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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.

Rationale 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
(Dell)
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 title with rotating features, it is numbered, and has historically been considered one series by collectors. Several other "legacy titles" reached the 100s.

           
300+      
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
(Dell)
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
(Dell)

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
(DC)
Titles in the 300s: 4
Titles in the 200s: 3
Titles in the 100s: 46

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.)

           
300+      
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 & Jerry Comics 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
Classics Illustrated 165 Patsy Walker 124 (started at #500)  
Mighty Mouse 165 Journey into Mystery 123 Archie Giant Series Magazine 136
Blondie Comics 163 Fightin' Navy 123 (skipped from #35 to #136)  





Highest issue:
Detective Comics #406
(DC)
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.

           
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 394 House of Mystery 189 Our Fighting Forces 128
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 363 Blondie Comics 188 Mickey Mouse 127
March of Comics 352 Millie the Model 187 Unexpected 122
    Jughead 187 Spooky 121
200s   Thor 183 Falling in Love 121
Tom & Jerry Comics 254 Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 180 Adventures of Jerry Lewis 121
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' Romances 155 Romantic Story 110
Strange Adventures 227 Archie's Jokebook Magazine 155 Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane 107
Our Army at War 226 Girls' Romances 153 Popeye 105
Sad Sack 217 Star Spangled War Stories 154 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 100
    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
(DC)

Titles in the 400s: 5
Titles in the 300s: 1
Titles in the 200s: 22
Titles in the 100s: 49

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.

           
400+      
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 183 Uncle Scrooge 124
Laugh 297 The Friendly Ghost, Casper 182 Brave and Bold 123
Superman 294 Mad 179 Fightin' Army 121
Tom & Jerry Comics 291 Superman Family 174 Playful Little Audrey 119
Our Army at War 287 Unexpected 170 Young Love 119
Batman 270 Bugs Bunny 168 Little Lotta 118
Archie 249 Donald Duck 167 Ghostly Tales 118
Sad Sack 247 Fantastic Four 165 Sad Sack & The Sarge 116
Jughead 247 Life with Archie 164 I Love You 115
Tarzan 244 Our Fighting Forces 162 Billy the Kid 115
Thor 242 Little Dot 162 Beetle Bailey 113
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 240 Mickey Mouse 160 Just Married 108
Flash 238 Amazing Spider-Man 151 Little Archie 101
House of Mystery 238 Spooky 148 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 100
World's Finest Comics 234 Woody Woodpecker 147 Turok Son of Stone 100
Little Lulu 229 Dennis the Menace Bonus Series 147 Mad House 100
Adventures of the Big Boy 224 Avengers 142    
Wonder Woman 221 Dennis the Menace 141 Also... 
Blondie Comics 216 House of Secrets 138 Archie Giant Series 241
Archie's Jokebook Magazine 215 Richie Rich 137 (skipped 100 issues)  





Highest issue:
Action Comics #514
(DC)
Titles above #500: 1
Titles in the 400s: 4
Titles in the 300s: 9
Titles in the 200s: 25
Titles in the 100s: 40

First issues: 20

The grayest lineup seen in this survey, 1980 saw only 20 new titles launched versus 79 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.

           
500+      
Action Comics 514 Incredible Hulk 254 Fightin' Marines 153
    Captain America 252 Fightin' Army 146
400s   Unknown Soldier 246 Sad Sack & The Sarge 146
Detective Comics 497 Fantastic Four 225 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 146
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 483 G.I. Combat 224 Ghostly Tales 146
Adventure Comics 478 Donald Duck 224 Iron Man 141
March of Comics 472 Bugs Bunny 222 X-Men 140
    Life with Archie 219 Billy the Kid 139
300s   Mad 219 Green Lantern 135
Pep 367 The Friendly Ghost, Casper 213 Beetle Bailey 132
Laugh 357 Amazing Spider-Man 211 Daffy Duck 131
Superman 354 Mickey Mouse 209 I Love You 130
Sgt. Rock 347 Unexpected 205 Reggie and Me 126
Tom & Jerry Comics 332 Avengers 202 Turok, Son of Stone 125
Batman 330 Superman Family 202 Archie and Me 124
Jughead 307     Creepy 123
Thor 302 100s   Marvel Tales 122
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 300 Richie Rich 197 Archie's Madhouse 122
    Woody Woodpecker 191 Conan the Barbarian 117
200s   Justice League of America 185 Eerie 117
Archie 299 Uncle Scrooge 181 Betty and Me 116
Flash 292 Cracked 174 Mystery in Space 114
House of Mystery 287 Adventures of Mighty Mouse 172 Tweety & Sylvester 107
Adventures of the Big Boy 284 Brave and the Bold 169 Richie Rich Millions 103
Sad Sack 277 Daredevil 167 Devil Kids 102
Wonder Woman 274 Sgt. Fury 161 Josie and the Pussycats 101
Archie's Jokebook Magazine 273 Spooky 161 Marvel Team-Up 100
Legion of Super-Heroes 270 Little Archie 161    
World's Finest Comics 266 Popeye 159 Also...  
Little Lulu 261 Hot Stuff The Little Devil 157 Archie Giant Series (skips again, not publishing #252-451) 500





Highest issue:
Action Comics #574
(DC)
Titles above #500: 2
Titles in the 400s: 3
Titles in the 300s: 13
Titles in the 200s: 11
Titles in the 100s: 17

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, and would return in 1987 with a new #1. 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...

           
500+      
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 & 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 Heavy Metal 106
Batman 390 Justice League of America 245 Archie at Riverdale High 106
Thor 362 Daredevil 225 Archie's TV Laugh-Out 104
Flash 350 Cracked 217 Star Wars 102
Adventures of the Big Boy 344 Iron Man 201 Warlord 100
Jughead 343 Uncanny X-Men 200    
Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica 339     Also...  
Archie 338 100s   Archie Giant Series Magazine 555
Tales of the Legion 330 Green Lantern 195 (Really, more like #255)  
Wonder Woman 328 Marvel Tales 182   
World's Finest Comics 322 Archie Pals 'n' Gals 178    




Highest issue:
Action Comics #660
(DC)
Titles above #500: 3
Titles in the 400s: 3
Titles in the 300s: 7
Titles in the 200s: 14
Titles in the 100s: 12

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.

           
500+   200s   100s  
Action Comics 660 Mad 299 Betty & Me 187
Detective Comics 624 Daredevil 287 Savage Sword of Conan 180
Walt Disney Comics and Stories 554 Life with Archie 281 Hot Stuff, The Little Devil 176
    Donald Duck 279 Spectacular Spider-Man 171
400s   Uncanny X-Men 271 Everything's Archie 152
Adventures of Superman 473 Iron Man 263 Cerebus 141
Batman 457 Cracked 259 Heavy Metal 131
Thor 427 Casper the Friendly Ghost 259 G.I. Joe A Real American Hero 107
    Mickey Mouse 256 Archie Digest Magazine 105
300s   Richie Rich 253 Swamp Thing (2nd Series) 102
Adventures of the Big Boy 399 Uncle Scrooge 249 Jughead with Archie Digest 101
Archie 383 Marvel Tales (2nd Series) 244 Baby Huey The Baby Giant 100
Captain America 380 Conan the Barbarian 239    
Incredible Hulk 376 Archie's Pals 'n' Gals 219 Also...
Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) 347     Archie Giant Series Magazine 616
Amazing Spider-Man 342     (really more like #316)  
Avengers 327        





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





Highest issue:
Action Comics #772
(DC)
Titles above #500: 6
Titles in the 400s: 1
Titles in the 300s: 2
Titles in the 200s: 1
Titles in the 100s: 23

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 264 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 Heavy Metal 191 Green Lantern (Vol. 3) 131
Archie 502 Comics Revue 178 Cracked Collector's Edition 125
Big Boy 502 Archie Digest Magazine 175 Archie's Double Digest Magazine 120
    Flash (Vol. 2) 167 Betty and Veronica Digest 116
400s   Superman (Vol. 2) 163 X-Force 109
Mad 400 Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 163 Superman Man of Steel 107
    Jughead with Archie Digest 161 X-Men (Vol. 2) 107
300s   Laugh Digest Magazine 161 Femforce 110
Uncanny X-Men 387 Wolverine 157 Veronica 106
Cracked 350 Hellblazer 155 Spawn 101




Highest issue:
Action Comics #833
(DC)
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. Heavy Metal ceased using ordinal numbering, but that would return later. Big Boy was approaching its final appearance.

           
500+   200s      
Action Comics 833 Mickey Mouse and Friends 284 Furrlough 155
Detective Comics 812 Flash (Vol. 2) 227 Sonic the Hedgehog 154
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 664 Wonder Woman (Vol. 2) 222 Elvira Mistress of the Dark 152
Batman 646 Superman (Vol. 2) 222 Spawn 152
Adventures of Superman 645 Archie Digest Magazine 220 Betty 151
Archie 561 Hellblazer 213 Robin 143
Fantastic Four 532 Comics Revue 213 Betty and Veronica Double Digest 137
Amazing Spider-Man 525 Betty & Veronica (Vol. 2) 212 Ninja High School 134
Big Boy 521     Femforce 133
    100s  Looney Tunes 131
400s   Batman Legends of the Dark Knight 196 Savage Dragon 121
Uncanny X-Men 465 X-Men (Vol. 2) 176 JLA 121
Mad 459 Archie's Pal Jughead (Vol. 2) 169 Jughead's Double Digest 118
    Veronica 165 Nightwing 113
300s   Archie's Double Digest 165 Simpsons Comics 112
Uncle Scrooge 349 Betty and Veronica Digest 160 Knights of the Dinner Table 110
Donald Duck and Friends 335     Blade of the Immortal 106
        Scooby-Doo 101





Highest issue:
Action Comics #894
(DC)
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 #190 and went on hiatus, but two graphic novels would release in the next two years resuming the numbering.

           
500+   300s   100s  
Action Comics 894 Uncle Scrooge 398 Spawn 199
Detective Comics 870 Donald Duck and Friends 361 Looney Tunes 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 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 212 G.I. Joe A Real American Hero 161
Fantastic Four 584 X-Factor 210 Femforce 154
Uncanny X-Men 529 Betty & Veronica Digest 208 Thunderbolts 149
Adventure Comics 519 Archie's Pal Jughead (Vol. 2) 203 Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 149
Daredevil 511 Veronica 202 Archie & Friends 148
Mad 506     Witchblade 140
        Usagi Yojimbo 134
        Gold Digger 124
         
        Also...  
        Comics Revue 295-296
        (started running double issues)  




Highest issue:
Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #726
(IDW)
Titles above #500: 2
Titles in the 200s: 12
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. 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, with the exception of Heavy Metal, which had resumed ordinal numbering. Savage Dragon and Looney Tunes kept chugging along, despite not having shown up in the Top 300 charts all 2015.

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



We'll check in again in 2020 and see how the above winds up affecting the next survey. Watch this space...

—Updated October 3, 2017