Comics: Who Needs Numbering?

At Newsarama, Michael Doran speculates that the DC Comics Relaunch could mean a switch to “seasonal” numbering. Basically, instead of starting a comic book at #1 and continuing indefinitely until the market and editorial whim dictate cancellation or relaunch, each series would start over at #1 every year. He compares it to television seasons, which have individual episodes and, when written long-form, tend to have a season premiere and a season finale.

Now, there’s something to like about that, particularly if DC commits to publishing an entire “season” of every series they solicit. No more scrambling to tie up loose ends when a series is canceled mid-storyline. The writers know they’ve got 12 issues to work with, and if the series does well, they’ve got 12 more, but they at least know where the axe is going to fall if they get canceled.

But I don’t think it goes far enough.

It works great if you’ve got 12-issue stories, but if you’ve got a 6-issue story, two one-shots and a 4-issue story, what ties them together as a volume? And what happens when someone picks up Flash #1 and wants to read what’s next, but there are fifteen comics called Flash #2 and the store on their smartphone doesn’t show enough detail? Or worse, it shows the year, but the numbering launches in September, so the reader goes from Flash #4 (2012) to Flash #5 (2012) and ends up jumping backward by a year.

You know what would be better than seasonal numbering?

Chapter numbering.

Make every story arc a miniseries. Make every done-in-one a special. Just like we had Flash: Rebirth #1-6, instead of Flash #9 containing part 1 of “The Road to Flashpoint,” the book should have been titled Flash: The Road to Flashpoint #1.

A lot of indie and creator-owned series do this already, in part because it tends to be harder to scrape together the time and budget to release on a monthly schedule, but it can work just as well whether you’re releasing 6 issues a year or 12. And if things get delayed, you’ve got natural breaking points.

It simplifies the “where do I start” question by at least making sure you can start at the beginning of a story. On the downside, it means readers trying to catch up on older stories need to figure out whether “The Road to Flashpoint” comes before or after “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues,” but anyone reading comics in collected trades or hardcovers already has that problem. And judging from the way prose novels are sold, readers in the bookstore audience seem to be able to figure it out.

So what do you think? If DC decided to stop long-term numbering (which, frankly, I doubt), would you like this solution, or would you prefer something else?

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12 thoughts on “Comics: Who Needs Numbering?

  1. Ken O

    I like the way smaller series do it to be honest. Here is your story arc, then there may be a month or two before the next.

    In most of those titles I think it tends to make the series stronger. You don’t get those fill-in issues that have been sitting in an editor’s file cabnet for 5 years that are suddenly published because they need to get something out that month.

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  2. Dylan

    The problem is, issue numbering wasn’t supposed to be a focus. Comics are a form of magazine, and every magazine has an issue number, but I don’t see Time Magazine printing the issue number in a large, bold font on the cover, and they certainly don’t reboot every few years just to plaster a #1 in the top corner to attract new readers. Issue numbers are for ordering, marking chronology. It should be that you say “Flash #1” and only mean 1 comic. The CONTENT is supposed to be what matters, not the issue number.

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  3. Kyer

    All I care about is that I can find the correct issue when I’m trying to order a story AND I can put what issues I do get into whatever continuity/reading order I can even if only to get the artistic styles all in one lump. Maybe if they do just number them by Season#:issue# Arc #of#.

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  4. michael edgecomb

    I never had any issues tracking down back issues… vol # issue #….
    agencies started reading Flash right before Impulse showed, I just looked up the issues…and back tracked. Its even easier today to look up info online if people want to know more… its just BS to say people are lazy or wont do a bit of research first to find what they are looking for…

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  5. Lee H

    I much prefer the mini-series/subtitle idea to have 27 different “The Flash #3” comics out there. It makes reference and back issue hunting much easier.

    Interestingly, Marvel Comics’ Venom series in the 1990s did exactly that. It lasted around 5 years as a series of mini-series without skipping a single month.

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  6. Nicolas

    I agree 100% with Dylan. The numbering should never be the focus from an editorial point of view!!! All DC comics, or at least plenty of them, are much worse than they were a decade ago, but all they care about is the numbering and the character designs, NOT the writers and artists who are more or less the same. I can’t believe it but the comics industry is looking more and more into its own belly instead of looking forward. Dumb move

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  7. Jeremy

    I like the idea. I mean, sure the numbering thing gets kinda special and all that especially when they reach milestones like #100 and whatnot. But this kinda makes it simpler. And this way you can collect a specific set of issues and just be done collecting. And they can also indicate which volume it is so that the readers won’t get confused. Kinda like in a mini-series, instead of “of 3” below, they can have “volume 3” instead, then the issue number on top.

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  8. JonQCitizen

    I love this idea! It would give plenty of #1’s without having to constantly relaunch/reboot/etc. The Indie’s are doing it with regularity and success. It DOES make it easier for new readers to find a “starting” point.

    The “seasonal” set-up makes sense because it’s kind of a guarantee to the reader that their are at least ___ number of issues that will be released. I don’t think the 12 issues are a problem (example used was: 6-issue arc, 2 one-shots, 4-issue arc) if they go back to the classic 3×4-issue arcs=12 format that writers used for years. 3 arcs that are separate but tie-in together (albeit “loosely”) by the 12th issue.

    Love all the ideas, and although it’s not about numbers, in the comics industry it always IS!!

    I’ve actually been hoping for a format similar to this for some time. It is much better than publishing bad comics just to continue an on-going. Just end it! Then start a mini-series or a new arc from #1 a couple months later instead of loosing readers in droves with bad product.

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  9. I.Strange

    I’d like to see a seasonal structure that’s 9 months on, 3 months off. Each season collected in trade before the next one debuts.

    The off months would be filled with standalone miniseries and special projects — different creators, different characters, not necessarily in continuity. A chance to try out new things.

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