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5 Ways Comic Books Can Fix Issue Numbering

A look at the issue numbers game

By Chad Derdowski     July 08, 2009
Source: Mania

Comicscape: The Numbers Game
© Mania

Comic book issue numbers. Do they really matter anymore? To be more specific, do they hold the prestige they once did? In the old days, a comic with a higher issue count was considered more likely to sell, the idea being that the higher the issue number, the better it must be. Conversely, a lower issue count (most famously, Action Comics, #1) was once treated like the Hope Diamond. Not anymore. We’re not out to revolutionize the industry, but we need to point out a few industry failures—starting with the issue numbering system.


1. Destroy the New Model

Is Journey into Mystery #83 really Thor #1?

While it’s cool to see a comic reach a milestone issue, the numbers game isn’t really worth playing anymore. Having a 100+ issue run isn’t the achievement it used to be when those numbers are fudged to increase sales and drum up interest. When a title is cancelled and restarted every few years, only to return to its original numbering, the whole idea of long-term consecutive numbering becomes a joke. Perhaps an unlimited number of mini-series’ could work to everyone’s benefit? Before you go into a rage and shake an angry fist at your monitor, bear with us and listen to the rest of our arguments regarding why it might work.


2. Numbering is Pointless When History is Like an Episode of Lost

Remember when Grant Morrison took over the X-Men? He put ‘em in black motorcycle jackets and made ‘em look more like the movie. For the first time in a long time, the X-Men were truly cool again. Morrison shattered preconceptions and reinvented the X-Men from the ground up and gave writers a whole new sandbox to play in.

This is an extreme example, but here’s where the system breaks down:

  1. New creative team is signed on.
  2. They write a story that changes the way you look at that particular character.
  3. They’re on the book for 6 to 12 months and bail for whatever reason.
  4. The next creative time steps in and promptly does away with everything the previous team came up with, starting up again at #1.

So what’s the point of even having an ongoing number these days? Sure, in cases like Action or Detective Comics which are somewhere around issue #800,000,000,000, it’s a little harder to justify, but when books get cancelled and restarted with new #1’s after every crossover, why are we so worried about numbering?


3. Jumping On/Cashing In

Is this really Amazing Spider-Man #1?

Everyone always talks about “jumping on points.” A while ago, a comic carried a tagline that read “New Storyline Begins Here!” to make it easier for the casual reader to know where to start. How did it work? Let’s say that casual fan walks into a shop. He wants to know what’s going on with Iron Man but he doesn’t know where to begin. When he finds Invincible Iron Man, No. 562 on the shelf, he’s likely to turn away from the massive gaps of storyline he’s missed. When he sees a “First Issue” seal on the cover, he’s a lot more likely to pick it up. If a series started over again with a new #1 every so often, it would be that much easier and it might even increase sales. #1’s always equal big sales, right?


4. Let’s Stop Putting So Much Stock In #1

Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk recently hit 600 and The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t far behind. Only one small problem: none of these books are anywhere near 600 issues.

Is this really Captain America #600?

Action Comics #1 was published in June 1938 and with the exception of a couple of hiatuses, it’s been published every month since (except when it was a weekly). That’book that can legitimately claim to have 878 issues. Thor? Not so much.

Thor originally starred in Journey into Mystery #83 (August 1962), which got a new title after issue #125 when it became Thor. When Thor “died” in that whole Onslaught debacle, it went back to being Journey into Mystery. Then it was cancelled. Thor eventually got a proper #1 in 1998. That series mysteriously ended with issue #587 in 2004, despite only lasting 85 issues. Once again in 2007, Thor had a new #1 only to find himself at issue #600 just a few months back. Confused? Try making sense of the Hulk’s numbering! And it isn’t just Thor. Spider-Man, Captain America and The Fantastic Four have all had more than one first issue and they’re all currently hovering around the 600-issue mark.

The point is, Marvel could debut a comic next month called Porkchop Man and start it with issue #532 and it wouldn’t matter. When Captain America jumps from issue #50 to #600 in 30 days, it ceases to be relevant.


5. Forget Step 5, Step 5 Is Already In Place

It’s already happening, folks. Take a look at the shelves in your local comic shop. How many first issues of Iron Man are there? Hell, Iron Fist was just put on hiatus and a relaunch is inevitable. Now that Battle for the Cowl has wrapped up, we’ve got a brand new Batman and Robin #1 on the shelves.

This isn’t to say that every monthly series should be cancelled and replaced with mini-series after mini-series. Obviously this strategy won’t work for every book and as we’ve stated, nobody wants to cancel Action Comics. Rather than make attempts to launch a new title based on an obscure character (Blue Beetle, Red Tornado, etc) and will be cancelled anyway, why not go the mini-series route? It avoids the stigma and shame of cancellation and gives new readers a myriad of jumping on points.

After all, this isn’t the ’70s--writers don’t do 100-issue runs anymore. We’re lucky if we can get 20 issues out of most creative teams. If slapping a big, shiny gold #1 on the cover of a book every time a new team comes aboard helps sell more comics, then it’s worth it for the reader and the industry. Numbering has just become another publicity stunt these days. Why not milk that stunt for all it’s worth with an endless series of first issues?



The Spinner Rack

By Ben Johnson and Chad Derdowski

Crypt Of Horror TP Vol 6, $24.95
Ben: As opposed to the Crypt of Comedy.

President Evil
 (One Shot), $3.99
Ben: GW?

Kade Rising Sun #3 (of 4), $3.95

No Hero #6 (of 7)(Regular Cover), $3.99
Ben: We need to start a support group for people who feel compelled to buy multiple covers. I can just see it now: “Hi, I’m Eddie, and I’m a total idiot.”
No Hero #6 (of 7)(Auxiliary Edition), $3.99
No Hero #6 (of 7)(Incentive Design Sketch Cover), AR
No Hero #6 (of 7)(Wrap Cover), $3.99
Ben: Starring Run DMC.

Hero Squared TP Vol 3 Love & Death, $12.99

Bone One Volume Edition SC (13th Printing), $39.99
Ben: The hole goes all the way through.
Rasl HC Vol 1 Drift (Collectors Edition), $50.00

Dean Koontzs Nevermore #2 (of 6), $3.99
Robert Jordans Wheel Of Time Eye Of The World #1, $3.99

Ben: Should have a character called Atreyu.

BPRD 1947 #1 (of 5), $2.99
Doctor Grordborts Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory HC (3rd printing), $12.95
Neon Genesis Evangelion Shinji Ikari Raising Project TP Vol 1, $9.95
Pixu HC Mark Of Evil, $17.95
Sinfest TP Vol 1 (Dark Horse Edition), $14.95

100 Bullets TP Vol 13 Wilt, $19.99
Absolute DC The New Frontier HC (New Printing), $75.00
All Star Superman #1 (Special Edition), $1.00
Batman #688, $2.99
Batman And Robin #1 (Frank Quitely Second Printing Cover), $2.99
Booster Gold #22, $3.99
Cartoon Network Action Pack #39, $2.50
Chuck TP, $19.99
Go West TP Vol 3, $9.99
Chad: Remember that song they had back in the ‘90s? King of Wishful Thinking. Officially, I hated that song but secretly, I kind of liked it. You’re the only people I’ve ever admitted that to.
Green Arrow Black Canary #22, $3.99
Green Lantern #43 (Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy Regular Cover)(Blackest Night Tie-In), $2.99
Green Lantern #43 (Eddy Barrows Variant Cover)(Blackest Night Tie-In), AR
House Of Mystery #15, $2.99
Justice League International TP Vol 2, $17.99
Nobody HC, $19.99
North 40 #1 (of 6), $2.99
Prototype #4 (of 6), $3.99
REBELS #6, $2.99
Red Robin #2, $2.99
Scooby Doo #146, $2.50
Showcase Presents Batlash TP, $9.99
Stormwatch PHD #22, $2.99
Superman Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow HC (Deluxe Edition), $24.99
Superman World Of New Krypton #5 (of 12)(Gary Frank Regular Cover), $2.99
Superman World Of New Krypton #5 (of 12)(Tan Eng Huat Variant Cover), AR
Tom Strong #1 (Special Edition), $1.00
Unwritten #3, $2.99
Warlord #4, $2.99
Wednesday Comics #1 (of 12), $3.99
Chad: My most anticipated book of the year.

Barack The Barbarian Poster, $5.99
Drafted One Hundred Days (One Shot), $5.99
I Am Legion #4 (of 6), $3.50
Zombies That Ate The World #4, $3.50

Army Of Darkness #22, $3.50
Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 (Dennis Calero Regular Cover), $3.50
Chad: Try to guess which one’s me and which one’s Ben!
Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 (Sergio Cariello Regular Cover), AR
Chad: Nope. Um… no… yeah. Yeah, I’m the ugly. Thanks.
Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 (Francesco Francavilla Regular Cover), AR
Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 (Dennis Calero Sketch Incentive Variant Cover), AR
Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 (Sergio Cariello Sketch Incentive Variant Cover), AR
Jungle Girl Season 2 #5 (of 5)(Frank Cho Regular Cover), $3.50
Jungle Girl Season 2 #5 (of 5)(Adriano Batista Variant Cover), AR
Man With No Name TP Vol 1 Sinners & Saints, $19.99
Masquerade #4 (Foil Cover), AR
Super-Zombies #5 (of 5)(Fabiano Neves Cover), $3.50
Super-Zombies #5 (of 5)(Mel Rubi Cover), $3.50

Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me & Other Astute Observations GN, $16.99
Ben: Starring me.
Prince Valiant HC Vol 1 1937-1938, $29.99
Ben: Why read the book when I’ve already got the hair?
Sweetly Diabolic Art Of Jim Flora HC, $34.99

Angel Not Fade Away #3, $3.99
From The Ashes #2, $3.99
Ghost Whisperer The Muse TP Vol 1, $11.99
GI Joe Best Of Storm Shadow GN, $19.99
GI Joe Movie Adaptation #2 (of 4)(Cover A Casey Maloney), $3.99
GI Joe Movie Adaptation #2 (of 4)(Cover B Casey Maloney), $3.99
GI Joe Origins #5
 (Andrea DiVito cover), $3.99
GI Joe Origins #5
 (Tom Feister cover), $3.99
Star Trek Crew #5 (John Byrne Regular Cover), $3.99
Star Trek Crew #5 (John Byrne Incentive Sketch Cover), AR
Star Trek TNG Last Generation TP, $19.99
Transformers Maximum Dinobots TP Vol 1, $19.99
World War Robot TP Vol 2, $11.99

Back To Brooklyn TP (Jimmy Palmiotti Book Market Cover), $14.99
Back To Brooklyn TP (Mihailo Vukelic Direct Market Cover), $14.99
Darkness #78, $2.99
Elephantmen War Toys Yvette (One Shot)(Moritat Regular Cover), $3.50
Elephantmen War Toys Yvette (One Shot)(Marian Churchland Variant Cover), AR
Proof TP Vol 3 Thunderbirds Are Go, $14.99
Strange Adventures Of HP Lovecraft #3 (of 4), $4.99

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36, $3.99
Amazing Spider-Man By JMS Ultimate Collection TP Book 1, $34.99
Anita Blake Laughing Corpse Necromancer #3 (of 5), $3.99
Dark X-Men Beginning #1 (of 3)(Jae Lee Regular Cover)(Utopia Tie-In), $3.99
Dark X-Men Beginning #1 (of 3)(Niko Henrichon 60s Decade Variant Cover)(Utopia Tie-In), AR
Genext United #3 (of 5), $3.99
Hulk Broken Worlds TP, $15.99
Hulk Red And Green TP Vol 2, $15.99
Ben: If you love your brain, don’t read this.
Chad: I’ll second that notion. This isn’t even “so bad it’s good” – it’s just bad.
Marvel 70th Anniversary TP, $24.99
Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #13, $2.99
Marvel Art Of Marko Djurdjevic HC, $49.99
Marvel Illustrated Odyssey Premiere HC, $24.99
Marvel Masterworks Warlock HC Vol 2, $59.99
Marvel Masterworks Warlock HC Vol 2 (Variant Edition Vol 119), $59.99
Moon Knight Premiere HC Vol 5 Down South, $19.99
Ms Marvel #41 (Sana Takeda Regular Cover)(Dark Reign Tie-In), $2.99
Ms Marvel #41 (Paolo Rivera 60s Decade Variant Cover)(Dark Reign Tie-In), AR
New Warriors Classic TP Vol 1, $24.99
Chad: This was my favorite book in the proverbial day, but I have a bad feeling it doesn’t hold up to the test of time. Nevertheless, I’ll probably buy it.
Pride & Prejudice #4 (of 5), $3.99
Punisher Frank Castle Max #72, $3.99
Runaways Premiere HC Teenage Wasteland, $19.99
Skrull Kill Krew #3 (of 5)(Mario Alberti Regular Cover), $3.99
Ben: It’s official, don’t read this book.
Skrull Kill Krew #3 (of 5)(Roberto Di Salvo Top Cow Variant Cover), AR
Stand American Nightmares #4 (of 5)(Lee Bermejo Regular Cover), $3.99
Stand American Nightmares #4 (of 5)(Mike Perkins Variant Cover), AR
Stand American Nightmares #4 (of 5)(Lee Bermejo Sketch Variant Cover), AR
Thor Tales Of Asgard By Lee & Kirby #3 (of 6), $3.99
Uncanny X-Men First Class #1 (of 8), $2.99
War Of Kings Warriors #1 (of 2), $3.99
Ben: So what is this now?
X-Men Forever #3, $3.99
X-Men Legacy #226
 (Utopia Tie-In), $2.99
Ben: I don’t care enough about Utopia to ever buy this crap-fest.
X-Men Shattering TP, $34.99
Ben: It’s not so hard if you freeze it first.

Monsters From The Vault Special Edition #1, $9.98

Skull & Bones TP, $15.95
Spider Judgement Knight, $9.95

Forever Nuts George Mcmanus Bringing Up Father HC
 (Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $24.95

Mangalicious Tick #1 (of 3), $3.95

Wasteland #25 (Special Double Issue), $5.99

Asterios Polyp GN, $29.95

Tales From The Crypt HC Vol 7 Something Wicca This Way Comes
 (Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $12.95
Tales From The Crypt GN Vol 7 Something Wicca This Way Comes
 (Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $7.95

2000 AD #1636 (Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $4.50

Dance In The Vampire Bund GN Vol 4 (resolicited)(Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $9.99

Lost SC Messages From The Island
 (Release not confirmed by Diamond Distribution), $14.95

Brickjournal #6, $8.95


Ben’s Ten

10) Red Robin #2 – My Tim Drake love keeps going, but not as strong after last issue.
9) North 40 #1 –
Interesting idea here.
8) Good The Bad & The Ugly #1 –
Damn good movie, hopefully a damn good book.
7) Green Lantern #43 –
So, is it finally starting?
6) Superman World Of New Krypton #5 –
Soon to be renamed ‘Big Book of Awesome’.
5) Dark X-Men Beginning #1 –
Sure I promised to quit Dark Reign, but this looks pretty awesome.
3) Stand American Nightmares #4 –
This might be even better than Gunslinger.
2) Drafted One Hundred Days #1 –
I really liked the huge twist at the end of the first volume. Now we’ll see if I still like the book starring Barack Obama.

1) Amazing Spider-Man By JMS Ultimate Collection TP Book 1 – This is how Spider-Man was meant to be.


Showing items 1 - 10 of 14
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TigerPrime 7/8/2009 7:59:11 AM

Nice article, but what happened to the "Worst Superhero Costumes Ever" column you promised us? Shenanigans!

Wiseguy 7/8/2009 8:35:55 AM

I don't think numbering is a big deal myself but I can see how it can influence someone new.

I think a good way might be to have 2 numbers on each issue, first the actual number of the series and then the number in the current arc. So you may have a light #587 and a darker #3of 6 or something like that. You satisfy the long time collector and make it easy for anyone to just jump in in any given arc and not be totally lost where the story began.

kalel 7/8/2009 11:02:27 AM

You forgot a few.

How about aside from a different cover a nice and easy way to tell a second or third ... printing from the first.  A) This only works if you know that there is more then one printing. B) If you have seen the other printings and C) If it's in done in away not to be confused with a comic where the first print that had multiple covers.

Cut the down of price guides out there.  Way back when I started collecting there was one main guide but now there are so many so you went to a store to try to sell it or were curious about the value it was easy but now you could get such a wide range of value.

Get rid of dealers incentives. It seems more and more when I read previews it says if a store orders/purchases X number of a issue they get a variant of that issue then the store opts to sell that variant for a premium price or they stow it away until the guides start listing it at a uber value some collectors could never hope to get uinless they get it as a gift.

Come up with a universal price for books not based on exchange rates but based on type or format of book.  Especially in cases of how you look at current stock market I know its not possible to have a up to date exhange rate but you look at one company that has a price of 2.99 and it charges x Canadian but you go to another company and may find what appears to be a similar kind of book but it might not necessarily price at 2.99.  I know a few years ago there was a short time the Canadian dollar was worth more then the USA one but did the comics price themselves above the USA  no they had one price for both. Plus I like to know if I am trying to figure out how much money I might spend when hitting my comic/hobby store if I am only purchasing X amount of this type of book.

Clearly define the term crossover sometimes when I am buying a storyline and it lists a title and issue outside of my regular purchases I have to consider do I realy have to purchase it so I understand everything which in turn might not be known till end of story.

Stop the collectabilty of second, third ... printings.  For the most part I do not collect for value but I do look at price guides every so often and where I see first printings listed lower then subsequent printings.  Sometimes it makes one think is there realy any point of getting a first print.

Finally when you have storylines in regular books or have a limited series have a contract laid out that barring a heath and or family issue that sory is told in consecutive issues before you start the next and more importantly the same people does it.  Take a few years ago the had a Last Son storyline in Action Comics they had the first 3 issues and then there was a bunch of issues and they finally finished it in a annual.  A) This was a drag cause of the higher price annuals are in relation to regular books and B) More importantly it came out  so much after the fact after part 3 it was a hastle to go back to read the first 3 just to refresh my memory..


Sorry to ramble.


animefanjared 7/8/2009 11:49:42 AM

I agree the current number system is beyond busted, since as was pointed out, companies fudge the numbers to keep each book near a "milestone" issue. 

And as someone who isn't a hardcore comic collector, I agree that seeing the issue number near 600 is a little daunting, because there's no way to know how much of that 600 issue backstory (if any) I'll need to be aware of to follow the story of the comic.

I think WISEGUY562 had a great idea with the two numbers on each issue.  Print the number of the story-arc/creative team run in a larger font, and then have the actual number of issues published in a smaller font.  That way, you still get the impressive factor of a book like Action Comics that has run for 800 issues, and more casual fans see the smaller number and think, "Oh, I'm only a couple of issues behind, I can figure this out" and pick up the book.

originaldave77 7/8/2009 12:55:35 PM

The comics model itself is old and busted. The future is animated graphic novels. If people are willing to spend $1 on a fully fleshed-out app for iPhone or an MP3 from iTunes, it's hard to justify a $4 for a comic. Give me a comic I can browse, one panel at a time, on a portable device. Throw in some animation and a bit of audio. 

As for numbering it, a simple serialized system will do. Vol 1, Episode 2. Something like that.

lister 7/8/2009 1:33:30 PM

This is the rare odd week when I have as more to look forward to from DC than I do from Marvel.

Booster Gold--Good Bat stuff after that strange ish with the Suicide Squad that I didnt' like.

R.E.B.E.L.S.--Not sure where we are going, but it's great to have Vril Dox back again.

Green Lantern--This prelude business is dragging on waaaaaay too long, but I am still reading.

And that's it. everything from Marvel is meh for me this week.

But Chad, I bet that New Warriors Classic holds up a lot better than you think. It really was a good book. I bet I know what you'll give it in your review, but I will withold judgement. The thing I liked about it was that, at least in the beginning, they were kinda small in scope and dealt with Juggernaut and the Mad Thinker and other less "relevant" bad guys. Today they'd be rolled out as part of Darque Rein and mired in that plotline for at least five issues, instead of building a history of their own. Looking forward to your review, which I assume is forthcoming based on your comment above.

Superpool 7/8/2009 2:42:24 PM

"Writers don't do hundred issue runs anymore"? The Ultimate Spider-Man writer stuck with it for 113 issues or so (beating Stan Lees previous record)

rivers 7/8/2009 2:50:05 PM

I am happy to see the books return to their original numbering as I was soooooo dead set against it when it first happened. I sent letter after letter to Marvel telling them what a huge mistake it was and that they were throwing away such a long rich history and they should be proud of there title runs.  I didnt buy that lame excuse that higher issue numbers scare off readers. If that was the case I never would have began reading comics. I was more inclined to by a title with a higher issue run because I knew it wouldnt get cancelled in 3 months. Shit stories and shit quality scare off reader not issue numbers. In short... it never should have happened and now Marvel is finally seeing that.

I also admit , it is also a huge cluster f@#k and confusing as hell to newer readers. Lets all thank Joe Q for causing this cluster f$#k.

I just hope they now just leave it alone and dont mess with it any more. Leave the books with there original numbering and dont  mess with them ever again. They have caused enough confusion and damage

lister 7/8/2009 4:58:20 PM

Oops, missed Superman World Of New Krypton. The "other other" S-book. You know, the really good one!

ChadDerdowski 7/8/2009 7:41:01 PM

(chad here)
Okay guys, there's just few things I wanted to touch on here.  

kingvoyeur - I don't want to overdo it on the "lighter side" of things, so I'm trying to alternate weeks: a more serious topic one week and a goofier one the next.  Sorry to dissapoint.
kalel - ramble on!
originaldave77 - that's a topic for a future Comicscape right there.
superpool - good point - and not only did Bendis stick around, artist Mark Bagley did too.  Now name another.
lister - dude, I really want to know what you think I was going to give it but unfortunately the funds were not there this week and I had to leave it on the shelf.  I promise I'll pick it up sooner or later but by the time I do, it might not be relevant for review purposes.

The thing I dug about New Warriors was that it was very relevant and very much an "Mtv comic" aimed at my age group (I'm 32 now).  They dealt with a lot of political issues, abuse, pollution, terrorism... and it wasn't black and white; lots of shades of grey.  AND it had a great sense of humor.  I have a feeling (maybe I'm wrong) that it comes across as a bit heavy-handed now, but at the time I found it so entertaining and enlightening.  Damn!  Now you've really got me wanting to read it again!  

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