A post from my old Marvel blog of days gone by talking about the constant renumbering of long-running comic book series.
April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General
I was having a discussion the other week with assistant editor Aubrey Sitterson about a topic that I thought might make for an interesting blog entry. We were speaking about a secret new project that’s coming up, a new creative team that’s supposed to be coming onto a monthly book–and Aubrey opined that, given the team in question, might it not be more beneficial to start them with a #1 on a new title? Put them on ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 rather than UNCANNY X-MEN #444, to use a relevant example.
I argued that the reason the long-time titles–what I call the perennials–have become the perennials is that, over the years, they’ve been accorded importance, based on the talent that worked on them and the promotional spotlight put upon them. It would be easy in the short term to do ASTONISHING AVENGERS #1, but that doing so, especially continually doing so, would begin to erode the bedrock of the perennials over time.
He retorted that he didn’t see that as any big deal–that in a world in which we’re increasingly focusing on the collected edition as the end product, the traditional comic book numbering system is a hold-over from a different age, and is in-and-of itself meaningless. He’d be perfectly content, he said, if all of the books ran from #1-6 with each story arc, and then began over again with a new #1 for the next story arc. That’s kind of the way magazines function, after all–they’re issues by volume number and month, rather than sequentially numbered in most cases. And the same thing goes for the titling of the books–if ASTONISHING AVENGERS will sell better than NEW AVENGERS in the short term, why not take the money and run? The title of the book or the issue number doesn’t really affect the content.
I have to admit, I like the continuity of sequential numbering that reaches all the way back to the 1960s or longer. There’s an abstract sense of stability, of longevity there for me. But even with that, we’ve already rebooted the numbering of most of our perennial titles over the years, and in some cases eventually restored the original sequential numbering. But that chain was broken, and no latter-day take-back can ever completely rejoin it. So why bother? Is it simply nostalgia or deeply-ingrained old-world thinking? Or is there some more tangible reason why these issue numbers matter?
I don’t have the answer–and I’m not even sure that there is a “right answer.”
3 thoughts on “Blah Blah Blog – Renumbering”
A decade on from writing this, what are your thoughts now, Tom?
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My appreciation for the legacy numbering approach is one of pure practicality: when referencing or recommending a particular arc, that legacy numbering is an unambiguous reference to what we’re talking about. And I think the current dual-numbering is a nice compromise between signaling some sort of episodic continuum to the reader: “this happens before that”) and breaking this long-running serialized story into manageable chunks — specifically the writer’s (which I think of as a director / showrunner / guiding sensibility) tenure on a book.
My only complaint is when books are relaunched / retitled / renumbered within a writer’s run (I’m looking at you, Jason Aaron’s Thor ;-). Even a dedicated reader like me needs reference material to keep the reading orders straight.
I think some incarnation of Marvel Unlimited can be a saving grace in the decades of confusing titles, years, volumes, numberings, and crossovers. While the UX has lots of room for improvement (UX is my expertise BTW), I have EVERY confidence that the eternal question of numbering can be solved by online solutions for the next generation.
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BTW: the one place where Aubrey Sitterson’s magazine-inspired volume & month metaphor falls apart is that periodicals aren’t generally in the business of serialized storytelling (at least not for extended periods). They are effectively a series of one-and-dones whose relevance is tied to current events. Therefore, a date-based system is functional and appropriate for their industry. But just because the format is similar, doesn’t mean the content requirements are the same.
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Edit: “the UX of Marvel Unlimited”