Up until this month, the two longest running titles in comic book history, DC’s Action Comics and Detective Comics, were abruptly renumbered after managing to be published for 70+ years on a largely consistent publishing schedule. Did you realize that? There’s been a piece or two written about it on various comic-related sites, including this one. Go ahead and Google “DC relaunch” on your smartphone and it’ll heat up pretty quick.
More importantly, to some anyway, was that up until this month, both titles had chugged along over multiple generations with its numbering sequence intact and untouched, except if you want to count those #0 issues that were shoehorned in back in 1994. But there were no true numbering gimmicks; no starting over, no jumping ahead or backwards numbering ala Deadpool, no giving the numbering to another title (Adventures of Superman), no giving another title to the numbering (The Incredible Hercules), and no multiple issue numbers (Daredevil).
In retrospect, it’s kind of a surprise for a publisher who also owns the franchise that’s been guilty of perhaps the most convoluted title and numbering history of any franchise in comics, and it’s a franchise that’s been around for over forty years. What is this title, or series of titles, that gives major headaches to retailers trying to stock their back issue bins, and makes finding a particular issue a four-color nightmare for collectors?
I will tell you: that franchise is none other than DC’s Titans. Sometimes called Teen Titans. Sometimes New Teen Titans. Sometimes New Titans. And sometimes, just Titans, but I said that one already. And of course, that title, along with every other DC superhero title, has just gone through the same aforementioned renumbering that Action, Detective, and all of its other comics. And there’s a certain kind of irony to that: titles with both confusing and non-confusing numbering history are now on a level playing field, but the fact that Teen Titans has just been restarted at #1 only furthers its complex publishing history.
Things didn’t start out that way, naturally, but then, nothing ever does. The birth of anything doesn’t lend itself to complexity because there’s no history to complicate. Except for the current DC relaunch, so sayeth some, but I digress. Regarding Titans specifically, in 1966 DC launched the first incarnation of The Teen Titans. The series ran for 43 issues, when it went on hiatus in 1973.
So far so good. But in 1976, the series was resurrected with its original numbering, and only lasted ten more issues before it was eventually cancelled in 1978 with issue #53. No big complication there, either; the fact that DC continued with the original numbering, which was the more common practice back in the day, actually made filing these issues easier. And made for a nice single and complete run for collectors, with the hiatus all but transparent to anyone who picked these up as back issues and were none the wiser.
But in 1980, a new series, New Teen Titans, was launched, and it was not only a hit, but its success was of a magnitude that DC hadn’t seen in a long time. This was in large part because it was a very strong story by industry superstars Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, but arguably the fact that the issue was labeled New Teen Titans #1 and not Teen Titans #54 had a lot to do with it, too. This was an early example where the restarting a title with #1 generated a lot of buzz, and likely additional sales; a practice that has become all too familiar, and one that has been now applied by DC on a universal scale.
This first relaunch of an existing franchise was also where the confusion first started, as future restarts and relaunches of the title showed. I’ll get into that whole quagmire next week.