I've been thinking quite a bit on my way home from the weekly jaunt to the comic shop, wracking my brain. I'm not ready for my post on the "Fall of the Hulks" so far, but I would like to get one thing off my chest that has bugged me for the last few years, especially in light of 2009's onslaught of anniversary specials.
You know the ones--Incredible Hulk #600, Amazing Spider-Man #600, The Mighty Thor #600, Daredevil #500, even Captain America #600. And what do all of these issues have in common? With the exception of one, they're all pretty much either a standalone anniversary special, or else they are the beginning of a special new storyline. Only Daredevil #500 really was an anniversary issue that showed any real payoff, any dramatic resolution to a longstanding storyline or arc, and really shook things up for the next (I'm exaggerating here but you get the point) hundred issues.
And that brings me to my big point: I miss the days when anniversary issues weren't just an excuse to print a cover gallery and give a couple of extra mini-stories with some reprints thrown in the back. Does anyone remember the days when that big anniversary issue was used as the payoff to a storyline that lasted anywhere from the last six months to the last two-plus years?
Amazing Spider-Man #200 finished a storyline where Mysterio had been revealed to be behind the (faked) death of Aunt May at the "Restwell Nursing Home." After fighting through the Kingpin and Mysterio himself, Spidey found May Parker alive--and helpless before the burglar who had killed Uncle Ben back in Amazing Fantasy #15!
Fantastic Four #200 wrapped up the storyline that began in #191 with the breakup of the Fantastic Four. Everyone had their solo adventures throughout the next eight issues, facing diverse foes like Darkoth, Diablo, the Invincible Man, the Red Ghost, and more before coming in contact with the ultimate mastermind behind everything--Dr. Doom, who cloned himself and gave his "son" the combined powers of the Fantastic Four.
One of my favorites, Iron Man #200 returned Tony Stark in grand fashion as, fresh from recovering from the depths of alcoholism, he donned a new silver-and-crimson armor to take back his company from Obadiah Stane. This arc began all the way back in #161, and included Rhodey's donning the Iron Man armor for the first time in #169, an event that put him down the long and winding road to eventually becoming War Machine!
Incredible Hulk #300 capped off the "Hulk with Banner's brain" arc that started around #272, with Nightmare's haunting of Banner climaxing in a mindless Hulk incarnation rampaging all around New York City, climaxing in Dr. Strange banishing him to the Crossroads dimension.
Captain America #350 was also a milestone of sorts, wrapping up the storyline Mark Gruenwald instituted in #332 (with seeds going back to #323) where the U.S. government forced Steve Rogers to give up being Captain America. They gave the costume to John Walker, who previously appeared as the Superpatriot. Steve Rogers briefly became "The Captain" and in the final showdown, fought Walker, before discovering the Red Skull was again alive and well--and in a cloned body of Steve Rogers himself!
These are but a few examples I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more (and I'd appreciate it if anyone who loyally follows this blog would contribute their two cents). It's a shame that recently, the tides have turned and Marvel and DC both have apparently decreed that with rare exception, anniversary issues aren't to celebrate what came before and provide a slam-bang finish, but to start something new and bold. Now, I can see the point, to a degree--after all, you want this special round numbered issue to hook new readers, so the incentive is there to make the anniversary issue not the final part of a saga, but instead the first.
At the same time, I was raised on comics where there was that anticipation of a series inching closer to an anniversary, seeing everything start to fall in place as the issues went from x97, to x98, to x99...knowing there's a big payoff in the offing, somehow.
Does anybody else miss old school anniversaries like I'm describing?