Post-HELLBLAZER, High-Numbered Comics an Endangered Species

 

There are a lot of implications from Thursday's news that DC/Vertigo's Hellblazer will be ending in February with issue #300, and one of them is a confirmation of a pattern that's been clear for more than a year: The era of high-numbered comics at Marvel and DC is over, at least for now.

First issues sell well and lower-numbered comics are generally seen as more accessible to new readers, so there are definitely reasons for this shift. After the sweeping New 52 revamp at DC in September 2011, and numerous Marvel NOW! relaunches — culminating in Amazing Spider-Man ending in December with issue #700, before being supplanted the next month by Superior Spider-ManHellblazer, which started its run in the pre-Vertigo days of 1988, was the highest-numbered comic book at Marvel and DC that had never been renumbered at any point.

 

Marvel's Journey Into Mystery is (much) higher — hitting #646 this month, the vast majority of that as Thor — but it's been a twisty path to that figure, with relaunches (one in 1998, one in 2007) and title changes along the way meriting something of an asterisk. Similar maneuvering accounts for two more of Marvel's remaining high-numbered series, X-Factor (#246 debuted this week) and Dark Avengers (the former Thunderbolts, #183 out later this month).

Following Hellblazer's close in February, the highest-numbered comic at Marvel and DC with a linear numbering history is the currently bimonthly Looney Tunes series, which started in 1994 and reaches issue #210 in December. Beyond that, Vertigo's Fables is past the century mark, with issue #125 scheduled for January. Naturally, as a result of The New 52, no DC Universe title is past issue #14 at this point.

 

Over at Marvel, past the announced Marvel NOW! launches and other than the aforementioned Journey Into Mystery, X-Factor and Dark Avengers; Red She-Hulk, which has been re-titled but never renumbered stands tall with 59 issues currently out. Astonishing X-Men has actually been running longer — 2004 versus 2008 — but shipping schedules and delays in the book's early life mean that it's only at issue #56 as of this month.

Outside of Marvel and DC, several high-numbered comics have managed to endure. Two of the earliest Image Comics — Spawn (at #225 as of this month) and Savage Dragon (#183) — have kept running for around 20 years without any restarts. Come January, both of Robert Kirkman's two long-running series will be past 100 issues, with Invincible at #100 and The Walking Dead at #106. Top Cow's The Darkness is also past #100, but that's after a renumbering.

 

The highest-numbered current Dark Horse series is Usagi Yojimbo, which last shipped #144. Writer/artist Stan Sakai has been on something of a hiatus from the series as he works on projects like 47 Ronin, but he recently told CBR that he plans to pick back up with issue #145. Dark Horse is proactively bucking the small-numbers trend a bit on B.P.R.D., which was renumbered in October with issue #100.

IDW's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is at #184 as of this month, though there was a 16-year gap between issue #155 and #156.

With long-running Disney series like Walt Disney's Comics and Stories currently in limbo, Archie Comics is the dominant American publisher of long-running, never-renumbered series, with the flagship, Archie, at #639 as of this month. Three of their double digests are in the 200s, as is Jughead, Betty & Veronica and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Beyond the American market, Rebellion's weekly anthology 2000 AD — the comic that birthed Judge Dredd and more — is at a staggering 1,809 issues ("Prog 1809") as of this week.

Though high-numbered comics are effectively a thing of the past at Marvel and DC, as tends to happen with superhero comics, they probably won't stay dead forever. Following the initial trend of relaunches and renumberings — starting with "Heroes Reborn" and the subsequent "Heroes Return" in 1996 and 1997, respectively — things started to swing back around, as most long-running series retained their original numbering a few years later as big, round numbers approached. And hey, we're only 82 issues away from Action Comics #1,000, which DC co-publisher Dan DiDio confirmed at New York Comic Con 2012 will have a special significance for the publisher.

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