Amongst the myriad of news and rumored news to come arising out of Chicago this past weekend, one particularly stood out to me: the supposed renumbering of Captain America. Now, I really shouldn’t be surprised. There’s a Captain America movie coming out and Marvel needs to capitalize on that as much as they can (or something). I also shouldn’t be surprised since this has happened ALL THE TIME, especially (almost exclusively) in the Marvel camp, yet something about this title reboot set me off thinking more than any other has in a while. Click on down to find out why.
I know now that, in order to not have to eat my words later, this column is going to be light on broad stroke declarations and heavy on sheer speculation and open ended questions. Though if you care enough about this column to click behind the cut, I bet you can dig that. That said, I suppose the first place to start with an analysis of title reboots is WHY they need to happen within the current industry structure. While I do not work for one of the Big 2 publishers, I’ve been around the block long enough to know this simple formula:
#1 Issue = $$$
Or, at least theoretically.
For years the Big 2 have believed that new series sell a lot better than older established books, especially ones with numbers in the multiple hundreds. The kicker though, is that for once I actually agree with primary industry motivation (shocking, I know). New #1s DO sell better than #647s for the utterly simple fact that people can establish more personal ownership on a book when we come in at the first issue. I mean, lord knows if you go to any comic convention vendor after vendor is chock full of first issues, first appearances, first deaths, first orgasms, blah blah blah. At Boston Comic-Con last year, Jonathan Hickman’s SHIELD #1 (a comic that sold for $3.99 before taxes) had come out THAT WEEK and was still readily available on comic store shelves, yet was going for nearly twice that at some obviously less than honest booths. As a subculture, we’ve developed a desire to be the first on board with something no matter what it is, and that has created an exploitable opening for all those in the business of making money off comics (producers and vendors alike).
I will say though: there is something nice about following a story from it’s very first issue. There are countless runs in my collection, both complete and ongoing, that I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of. But as proud as I am of my full Doom Patrol (volume whatever) run, it is NOT the beginning of the story. It’s only the most recent chapter, dressed up as a new start. In the case of the Captain America reboot or the upcoming Mighty Thor debut (after both books were returned to their original numbering within the last four years), it’s even MORE apparent as it will be the same writer continuing the same story with the same characters. There is no inherent newness that the reboot would imply. It’s being done (seemingly) only to boost sales on books that are honestly doing pretty well and to bring in new readers. Is this an inherently bad thing? No, not necessarily. Comics are a business after all.
Also muddying up my ability to take a firm stance on this subject is the fact that SOMETIMES (read: rarely), a title reboot is actually necessary. For my money, there are two legitimate lines of reasoning to make this blatant “marketing first/story second” move accessible. The first is if the story being told by the writer absolutely necessitates a change in the fundamental publishing structure of the book. To cite a recent example of this, Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four morphing into FF with this week’s new #1 issue. Hickman is taking the book in a distinct direction that both is and is not the Fantastic Four that we’ve known throughout the years, and the path is just different enough to justify a clean break and a fresh start (though why they didn’t just call the book “Future Foundation” is beyond me). The second reason is to use the resulting marketing push that comes along with the reboot to help save a floundering title. Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, Runaways, Moon Knight and (for a while, anyway) Spider-Girl are great examples of this tactic’s success. By rebooting these books, often with the same creative team, they managed to bring in enough new readers to keep the title afloat. This can only be described as a good.Continued below
However, Captain America and Thor are in zero need of a sales boost nor are their stories taking all that much of a creative turn. Sure, the original Thor numbering will continue and indeed go back to the original title of the book with Journey Into Mystery. This, I think, is an acceptable middle ground. The history, continuity and publishing integrity of the book is maintained AND all the lil’ Thor fans that see the movie get a nice, shiny, accessible Mighty Thor #1 to rub their paws all over, featuring Thor fighting a giant monster they had been lead to believe was a giant space cloud a few years back. Which brings me to yet another question: is there something to be said by a book reaching such a high publishing count? I’m gonna go with yes on this one, almost despite my better judgement and the logic I JUST presented FOR renumbering. Yeah, yeah, I know – movie fans need something they can gravitate towards as a neophyte reader, but there is still value in a book carrying the flag of its own cultural and historical artifact status with its original numbering.
As much as I myself like owning complete stories and shiny first issues, I think there is also a LOT of intrinsic value knowing that I am taking in a new portion of a story that has been running far longer than I have been alive. Granted, even if I’m reading a new #1 that is by no means “new”, I as a longtime reader/fan/cultural historian/pretentious asshole still know the history I am absorbing, regardless of the digit present in the little box on the cover, making a title reboot an almost superfluous change.
Rather then coming up with some poorly constructed/hokey conclusion I’ll have to take back later, I’m leaving the end of this wonderful installment of Multiversity 101 to you: