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!)
Famous Funnies #17
|First issues: 1
Famous Funnies #77
|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.
Famous Funnies #137
|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.
|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|
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)|
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.
|Four Color Comics||671||Tip Top Comics||193||Boy Comics||117|
|Walt Disney's Comics and Stories||183||Prize Comics Western||114|
|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)|
Four Color Comics #1156
Titles above #500: 1
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.
|Four Color Comics||1178||Tom and Jerry Comics||197||Wonder Woman||118|
|Nancy and Sluggo||179||Joe Palooka||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|
|Adventures into the Unknown||121||Classics Illustrated Junior||569|
|Mutt and Jeff||121||(started with #501)|
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|
|Little Lulu||178||Jughead||127||Doom Patrol||100|
|Batman||177||Kid Colt Outlaw||125|
|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)|
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.
|Detective Comics||406||World's Finest Comics||199||Captain America||132|
|Adventure Comics||400||Little Lulu||198||Bugs Bunny||132|
|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|
|200s||Thor||183||Adventures of Jerry Lewis||121|
|Tom and Jerry||254||Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica||180||Falling in Love||119|
|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|
|Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen||134||Also...|
|Little Dot||134||Archie Giant Series Magazine||178|
|Donald Duck||134||(had skipped 100 issues)|
Detective Comics #454
Titles in the 400s: 5
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.
|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|
|Our Army at War||287||Superman Family||174||Playful Little Audrey||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|
|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)|
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|
|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|
|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|
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|
|400s||200s||Betty and Me||148|
|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|
|Laugh||392||Life with Archie||251||Archie at Riverdale High||106|
|Batman||390||Justice League of America||245||Archie's TV Laugh-Out||104|
|Adventures of the Big Boy||344||Cracked||217||Warlord||100|
|Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica||339||Uncanny X-Men||200|
|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|
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.
|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|
|Fantastic Four||347||Archie Giant Series Magazine||616|
|Amazing Spider-Man||342||(really more like #316)|
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.
|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|
|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|
|Archie Where Are You Digest||103|
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
Action Comics #894
|Titles above #500: 15|
Titles in the 300s: 3
Titles in the 200s: 9
Titles in the 100s: 17
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.
|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|
|Amazing Spider-Man||647||200s||Betty and Veronica Double Digest||185|
|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|
|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|
|(started running double issues)|
Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #726
|Titles above #500: 2|
Titles in the 200s: 13
Titles in the 100s: 6
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.
|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...|
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.
Detective Comics #1029
|Titles above #500: 4|
Titles in the 300s: 3
Titles in the 200s: 7
Titles in the 100s: 8
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.
|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)|
|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