Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Reader David L. wrote in to ask:
Remember how Marvel and DC used to sometimes just reprint an old issue in a current issue of a comic? What was the last issue at each of the publishers to be a traditional "reprint" in a standard issue of a comic?
First off, let's explore the history of this interesting phenomenon.
When comic book publishers first started popping up in the late 1930s and early 1940s, they specifically WERE reprint comic books. The most popular early comic book was Famous Funnies, which literally did just that - reprint famous "funnies," that is, newspaper comic strips.
Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded National Allied Publications (a company that he would be pushed out of a few years later right before it had its first major hit with a little comic book called Action Comics #1. They later officially re-named the company DC Comics) with the idea of taking that basic idea only doing it with ORIGINAL material, hence his book was called New Fun Comics...
Dang, they didn't even know how to spell "Hola" back then.
While National Allied introduced the idea of original content, other companies continued to have success with simply reprinting comic strips. When some of the world's most famous comic strip superheroes (like the Shadow, the Phantom and Green Hornet) got their own comic books, they were mostly just reprints of their comic strips (not all of them were like this, of course. There were some whose comic books had original stories in them).
So reprinted material didn't used to be a big deal.
Then, when original material became the norm at most comic book companies, they were done in anthology format. Even when Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more heroes got their own titles on top of the anthologies in which they were first featured (Action Comics, Detective Comics and Sensation Comics, respectively - although Wonder Woman technically appeared in a preview story in All Star Comics #8), their stories continued to be told in the anthology format, it was just that the anthologies would be entirely about them (so instead of a short Superman story appearing in Action Comics with stories featuring other heroes, it would appear in an issue of Superman along with other short stories starring Superman).
The reason that this matters is because it allowed companies to juggle a bunch of content and never have to worry too much about not having enough, as they'd just be putting together a bunch of stories that could be swapped in interchangeably. For instance, one of the stories in Batman #1 was originally advertised as appearing in an issue of Detective Comics.
This approach continued throughout the 1950s, so books would always be good, content-wise. Marvel had plenty of anthologies of their own, like Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish, where they could fit various stories that they had on file.
However, once comic books became SERIALIZED, you were really screwed. You couldn't just swap in another story as it would break up the continuity of the series. That happened at Marvel before it happened at DC.
DC Comics was still telling mostly stand-alone stories, so they could work in reprints easier. DC did a few extra-sized issues in the 1960s where the books would be entirely reprinted material. Even of relatively new series like Justice League of America.
At Marvel, so long as Jack Kirby was there, they would typically be able to meet some crazy deadlines, as Kirby was FAST. In the 1970s, though, with Kirby gone, they began to have problems and thus the dreaded Deadline Doom would creep up and issues would just suddenly be reprints instead of new stories.
On rare occasions, the notice would be so short that they didn't have a new issue to use and the cover would remain the same even though the comic inside turned out to be a reprint, like on Ghost Rider #10, which reprinted his first appearance, despite the cover remaining of what the issue was SUPPOSED to be about...
A notable example was when Steve Englehart left Marvel right in the midst of doing an issue of Avengers that would have introduced a new line-up. So Marvel quickly turned that issue into mostly a reprint book...
And then Jim Shooter and Gerry Conway cobbled together another issue made up of new pages by them and re-used pages from Englehart's original story (meant for #150) to introduce the new lineup in Avenger #151!
Okay, so when did this stop? Go to the next page to find out!