Why Legacy is 'Reverting' to Original Numbering
"At some point, 40 years of unbroken publication of all these titles was broken, and once that’s broken, you can pretend it’s still all there, but it’s never quite going to be seamless again," Breevort argued. "Combine that with the fact that our marketplace is more welcoming to a #1 than a #183, and it means that if you’re going to do something big, attention-getting and outreach-based, a #1 is only going to help you. Even the most casual potential comic book reader understands that a #1 is the beginning and that a #1 is the comic you save for your kids’ college fund. That’s important when you’re trying to get people into the stores."
That certainly seems to have been the pattern that's been adopted by Marvel and other companies over the last few years, with DC adopting wholescale renumbering for both its "New 52" and "Rebirth" initiatives. Yet there's a tangible sense of diminishing returns to such an approach, particularly for Marvel. Sales charts show that a new #1 is no longer a guarantee of mega sales, often delivering a temporary boost at best; a fact not helped by the frequency of relaunches. The 2015 Howard the Duck series, for example, was relaunched after only five issues.
There's one other element of Marvel's recent numbering strategy that should be mentioned in the context of Legacy. While renumbering and relaunching has become the standard, the company has also shown that it values the publicity from returning to legacy numbering -- particularly for anniversary issues. Hence, Uncanny X-Men reverted to #600 for its final issue, while Fantastic Four (#500), Amazing Spider-Man (#500), Daredevil (#500) and Incredible Hulk (#600) also enjoyed temporary renumbering. Pity the poor collector or comic shop owner trying to make sense of this tangled web.
So, why has Marvel now embraced wholesale the concept of reverting to legacy numbering? Marvel's recent November solicitations provide a short summary of the Marvel legacy approach, stating: "Featuring returns of the most beloved heroes and continuing the return to original series numbering... Marvel Legacy continues with fresh, exciting stories that define the next chapter in Marvel history while honoring that which came before!"
In this context, Marvel Legacy is a "back-to-basics" approach, an apparent response to the controversy generated by the replacement of several established characters with newer versions. If this is indeed aimed at the long-time fan, bringing familiar characters and concepts back to the spotlight, then the restoration of the original numbering does make a certain degree of thematic sense.
The wider question of whether this is a long-term change remains to be seen, and both fans and retailers would be forgiven for a degree of cynicism about when the next relaunch might come. But if Marvel does view this as a long-term initiative, it signals something interesting about the company and the way that it's marketing itself. Is this an intentional focus on older fans, attempting to consolidate the customer base and draw back the lapsed reader? Or is it simply a belated recognition that new readers are less concerned by a #1 than they are by an accessible and entertaining story? The next few months, as Marvel Legacy rolls out and consolidates, will offer a fascinating insight into this question.