Comic Legends: The Mystery of the 1991 Dr. Strange/Ghost Rider Special

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and sixty-eighth week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

Click here for Part 1 of this week's legends. Click here for Part 2 of this week's legends.


Marvel created a special one-shot so that readers on the newsstand could read part two of a crossover!



Last month, I covered pretty much the same exact topic as this legend for a Comic Book Questions Answered, but when I did that one, a reader named Randy B. asked about this one, as well, so I thought it was interesting enough to give it its own legend!

Okay, so here's the deal. Nowadays, comic books are sold on what is called the direct market. This means stores order the comic books directly from Marvel and DC (through a distributor called Diamond Comics Distributors, Inc.). The stores order how many comic books that they think that they can sell. Whatever they don't sell, they're stuck with.

In the old days, there used to be another way of getting comic books, which was called newsstand distribution. Stores (like supermarkets or literal newsstands) would order comic books and then they would get to return whatever they didn't sell. This is the same format that is currently used for magazines and newspapers in these same places.

Distributing comic books through newsstands got more and more difficult for comic book companies to do in the 1980s and 1990s, as the markets changed and rack space was hard to come by on the newsstand market, while the direct market was booming. There were certain titles that could sell well enough to make money on the direct market, but if Marvel and DC had to print extra copies to sell on the newsstands, they'd be screwed, since they knew they wouldn't sell well enough to make it work, financially. You could make more money by technically selling less copies if you sold the marginal titles only on the direct market.

The popular titles of the 1990s, though, still sold well enough that it was financially viable to sell them on newsstands. So Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men,, etc.

Anyhow, Marvel sold plenty of titles only on the direct market. So you'd have to go to comic book stores if you wanted to buy them. One of these books was Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.

One of the titles that sold well enough to be on the newsstand, however, was Ghost Rider.

No problem there. That is, until early 1991, when Ghost Rider had a crossover with Doctor Strange!!

Here are the direct market and newsstand editions of Ghost Rider #12, part one of the story.

So what was Marvel to do?

Well, what they came up with was to do a one-shot that they would release on Newstands that would print the same content as Doctor Strange #28, part two of the storyline. They called it a Ghost Rider/Doctor Strange Special #1...

However, this was the early 1990s, so you couldn't release a new #1 and not let the Direct Market get a crack at it, so Marvel hilariously did a Direct Market edition of the book, despite the fact that Doctor Strange #28 was available on the direct market!!

A weird fluke of the period, also, though, was that despite Marvel not having UPC codes on their direct market books (until enough comic book stores asked for UPC codes and Marvel caved in and began using them in 1993 - and yes, I know the C in UPC stands for codes, but dammit, just saying UPC sounds stupid), they DID have them on Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme for a year or so...

I can't tell you why that is. It's a mystery to me, as well. If anyone knows why Doctor Strange, despite being direct market-only, had UPC codes on the covers of issues #2-3, 5, 7-9, 11-35, let me know.

Thanks for the question, Randy!

Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Was He-Man initially created as a movie toy tie-in for the Conan the Barbarian movie?

OK, that's it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

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See you all next week!

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