Unlike most (but not all) magazines, comic books are identified by a number: Detective Comics #27. Uncanny X-Men #201. Ambush Bug: Year None #6*. As well, specific runs of comic titlesusually but not always starting with #1are numbered with volume numbers: a volume number that exists with the comic until it is cancelled or rebooted to a new number one.
Here's an easy example: below is Batman volume 1 #1, and Batman volume 2 #1. One of these comic books is worth thousands and thousands of dollars, so choose carefully.
Another classic example: Action Comics volume 1 and 2's #1s.
Such renumberings will no doubt lead to non-collectors running into your friendly neighborhood comic book store exclaiming "I've got Action Comics #1! Gimme a million bucks for it!" and thrusting the Grant Morrison issue at the clerk. It's the volume number that's important here. You want Action volume 1 #1 to retire on, volume 2 #1 for a decent read but not much of an investment.
Detective Comics works the same way, although you won't find Batman on the cover of Detective volume 1 #1. If you want to make trivia out of comic book history, the next couple years will be the first times we ever see Batman in Detective Comics #1-26.
And then there's Superman. Yep, that's Supes volume 1, 2, and 3 numbers 1 below. But as the lady in the Pandorica said: "Okay, kid...this is where it gets complicated."
In 1986, DC capped off its fiftieth anniversary with Crisis on Infinite Earths, for which we have to blame every furshlugginer comic book crossover since. War of the Gods? Crisis's fault. Atlantis Attacks? Blame Crisis. Onslaught? Cri...well, actually, let's just blame that one on the 1990s.
Following Crisis, DC rebooted the Superman franchise with new creators (Byrne! Ordway!), a new back history (Ma and Pa Kent are alive! Lex Luthor is Donald Trump!), and a brand-new Superman #1. Volume 2, #1, to be precise (see the middle comic above). Volume 1 of Superman had ended earlier in the year with Superman v.1 #423, the sublime "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", celebrating the Silver Age concepts that the reboot (temporarily) wiped off the Super-slate: Krypto, Superboy [and the Legion], Supergirl, the Fortress of Solitude, Morgan Edge and WGBS, and approximately one bajillion other survivors of Krypton.
Also the same month Supes v.2 #1 (and I say that just to annoy John Byrne) premiered and Action Comics #584 became a post-Crisis team-up title to replace the cancelled DC Comics Presents, a third Superman title premiered with a new name and a familiar number: The Adventures of Superman. #424. Wait, what? Why that number for a first issue?
Adventures picks up the numbering from volume 1 of Superman, which ended with #423. Renaming comics without renumbering them, of course, was not a new concept to the comic book industry. We can blame, as we can for many, many, things, the United States Postal Service, and by extension, we may as well blame the first Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin, for his role in the ephemeral film Money Talks!, if nothing else**.
Money Talks (1955). This MSTed version is from Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 621 (1995),
starring Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, and Kevin Murphy.
Here's the explanation of the second class mail permit regulations' effects on comic books, the brief version: publishers of magazines and periodicals (including comics) were charged an expensive permit fee to register a new title to be shipped through the postal service at a cost-savings bulk rate. But, just as Brian Bendis does every time we look too carefully at one of his stories, those publishers discovered an escape clause loophole: if you changed the name of the comic book but kept the same numbering, you didn't have to apply for a new permit...even if the renamed comic had nothing to do with the original. Want some examples? Sure, why not?
- One of several Marvel Silver Age examples you're probably familiar with: Atlas [1950s Marvel]'s Journey Into Mystery began with #1 in 1952 as an anthology of mystery and horror stories and eventually evolved into the popular "monster of the month" anthology in the late 50s and early 60s. But as all Marvel Maniacs worth their weight in adamantium know, Journey Into Mystery #83 introduced the Mighty Thor, who became so popular that he later took over the entirety of Journey Into Mystery through issue #125. The following month the book was officially re-named Thor #126, and Stan and Company could cackle merrily because they'd just succeeded in avoiding paying a new second class registration. The same happened with most of Marvel's anthologies turned superhero double-features like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense.
- But you didn't necessarily need to keep the same star in a comic when you renamed it. Timely [Golden Age Marvel]'s Terry-Toons Comics began with #1 in 1942 and ran through #57 in 1947. It then became a western comic: Best Western #58 and #59. (Ignore for the moment that fact that Marvel actually managed to also sneak a pair of Terry-Toons #58 and #59 past the postal service as well.) Best Western was renamed Western Outlaws and Sheriffs with 1949's #60. Sneaky, Stan, sneaky!
- Consider EC's Moon Girl and the Prince #1. Which became Moon Girl #2-6. Which became Moon Girl Fights Crime #7-8. Which became, with so much chutzpah I've got to salute William Gaines, A Moon, A Girl...Romance #9-12. Which became Weird Fantasy #13-17. Which became Weird Fantasy volume 2, #6. Aieee! Gasp...choke!
- More recently, remember when Incredible Herc took up the numbering from Incredible Hulk? When Daredevil became Black Panther: The Man Without Fear and then Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive? When Deadpool: Yet Another One of His Series became A Really Good Series That Isn't About Deadpool for Once? Oh, sorry, the last one only happened in my brain.
As far as volumes, however, how do we count the volume numbers? Returning to the Superman example:
...those are, from left to right and very clearly, Superman volume 1, 2, 3. But what do you call its volume number when, in 2006, both Superman volume 2 and The Adventures of Superman stop publishing (with issues #226 and 649, respectively), and are followed the next month with one comic: Superman #650? Hmmmmmmm! I can definitely see what they're doing here: while DC cut the title line by one, this restores the original 1938 numbering to the Superman title. But is this volume 1? Or volume 2? (I sometimes internally refer to it as volume 2a, but really...that's just cheating!) Luckily in 2011, after a year of the Man of Steel wandering aimlessly on foot across America, Superman volume whatever ends with #714 and is rebooted as Superman volume 3 #1, an era we're now six months into.
Which begs the question: what happens next? I'll bet my last donut (and it's a cream-filled one) that at some point DC will revert the issue numbers on volume 3 to add 'em all together for the proper, straight-since-1938 numbering scheme. We've seen this happen at Marvel as their occasionally-rebooted and renumbered comics have reached milestone anniversary: Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Thor, and most recently Wolverine. Also, for some reason, X-Factor, which I think is cheating a little. That series was outright cancelled, not rebooted, in 1998! DC's done the same with Wonder Woman and Adventure Comics. And I bet my cuppa coffee (for dipping donuts in, doncha know) that I can guess pretty much exactly when it will be cover-dated: December 2018. Why? Because that's the date that, assuming Supes v.3 continues along at 12 issues a year, that it would hit #86, which, added to the 714 we'd had of volume 1 and volume 1a, equals...#800! It doesn't hurt that 2018 is also Superman's eightieth anniversary. (Eighty years times twelve issues is actually 960, but Superman hasn't always been published monthly.)
By that same Bully-logic, in about seven and a half years, Action Comics volume 2 #95, cover-dated September 2019, will be published, following the next month by Action Comics #1000. (It's coming sooner than you think, fans who use a three-digit numbering index system...get ready for Y1K!) Detective Comics could be renumbered as potentially soon as the middle of next year (The New 52's Detective #19 is Detective #900), or it could wait until Detective Comics #1000, which would follow Detective Comics v.2 #117, approximately September 2021 (Though it's an older publication, Detective has a lower issue count than Action because of Action's weekly publication in 1988-1989).
And it would only take one more issue...but Sugar & Spike will probably never reach issue #100.
Confused enough yet about renumbering, rebooting, revoluming and dark knights returning? Well, so am I! In fact, my li'l stuffed brain is revolving and revolting! So, let's return...er, continue tomorrow with a look at Marvel's wacky renumbering schemes, why Hulks count twice, and why and how this will all lead to a startling but not insignificant change in this very blog! Tune in tomorrow if you know what's good for you! For example: vitamins, regular exercise, and cutting down on the pizza with extra cheese inside the crust.
*This comic book does not exist.
**This film has nothing to do with the rest of this post. Fun, though, huh?