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What’s in a number? Marvel Legacy puts some series back in triple digits

By Staff | Jul 27, 2017

After years of churning out countless No. 1 issues, Marvel Comics is returning several series to their original numbering.

More or less.

Under the Marvel Legacy initiative, some series will continue with their current numbering post-“Secret Empire.” Others will jump into triple digits, with “Avengers picking up at No. 672 after six No. 1s – plus one each under the titles “New Avengers” and “All-New All-Different Avengers.”

The original “Avengers” comic ran for 402 issues from 1963 to 1996 before it joined “Captain America,” “Fantastic Four” and “Iron Man” with new No. 1 issues under the “Heroes Reborn” banner. Each ran 13 issues before returning to the mainstream Marvel fold with four more No. 1s.

The logic behind some of the relaunches has been that new readers might fear they’d missed too much to come aboard a series in the 300s.

That never bothered me. The first comic I collected was the “Incredible Hulk,” when first-grade Evan found issue 333 not long after buying issue 332, where the Hulk was (gasp!) gray. It was the pairing of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee that got me to pick up their “Hush” storyline in “Batman,” regardless of it starting with issue 608.

Too many new No. 1s can backfire. Amy Phelps wrote in these pages last year about how hard it is to figure out the order of “Suicide Squad” trades since the New 52 reboot. When Marvel relaunched everything after “Secret Wars,” the cover of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” proudly proclaimed “Only our second #1 so far this year.”

Renumbering doesn’t always sit well among us longtime fans who hate change unless it happened more than a decade ago and we call it nostalgia (e.g., the Spider-Man Clone Saga). We’ve been following these characters for decades and are catching the latest installments in issues with single-digit numbers?

For a while, Marvel compromised with “legacy numbering,” printing the current issue number and what it would have been without a restart. When milestones approached, the numbering would sometimes switch back.

For a while, anyway.

Brian Michael Bendis began his Avengers tenure with “Avengers” No. 500 (following Vol. 3, No. 84), blew up the team (some literally), closed out the series with No. 503 and restarted with “New Avengers” No. 1.

The Fantastic Four popped back to their original numbering for issue 500, ran for 88 issues before switching to “FF” No. 1, then went back to No. 600 when the Human Torch returned from the dead. That numbering ended at 611 with Jonathan Hickman’s tenure.

After a pair of No. 1s in 2013 and ’14, Marvel jumped back to issue 642 for the series’ swan song and finale at 645.

Some of the Legacy renumberings come with milestones like “Cable” No. 150 and “Thor” #700, while others start wherever the count puts them, like “Despicable Deadpool” No. 287.

Marvel’s been putting out renumbering guides to explain their logic, which is both interesting and confusing. Why do two limited series account for eight of Deadpool’s previous 286 issues? And was that $4.99-cover-price “Incredible Hulk” No. 600 actually the 599th issue?

But if all this number-jumping has taught us nothing else, it’s that what’s in the pages is what really counts, not the number on the cover. I have to double check that 32 is the number of the X-Factor (Vol. 1) issue where the bruised and battered team takes on aliens masquerading as the Avengers, but I know it’s one of my favorite comics. And Brian K. Vaughn’s “Runaways” rocks, even if I can’t tell you what numbered issues are in which trades.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”