When did comic books first start celebrating 100th anniversary issues and other anniversaries? These days almost any anniversary title is grounds for marketing fanfare, but I got to wondering, was this always the case? So I decided to check.
DC Celebrates Superman and Batman First: 1955-1971
I naturally started with Action Comics. DC’s covers, at least, didn’t seem to get too excited about their historic title’s 100th anniversary (September 1946), 200th anniversary (January 1955), or 300th anniversary (May 1963).
It wasn’t until May 1971 that the cover of Action Comics #400 drew attention to the fact it was a “SPECIAL 400TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!”, celebrated by Superman’s son turning into a cross between Two-Face and Hank McCoy on a bad hair day. (And yes, for those paying attention, this is another example of DC putting apes on the cover.)
A similar story could be told about Detective Comics: not much ado until June 1970, when the “400th Smash Issue!” pitted the Caped Crusader against the “Challenge of the Man-Bat!”
Superman and Batman, however, got ahead of the curve. Superman #100 (September 1955) proudly announced the “100th Superman Issue!” with a gallery of previous issues on the cover.
The same format was repeated for Batman #100 (June 1956, featuring Batman and Robin stealing Ghost Rider’s motorcycle on the bottom right corner) and #200 (March 1968).
However, Superman #200 (October 1967) skipped the opportunity to celebrate. (As an aside, historians of the graphic novel may want to note that the cover of this issue announces “A Complete 3-Part Novel!”)
So we see DC holding occasional anniversary celebrations in the 1950s, but 100th issues did not seemingly become a regular event until the 1968-1971 period (at least not based on the spot check I have done above). Meanwhile what was Marvel doing?
Meanwhile at Marvel: 1968-1971 and Beyond
Marvel’s covers passed up drawing attention to the 100th anniversaries of Strange Tales (September 1962), Journey into Mystery (January 1964), or Tales to Astonish (February 1968), with the latter merely proclaiming “An Epic 22-page Battle!” between Sub-Mariner and Hulk.
However the 100th issue of Tales of Suspense died like a phoenix by announcing the “Big Premiere Issue!” of Captain America, which now began numbering at #100. (Why didn’t they just start at #1, you might wonder? It was easier to get distributors to continue handling an ongoing title than to persuade them to start carrying a new title, which is why several of the Marvel titles mentioned above continued their numbering when they became other titles.)
From now on, Marvel regularly celebrated 100th anniversary issues, starting with “The Spectacular Long-awaited 100th Anniversary Issue!” of Fantastic Four in July 1970, featuring “Villains! Villains! Villains!” on the cover. (You might notice that from this point on, most anniversary issues are “long-awaited,” at least in their cover billing.)
The formula of featuring a cast of thousands was repeated on the covers of Amazing Spider-Man #100 (September 1971), Avengers #100 (June 1972), and X-Men #100 (August 1976). (UPDATE: In the comments below it has been brought to my attention that I forgot to mention the highlight of Amazing Spider-Man #100: a letters column cameo by our own Barry Pearl! Even as I type, my mere mention of this has undoubtedly doubled the value of this collectors’ item classic, so great is the growing demand for Pearlobilia. Don’t be surprised to find yourself fighting a line at your local comic book dealer’s door in the morning in the rush to buy up all remaining copies of this issue.)
Meanwhile The Mighty Thor #200 (June 1972) and The Incredible Hulk #200 (June 1976) inaugurated a Marvel tradition of celebrating 200th anniversary issues.
By the time Fantastic Four #200 rolled out in November 1978, demand was high enough to double the anniversary issue’s size (and the price).
So at both DC and Marvel, 1968-1971 was the period when the tradition of celebrating 100th issues and their multiples became firmly established. By 1971-1972, even 200th and 400th issues were excuses to celebrate. And by 1978, collectors had to pay an extra price to get into the party.