Introduction to "Comic Book Numbering"

Comic book numbering used to be a very simple issue - each issue was incremented one number from the preceding issue in a simple natural number sequence starting at issue #1 until infinity.

Occasionally there would be some complications when a series was re-named (often when a key character in an ongoing anthology becomes popular enough for their own title), such as "The Incredible Hulk (1968)" taking over the numbering from "Tales to Astonish (1959)" or "Captain America (1968)" taking over the numbering of "Tales of Suspense (1959)".

However, DC Comics started an inadvertent trend when John Byrne re-structured the Man of Steel in the mid-1980's. All Superman comics (Action Comics and Superman) were taken offline for a few months, and a re-launch re-started Superman (1987) with a new #1, and continued the pre-existing Superman (1939) numbering with "Adventures of Superman (1987)". Superman (2006) re-merged Superman (1987) and Adventures of Superman (1987) to a single title.

Both DC and Marvel comics insisted on the occassional oddly numbered comic (0, -1 for Marvel, 1,000,000 for DC) which made continuity of numbering strange.

Marvel had a mathematical psychotic break and sold off key characters (e.g. Hulk, Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and the Fantastic Four) to a group of artist/writers in the ill-fated "Heroes Reborn" period of about a year in the mid-1990's, each series being re-started as a new #1. This experiment lasted about a year from 1996 to 1997, where the characters were re-introduced into the "real" (616) universe of Marvel in "Heroes Return".

Marvel's marketing department, realizing that "#1" issues had extra purchase value, began randomly re-starting series to generate new #1's. Later, someone woke up and realized that they were missing the chance to capitalize on significant milestone issues (500, 600 etc.) and began to re-number the ongoing series, with mixed success. Some re-numbering was simply the inclusion of series X and series Y of the same character, with the new numbering being the sum. However, with other series, the effect was somewhat confusing (see Hulk).

This site is an attempt to make sense of the numbering issues.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Marvel NOW - Counting "Not so Amazing" Spider-Man

Marvel NOW re-launches several titles and retires others.

Spider-Man the most abused flagship character that you can imagine, ends his Amazing Spider-Man series with issue #700 and begins a very poorly named new series called "The Superior Spider-Man" under the Marvel NOW banner.  When you think about Spider-Man, "Amazing" fits, as does "Spectacular" as they are basically 3rd party descriptions of what the character can do.  "Superior" sounds very arrogant, which doesn't fit the characterization of Spider-Man that I have (or "had", as I'm not a big fan of the "Sins Past" and  "deal with the Devil" version of Spider-Man Marvel is carrying on with).  If there was ever a need to re-set and re-boot a character, Spider-Man is it, and Marvel NOW is the time.  However, given that they've consistently abused DC Comics of doing character re-boots, the "braintrust" at Marvel won't be able to fix the character, and will drag the baggage of poorly thought out plotlines into the new series.

Here is a link to a more comprehensive history of ongoing Spider-Man titles (Spider-Man Comics - Issue Numbers - WTF?), and below is how Marvel arrived at the issue #700 in the first place.

SeriesIssuesTotal Issues"Full" Numbering
Marvel Comics
Amazing Spider-Man (1963)1-4414411-441
Amazing Spider-Man (1999)1-5858442-499
Amazing Spider-Man (2003)500-54546500-545
Amazing Spider-Man (2008)546-700155546-700
Marvel NOW
The Superior Spider-Man (2013)1+

Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #1

The Amazing Spider-Man (1999) #1

Amazing Spider-Man (2003) #500

Marvel would probably argue with the above, as they like to pretend that Amazing Spider-Man was a consistent series from 1963 to issue #700 in 2012.

Up to issue #441, they may have maintained that argument, however they re-launched Amazing Spider-Man in 1999 with a new #1, following the very damaging storyline "The Clone Saga" where they intended to replace the "Peter Parker" of the first 400+ issues, by reviving a clone from the 1970's and making the claim that the character considered the "clone", who apparently had died in issue #149, survived and was the "real" Peter Parker.  The one we knew from that point onward was really a clone, married Mary Jane and had a baby.  The found "former clone" would be single, and could return Peter to an earlier era without having any discontinuous re-boot of the series.  They chickened out and after a 100 or so issue crossover clone saga storyline, kept the same Peter Parker, with the marriage, but a missing baby.  The clone, named Ben Reilly is still kicking around some place.

In 2003, Marvel realized they had a #500 issue, and re-numbered Amazing Spider-Man, keeping the original numbering.  In 2008, after a few horrible character changes ("Sins Past", "Spider-Totem" and, of course the deal with Mephisto which erased his marriage and the memory of his identity in order to revive his pre-historic Aunt from a bullet wound) caused me, at least, to consider this Peter Parker/Spider-Man to be a new character who didn't seem to remember his own history and moral values (thus, Amazing Spider-Man (2008).

UPDATE: Having read Amazing Spider-Man #700, the change to "Superior Spider-Man" makes sense now.  In the past, I might have found the resolution of #700 to be disturbing or problematic.  However, after the "Sins Past" and "Brand New/One More Day" decisions by Marvel, I have very little attachment to the character, which is very sad.  I am a little interested in seeing how long "Superior" lasts, and whether the new status quo continues (I suspect not, and I suspect it is by design that it will not last).

I would have been much more interested if Marvel decided on a clean re-boot of Spider-Man, removing the problematic decisions of the last 10 years or so, and clearing up the clutter of continuity that seems to bedevil the creative forces at Marvel.  An honest re-boot, which may be what is planned when the post-#700 situation runs its course, would be the only way to re-vitalize a misused character.

I thought Ultimate Spider-Man was an excellent series, and was the re-boot the character needed.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be a "current" running through Marvel that focused on the freedom of the writers to do dramatic things, such as killing off Peter Parker at the conclusion of volume 1.  I did like the freedom they had to bring up "old" storylines from Amazing Spider-Man, and update to suit the newer times, or diverge greatly form the "616 Universe" history.  That was the power of the re-booted series - not the focus on the characters being disposable.  The fear Marvel has in creating a new, long-term, complicated continuity outweighed the idea that they had re-created some of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko magic of the early 1960's - it could have lived for many more profitable years.

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