Self-Contained Title Experiment
So, I was reading this week’s Mighty Avengers, and it was an entertaining read. I especially liked how it was a self-contained issue, not a tie-in to any other crossover or title (heck, even earlier on in the storyline, when the New Avengers guest-starred, you didn’t need to have read New Avengers to fully follow their appearance in Mighty Avengers – although, you DID have to read Mighty Avengers to fully follow the New Avengers’ story), but then I thought, “Oh right, but now we have a bunch of issues tying into Secret Invasion. Annoying. I wish it could be like the old days.”
And then I thought, “Wait, were the old days much different?”
So I decided to take a look at two titles, one from DC and one from Marvel, from 1978 to 2008, and see how many issues you could read in a row without needing to have read a different comic from that company to get the “full” story. The two titles I’m going to use are Justice League and Avengers (due to various relaunches, the actual titles will be: Justice League of America/Justice League/Justice League International/Justice League America/JLA/Justice League of America Vol. 2 and Avengers (Vols. 1-3)/New Avengers).
Let us see what we shall see!
Started with issue #150.
You did not have to read another comic book until #207, in October of 1982!
The Justice League routinely referenced outside comics during these years, specifically stuff like Firestorm and Black Lightning, but the team did not have an actual crossover until 1982, when the title crossed over with All Star Squadron for a storyline, from #207-209 (October-December 82).
The next crossover was circa October 84, when Aquaman reforms the League in the pages of the Justice League of America Annual #2 (you may dispute Annuals being included, but I think they count as not keeping a title self-contained, because you have to buy a separate title).
Justice League of America #244-245 (November-December 85) contain crossovers with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
This volume of Justice League of America concluded with a four-part story that tied into Legends – Justice League of America #258-261 (January-April 87).
The new Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League managed to get a full NAME with only self-contained stories, as the first six issues of Justice League were standalone, and even got two issues into the new name, Justice League International, until Justice League International #9-10 (January-February 88) both tied into Millennium.
After a brief respite, Justice League International #13 (May 88) crossed over with Suicide Squad.
Justice League International #22-24 (December-February 88/89) were both Invasion! tie-ins as well as a launch of Justice League Europe.
Soon after, the title changed its name again, and it christened the new name with a crossover in Justice League America #31-32 (October-November 89), which was a crossover with Justice League Europe.
The title then stayed on its own until Justice League America #53, which began the very long swan song of Giffen and DeMatteis, running from #53-60 (August-March 91/92).
Dan Jurgens kept the book self-contained until Justice League America #69 and #70 (December-January 92/93), which both tied in to the Death of Superman.
The book went back to being on its own until Justice League America #83, which tied into Guy Gardner: Warrior.
Justice League America #89-91 (June-August 94) tied into the Judgment Day crossover between the other two Justice League books.
Justice League America #92 (September 94) was both a Zero Hour crossover AND a crossover between the other two Justice League books.
Justice League America #101-102 (July-August 95) were part of a crossover with Hawkman and Guy Gardner: Warrior.
Justice League America #105-106 were both part of Underworld Unleashed, but I’ll give them a mulligan there, and say it doesn’t count – as you really didn’t need to read any other comic to understand the story.
The rest of Justice League America (up until its finale in #113) was self-contained.
Grant Morrison’s new JLA series was notable in its fairly self-containment, even while Morrison worked in the various continuity changes to the characters.
JLA #10 (September 97) unfortunately bucked the trend, and had a tie-in to Genesis (that you had to be following Genesis to get).
Also, in November 98, Morrison had a crossover with his own DC One Million storyline, with JLA: #1,000,000.
Morrison left the remaining tie-in issues during his run fall to other writers, with Mark Waid and Devin Grayson penning JLA #32 (August 99), which explained why the JLA wasn’t involved in Batman’s No Man’s Land crossover and JM DeMatteis handling JLA #35 (November 99), the crossover with the Day of Judgment storyline.
Mark Waid’s follow-up run ALMOST managed to go all the way self-contained, but right before Waid’s last issue, there was a fill-in by Chuck Dixon for JLA #59 (December 01), tying JLA into the Joker’s Last Laugh crossover, right after the JLA Our World at War Special, which resulted in Aquaman’s death (it’s debatable whether that qualifies as being something you “had” to read).
After that, the book went on a remarkable FIFTY-THREE self-contained issue run, with the entirety of Joe Kelly’s run on the title remaining self-contained, and then (which makes the achievement a bit less impressive) #91-114 were part of Mike Carlin’s idea (which I thought was really smart) of having stand alone arcs by various popular creative teams, rather than continuing storylines by one creative team.
From #115 to the book’s conclusion in #125 (August-April 05/06), however, the book was continually tying in to storylines, from Identity Crisis to Infinite Crisis (the last page of JLA #125 directly leads to the first page of Infinite Crisis #1).
The new series, Justice League of America (Vol. 2) (which began in September 06), lasted six issues before a crossover, with Justice League of America #7-10 (June-August 07) being a crossover with Justice Society of America.
Justice League of America #13-15 (November-January 07/08) crossed over with the Justice League Wedding Special.
So what’s that give us?
Longest stretch of self-contained issues?
Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #150-207
Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #210-230
Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #231-245
Justice League of America (Vol. 1) #246-257
Justice League/Justice League International #1-8
Justice League America #33-52
Justice League America #71-88
Justice League America #104-113
Shortest stretch of self-contained issues?
(Judgment Day going right into Zero Hour)
Started with #167.
You did not have to read another comic book until #232, in June of 1983!!
In between #167 and #232, the Avengers actually had a NUMBER of issues that dealt with other titles, as it helped address plotlines from a number of other titles (from such diverse titles as Ghost Rider and Shogun Warriors), you just did not need to read those other titles to follow the Avengers stories. That ended with #232-233 (with 234-235 serving as epilogues to the story), which crossed over with the Fantastic Four (Avengers writer Roger Stern and Fantastic Four writer John Byrne had a close working relationship, so they had a number of references to each other’s work when they were writing the titles concurrently).
Avengers #242/243 (April/May 84) was the next issue(s) that you needed other books to fully get the story, as those were the issues where a number of Avengers disappear while they’re off fighting in the Secret War.
Note: Avengers #231 and #244 SORTA tied into other books, but they were both explained well enough in the comics themselves.
Avengers #249 (November 84) crossed over with Walt Simonson’s Thor.
NOTE: Avengers #258 (August 85) had a sorta-crossover with Spider-Man’s Firelord fight, but I wouldn’t count it as needing to read it, as you get the full story basically in the issue of Avengers.
Avengers #259-261 (September-November 85) crossover with both Secret Wars II AND the Fantastic Four (in the 85 Annuals of the time).
After a one-issue respite, Avengers #262 (January 86) crossovers with Fantastic Four and X-Factor #1.
Then after another one-issue respite, Avengers #264-265 (March-April 86) crossover with Secret Wars II.
After a “huge” five-issue respite, Avengers #272 (October 86) crossovers with Alpha Flight.
Then there’s a nice break until Avengers #298-300 (September-December 88) tie into Inferno.
It’s not until Avengers #311-313 (December-January 89/90) that the book crossovers again, this time with Acts of Vengeance.
The book had guest stars galore for the next two years, but managed to keep it all self-contained until Avengers #345-347 (March-May 92), which were parts of Operation: Galactic Storm.
More guest stars continued over the next year or so (including Cyclops and Professor X), but it was not until Avengers #368-369 (November-December 93) that the book crossed into other titles, this time with the X-Men (both books were celebrating their 30th anniversary at the time).
The next crossover came in Avengers #385-388 (April-July 95), which crossed over with Captain America.
After a brief one-issue respite, Avengers #390-395 (September-February 95/96) were part of the Crossing.
Without ANY break whatsoever, the book jumped into a crossover in Avengers #396 (March 96), tying the book in with Thor, Captain America and Iron Man.
The book lasted a whopping five issues before then crossing over with Onslaught in #401-402 (August-September 96).
This ended Volume One.
Volume Two only lasted 13 issues, but managed to cross over with other titles three times.
Avengers #6 (April 97) crossed over with the other Heroes Reborn titles, as did Avengers #12 and Avengers #13 (October-November 97).
Volume #3 lasted until Avengers #7 (August 1998), which crossed over with the other Avengers titles of the time (Cap, Iron Man and Quicksilver).
The book did not have another crossover until Avengers #31-34 (August-November 00), which crossed over with the Thunderbolts. This was directly followed up by Avengers #35 (December 00), which crossed over with Maximum Security.
The book remained standalone for the rest of Kurt Busiek’s run on the book, and the beginning of Geoff Johns’ run, tying in next at Avengers #63 (March 2003), which tied into the Cap/Thor/Iron Man story of the time (Avengers needed to be used because Cap didn’t have a Marvel Universe title at the time – I know, it sounds bizarre, but what are ya gonna do?).
The book remained standalone until the very end of Chuck Austen’s run, Avengers #84 (August 04), which tied in with the launch of New Invaders.
Bendis took over from there for the last four issues of that volume of Avengers, and then re-named the book New Avengers #1, keeping the book stand alone for 15 issues, before the New Avengers Annual #1 was necessary reading (circa March 06).
But then New Avengers #21-25 (August-December 06) all tied in to Civil War and New Avengers #35 (late 07) sorta tied in to Mighty Avengers, and then New Avengers #36 tied in to New Avengers Annual #2 (early 08).
So okay, what’s that give us?
Longest stretch of self-contained issues?
Avengers (Vol. 3) #1-6
Avengers (Vol. 3 #8-30
Avengers (Vol. 3) #36-62
Avengers (Vol. 3 #64-83
Avengers (Vol. 3) #500-503, New Avengers #1-15
Shortest stretch of self-contained issues?
None (The Crossing directly to the Last Sign, and the Thunderbolts storyline directly to Maximum Security).
I must say, I was very surprised. Both to see that the Justice League was the first comic between the two to cross over with another comic (do note that Avengers had quite a few crossovers in the 70s, they just happened to not have any in the late 70s/early 80s), and also to see that the Avengers seemed to have more long stretches (i.e. roughly stretches of 20 issues or more) of self-contained issues through history, as compared to the Justice League, while the Justice League easily had the two most significant chunks (56 and 53) as compared to the Avengers’ most impressive chunk (64). However, for JLA, DC seemed to try to go out of their way to let it stand on its own. That said, DC also had by far the largest stretches of books WHOLLY in crossover (Justice League America #53-60, then JLA #115-125 – Avengers comes closest with Avengers #390-396).
What it does seem to show is that I was initially correct – there DOES seem to be a “good ol’ day” where the books were more self-contained, but after that, there were still a number of stretches where each title was self-contained, including Mike Carlin’s intentional attempt at MAKING the JLA self-contained. However, ultimately, Carlin’s idea was put into a separate title, which just ended this week after being canceled, so I guess perhaps readers don’t LIKE self-contained stories?
Maybe readers actually prefer titles to cross into each other, even if it annoys me?
But how could people have different personal views than me?
It doesn’t make any sense!!!