<p>If there's one thing that's become a trend in comic books, it's relaunches. <p>Over the years, it's become fairly common to "start over" a comic's numbering. Some titles start over every few years. Just ask a comic shop for <b>Captain America #1</b> and you'll get the answer, "Which one?" <p>And continuity with major, long-running comics has frequently been "re-worked" to fit new storylines. Sometimes those continuity changes are large and sudden, but more often, they're just little creative tweaks. After all, comic book characters usually get passed from one creative team to the next, and everybody has their own version of a character's history to tell. <p>Marvel Comics has taken to making relaunches an annual event now, with last year's Marvel NOW! evolving into early 2014's "All-New Marvel NOW!" The branding facilitates a bevy of relaunches, from books like <b>X-Factor</b> to even titles like <b>Daredevil</b>, a book that had a new first issue only two years and change ago. <p>Marvel NOW! will have to earn its place among the most important of all time, and until they (if they ever) do, here are 10 that do stand out for their importance to comic book history. Newsarama has chosen our Top 10 Relaunches in Comic Book History, including one fairly recent relaunch in the list (gee, can you guess?).
Valiant, once among the largest publishers in the comic book industry, has a history that is filled with relaunches. But perhaps the most significant one is the company's founding itself. <p>In 1989, former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter with the help of Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton took licensed characters from Gold Key Comics and relaunched them, creating one of the most successful comic book companies of the 1990s. <p>The effort made millions from the defunct Gold Key action hero line, which was never a chart-topper the first time around. Adding original characters and developing the universe further, Valiant became a leading publisher in the '90s and had characters featured in video games. <p>Despite its initial success, Valiant was subsequently relaunched a number of times. While DC's New 52 relaunch is the largest renumbering attempted by a comics publisher, Valiant did something similar in 1996, after Acclaim Entertainment bought the company. All previous Valiant Universe titles were canceled, and Senior VP Fabian Nicieza was given the task of completely revamping the line with new #1 issues and writers like Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek and Garth Ennis. <p>And of course Valiant relaunched again in 2012, with titles thus far including <b>X-O Manowar</b>, <b>Bloodshot</b>, and <b>Harbinger</b>, plus the team book <b>Unity</b> and others, enjoying considerable critical and financial success. <p>Gold Key, meanwhile, after a short failure to start at Dark Horse, is now moving to Dynamite with a bevy of high-profile creators attached.
The Warner Bros. release of the <i>Green Lantern</i> film in 2011 may not have launched a new DC movie universe as fans (and likely Warner Bros.) had hoped, but it still stands as evidence that the success of one comic book's relaunch can kickstart the character's expansion across multiple media. <p>The Green Lantern franchise is one of DC's biggest right now, with five ongoing comic book titles, a slew of toys, a recent animated series, and a film franchise perhaps still possible in the future if the brand can be rehabbed a little in a <i>Justice League</i> movie. <p>But that wasn't the case in 2005, when low sales of the single <b>Green Lantern</b> comic prompted DC to hand the franchise over to comics writer Geoff Johns, who had relaunched the <i>Teen Titans</i> comic the year before. <p>Johns was tasked with bringing Hal Jordan back to life while re-introducing the previously disbanded Green Lantern Corps. While the writer won rave reviews for doing just that, the vast universe of new concepts he ended up introducing to <b>Green Lantern</b> jump started more than just the comics. These multicolored concepts became the backbone of the character's launch into film, TV and beyond. <p>The relaunch also gave superstar status to Johns, who spearheaded several DC events and eventually ascended to become Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment. <p>And <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/comics/dcnu-bob-harras-eddie-berganza-history-in-tact-110615.html">according to DC Editor-in-Chief Eddie Berganza</a>, the <b>Green Lantern</b> relaunch of 2005 served as a "model" for 2011's line-wide relaunch to emulate.
Although the <b>Star Wars</b> series had been published by Marvel for nine years and more than 100 issues, the license eventually went to Dark Horse. The relaunch of the <b>Star Wars</b> comic universe that followed was one of the most successful relaunch initiatives in the history of licensed comics. <p>The popular film franchise first inspired a comic in 1977, when Marvel Comics won the license to publish the initial <b>Star Wars</b> series. At first, it was just an adaptation of the <i>A New Hope</i> film, but ended up continuing for more than 100 issues through 1986. <p>Though there was a forgettable three-issue run of 3D comics at a publisher called Blackthorne in-between, effectively the cancellation of the Marvel series opened the door for Dark Horse to acquire and relaunch the <b>Star Wars</b> universe. The revamp the publisher orchestrated in 1991 with Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy's <b>Dark Empire</b> as its hinge turned <b>Star Wars</b> from a defunct single title into an entire line spanning over 20 years now. <p>Dark Horse is now one of the top 5 publishers in comics, combining licenses like <b>Star Wars</b> and <i>Buffy</i> with original creations like <i>Sin City</i> and <i>Hellboy</i>. The acquisition of the <b>Star Wars</b> license in 1991 and the successful relaunch of the comic book universe was as important to the publisher's success as anything that has happened since. <p>The publisher's hold on the license is in question since Disney (who also owns Marvel Comics) purchased Lucasfilm last year, but while they have it, they've successfully relaunched a comic simply called <b>Star Wars</b>, as well as launched a comic based on George Lucas's original screenplay, <b>The Star Wars</b>.
In 1998, the long-running <b>Daredevil</b> title was relaunched by Marvel Comics as part of a brand new imprint called Marvel Knights. While the relaunch was a success, the comic's importance lies in its contribution to the editorial career of Marvel's current Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada, and the role its success played in a new era at Marvel Comics. <p><b>Daredevil</b>'s relaunch, with filmmaker Kevin Smith writing and Quesada drawing, was one of four comics that were outsourced to Quesada's Event Comics company in 1998 as part of the Marvel Knights line. The titles dealt with more mature themes than the regular Marvel Universe, and the outsourcing meant Quesada had control over the talent hired to create them. <p>The successful launch of the Marvel Knights line and the popularity of the <b>Daredevil</b> relaunch not only catapulted Quesada's editorial career, but also contributed to the character's film adaptation. <p>In 2000, within two years of the relaunch at Marvel Knights, Quesada was named Editor-in-Chief at Marvel Comics. He served in that capacity for a decade, guiding Marvel to its current status as industry leader across multiple media.
After the publication of the continuity-altering <i>Crisis on Infinite Earths</i>, John Byrne retold the original story of Superman in a six-issue series that relaunched the character for a new generation, even getting a famous <i>Time Magazine</i> cover. <p>While not technically a relaunch of a title, the series was designed to reboot the Superman mythos and reduce or eliminate the expansive Superman family of characters and some of the wackier ideas introduced to his universe during the Silver Age. <p>The character was given an updated look by Byrne as the creator also completely rewrote his history. <p>While there has been several different re-tellings of his original since, and a number of alternations to post-<i>Crisis</i> DC Universe continuity as whole, this was considered the starting point for the modern version of the character... <p>...Well, until 2011's reboot, that is.
Two of the best-known titles by legendary writer/artist Frank Miller, <b>Batman: The Dark Knight Returns</b> and <b>Batman: Year One</b> relaunched the character's history and future in 1986-1987 and ushered in the darker version of the Dark Knight that fans know today. <p>"<b>DKR</b>", as the <b>Returns</b> title is known, takes place in the future of Gotham City while <b>Year One</b> takes place in its past. Both are considered in-continuity and usually show up on lists citing the "best comics of all time." <p>After <i>Crisis on Infinite Earths</i> rewrote DC's history, <b>Batman: Year One</b> became the official in-continuity version of the Dark Knight's origin. Written by Frank Miller with art by David Mazzucchelli, the story helped launch the Modern Age of comics. <p>Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are following up on that task with the current "Zero Year" storyline, updating the Batman once more, this time for the New 52.
With <i>Marvel's The Avengers</i> now a $1.5 <i>billion</i> dollar property (not even counting the solo films, future spinoffs like <i>Guardians of the Galaxy</i> and the upcoming sequel) two relaunches in comic book history can't be overlooked as having helped pave the way. <p>In 1996, the <b>Heroes Reborn</b> event relaunched titles for members of <b>The Avengers</b> and <b>Fantastic Four</b> into new comics that were outsourced to the studios of superstar artists Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. <p><b>Heroes Reborn</b> was not only an industry first in "farming out" superheroes to talent's control, but the sales boost experienced during the relaunch event gave renewed importance to Marvel's non-X-Men and non-Spider-Man titles. Somewhat floundering before that, Avengers family titles and characters like Captain America and Iron Man have arguably retained that renewed importance to Marvel ever since. <p>The Avengers title itself experienced another relaunch in December 2004 when writer Brian Michael Bendis completed the franchise revival when he "disassembled" the former team and brought characters together under a new banner, <b>New Avengers</b>. The successful sales move not only led to multiple Avengers spinoff titles, but it brought Bendis into the creative center of the Marvel Universe. <p>According to Tom Brevoort, the Marvel executive editor who oversaw the Avengers relaunch, it's not necessarily a coincidence that the success of the comic relaunch has now been followed by a film. <p>"Certainly, Avengers has been successful," Brevoort <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/film/091216-avengers-reassembled-5-hollywood.html">told Newsarama in 2009</a> about the comics. "That can't be lost on the guys doing the various films that we have coming up from Marvel." <p>You certainly have to wonder if Marvel Studios would have undertaken the building of the Avengers movie universe if not for the recent success of the comic book titles.
In one of the biggest gambles in recent years, DC Comics not only decided to dump most of its continuity, but renumber several of the longest-running titles in comic book history. <p>Every single DC Universe comic was replaced in September 2011 by a new #1 issue, with 52 new ongoing comics launching in the same month. <p>Although the move was at least partially motivated by a move toward the digital marketplace, it ended up exceeding sales expectations for print comics in stores nationwide, where it was tough to find a "New 52" #1 that wasn't sold out. Thanks to marketing and mainstream press, the initiative gave the comics industry a significant sales boost at a time when sales had been steadily sliding. <p>But for comic fans, the relaunch holds particular significance because the superheroes of the DCU - some of whom had been around since World War II - were now typically only five years into their crimefighting careers. DC's 70 years of continuity was either erased or condensed, in ways that readers are still trying to figure out. <p>The bold move is still paying dividends for comic book retailers, and even other publishers. <p>Industry-wide sales remain the strongest they've been in several years, with many analysts crediting the shot-in-the-arm The New 52 gave to the Direct Market for sparking the current upward trend.
With today's film, TV and comic book success of X-Men characters, it's hard to imagine a world where there were no new X-Men stories. But that's exactly what happened from 1970 to 1975 when Marvel's <b>Uncanny X-Men</b> title was filled with reprints because of a lack of sales. <p><b>Giant-Size X-Men #1</b>, released in 1975, relaunched the team by adding culturally diverse, internationally based characters like Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus to the previously established group. <p>This relaunch of the <b>X-Men</b>, written by Len Wein with art by Dave Cockrum, led to a younger, mostly-unknown writer named Chris Claremont taking on the title. Claremont's now-legendary 17 year-run, which included countless spin-offs that expanded Marvel's mutant universe to one-time flagship status, helped redefine comic book storytelling in the mid '70s and defined nearly <i>all</i> of the X-Men mythos that inspired many successful animated TV series, feature films and billions of dollars worth of licensed merchandise since. <p>Not to mention ruling the top of the comic book sales charts for years on end.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of <b>Showcase #4</b>, the relaunch of DC's superhero character The Flash, because the 1956 comic was the first of many relaunches that ushered in the Silver Age of comics. <p>Superheroes, which had dominated the world of comics in the late '30s and early '40s, declined in popularity after World War II. To boost sales, publishers turned instead toward stories of crime, horror and romance. <p>But public fears about comics contributing to juvenile delinquency led to the 1954 establishment of the Comics Code Authority. To save the industry, publishers turned back to the superheroes upon which the Golden Age had been built, but they "relaunched" most of the characters, giving them a more modern, space age origin. <p>The first of these relaunches was The Flash. Where Jay Garrick was once The Flash, DC gave readers a new Flash named Barry Allen. In the following years, DC published more and more relaunched superhero titles, leading Marvel Comics to do the same and saving the superhero genre for future audiences.