removing annuals and one-shots. Magazines that are only partially comics, like Mad and Cracked, are included, as are giveaway comics.Links lead to eBay listings for key issues and series. (Special thanks to Bradley Glynn for help checking the lists!)

Highest issue:
Famous Funnies #17
(Famous Funnies)
First issues: 1

Famous Funnies decided to number its title sequentially, in the manner of the dime novels, rather than restarting numbering at the end of every year. The one first issue in 1935 was New Comics.

Highest issue:
Famous Funnies #77
(Famous Funnies)
First issues: 69

The number of Golden Age new title launches had greatly proliferated by 1940. While some publishers were using the volume/issue format to indicate issue numbers, most publishers were doing as Famous Funnies had.

Highest issue:
Famous Funnies #137
(Famous Funnies)
Titles in the 100s: 9

First issues: 78

While seven titles reached the century mark in 1945, the number of new series launches hadn't much increased over 1940. Strictly speaking, Will Eisner's The Spirit was a newspaper section and not a comic book, but if it had been numbered by this point it would have well outpaced the monthlies.

100+       Also...  
Famous Funnies 137 Detective Comics 106 The Spirit 292
Popular Comics 118 More Fun Comics 106 (newspaper section, unnumbered)  
King Comics 116 Ace Comics 105    
Tip Top Comics 113 Adventure Comics 101    
New Funnies 106        

Highest issue:
Four Color Comics #307
Titles in the 300s: 1
Titles in the 100s: 20

First issues: 124

The title that ultimately would have the highest numbering in American comics history, Dell's Four Color Comics, leaped ahead of the pack. While it's a title with rotating features, it is numbered, and has historically been considered one series by collectors. Several other "legacy titles" reached the 100s.

Four Color Comics 307 Action Comics 151 Star Spangled Comics 111
    Jumbo Comics 142 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies 110
100s   Jungle Comics 132 Blue Bolt 107
Famous Funnies 191 Whiz Comics 128 Police Comics 103
New Funnies 166 Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 123 Sensation Comics 100
Detective Comics 166 Master Comics 119    
Tip Top Comics 165 All-American Western 117 Also...
Adventure Comics 159 Captain Marvel Adventures 115 The Spirit 553
King Comics 158 Wings Comics 112 (newspaper section, unnumbered)  

Highest issue:
Four Color Comics #671
Titles above #500: 1
Titles in the 200s: 4
Titles in the 100s: 17

First issues: 77

With the industry in distress in 1955, many fewer series were being launched. Another reason that first issues were fewer was publishers' penchant for starting titles with random numbers, or as continuations of other series. Sometimes those series were related — as in the Dell Four Color case — and sometimes they weren't, as with many Atlas titles.

500+   100s      
Four Color Comics 671 Tip Top Comics 193 Boy Comics 117
    Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 183 Prize Comics Western 114
200s   Looney Tunes 170 Pep 112
Detective Comics 226 Marvel Tales (1st series) 141 Hopalong Cassidy 108
New Funnies (Walter Lantz...) 226 March of Comics 138 Gene Autry and Champion 106
Adventure Comics 219 Tom and Jerry Comics 137 Comics on Parade 104
Action Comics 211 Classics Illustrated 129 Superman 101
    Daredevil (Lev Gleason) 128    
    Adventures of Mighty Mouse 128 Also...
    Nancy and Sluggo 127 Classics Illustrated Junior 521
        (The series started with #501)  

Highest issue:
Four Color Comics #1156

Titles above #500: 1
Titles in the 200s: 8
Titles in the 100s: 32

First issues: 13

The number of first issues had collapsed by 1960, though the fact that Dell was spinning titles "already in progress" off of Four Color Comics (such as Bugs Bunny, which began with #28, counting back to his appearance in Four Color #317, the issue after the one shown above) means there were a few more debut issues that aren't usually counted as #1s. The title would skip a bunch of issues and end its run at #1354, a number not surpassed by any publication in the American comics industry until Comics Buyer's Guide did it. Gilberton's Classics Illustrated Junior jumped the line by skipping its first 500 issues, possibly an attempt by the publisher to prevent confusion with Classics Illustrated's numbering. Four Color's publication months jumped back and forth between 1960 and 1961, making it hard to determine one final issue for the year.

500+   100s    
Four Color Comics 1178 Tom and Jerry Comics 197 Wonder Woman 118
    Nancy and Sluggo 179 Joe Palooka 117
200s   Classics Illustrated 159 Laugh 117
Detective Comics 286 Blackhawk 155 Flash 117
New Funnies (Walter Lantz...) 280 Little Lulu 150 All-Star Western 116
Adventure Comics 279 Adventures of Mighty Mouse 148 Dagwood Comics 116
Action Comics 271 Pep 143 My Romantic Adventures 115
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 243 Dick Tracy 143 Archie 115
Looney Tunes 230 Blondie Comics 142 World's Finest Comics 114
Tip Top Comics 223 Superman 141 Sad Sack 112
March of Comics 213 Roy Rogers and Trigger 140 Felix the Cat 112
    Lone Ranger 137 Young Romance 109
    TV Screen Cartoons 137 House of Mystery 105
    Batman 136 Our Army at War 101
    Strange Adventures 123    
    Tarzan 121 Also...  
    Adventures into the Unknown 121 Classics Illustrated Junior 569
    Mutt and Jeff 121 (started with #501)  

Highest issue:
Detective Comics #346
Titles in the 300s: 4
Titles in the 200s: 3
Titles in the 100s: 44

First issues: 46

Several long-running titles were canceled or restarted in the early 1960s, leaving just six titles and March of Comics, a giveaway comic, above #200. There were as many titles in the 100s as there were first issues in 1965! (Not counted is one that cheated to get there, Archie Giant Series Magazine, which skipped a hundred issues.) Mighty Mouse went on hiatus with #165 in late 1965, to return briefly in 1979. Classics Illustrated had stalled new issue production with #167 from 1962 to 1969, but new reprints of almost all the previous comics were released throughout that period.

Detective Comics 346 Our Army at War 161 Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 120
Adventure Comics 339 Adventures into the Unknown 161 Girls' Love Stories 115
Action Comics 331 Archie 160 G.I. Combat 115
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 303 Wonder Woman 158 Girls' Romances 113
    Flash 157 All-American Men of War 112
200s   House of Mystery 155 Secret Hearts 108
March of Comics 284 Tarzan 155 Adventures of the Big Boy 104
Tom and Jerry 227 World's Finest Comics 154 Mystery in Space 104
Blackhawk 215 Mutt and Jeff 148 Donald Duck 104
    Dagwood Comics 140 Mickey Mouse 104
100s   Strange Tales 139 Patsy and Hedy 103
Pep 188 Young Romance 139 Little Dot 102
Strange Adventures 183 Millie the Model Comics 133 Bugs Bunny 102
Superman 181 Forbidden Worlds 132 Tomahawk 101
Little Lulu 178 Jughead 127 Doom Patrol 100
Batman 177 Kid Colt Outlaw 125    
Laugh 177 Superboy 125 Also...  
Sad Sack 172 Star Spangled War Stories 124 Classics Illustrated Junior 570
Blondie Comics 163 Patsy Walker 124 (started at #500)  
    Journey into Mystery 123 Archie Giant Series Magazine 136
    Fightin' Navy 123 (skipped from #35 to #136)  

Highest issue:
Detective Comics #406
Titles in the 400s: 2
Titles in the 300s: 3
Titles in the 200s: 10
Titles in the 100s: 47

First issues: 52

The first of the Marvel Silver Age titles, Fantastic Four, passed the century mark — only to be outdistanced by Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor, which had taken over the numbering of Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and Journey into Mystery respectively. Archie's Joke Book Magazine entered the 100s, having assumed the numbering of Archie's Rival Reggie at #15.

400+   100s    
Detective Comics 406 World's Finest Comics 199 Captain America 132
Adventure Comics 400 Little Lulu 198 Bugs Bunny 132
    Tarzan 197 Tomahawk 131
300s   Wonder Woman 191 Heart Throbs 129
Action Comics 395 House of Mystery 189 Our Fighting Forces 128
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 363 Blondie Comics 188 Mickey Mouse 127
March of Comics 351 Millie the Model 187 Unexpected 122
    Jughead 187 Spooky 121
200s   Thor 183 Adventures of Jerry Lewis 121
Tom and Jerry 254 Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 180 Falling in Love 119
Pep 248 Superboy 170 Woody Woodpecker 114
Laugh 237 Young Romance 169 Sweethearts (Vol. 2) 113
Superman 232 Adventures of the Big Boy 164 Dennis the Menace 111
Batman 227 Girls' Love Stories 155 Romantic Story 110
Strange Adventures 227 Archie's Joke Book Magazine 155 Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane 106
Our Army at War 226 Star Spangled War Stories 154 Popeye 105
Sad Sack 217 Girls' Romances 153 Hot Rods and Racing Cars 105
Archie 205 Kid Colt Outlaw 151 Fantastic Four 105
Flash 202 The Friendly Ghost, Casper 148 Life with Archie 104
    Secret Hearts 148 Hot Stuff The Little Devil 101
    G.I. Combat 145 Richie Rich 100
    Mad 139    
    Incredible Hulk 134    
    Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen 134 Also...  
    Little Dot 134 Archie Giant Series Magazine 178
    Donald Duck 134 (had skipped 100 issues)  

Highest issue:
Detective Comics #454

Titles in the 400s: 5
Titles in the 300s: 1
Titles in the 200s: 21
Titles in the 100s: 50

First issues: 103

A colossal 77 titles were in triple digits, although that number included many romance and western titles that were nearing the ends of their runs. Action caught up with Detective after the latter had a stretch as a bimonthly. Tom and Jerry was still in the high 200s, but went on hiatus between early 1975 and 1977. Fightin' Marines had no #14, but would have been in the 100s without it. Likewise, Fightin' Army had reached #121, but had the assist of having started at issue #11 in Soldier & Marine Comics.

Detective Comics 454 Superboy 213 Popeye 132
Action Comics 454 Young Romance 208 Hot Stuff, The Little Devil 131
Adventure Comics 442 Kid Colt Outlaw 201 Sgt. Fury 130
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 423     Rawhide Kid 130
March of Comics 412 100s   Cracked 129
    Star Spangled War Stories 194 Daredevil 128
300s   Incredible Hulk 194 Two-Gun Kid 127
Pep 308 Captain America 192 Fightin' Marines 126
    G.I. Combat 185 Justice League of America 125
200s   Strange Tales 182 Uncle Scrooge 124
Laugh 297 The Friendly Ghost, Casper 182 Brave and Bold 123
Superman 294 Mad 179 Fightin' Army 121
Our Army at War 287 Superman Family 174 Playful Little Audrey 119
Batman 270 Unexpected 170 Young Love 119
Archie 249 Bugs Bunny 168 Little Lotta 118
Sad Sack 247 Donald Duck 167 Ghostly Tales 118
Jughead 247 Fantastic Four 165 Sad Sack and The Sarge 116
Tarzan 244 Life with Archie 164 I Love You 115
Thor 242 Our Fighting Forces 162 Billy the Kid 115
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 240 Little Dot 162 Beetle Bailey 113
Flash 238 Mickey Mouse 160 Just Married 108
House of Mystery 238 Amazing Spider-Man 151 Sick 107
World's Finest Comics 234 Spooky 147 Little Archie 101
Little Lulu 229 Woody Woodpecker 147 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 100
Adventures of the Big Boy 224 Dennis the Menace Bonus Series 147 Turok Son of Stone 100
Wonder Woman 221 Avengers 142 Madhouse 100
Blondie Comics 216 Dennis the Menace 141   
Archie's Joke Book Magazine 215 House of Secrets 138 Also... 
    Richie Rich 137 Archie Giant Series 241
        (skipped 100 issues)  

Highest issue:
Action Comics #514
Titles above #500: 1
Titles in the 400s: 4
Titles in the 300s: 9
Titles in the 200s: 25
Titles in the 100s: 34

First issues: 20

The grayest lineup seen in this survey, 1980 saw only 20 new titles launched versus 73 titles numbered above #100. Again, however, many were from Charlton, Gold Key, and Harvey, all of which would be off the racks five years later. After a traumatic decade, the industry was running on fumes. A number of long-running titles got new names by 1980; Sgt. Rock adopted Our Army at War's numbering, and Star-Spangled War Stories became Unknown Soldier. And Archie Giant Series skipped 200 issues this time, zipping from #252 to #451. Turok, Son of Stone had been on hiatus most of 1980 but would return briefly in 1981. Sick, a Mad rival, reached #134 in the fall of 1980 but was canceled before completing the year.

Action Comics 514 World's Finest Comics 266 Popeye the Sailor 159
    Little Lulu 261 Hot Stuff, The Little Devil 157
400s   Incredible Hulk 254 Fightin' Marines 153
Detective Comics 497 Captain America 252 Fightin' Army 146
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 483 Unknown Soldier 246 Sad Sack and The Sarge 146
Adventure Comics 478 Fantastic Four 225 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 146
March of Comics 472 G.I. Combat 224 Ghostly Tales 146
    Donald Duck 224 Iron Man 141
300s   Bugs Bunny 222 X-Men 140
Pep 368 Life with Archie 219 Billy the Kid 139
Laugh 357 Mad 219 Green Lantern (Vol. 2) 135
Superman 354 The Friendly Ghost, Casper 213 Daffy Duck 131
Sgt. Rock 347 Amazing Spider-Man 211 Archie and Me 124
Tom and Jerry 332 Mickey Mouse 209 Creepy 123
Batman 330 Unexpected 205 Marvel Tales (Vol. 2) 122
Jughead 307 Superman Family 204 Madhouse Comics 122
Thor 302 Avengers 202 Conan the Barbarian 117
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 300     Eerie 117
    100s  Betty and Me 116
200s   Richie Rich 197 Mystery in Space 114
Archie 299 Woody Woodpecker 191 Tweety & Sylvester 107
Flash 292 Justice League of America 185 Richie Rich Millions 103
House of Mystery 287 Uncle Scrooge 181 Devil Kids 102
Adventures of the Big Boy 284 Cracked 174 Josie and the Pussycats 102
Sad Sack 277 Brave and the Bold 169 Marvel Team-Up 100
Wonder Woman 274 Daredevil 167    
Archie's Joke Book 273 Sgt. Fury 161 Also...  
Legion of Super-Heroes 270 Little Archie 161 Archie Giant Series (skips again, not publishing #252-451) 500

Highest issue:
Action Comics #574
Titles above #500: 2
Titles in the 400s: 3
Titles in the 300s: 12
Titles in the 200s: 11
Titles in the 100s: 16

First issues: 155

The 1985 pentannual survey is the last before the major wave of DC legacy-title restarts following the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Flash had ended in October with #350. While the older-title ranks had thinned considerably with the departure of several publishers, the Direct Market made possible a whopping 155 new title launches. Shades of things to come. Heavy Metal passed 100 issues, but would not use ordinal numbering for many years yet.

Action Comics 574 Incredible Hulk 314 Conan the Barbarian 177
Detective Comics 557 Captain America 312 Archie and Me 154
        Defenders 150
400s   200s   Betty and Me 148
Superman 414 Fantastic Four 285 Creepy 146
Sgt. Rock 407 G.I. Combat 280 Everything's Archie 120
Pep 403 Amazing Spider-Man 271 Power Man and Iron Fist 120
    Avengers 262 Savage Sword of Conan 119
300s   Mad 259 Spectacular Spider-Man 109
Laugh 392 Life with Archie 251 Archie at Riverdale High 106
Batman 390 Justice League of America 245 Archie's TV Laugh-Out 104
Thor 362 Daredevil 225 Star Wars 102
Adventures of the Big Boy 344 Cracked 217 Warlord 100
Jughead 343 Iron Man 201    
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 339 Uncanny X-Men 200    
Archie 338     Also...  
Tales of the Legion 330 100s   Archie Giant Series Magazine 555
Wonder Woman 328 Green Lantern (Vol. 2) 195 (Really, more like #255)  
World's Finest Comics 322 Marvel Tales (Vol. 2) 182   
    Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 178    

Highest issue:
Action Comics #660
Titles above #500: 3
Titles in the 400s: 3
Titles in the 300s: 7
Titles in the 200s: 12
Titles in the 100s: 11

First issues: 282

Action Comics went weekly for a year, causing its numbering to launch ahead. DC relaunched Flash and Green Lantern, and Superman became Adventures of Superman. Archie lost its Pep with #411. Look how the "junior class" has thinned: More titles in the 200s than in the 100s. It's partly the harvest from the famine of title launches seen above in 1980. Harvey had returned temporarily, taking up its old numbering. Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse went on hiatus in early 1990 with #279 and #256 respectively.

500+   200s   100s  
Action Comics 660 Mad 299 Betty and Me 187
Detective Comics 624 Daredevil 287 Savage Sword of Conan 180
Walt Disney Comics and Stories 554 Life with Archie 281 Hot Stuff 176
    Uncanny X-Men 271 Spectacular Spider-Man 171
400s   Iron Man 263 Everything's Archie 152
Adventures of Superman 473 Cracked 259 Cerebus 141
Batman 457 Casper the Friendly Ghost 259 G.I. Joe A Real American Hero 107
Thor 427 Richie Rich 253 Archie Digest Magazine 105
    Uncle Scrooge 249 Swamp Thing (Vol. 2) 102
300s   Marvel Tales (Vol. 2) 244 Jughead with Archie Digest 101
Adventures of the Big Boy 399 Conan the Barbarian 239 Baby Huey The Baby Giant 101
Archie 383 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 219    
Captain America 380        
Incredible Hulk 376     Also...
Fantastic Four 347     Archie Giant Series Magazine 616
Amazing Spider-Man 342     (really more like #316)  
Avengers 327        

Highest issue:
Action Comics #716
Titles above #500: 5
Titles in the 400s: 7
Titles in the 300s: 6
Titles in the 200s: 4
Titles in the 100s: 17

First issues: 851

More that eight hundred new series? Yes, or #1s, at least. In the meantime, Archie had restarted just about everything but its main Archie series, and the Harvey titles present before were gone again. The first of the Direct Market-era reboots began to appear in the 100s, with indie Cerebus topping #200. Another magazine, the comic strip compilation Comics Revue, joined the list.

500+   300s   100s  
Action Comics 716 Avengers 393 Swamp Thing (Vol. 2) 161
Detective Comics 692 Daredevil 347 Archie Digest Magazine 137
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 600 Mad 341 New Titans 128
Adventures of Superman 530 Uncanny X-Men 327 Jughead with Archie Digest 125
Batman 525 Iron Man 323 Laugh Digest Magazine 124
    Cracked 304 X-Factor 117
400s       Comics Revue 117
Thor 493 200s   Silver Surfer 111
Adventures of the Big Boy 458 Uncle Scrooge 295 Mad Super Special 109
Captain America 446 Donald Duck 293 Flash (Vol. 2) 108
Archie 442 Spectacular Spider-Man 229 Superman (Vol. 2) 107
Incredible Hulk 436 Cerebus 201 Justice League America 106
Fantastic Four 407     Dark Horse Presents 104
Amazing Spider-Man 406     Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 104
        Cracked Collector's Edition 104
        Green Arrow 103
        Archie Where Are You Digest 103

Highest issue:
Action Comics #772
Titles above #500: 6
Titles in the 400s: 1
Titles in the 300s: 2
Titles in the 200s: 1
Titles in the 100s: 21

First issues: 601

Here, near the bottom of the comics recession, was a wasteland for legacy titles. Marvel had restarted so many series that the next title after Uncanny X-Men, at #387, was Wolverine, at #157 — making it look as though Marvel hadn't started a new series between 1963 and 1988! Many of the titles in the 100s were Archie digests or post-Crisis DC reboots. The restaurant giveaway Big Boy topped #500.

500+   200s    
Action Comics 772 Cerebus 261 Betty and Veronica (Vol. 2) 154
Detective Comics 751     Batman Legends of the Dark Knight 136
Adventures of Superman 585 100s   Archie's Pal Jughead (Vol. 2) 132
Batman 584 Comics Revue 178 Green Lantern (Vol. 3) 131
Archie 502 Archie Digest Magazine 175 Archie's Double Digest Magazine 120
Big Boy 502 Flash (Vol. 2) 167 Betty and Veronica Digest 116
    Superman (Vol. 2) 163 Femforce 114
400s   Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 163 X-Force 109
Mad 400 Jughead with Archie Digest 161 Superman Man of Steel 107
    Laugh Digest Magazine 161 X-Men (Vol. 2) 107
300s   Wolverine 157 Veronica 106
Uncanny X-Men 387 Hellblazer 155 Spawn 101
Cracked 350        

Highest issue:
Action Comics #832
Titles above #500: 9
Titles in the 400s: 2
Titles in the 300s: 2
Titles in the 200s: 8
Titles in the 100s: 24

First issues: More than 500

For those who value legacy numbering, a little relief had arrived: Gemstone picked up the Disney titles, and Marvel had restored numbering on Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Interestingly, Marvel and DC only accounted for seven titles numbered in the 100s; the rest was a mix of independents, more committed to their legacy numbering. Big Boy was approaching its final appearance.

500+   200s      
Action Comics 832 Mickey Mouse and Friends 283 Furrlough 155
Detective Comics 812 Comics Revue 237 Sonic the Hedgehog 154
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 663 Flash (Vol. 2) 227 Elvira Mistress of the Dark 152
Batman 646 Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 222 Spawn 152
Adventures of Superman 645 Superman (Vol. 2) 222 Betty 150
Archie 561 Archie Digest Magazine 220 Robin 143
Fantastic Four 532 Hellblazer 213 Betty and Veronica Double Digest 137
Amazing Spider-Man 525 Betty and Veronica (Vol. 2) 213 Ninja High School 134
Big Boy 521     Femforce 133
    100s  Looney Tunes (Vol. 2) 131
400s   Batman Legends of the Dark Knight 196 Savage Dragon 121
Uncanny X-Men 465 X-Men (Vol. 2) 176 JLA 121
Mad 460 Archie's Pal Jughead (Vol. 2) 169 Jughead's Double Digest 116
    Veronica 165 Nightwing 113
300s   Archie's Double Digest Magazine 165 Simpsons Comics 113
Uncle Scrooge 348 Betty and Veronica Digest 160 Knights of the Dinner Table 110
Donald Duck and Friends 334     Blade of the Immortal 108
        Scooby-Doo 101

Highest issue:
Action Comics #894
Titles above #500: 15
Titles in the 300s: 3
Titles in the 200s: 9
Titles in the 100s: 17

First issues:
More than 600

A high-water mark for titles numbered above #500. Adventures of Superman had become Superman. Action and Detective were soon to be rebooted, and the other titles apart from Archie all had interruptions or renamings in their pasts. Amazing Spider-Man had gone to three issues a month, rocketing its numbers forward. Mad, now bimonthly, was advancing slower than other titles. Hellblazer was the highest-numbered title started after the Silver Age. Scooby Doo had just been cancelled at #159. There was a Deadpool #1000 and a Wolverine #900 in the year, but as with DC One Million, that was stunt numbering.

Furrlough had reached #189 in 2009 and ceased regular releases, but annual graphic novels would ship in through 2013 continuing the numbering. A couple of cases almost to our December pentannual milestone: Archie Digest got as far as November 2010 before the publisher relaunched it as World of Archie Double Digest with a new #1 the next month. And Ultimate Comics Spider-Man had abandoned Ultimate Spider-Man's numbering but would pick it up in January 2011 with #150.

500+   300s   100s  
Action Comics 894 Uncle Scrooge 398 Spawn 199
Detective Comics 870 Donald Duck and Friends 361 Looney Tunes (Vol. 2) 191
Walt Disney Comics and Stories 714 Mickey Mouse and Friends 303 Furrlough 190
Superman 704     Betty 188
Amazing Spider-Man 647 200s   Betty and Veronica Double Digest 185
Thor 616 Hellblazer 272 Simpsons Comics 173
Incredible Hulks 615 Betty and Veronica (Vol. 2) 250 Knights of the Dinner Table 170
Archie 614 X-Men Legacy 241 Savage Dragon 167
Captain America 611 Sonic the Hedgehog 218 Jughead's Double Digest 164
Wonder Woman 604 Archie's Double Digest 213 G.I. Joe A Real American Hero 161
Fantastic Four 584 X-Factor 210 Femforce 154
Uncanny X-Men 529 Betty and Veronica Digest 208 Thunderbolts 149
Adventure Comics 519 Archie's Pal Jughead (Vol. 2) 204 Archie & Friends 148
Daredevil 511 Veronica 202 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals Double Digest 145
Mad 506     Witchblade 140
        Usagi Yojimbo 134
        Gold Digger 124
        Comics Revue 295-296
        (started running double issues)  

Highest issue:
Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #726
Titles above #500: 2
Titles in the 200s: 13
Titles in the 100s: 6

First issues:
More than 600

DC's New 52 reboots in 2011 contributed to the 2015 five-year mark being near the absolute depths for legacy numbering in the modern era. Archie reached the ominous #666 and was restarted; the same happened to Fantastic Four with #645. Even Hellblazer and Fables ended their initial numbering, meaning there were no Marvel or DC super-hero titles at all over issue #100 by the end of the year. Witchblade wrapped at #185 with its November issue. Archie restarted most all of its digests; others were renamed, like Betty and Veronica Digest, which became B & V Friends Double Digest. Savage Dragon and Looney Tunes kept chugging along, despite not having shown up in the Top 300 charts all 2015.

Apart from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, back again this time from IDW, and Mad, none of the remaining titles above 100 issues had been started before 1987 — except for one that was new to the list: Heavy Metal. That magazine had started ordinal numbering, working backward through the decades to construct a whole number that included not just its regular issues, but several special editions.

500+     100s  
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 726 B & V Friends Double Digest 245 Femforce 173
Mad 536 Betty and Veronica Double Digest 238 Usagi Yojimbo 150
  Gold Digger 229 Walking Dead 149
200s   Looney Tunes (Vol. 2) 227 BPRD Hell on Earth 138
Betty and Veronica (Vol. 2) 278 Knights of the Dinner Table 226 Invincible 126
Sonic the Hedgehog 277 Simpsons Comics 224 Grimm Fairy Tales 117
Heavy Metal 276 G.I. Joe A Real American Hero 222  
Archie Double Digest 263 Savage Dragon 210 Also...  
Spawn 259     Comics Revue 355-356

Marvel announced the following renumberings for its late 2017 "Legacy" project; some of the titles were, as noted above, never previously constitued as ongoing monthly series. The specific launcissues appear below, but we also have a page with graphics explaining Marvel's issue counts and how they were arrived at.

By early 2018, several of the Marvel Legacy titles had either ended, or final issues had been announced — and on February 20, it was announced that restarted numberings would appear as part of Marvel's "Fresh Start" program launching in May with a new Avengers series numbered again from #1. Marvel later announced that it would be preserving legacy numbering in a dual numbering system, as in the case of the shadow numbering of the 2000s. (As in past practice, only the indicia number, whatever it is, would count in the grids above.)

Also by 2018, DC had restored Action Comics' numbering on the way to a 1,000th issue and companion commemorative hardcover. The issue shipped April 18, with 10 covers, and reportedly had retailer orders of a half-million copies.

DC announced in February that #550 would be the final issue of the original series of Mad, the title which had the clearest claim to unbroken serial publication and numbering. The title received a new #1.

DC had also restored the numbering for Detective Comics back in 2016 with the first Rebirth issue, establishing a two-issue-a-month pace that culminated nearly three years later in Detective Comics #1000 appearing in March 2019. That issue became an even better seller than Action #1000 in 2019. Meanwhile, Spawn passed #300 in September, besting Cerebus' mark for longest-running continuously published creator-owned title.

Highest issue:
Detective Comics #1029
Titles above #500: 4
Titles in the 300s: 3
Titles in the 200s: 7
Titles in the 100s: 8

First issues:

After legacy titles reached their modern-era nadir in 2015, the number slightly rebounded as publishers saw the benefits in having milestone issues to celebrate. Several titles joined the century club through natural means, while others were renumbered to get into it.

Shadow or double numbering as a practice flourished, though in most occasions, the true issue number for solicitation and legal identification purposes was the smaller figure. For the purposes of this survey, such issues have been segregated to their own section in the table, meaning that the Marvel legacy-numbered issues, for example, are separate from series like Detective Comics and Action Comics, which committed to the historical numbers as their only identifier and kept to that numbering following their major anniversaries. So while Marvel's October release may have been Amazing Spider-Man #850 for marketing purposes, for our count an issue like this is really just Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 5 #49 until the newer numbers are removed from the comic books entirely.

The Coronavirus pandemic struck comics publishing in 2020, leading to temporary stoppages at many publishers; there were more than 100 fewer new series launched than in 2015. The disruption appears to have impacted the legacy charts in the case of Archie, which returned to its numbering in 2018 in time to grab a 700th anniversary issue; it went on hiatus after #713, the September 2020 issue. It's unclear whether that pause is permanent, however. The same is true of Walt Disney Comics & Stories, which got a reboot and a shorter name, Disney Comics & Stories, with double-numbering; it apparently ended with #13/#756, but could come back.

DC continued publishing through the pandemic, and through increased frequency, Detective Comics, which started earlier than Action Comics, moved back out ahead of it in numbering to celebrate a thousand issues since Batman's origin in Detective Comics #1027. Wonder Woman and Flash's numbering also joined the ranks of the restored.

Archie may have ended, but its digests continued, with Archie Double Digest #314 the highest-numbered issue of a series with unbroken serial numbering. Spawn was the highest numbered non-digest comic book that had never been restarted or required renumbering. It comes out more frequently, so it is likely to overtake the Archie digest in 2021.

Comics Revue, a magazine, began running double issues with #281-282 in 2009, so its actual issue count since then is 348.

One major casualty of time: the number of titles with cover dates of record in their indicias. Marvel, DC, and Archie still use them, but few others. Where no cover date is known, the last issue shipped in 2020 is used below.

1000+   200s   Double numbered  
Detective Comics 1029 Betty and Veronica Double Digest 288 Amazing Spider-Man 51 (852)
Action Comics 1026 B & V Friends Double Digest 285 Immortal Hulk 39 (756)
  Knights of the Dinner Table 278 Thor 8 (734)
700s   G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero 277 Captain America 24 (728)
Wonder Woman 765 Gold Digger 277 Avengers 25 (725)
Flash 764 Looney Tunes (Vol. 2) 256 Daredevil 23 (635)
    Savage Dragon 255 Tony Stark: Iron Man 17 (617)
300s       Deadpool 7 (322)
Archie Double Digest 314 100s   Conan the Barbarian 15 (290)
Spawn 313 Femforce 190 Miles Morales 18 (258)
Heavy Metal 302 Ninja High School 178 Usagi Yojimbo 16 (254)
    Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose 125 Venom 29 (194)
    Men of Mystery 115 Captain Marvel 22 (156)
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 112 Spider-Woman 5 (100)
    Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? 106    
    World of Archie Double Digest 104 Also...  
    Batman (Vol. 3) 101 Comics Revue 415-416

Special thanks again to Bradley Glynn for help with the lists!

—Updated December 24, 2020