First of all, let me say: I get it. New #1s in comics sell more copies, and that’s why Marvel and DC are so willing to reset the numbering of their books. And they’re right to do that; they’re in the business of making money, and high sales on one or two “new” #1s every month is absolutely one way of doing just that.
But have you ever worked in a comic store? Have you ever tried to file away every issue of Captain America in the back issues, in order? Did you know the Marvel NOW! Captain America is the 7th series to be titled “Captain America”? Did you know the current Captain Marvel series is the 7th series to be titled “Captain Marvel”?
How many Moon Knight series have there been? How many X-Men #1s are there? How many Hulk #1s are there? We’re currently on the 6th volume of Iron Man, and at least the fifth adjectiveless “Avengers” series. I’ve lost track of how many Green Lantern #1s, Flash #1s, and different iterations of Shazam! there are. Or what about characters who get regular mini series but don’t get long-lasting ongoing series, such as Rogue, or Ghost Rider, or Hawk & Dove, or Cloak & Dagger? Looking for back issues to fill in the wholes in your collection by going to a comic shop — Or, even worse, on eBay, can be nearly impossible!
I have a solution for this problem, and it’s one that Marvel actually came up with a decade ago:
Put both the current volume number AND the legacy number on the cover.
See, so the first volume of AVENGERS ended with #402, when Onslaught “killed” the Avengers and Fantastic Four, putting them in a pocket dimension called HEROES REBORN, blah blah blah, beginning volume 2 of AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and FANTASTIC FOUR, each with a new #1. And those #1s sold awesome, except nobody liked that the heroes were in a pocket dimension. Just over a year later, the heroes returned to the mainstream Marvel Universe, beginning Volume 3 of each series, each with a NEW #1, which also sold like gangbusters. Shortly after that, Marvel reset Amazing Spider-Man to #1…just kinda because they wanted a new #1.
A contingency of fans cried foul, but the increased orders on a new #1 issue saw Marvel regularly reset a bunch of their main series. And, when you do it once or twice? That’s fine. It’s easy to tell the difference between an Iron Man #4 from 1968 and and Iron Man #4 from 1996, at a quick glance. But it’s far less easy to tell the difference between an Iron Man #4 from 1996 and Iron Man #4 from 1997, unless you happen to know who was writing and/or drawing those issues. And when you start throwing reprints and variant covers into the mix? Forget it. Filing away those back issues becomes a nightmare (especially when you ask a family member with only a menial knowledge of comics to help you out).
So as comics like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, AVENGERS, and FANTASTIC FOUR started nearing their 500th issues in 2003-2004, Marvel went back and reset their numbers to the anniversary number. But leading up to that, along with the current volume’s numbering, they included a greyed out “legacy” number, so you knew that the anniversary issue was comic.
In 2009-2011, WOLVERINE #300, IRON MAN #500, CAPTAIN AMERICA #600, THOR #600, INCREDIBLE HULK #600, WONDER WOMAN #600, and X-FACTOR #200 all saw their legacy numbering reset to their anniversary issues. But none of them had the legacy numbers on the preceding issues, leading to a very confusing numbering system. And in 2011, DC reset EVERYTHING back to #1. In late 2012 through early 2013, Marvel’s been doing the same thing.
So why not just throw that legacy number on there, in smaller text, maybe greyed out, under the current volume’s number? The 900th issue of DETECTIVE COMICS comes out this month, but it will be #19. Would it be that hard to add the legacy numbering? Or AT LEAST add a big-ass “900″ to the cover like SHE HULK (volume 4) #3 had the big “100″ in the background?
And I really think having the current volume’s number PLUS a legacy number is the best way of doing it. For example, when Rob Liefeld’s EXTREME STUDIOS brought back a bunch of their titles last year, he picked up all the numbering where the issues had left off. That’s great, if you know GLORY ended at #22, and #23 was the beginning of a new series. But in five years, when someone says, “Oh, did you ever read that GLORY relaunch?” people are gonna go buying all 30-someodd issues of GLORY, not knowing that the relaunch was only 12 issues long.
I have zero sway at the Big Two, but I don’t think this is something that would be very difficult for them to do, and I think a lot of long-time fans would appreciate it. And as a former comic book store owner and manager, I can tell you that it would definitely make things MUCH easier on people filing and/or searching through back issues.
I don’t have all the answers. I just want comics to always be as accessible as possible to everybody. Obviously, we can’t go back and undo the last 15 years of renumberings, but we could maybe do better going forward, right?