The Marvel 500s: How Many Are There?

Last month, "Uncanny X-Men" became the latest of Marvel Comics' long-running series to reach its 500th issue. The anniversary marked a new direction for Marvel's mutants, welcoming both the new writing team of Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker, and the new art team of Terry Dodson and Greg Land. It's not unusual for issues that end in a couple of zeroes to take on a certain air of significance, however imagined - it's like that rare moment where you can watch all the digits on the odometer tick over: there's nothing massively impressive about it in itself, but you can't argue that it's a satisfying feeling.

In an industry where virtually no comic is safe from cancellation or re-numbering gimmicks, it's uncommon for a title to reach a number as high as 500, and "Uncanny X-Men" is only the fifth time in Marvel's history that the publisher's managed to put out a comic with #500 on the cover. While titles like "Incredible Hulk" and "Captain America" have technically been running continuously for years, they miss out on the significance of a 500th issue because they both originally began as features in anthologies.

The Silver Age revival of Captain America, for example, took co-headline billing in the ongoing "Tales of Suspense" title, alongside Iron Man, but only from issue #59. The series was eventually renamed "Captain America" with 1968's #100, as Iron Man moved to his own series. The Hulk, meanwhile, had a short six-issue run of his own before his title disappeared, only for the character to return as a regular feature in the similarly-split "Tales to Astonish" book in #60. That series wasn't renamed "Incredible Hulk" until issue #102, and found itself cancelled practically on the cusp of its 500th issue with "Incredible Hulk" #474 in favor of a new "Hulk #1" comic.

Because series featuring Marvel's longest-running solo characters -- Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk and Iron Man - have all been subject to various rolling launches, reboots and renaming stunts over the years, the next-highest title with a continuous run of both content and numbering is way, way, down with 1991's "X-Men" series (recently re-titled "X-Men: Legacy") which is just sneaking into the early #200s. After that it's a long drop to "Ultimate Spider-Man" "Incredible Hercules" and "Thunderbolts," all of which are still in their early #100s -- and of those, only "Ultimate Spider-Man" hasn't been tampered with in some way!

As you can see, it's proving more than hard enough to get a series a quarter way through its millennium, let alone to the halfway point. But still -- that's enough about those that haven't yet made it. What about those that did?

The first Marvel title ever to have a 500th issue was "Thor" in 1996. A definite milestone, but also something of a cheat -- the title was originally called "Journey into Mystery" and didn't feature the Odinson until #83, only taking the name "The Mighty Thor" with #126! Issue #500 of "Thor" was written by William Messner-Loebs, drawn by Mike Deodato, Jr. and featured Thor discovering that Asgard had been devastated and the gods scattered, as well as the culmination of wider arc that saw Thor's powers returned to him. A fairly unremarkable story for a such a milestone issue, Thor actually exited the title shortly after when he "died" in the Onslaught crossover, and the series returned to its original title of "Journey into Mystery" with #503. That, at least, suggests there's some credibility to a 500th issue claim -- just look at it as if Thor were the title's star feature for 380 issues. "Journey into Mystery" sadly disappeared less than two years later, folding with issue #521.

The next time a Marvel title hit #500 was over 6 years after "Thor," in September 2003, when "Fantastic Four" became the first to legitimately reach the magic number with a continuous 500-issue run of Fantastic Four stories -- well, sort of. The series was rebooted twice during its run -- the first time, it was under the Heroes Reborn initiative, whereby "Avengers," "Captain America," "Iron Man," and "Fantastic Four" all had 13-issue runs in a "pocket universe" before being re-launched once again for the Heroes Return event that marked their re-integration into the Marvel Universe. As with many of Marvel's series at the time, "Fantastic Four" was dual-numbered for a short period of time after Joe Quesada took over as Editor-in-Chief, until it returned fully to its original numbering with #509, counting all previously published issues as part as the same run.

Mark Waid was writing "Fantastic Four" when the milestone 500th issue was reached, and it coincided with the completion of "Unthinkable," a four-part arc in which Dr. Doom repeatedly and devastatingly bested the Fantastic Four in a number of ways, including sending Franklin Richards -- Reed and Sue's four-year-old son - to Hell. The artist on the title was the late Mike Wieringo, who turned in some of the best and most memorable work of his career. Reaction to the issue was strong, though being the final chapter in a longer arc, it doesn't work incredibly well as an anniversary issue. It was, however, widely recognised as a great conclusion to a great story, and that's certainly one way to make an anniversary issue feel special.

"Amazing Spider-Man" followed up with its own 500th issue shortly afterwards, in December 2003. Much like everything else on this list, "Amazing" was not entirely immune from renumbering and re-launch gimmicks, but at least in this case the title had legitimately been one continuous thread under Marvel's direct stewardship right from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's 1963 "Amazing Spider-Man #1 up until Howard Mackie and John Byrne's 1999 "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 and beyond. Volume 2 of the title, written by J. Michael Straczynski, resumed the original series numbering with what would've been issue #59, specifically to celebrate the 500th consecutive issue of "Amazing Spider-Man."

While JMS's Spider-Man run often faced a critically uneven reception, he undeniably made issue #500 a special anniversary moment for the web-crawler (along with John Romita, Jr., who drew the issue) throwing Peter backwards and forwards through time, forcing him to re-live some of his most desperate (and thus, fan-favorite) moments. Peter found himself having to overcome them all again, in a story that reminded readers exactly why Spider-Man is a hero, as he struggled against overwhelming odds.

While it was the third and final part of an ongoing story, "Amazing Spider-Man" #500 does stand alone nicely, offering a nostalgic trip through Spidey's history that anyone can pick up and read. Of course, with the thrice-monthly schedule now well under way, it's not long until "Amazing Spider-Man" becomes the first Marvel title to read its 600th issue, having already passed "Fantastic Four" as Marvel's highest-numbered title.

"Avengers" soon joined the club, switching its dual numbering to mark it as Volume 1's 500th issue rather than Volume 3's 84th. Containing the first part of the highly controversial "Avengers Disassembled" storyline, Brian Michael Bendis took over the writing (bringing superstar artist David Finch along) specifically so that he could bring the current era of the team to a close. A series of devastating events shake the group to its very core - Ant-Man dies, She-Hulk goes nuts and rips the Vision in half, and Iron Man appears to relapse into alcoholism right in front of the UN. Things look bad, and the issue drew much ire from Avengers traditionalists.

However, that story fed directly into the cancellation and re-launch of the title, changing it into a little book you have heard of called "New Avengers." Today it's one of Marvel's highest-sellers, and the ramifications of "Avengers" #500 are still being felt in the Marvel Universe as a fairly major event in the lead-up to "Secret Invasion." It might not be the most popularly received anniversary issue, but as far as being important, no other story even comes close to having the staying power.

Amusingly for numbering nerds, all this makes "Uncanny X-Men" the only Marvel title to make it to #500 without involving a reboot or renumbering gimmick - but wait! It's not as safe a bet as it sounds. From 1970 to 1975, "Uncanny X-Men" wasn't selling enough to make creating new stories profitable. Reprint editions, however, cost far less to produce -- thus, issues #66-93 contained reprints of old issues, and as a result, they cast significant dubiousness on the "Uncanny X-Men" 500-issue claim. Pity!

Even so, Marvel fans should probably savour the feeling of buying an issue #500 now, because there are very few opportunities left for it to roll around. "Daredevil" will be the next Marvel title to reach its 500th consecutive issue with next year's #120. The title's editor, Warren Simons, has confirmed that they are aware of the significance, but also says that it's too early to nail down any plans to celebrate it -- still, if you'd like to see them return "Daredevil" to its original numbering in acknowledgement of this milestone, now's the time to start talking about it! After all -- Issue #1s turn up all the time, but it's a rare and special thing to find a series that makes it to #500.

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