THE GOLDEN AGE (1938-1956)


Comic books come in many different forms and sizes, but there's one thing (almost) all of them have in common: they're numbered, and the numbering is continuous (unlike most periodicals and magazines, which often had their numbering broken down into annual volumes.
The reason for the continuous numbering is linked by several sources (e.g. Miller, 2011) to the comic book's ancestral roots in the Penny Dreadfuls, Dime Novels and Pulps of the late 18th and early 19th century, all of which also used a continuous numbering system. One might assume that it must have felt like a logical choice for publishers of the new comic book format in the 1930s.

But whereas the system used was generally the same, the way the number of a comic book issue was displayed varied greatly from publisher to publisher.

In some cases it featured prominently on the cover (a system which evolved into specific placeholders and would eventually also include month, price and even additional information), in others the issue number was hidden in the indicia at the bottom of the first page or even coded (as was the case with Dell's titles).

It seems however safe to assume that, at least initially, the ongoing numbering of issues of a given comic book title served the organisational needs of editors, publishers and distributors more than it ever really served a purpose for readers.


This was certainly true for as long as individual issues of comic books were self-contained, meaning they could really be read in no specific order at all. Things only changed when continuity was introduced and a growing base of regular readers-turned-fans evolved. This would be especially true for Marvel Comics, of course, where readers not only knew what happened several issues ago but were quite often reminded of that fact by way of an editorial footnote.

Numbers also have a psychological effect, of course. In the case of comic books, popular wisdom has it that newsagents and other points of sale preferred titles with higher issue numbers, indicating an established brand. And many comic book titles certainly were racking up the issue count by the mid-1950s, although not always for reasons of brand stability. In fact, sometimes it was for outright opposite reasons.

"Paul Levitz once suggested to me that one reason so many titles simply changed names rather than started anew at #1 was logistical. It was easier for a publisher to change the title on a series than get a new one set up [with his] printer’s and [...] distributor’s systems." (Miller, 2011)


Fantastic Four #100 (July 1970)


As a result, comic books changed their title several times while simply keeping the original numbering - but this was by no means restricted to the 1940s and 1950s, as the example of Marvel's Fantasy Masterpieces illustrates: issue #11 (October 1967) was followed two months later not by Fantasy Masterpieces #12 but rather Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) - new title, continued sequential numbering.

These days, things are different, as a seemingly never-ending succession of reboots and subsequent first issues from publishers across the board shows that nothing sells quite like a #1 issue. But what about centenary issues? That moment when a title reaches three digits in its numbering for the first time?

Fantastic Four #100, cover dated July 1970, was the first of Marvel's superhero titles to reach the one hundred issues mark in actual numbering, i.e. without any changes to title or character content, and its Jack Kirby cover is what Marvel fans would come to expect for such an occasion: crammed with good guys and bad guys and a blurb that proclaims "THIS IS IT! THE SPECTACULAR LONG-AWAITED 100th ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!".

However, the anniversary fireworks were limited to the cover - rather surprisingly (given Marvel's pronounced tendency towards self-celebration), both Stan Lee's Soapbox and the Bullpen Bulletin lost not a word on the occasion.

Did comic books quite simply not celebrate centenaries other than on their covers? A look back in time, starting here with the so-called Golden Age (1938-1956), provides some contradicting answers to this question.


Famous Funnies, published monthly since July 1934 and considered by many scholars and fans alike to be the first true American comic book title, was the first to reach the centenary benchmark, and publisher Eastern Color/Famous Funnies Inc. certainly celebrated that fact in style in October 1941, with a cover that made absolutely certain readers couldn't miss the milestone occasion of the title's "100th Anniversary".

Famous Funnies #100
(Eastern Color, October 1941)


The cover was made to almost look like an invitation to a birthday party (one where all the various characters featured in Famous Funnies were present at), and editorial acknowledged the anniversary on the letters page, proudly pointing out that this was the "first comic to be published for 100 consecutive months".

Thanking readers for their loyalty, editorial also noted that "we are looking forward to enjoying with you the time when FAMOUS FUNNIES will have been published continuously for 200 months instad of 100 months".

That wish would be granted - the title would continue in publication for a total of 218 issues before cancellation hit in July 1955.

So did Famous Funnies set the tone for future centennial comic books and their covers?


Famous Funnies #100


Well, not really.

Dell was the next publisher with one hundred issues of a title on its hand,in June 1944, but when Popular Comics (first published in February 1936) achieved that feat, there wasn't even the mildest hint of any celebrations, with the issue number #100 on the cover being all there was to it.

And the same maxed out understatement could be seen with the three other titles reaching 100 issues in 1944: King Comics, Tip Top Comics, and More Fun Comics (which was the first DC title to reach that benchmark, featuring Aquaman and Green Arrow, both introduced in issue #73).


Popular Comics #100
(Dell, June 1944)


King Comics #100
(David McKay, August 1944)


Tip Top Comics #100
(United Feature, October 1944)


More Fun Comics #100
(DC, November 1944)

The next big title to celebrate its centenary was Detective Comics in June 1945 - except Detective Comics #100 didn't really celebrate anything, with not a single word mentioning the occasion anywhere - not even on the cover, which on top of it all featured the Batman squeezed into the bottom left corner and wearing a rather peculiarly pinkish outfit.

Clearly, Famous Funnies #100 had been an exception, and the general rule in the comic book industry of the 1940s was to simply ignore centenaries.

The major reason for this lacklustre handling of anniversary issues may well be rooted in the fact that before the rise of fandom and a newly gained self-confidence, comic book publishers and artists as well as distributors saw comic books as one of the ultimate cheap and disposable entertainment forms. Readers came and went, and the stories in each issue were unconnected other than through the main characters (e.g. Batman and Robin), so why even bother?

As the 1940s progressed, more and more comic book titles reached number 100 in their issue count, but none of them made the least effort to mark this as a "special issue". In terms of sales, it simply wouldn't have made a difference at the time. Accordingly, neither DC's Adventure Comics #100 (October 1945) nor Action Comics #100 (September 1946) make any mention of the centenary, be it on their covers or their interior pages.


Detective Comics #100
(DC, June 1945)


Adventure Comics #100
(DC, October 1945)


Action Comics #100
(DC, September 1946)


All-American Comics #100
(DC, August 1948)


However, DC did break the established centenary silence in August 1948, by proclaiming All-American Comics #100 (starring Johnny Thunder as well as the Golden Age Green Lantern, Dr Mid-Nite, and Atom) to be a "100th SMASH ISSUE!" - only the second cover to do so after Eastern Color's Famous Funnies #100 in October 1941.

As a sidenote, DC had purchased this title from All-American Comics only two years prior - and it would become All-American Western as of issue #103.

At this point in time, centenary issues started to hit the newsstands at a regular pace, and the next in line after All-American Comics #100 was Whiz Comics #100, also in August 1948. But whereas DC had been content with a top of the cover banner, Fawcett retraced the footsteps of Famous Funnies #100 when Whiz Comics #100 also featured a birthday cake on its cover.

Whiz Comics #100
(Fawcett, August 1948)


But that wasn't it - taking matters even a few steps further than Famous Funnies #100 back in 1941, Whiz Comics #100 was full of references to the centenary.

An editorial shout out on the back of the inside cover was followed by a Captain Marvel story which kicked off with the publishers of Whiz Comics hosting an anniversary gala, which served as an opening to a story full of constant references to the number 100.

99 guests at the gala dinner are joined by Captain Marvel's archenemy Sivana, who is described as "100 villains rolled into one".


Whiz Comics #100



Writer Otto Binder really piled it on with his story, and as a result, "The Hundred Horrors" is not only clearly a 100th anniversary story, but also the very first.

While other publishers were flat out ignoring their titles' centenaries, Fawcett had a really good go at it.

Two months later, for the October 1948 publication run, it was once again DC who had their next title clocking up 100 issues, this time with Flash Comics #100.

But just as with All-American Comics #100 two months prior, the only indication of a centenary anniversary was restricted to a banner at the top of the cover, albeit this "100th SMASH ISSUE!" was now also "SPECIAL".

Flash Comics #100
(DC, October 1948)


But that was it. No editorial celebrations, and the stories featured in Flash Comics #100 were classic standalone plots that could have been printed in any issue of that title.

The next two titles to reach their cenetenaries - Wings Comics #100 from Fiction House in December 1948 and Master Comics #100 from Fawcett in February 1949 - kept total radio silence about their anniversary, and it wasn't until April 1949 and Columbia's Big Shot #100 that comic book readers got to see another birthday cake cover on the newsstands.

Strett & Smith, the next publisher with a centenary issue on their hands, kept total silence about this fact in Shadow Comics #100 (July 1949), but the last 100th anniversary title of the 1940s did just the opposite - maybe not surprising since it was once again published by Fawcett and once again featured Captain Marvel.


Big Shot #100
(Columbia, April 1949)


Once again scripted by Otto Binder, Captain Marvel's "anniversary story" (a four part tale spread out over 33 pages) didn't quite go as far as his previous centenary adventure in Whiz Comics #100 a year prior to Captain Marvel Adventures #100 (September 1949). This time, the references were kept to the first and final panels, used as a "framing device" rather than a plot element.


Captain Marvel Adventures #100
(Fawcett, September 1949)

At the time, Fawcett's titles featuring Captain Marvel sold well over a million copies each every month, so it made perfect marketing sense to let readers know about landmark issue achievements and to "bond" with them (an approach elevated to an artform later on, in the 1960s, by Stan Lee). For other titles, the reality at the newsstand was such that they sold well enough, but nowhere enough to trump up anything.

This was also the case for the first centenary issue of the 1950s, DC's Star Spangled Comics #100 (January 1950). Even though Robin "the Boy Wonder" had a solo feature in this title since February 1947, there was no centenary indication to be found. The same held true for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics #100 (Dell, February 1950), Police Comics #100 (Quality Comics, June 1950) and Modern Comics #100 (Quality Comics, August 1950).

A somewhat unusual approach to having a #100 issue was taken by UK publisher L. Miller & Son in April 1950 when they launched their British market Fawcett reprint title Captain Midnight by starting the issue count at 100 rather than 1 - definitely a somewhat rushed centenary (which however, and perhaps understandably so, did without any cover fanfare). It was not, however, to be the only time a publisher opted for this kind of advanced numbering scheme - US publisher Toby launched their short-lived Buck Rogers comic in Janaury 1951 with issue #100.


Sensation Comics #100
(DC, November 1950)


DC's Sensation Comics #100 (November/December 1950), featuring Wonder Woman and three additional features with female heroines, marked a return to the cover blurb "100th SMASH ISSUE!", but as before, editors at DC did not think the occasion worthy of anything more.

By the very early 1950s, a number of centennial issues were hitting the newsstands which were examples of the continued numbering of a comic book which had undergone one or more title changes in the process.

Such was the case with Marvel Tales #100 (April 1951), which only existed as a title since issue #93 as it continued the numbering of Marvel Mystery Comics (#2-91), which in turn had started out as Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939.

Whilst therefore not in an uninterrupted original title numbering sequence, Marvel Tales #100 was nonetheless the first Marvel title to reach a centenary.


Marvel Tales #100
(Marvel, April 1951)

A certain Stan Lee was already at the editor's helm, but he had yet to develop his special style in relating to readers - and as a result, not a word other than the numbering on the cover was lost on this occasion.

A similarly "mixed title" centenary occured in June 1951 when Fawcett's Sweethearts #100 hit the newsstands. A monthly romance title, it had started out as Captain Midnight (#1-67), and inspite of the change from superhero to romance title, Fawcett kept the numbering going - providing a striking illustration to Paul Levitz's previously mentioned assessment that "it was easier for a publisher to change the title on a series than get a new one set up" with his distributor (Miller, 2011). Another example was Lev Gleason's Crime Does Not Pay #100 (July 1951), which had been called Silver Streak for its first 21 issues.

Another true (i.e. continuous numbering on the same title) centenary took place with Sparkler Comics #100 in July 1951, but as so many publishers before, United Feature didn't deem the occasion worthy of any mentioning on the cover, let alone on any editorial interior page.

August 1951 saw yet another of Fawcett's range of Captain Marvel titles reach its centenial, but while the cover of Captain Marvel Jr #100 was literally banging its drum about the event, no further mentioning of it was made in the interior pages, and the "sensational 3-parter" story featuring the teenage equivalents of Captain Marvel and his arch-enemy Sivana carried no puns or references either.

Maybe the change of writer had something to do with it (Otto Binder had been in charge of both the Captain Marvel centenary stories, in Whiz Comics #100 and Captain Marvel Adventures #100 in 1948 and 1949 respectively, but Bill Woolfolk was in charge of Captain Marvel Jr #100). but it is more likely that editorial just didn't feel like it.

Fawcett had just won the copyright infringement lawsuit that National (DC) had initiated (alleging that Captain Marvel was based on Superman), but at the same time the popularity of superheroes was in a stark decline. The drop in the sales figures of their titles, which by 1949 only amounted to half of what they had been during the war years (Wright, 2001), had publishers scrambling to find new genres which would bring readers back to the newsstands. On top of this, DC's appeal regarding the copyright infringement decision was successful, all of which would lead Fawcett to shut down its entire comics division in the autumn of 1953.


Captain Marvel Jr #100
(Fawcett, August 1951)


Fredric Wertham
(1895 - 1981)


But the comic book industry was facing more than just hard times - it was staring at nothing less than the possibility of its eradication.

Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist from New York, had initiated his crusade against comic books - which in his eyes were the prime source of juvenile delinquency - in 1948, and by 1951 he was whipping public opinion into a frenzy. His calculated (and ultimately also deceitful) shaming and blaming would lead to the infamous 1954 senate hearings and the subsequent creation of the Comics Code Authority. The afterglow of Wertham's crusade, however, could be felt for years.

"In the post-war era of McCarthyism, comics were an attractive target for grand-standing politicians eager for villains. Publishers were raided by the police, titles were outlawed in dozens of states, and some communities held public comic-book burnings. (...) Comic sales plummeted, hundreds of artists and writers lost their jobs." (Staley, 2018)

By the early 1950s, comic book publishers had very little to celebrate, and centenary issues certainly weren't one of those things, especially given the outright disinterest most publishers had displayed towards them previously. Hence, the next few centenary issues published continued the tradition of having no mention of the occasion whatsoever. The titles in question were also further prime examples of how the comic book industry was trying to adapt to the changing times by changing titles and, more and more often, content.

Red Ryder Comics #100, published by Dell in November 1951, had originally been published by Hawley for six issues before being taken over by Dell, who would change the title to Red Ryder Magazine as of issue #145; with issue #149 it became Red Ryder Ranch Comic before merging into Four Color #916.

October 1952 saw the centenary issue of Gilbert's Classics Illustrated (with a rendering of Mutiny on the Bounty but no hint at the special issue number), followed by Dell's Tom & Jerry Comics #100 in November 1952; the latter title had started out as Our Gang Comics (#1-39) and then Our Gang with Tom & Jerry (#40-59).

In April 1953 St. John published Paul Terry’s Comics #100, followed in July by Lev Gleason's Daredevil Comics #100. Neither of the two made any reference to the number count benchmark, but the cover of Daredevil did feature a sign of the times: the Association of Comics Magazines Publishers (ACMP) "comics code" star emblem.

Formed in 1948 by founding members Lev Gleason, Bill Gaines (EC Comics), Harolod Moore (Famous Funnies), and Rae Herman (Orbit Publications), the ACMP's "Publishers Code", drawing heavily on the Hollywood "Production Code" (better known as the "Hays Code") which had been drafted in similar circumstances, i.e. to stave off external regulation.

Daredevil Comics in itself was also a telltale showcase of the changing times within the comic book industry - once a superhero comic book (where the hero, Daredevil, had battled Hitler in its premier issue back in 1941), it had dropped one of the Golden Age's most acclaimed masked hero for comedy in 1950, simply adding the "Little Wise Guys" to the original title.

That same month, Prize's bi-monthly (July-August 1953) Prize Comics Western #100 featured a special centenary cover pencilled and inked by John Severin - though that was the only tip of the hat to the occasion to be found in the entire comic book.

August 1953 saw yet another centenary issue with K.K. Publishing's Boys' and Girls' March of Comics #100. The somewhat cumbersome title started out in 1946 as Boys' and Girls' Comics and covered a whole range of different genres; while issue #100 featured a Roy Rogers cover and different advertising banners (taking up one third of the cover and differing by region), no special mention of the centenary occasion was made.

Archie Comics was next in the line of centenary issues with Pep Comics #100 in November 1953 - and like most titles accumulating one hundred issues at that time simply ignored the fact. The cover did, however, feature Archie Comics' very own "approved reading" stamp - a sign of the times and the ever tightening stranglehold which comic book publishers found themselves in as certain circles were pushing harder and harder to have many titles oulawed and banned.


Daredevil Comics #100
(Lev Gleason, July 1953)

Prize Comics Western #100
(Prize, July/August 1953)

Although the (televised) hearings of the United States Senate Subcommittee Investigating Juvenile Delinquency dealing with comic books would only take place in April 1954, Wertham's anti-comics crusade had gathered enormous speed since 1950, and although the Senate hearing was to focus only on horror and crime comic books, publishers were scrambling to make sure they would not wake up one morning and find themselves on the wrong side of the line which Wertham was drawing. DC Comics had a panel of educational and psychological experts which were highly advertised on inside covers as a reassurance to parents that the contents of DC's comic books were checked and safe; other publishers had the ACMP Star, and yet others, such as Archie, came up with their own stamp of approval.

Journal De Mickey #100
(Hachette, April 1954)


By the time 1954 rolled around, many publishers outside the US also started seeing centenary issues of their titles (which in most cases reprinted US material). In Australia, Feature's Adventurs of Brick Bradford #100 hit the newsagents in January 1954 (featuring newspaper strips reprinted in comic book format by King in the USA); in France, Hachette's Journal de Mickey #100 came out in April 1954 (featuring Disney material reprints, this title is still being published today, with the current issue count over the 3500 mark); and in Italy, Mondadori published Topolino #100 (also a Disney material reprint title which would run until 1988). None of these titles' covers featured even the slightest celebratory mention of the fact that they had reached their 100th issue.

Back in the US, Gleason let another centenary pass by silently in April 1954 with Boy Comics #100, as did Archie Comics in August 1954 when they published Suzie Comics #100. Silence, it seems, was considered truly golden when it came to centenaries - but then it was generally a time, as pointed out, for comic book publishers to try and fly under the radar.

This modus operandi continued in 1955 with ACG's Teepee Tim #100 (which today would probably be spelled Tipi in order to avoid embarrassing associations) which featured a very bland cover with, no surprise, not even a hint as to the title's special issue number.

ACG stuck to this procedure when only two months later, when March/April 1955 saw the publication of Spencer Spook #100 - although in this case it was somewhat understandable, given the fact that this comic book had for 99 issues carried the title Giggle Comics. DC Comics published its next centenary issue in April 1955 with Hopalong Cassidy #100; acquired from the now defunct Fawcett Comics as of issue #86, it too made no mention of the centenary, just as Dell's Gene Autry Comics #100 in June 1955. It had now been over two years that any publisher cared to acknowledge, let alone celebrate the centenary of a title - but things were about to change. At least a little.

Superman #100
(DC, September 1955)


Detective Comics was DC's flagship title, but the Man of Steel was their real forerunner, and when Superman #100 hit the newsagent stands in September 1955, the long period of centenary silence was over as the cover made it clear to potential buyers that this was, indeed, the "100th SUPERMAN ISSUE !". Sporting a Superman portrait by Win Mortimer it also featured the covers of Superman #1, 25, 50 and 75.

A nice way to celebrate the title's centenary, the contents of the issue, however, consisted of three run-of-the-mill Superman stories which could just as well have featured in the previous or next issue. And as there was no editorial page at all, the celebration remained restricted to the cover of Superman #100.

The same would be true for Batman #100, the next big centenary for DC, in June 1956. Almost an exact copy of the Superman centenary design, it sported the same banner plus sa collage featuring the covers of Batman #1, #23, #25, #47, #48 and #61, but no special or celebratory content at all.


Batman #100
(DC, June 1956)

In between Superman #100 and Batman #100, Dell had published Roy Rogers and Trigger #100 (April 1956) and Quality sent out Blackhawk #100 (May 1956) to the newsstands, but both followed the established rule of making no mention at all of the centenary - which was also true for the first centenary issue of 1956, Harvey's Dick Tracy #100.

Real Screen Comics #100
(DC, July 1956)


It was again DC who changed that tune a bit - by going back to the centenial issue celebration roots with another birthday cake cover, this time for Real Screen Comics #100 in July 1956.

But while the cover celebrated the "GALA 100TH ISSUE", the actual contents made no mention of the occasion whatsoever - which wasn't for lack of page space available for in-house use, as a full page ad for DC's new Showcase title illustrated. Rather, it was the same old routine of "don't mention the centenary". It is thus somewhat ironic that the ad for Showcase pointed at something entirely new: Showcase #4 (October 1956) would usher in the "Silver Age" of comic books (1956-1970).

But before that introduction of the new Flash and the following revival of super-heroes, two more Golden Age titles (both published by Dell) reached the centenary issues count: Lone Ranger #100 in October 1956 and Marge's Little Lulu #100.


In-house ad from Real Screen Comics #100 (DC, July 1956)

Neither of the two broke with tradition, and hence didn't even mention the occasion on the cover.

During the Golden Age of comic books, some 60+ titles reached an issue number count of 100 between 1942 and 1956, but as shown, only a mere handful pointed out the centenary to readers with a blurb on the cover. Even fewer went as far as to feature a special 100th issue cover (with birthday cakes somewhat en vogue), and only one - Whiz Comics #100 from August 1948 - actually featured a special celebratory story.

Most publishers didn't even blink, and while this all seems somewhat odd from the marketing conscious perspective of the 1970s and onwards, it was consistent with the way comic books were viewed at the time both by the people who produced them and those who read them. In the 1940s and 1950s comic books were expendable reading with a collectible value to only a very small group of fans. There was also very little to no continuity at all between issues, other than the central characters; it therefore didn't matter which issue number a comic book carried. Editors also didn't really bond with the readership, with the exception of Fawcett in their Captain Marvel titles. The perception of celebrating (and also cashing in on) "anniversary" or "benchmark" issues had yet to develop, even though Famous Funnies #100 did hint at this in its editorial in October 1941.

The days of the "long-awaited blockbuster spectacular collector's item 100th issue" were yet to come, and they were still quite far away in 1956.


MILLER John Jackson (2011) "Where Did Comics Numbering Come From? A look at why comic books are numbered unlike most American magazines", Comichchron.com, 10 July 2011

STALEY Oliver (2018) "Stan Lee and Marvel saved the comic-book industry after the US Congress tried to kill it", Quartz Online, 17 November 2018

WRIGHT Bradford W. (2001) Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, Johns Hopkins


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uploaded to the web 9 February 2020