Like most people, I was floored when I learned yesterday that Marvel is starting Wolverine over with another new volume in February and with a big ol’ guady “#1” slapped on the cover for good measure. Not that this shock tactic is particularly surprising these days coming from the Former House of Ideas. Indeed, it comes hot on the heels of the announcement that Fantastic Four is starting over with yet another new volume/#1 early next year, too. But there’s a key difference.
Some preface first, however. Marvel has, of course, near-perpetually relaunched most if not all of their properties in the last few years with new volumes and first issues: Uncanny X-Men and Captain America twice in less than two years; Thor and the Hulk were lavished with the same treatment but the effect was “hidden” by renaming the new volume in a vain attempt to stave off criticism*, Wolverine has had more volumes and first issues than can be counted; Punisher’s even worse; Fantastic Four was abruptly changed to FF to mark a shift in the then-current storyline’s direction. That lasted twelve issues, just in time for the #600 anniversary issue event to revert to old-school numbering, only to be relaunched last year when writer Matt Fraction took the reigns for the Marvel NOW initiative. Hell, even Daredevil’s on his third volume, which is actually a pretty low number compared to some of Marvel’s other characters. Although he’ll soon be on his fourth if you want to count his upcoming digital-only adventures as a volume (and you might as well since it’s the only way Marvel will be offering new Daredevil comics for the foreseeable future).
Seeing a trend yet?
Sure, it’s callous, and it’s an obvious money- and attention-grab. But up ’til this point, the game, though rigged, was at least predictable: anytime a new writer or writer/artist team comes on board, slap a new #1 on it and hype the hell out of it. Stupid? You bet. Transparent? Hell, yes. But at the end of the day, predictable.
But now we come to the new-new volume of Wolverine. It’s only been a year since the ol’ Canucklehead was relaunched yet again as part of the first wave of Marvel NOW. Writer Paul Cornell took the reigns, and Marvel had a publishing initiative to hype, and who doesn’t like Wolverine, so why the hell not? But now, a year later, they’re doing it again…. and guess what? Paul Cornell’s still writing it. Sure, there’s a new artist, but the man is merely writing the next arc in his ongoing story and they decided to push a new volume for it. This is a shocking new low in the comics numbers game, and it’s unfortunately a sign of things to come.
A year or two ago, I read an article–I forget where–about the then-current state of affairs with comics renumbering. The gist of the article was: do numbers even matter anymore? (No. They do not. Not to the publishers, at least.) The article went on to hypothesize that comics were actually going to shift into a more “season-based” numbering system, with each arc representing a season on a TV show in order to more effectively lure new readers in. I initially scoffed at this idea, but then, as evidence continued to mount in this trend, the smoking gun was finally found: in an article published today regarding the new volume of Wolverine, Paul Cornell actually uses the term “season” when referring to the new volume. So it would seem we traditionalists, who are steeped in decades of comics lore and love and who understand that the large number on the cover is in fact significant**–are being ignored and hung out to dry. All hail the shortening of attention spans, even among comic readers.
Marvel isn’t alone in being guilty of the numbers game. DC, of course, relaunched their entire damn line in 2011 as the New 52 when they “soft-rebooted” their continuity, with new #1s across the board–even on sacrosanct books like Action and Detective Comics. Action Comics was the big daddy of them all amongst American comics and had just crossed the #900 mark; Detective was just shy of the same number; and their third-oldest book, plain ol’ Batman, had recently crossed the #700 line. And yet DC had the balls to go against all conventional wisdom and reboot these books with new #1s, justifiably raising the hackles of fans everywhere. They’ve since gone on to “celebrate” what would have been the next big anniversary issue in the series (Detective #900 was marked in volume two’s super-size #19), but anybody who thinks that’s the same thing is absolutely either fooling themselves or just doesn’t understand the argument. But to DC’s credit, they didn’t use the anniversary as a callous means of reverting to the old numbering just to goose sales as Marvel would have. Also to their credit: they’ve stuck to their guns with their renumbering across the board, despite near-constant online pressure and harping and among numerous creative team changes. Marvel would have certainly used the opportunity of a new writer coming onboard to relaunch with a sexy new #1. (Although, given the number of creative changes some DC books have undergone in the last two years, some comics would be on their fourth or fifth volume already.) So DC isn’t afraid to play the game but at least in their case they only played it once, had the gonads to apply the new rules of engagement line-wide, and have stood buy their decision since, without jumping on the delirious and sickening merry-go-round of relaunched #1s.
The writing’s on the wall: this trend isn’t going away or even lessening anytime soon. If anything, it’s only getting worse. If we numerical traditionalists want our voices to be heard, the only way to do it is to hit Marvel where it hurts most: the wallet. From here on, you can count me out of any new relaunches, no matter how beloved the character, no matter how intriguing the new direction, no matter how great the writer. If there’s a #1 on the cover of a character that’s been around longer than my dad has, my money’s going nowhere near it.
I suspect this means there will be quite a few less Marvel titles in my future, which makes me sad. But at a certain point, we fans have to be willing to send the company a message and say: “Enough. I see what you’re doing, it’s shallow, it’s callous, I’m no starry-eyed mark hypnotized by your meaningless first issue, and I’ll have no part of it.”
*Thor has actually had several changes in the last seven years: in 2006 he was relaunched with his own adjectiveless, eponymous title; that book’s numbering changed once it reached the #600 mark under the old, first volume’s numbering (this was the third volume by this point). Fifteen issues into that, and Thor was rebranded (or is it retrograded?) back to its original Journey Into Mystery and continued under the classic numbering while the former title character received a new #1 under the guise of The Mighty Thor. Twenty-odd issues later, that book was changed to Thor: God of Thunder to coincide with the arrival of new writer Jason Aaron, and, of course, to hype the book as a first issue. Poor Hulk has had just about as many volumes in just as short an amount of time. He’s currently running amok under the banner (no pun intended) of Indestrucible Hulk, a book which was preceded by Hulk, which ran a paltry fifteen issues before moving on to the next iteration.
**Why is a large issue number significant? Everyone has their own opinion, but for me, it’s a badge of honor for the particular comic. Having a #600 or #700 on the cover says: “This book has withstood the test of time. It is important, and it matters.” Revisionists like Joe Quesada try to defend the opposite stance by stating that the high number on the cover actually scares away potential new readers, who would fear they needed to buy every single prior issue in order to understand the story. However, I’ve never met anyone stupid enough to believe this. So you can slap as many #1s on your comic as you want, but that in no way makes it special or even mean anything. It’s just a throwback to ’90s collector bubble mentality, which is a dangerous place to go.