top of page

COMICS HISTORY: #1 issues are adored now, but publishers used to avoid making them

A new #1 comic title or rebooting an existing title at #1 in a new volume has been a proven attention-getter in the modern age of comics. Number One issues are consistently high sellers, not only satisfying the public’s appetite for something new, or for putting a different spin on their favorite title, but also for their supposed speculative value.

In the modern era of comics, rebooting an ongoing title at #1 was/is intended to be a way to overcome the hesitation and reluctance that potential new readers faced when trying to decide whether or not to jump on board and start reading a long-running title. It was extremely intimidating to consider to start reading a title that had been around for decades, and had hundreds and hundreds of back issues worth of backstory and continuity to absorb. Starting over at #1 created an ideal “jumping on point,” and theoretically helped eliminate the intimidation factor.

In the last couple of decades, it could certainly be argued that publishers have gone overboard with this sales technique. Some comics, like Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man are up to Volumes 4 and 5, with no signs of stopping. TASM has been rebooted at #1 three times in the last 7 years.

Seems kinda ridic when you see them all together, doesn't it?

But back in the Golden Age of Comics, when comics were still considered disposable entertainment (printed on pulp, the cheapest paper available), a #1 comic was something to be avoided.

It’s partly why Journey Into Mystery mysteriously became The Mighty Thor #126 in 1966, instead of giving its star character his own series starting over with #1. The title had also become so closely identified with Thor that Marvel decided to just hand it over to him instead of continuing it with another character (Marvel also faced a complicated restriction in the late 1950s-early 1960s that limited them to publishing a low number of titles per month, but that is a story in itself). It also wasn't the first time Journey Into Mystery had changed title names. JIM began in 1952, briefly became Marines In Battle (instead of Marines In Battle #1), before reverting back to Journey Into Mystery in 1958! In the mid-1960s, it was very unusual for a comic to change its title, but believe it or not, this was once a very common practice back in the Golden Age of Comics. Number Ones actually used to be a thing to be avoided. Why?

Nay to a #1 for the God of Thunder

First, a mailing permit fee was required for each new title a publisher created. Renaming a title while rebooting its concept, but keeping its numbering, was a loophole publishers exploited to avoid this fee. Second, comic books in the 1940s were big business; it wasn’t unusual for even a moderately successful title to sell over a million copies per month. Competition for the limited display space in newsstands and on spinner racks was high (see vintage photo below), and retailers were very unlikely to replace an established title with a new, unproven #1 issue. It was in the publisher’s best interest to keep the established high numbering and just re-title it, to guarantee they held on to their orders and display space. After World War II ended and the post-war fever for superheroes cooled off, comics constantly changed directions and were re-titled often, as publishers searched for the next hot trend.

The first significant title change (in the Marvel Universe anyway; National/DC was much more stable) was in 1947, when one of Timely—later Atlas, and then Marvel—Comics’ first superstars lost his own book. Sub-Mariner Comics was renamed Official True Crime Cases Comics.

Namor, no more.

The next superstar to fall was Timely’s first hero, The Human Torch. After debuting in the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939 (which immediately changed its name to Marvel Mystery Comics in issue #2), and breaking out the following year into his self-titled book, The Human Torch flamed out after only 36 issues, and was renamed Love Tales in 1949. Weirdly, Marvel would later briefly revive The Human Torch in 1954, starting with issue #37, ignoring eight years’ worth of Love Tales issue number accumulation.

Flame Off! The Human Torch fever cooled, in favor tales of love.

Some titles changed multiple times, including All-Select Comics changing to The Blonde Phantom in 1946, only to change again two years later to Lovers. Romance comics were suddenly hot, hot, HOT!

The last to fall was Captain America himself in 1949, when Captain America Comics was renamed Captain America’s Weird Tales, in an attempt to catch the wave of EC Comics popular horror titles. Cap’s Weird Tales only lasted two issues, and Cap himself didn’t even appear on the cover or the inside stories of the final issue. It was a sad end to Timely/Marvel’s Original Big Three…but eventually they would return, each getting a new start, or two or three… at #1.

SOURCE: Marvel Chronicle: A Year By Year History, 2008.

49 views0 comments
bottom of page