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I Tried to Explain Marvel Numbering to a Friend and It Came Out Really Stupid.

So a non-comic reading friend of mine took her non-comic reading son to Black Panther a few weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, he loved it. Looooooooved it. She knows I read comics, so we got to talking about some of the other Black Panther options out there, and how this kid really needs to be reading some comics.

So I did her a solid and grabbed her a Black Panther comic at the shop last week, to get him started. I figured Black Panther #166 would be a good start, for two reasons. One, it’s the start of the latest storyline and falls under the “Legacy” branding, so I figured it would be a clean entry point for him. Two, it’s got T’Challa fighting Klaw, who featured heavily in the movie, so bonus points for familiarity. Even though this isn’t Andy Serkis Klaw, but “guy made out of pure sound Klaw and also he doesn’t have a nose.” I’m trying here.

Then I realized that this kid might want to read more Black Panther comics, so I gave her a little warning:

By the way, a little caveat emptor on this comic…

Marvel Comics is notorious for, uh, messing around with its comic numbering. The issue he has there is Black Panther #166. The previous issue was #18. I am completely serious. 

So, if he decides to get more issues, um…he has to read #1-18, then #166-171. And then there’s a new #1 in May! Sorry. Comics are weird.

Her response was polite, but could have easily been shortened to: “wut.”

Uh, yeah. I had to walk her through it a little more the next day, explaining how Marvel has books that have been running since the 1960s which are constantly cancelled, restarted, and then renumbered when somebody discovers that the sum total of all the issues is close to a nice, round number. Even I can’t keep track of how many Incredible Hulk titles there have been at this point.

It was just six months ago that Marvel announced it was renumbering its books again back to “legacy” status. I complained about this then, but at least acknowledged that this was kind of stupid to worry about. It was just last month that Marvel said, ha ha, just kidding, we’re giving everyone a new #1 again.

I don’t know, maybe all the other publishers need to have an intervention. You know, confront Marvel in a small room with all its friends and family and tell it that they need to pick a damn numbering system and not change it.

Seriously, it’s damn confusing to tell a new reader–a kid who’s excited about Black Panther and wants to see a lot more of him–that comics numbering is a minefield. Here’s a potential customer for a comic shop to get the last 25-odd issues of Black Panther, and I’ve got to tell him that he needs to get issues 1 to 18 followed by 166-171, followed by another #1 in two months. At least mom has my advice on how this works. If they walked into a comic shop blind, they’d have no idea where to start unless the store owner is very helpful.

In the long-term, this is all irrelevant: I suggested she just buy the trade paperbacks which collect all the single issues into a tighter reading space. That’s probably the correct way to do this. But a new comics shopper may not know this, and floppies are the short-term entry point for new readers. Trades are a function of how new readers get books from Barnes & Noble a year from now.

So, Marvel, if you’re reading: you have a problem. You have a literal problem. Just pick a numbering system and stick to it, or else readers like my friend’s young son is going to walk out of a comic shop because Marvel math is hard.

…and for the record, here’s all of the Black Panther trades to date from the current Ta-Nehisi Coates run if anybody wants to purchase one. Buy on Amazon, or support your local comic shop.

Black Panther A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 (Issues #1-4)
Black Panther A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 2 (Issues #5-8)
Black Panther A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 3 (Issues #9-12)
Black Panther: Avengers of the New World Book 1 (Issues #13-18)
Black Panther: Avengers of the New World Book 2 (Issues #166-171–no, seriously.)

About Adam Frey (372 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.
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