What the heck is “legacy numbering” in comic books?
You might have noticed something big happened in the world of Spider-Man in March 30’s Amazing Spider-Man #93 (opens in new tab), the issue in which Peter Parker’s clone, Ben Reilly, became a supervillain (get all the details on how that happened right here).
At the same time, you might have also noticed that Marvel has been planning some big changes for Spider-Man, including a brand new, relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1 in April. And then just a couple of months later it’ll publish Amazing Spider-Man #900, which is also Amazing Spider-Man #6 (opens in new tab).
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How Marvel Comics can go from Amazing Spider-Man #93 to #1, to #900/#6 (in that order) in a matter of weeks is kind of old hat for long-time comic book readers. And relaunching a series with a new #1 issue – which DC and particularly Marvel Comics both do often these days – seems pretty straightforward for even the most casual readers. But “legacy numbering” might still be a little perplexing.
That said, it’s not as complex as it may seem from the outside, and we can explain the basics of “legacy numbering” right now.
What is “legacy numbering” in comic books?
As we said, relaunching well-known comic books with new #1 issues has become a standard practice in the mainstream comic book industry, with both Marvel and DC often employing the tactic to signal the start of a new status quo or creative team. Even titles like Action Comics, which marked the start of the American superhero genre way back in 1938’s Action Comics #1 (opens in new tab) with the debut of Superman, have relaunched with new #1’s in recent years, although several DC titles like Action and Detective Comics subsequently reverted back to their original, “legacy” numbering.
But for some fans, especially those who have been reading comics for decades, these relaunches leave behind an important aspect of the ongoing narrative of the characters that start in the titles at hand. By eschewing the previous numbering, there’s a perception of breaking the ongoing tradition of the characters’ histories.
And that’s where “legacy numbering” comes in.
In order to preserve some of the connection between past stories and modern relaunches of ongoing titles, Marvel and DC have occasionally employed the tactic of putting both the number of a given issue in its own current volume on the cover of a comic book, along with a second, separately demarcated number showing which number the issue would be if the title in question had continued on without relaunching.
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The best current example of this is the aforementioned upcoming relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man in April and the subsequent Amazing Spider-Man #900 milestone issue. Each issue of the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man will bear its own individual numbering for the new volume, while also displaying what number the issue would be in relation to the original volume of Amazing Spider-Man based on math done by the publisher.
This means that June’s Amazing Spider-Man #6, which as its primary numbering implies will be the 6th issue of the relaunched title, will also bear the number Amazing Spider-Man #900, meaning Marvel’s math states that the issue will be the 900th comic to bear the Amazing Spider-Man title across all volumes of the series, which has been relaunched with a new #1 issue multiple times since the early ’00s.
By placing both the number of the issue in relation to the current volume of the title and in relation to the original Amazing Spider-Man title, Marvel intends to let longtime readers know where the issue fits in the overall continuity of the ongoing saga of Spider-Man, which has been running for 60 years as of 2022, while also honoring and connecting the new Amazing Spider-Man title to the history and, yes, legacy of earlier Spider-Man comics.
Speaking of which, Spider-Man may just be the prototypical hero to receive legacy numbering on his ongoing title.
How “legacy numbering” works with current comic books
One of the first prominent examples of “legacy numbering” came with 1999’s Amazing Spider-Man #1 (opens in new tab), the first time the title was relaunched entirely. Marvel began displaying the new issue numbers along with the issue number in relation to the original volume of the title on the covers of the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man, eventually reverting the title to its original numbering entirely.
That reversion to classic numbering lasted all the way through Amazing Spider-Man #700 (opens in new tab), in which Peter Parker’s body was taken over by the mind of Otto Octavius, and the Amazing Spider-Man title was canceled entirely in favor of a newly launching Superior Spider-Man title focusing on Doctor Octopus’ efforts to take over Peter Parker’s life and become Spider-Man.
When the Superior Spider-Man title and story came to their close in 2014, Amazing Spider-Man (opens in new tab) was relaunched with a new #1 yet again. This process repeated just a year later in 2015, when nearly every Marvel Comics title was canceled during the Secret Wars (opens in new tab) event, only to be relaunched with new concepts after the event ended.
The Amazing Spider-Man title also reverted to its legacy numbering to celebrate Amazing Spider-Man #800 (opens in new tab) in the middle of these relaunches, while marking Amazing Spider-Man #850 (opens in new tab) during the most recent volume of the title.
Amazing Spider-Man relaunched again in 2018, running for a total of 93 issues in its latest volume, the final issue of which came out on March 30. Now, next month, Amazing Spider-Man relaunches with a new #1 again, the sixth comic titled Amazing Spider-Man #1 to be published by Marvel, and the title’s fourth relaunch in under a decade – so you can see why there’s good cause to add legacy numbers to the covers, in order to signal to readers just how the latest relaunch fits into the overall continuity of Spider-Man comics.
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That habit of relaunching a title every few years (or sometimes even more often) applies across Marvel’s line in particular, where characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, Thor, the Avengers, and the X-Men all regularly receive new #1 issues for their flagship titles, with the titles often reverting to legacy numbering to celebrate milestones, as with the upcoming Thor #750, Elektra #100, and the recent Avengers #750.
Marvel even once reverted to legacy numbering for its entire line for several months before going back to their contemporary numbers or relaunching entirely, in an event appropriately titled ‘Marvel Legacy.’
The motivations behind these rolling relaunches are a whole can of worms on their own, but the simplest explanation seems to come down to marketing and sales. New #1 issues naturally boost sales of comic books, and from a more philosophical standpoint, somewhat echo the idea of “seasons” of TV shows, where a given show will take a hiatus each year, only to return later with new episodes and storylines – a concept we’re all accustomed to at this point.
For example, the second episode of the third season of a TV show may only be episode 2 in the current season, but it may hypothetically be the 80th episode in the overall run of the show.
In comic books, the practice of launching and relaunching a title to coincide with story developments and creative changes is a bit newer. But by including both the current, proprietary numbering of a comic like Amazing Spider-Man and the legacy numbering of how the issue fits into the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man saga, Marvel and DC seem to be trying to help train fans to get a grasp of how the modern practices of comic book publishing relate to the industry’s long history, while also attempting to invite new readers into titles by making new jumping on points as obvious as possible.
While we’re talking about the new Amazing Spider-Man #1, you can keep track of all the new Spider-Man comics planned for release in 2022 and beyond with our convenient list.