Thursday, February 18, 2016

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: Republic #46

In the early years of comic books, superheroes did not dominate like they do now.  Comic book publishers jumped from one fad to another in an attempt to make money.  Comics had themes as diverse as crime, romance, humor, science fiction, war, Western, and horror.  Many comic book titles came and went during this period of experimentation.  Subscriptions were important to comic publishers because it allowed them to sell to readers who otherwise would miss an issue at the newsstand, and in return, readers would save a little money over the cost of the comic at a newsstand.  The post office offered a second-class mailing permit that required publishers to pay an initial fee on a new title, but allowed them to mail subscriptions at a special low rate.  Comic publishers quickly found a loophole that prevented them from paying the initial fee by renaming the title of the comic and keeping the same numbering.  That is why many comics in the Golden and Silver Age do not start with issue #1.  For example, Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 gave way to Marvel Mystery Comics #2 and was again renamed Marvel Tales with issue #93.  When Marvel decided to create new titles for their headline superhero characters in the Tales of Suspense and Tales of Astonish titles, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner each received a title that started with #1, but Captain America continued the numbering started in Tales of Suspense with Captain America #100 and the Incredible Hulk continued the numbering of Tales to Astonish with Incredible Hulk #102.

Eventually, subscriptions became less important to publishers and today, it is very common to see new titles start with #1.  In fact, #1s sell better than other issues, so publishers will restart a title with a new #1 whenever they get a chance.

In September 2002, Dark Horse started a new title called Star Wars: Empire.  That same month, they renamed their main Star Wars (1998) title Star Wars: Republic with the 46th issue.  Star Wars: Empire focuses on the original trilogy characters and situations and Star Wars: Republic focuses on the characters and situations introduced during the prequel trilogy.

Star Wars: Republic #46a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (September 2002)
It is interesting that Dark Horse decided to maintain the numbering started by their Star Wars (1998) title.  Their decision probably was because the title had been telling stories featuring Jedi during the Republic era, and the new title did not change that focus.  The only difference is the stories shifted forward a bit to the time of the Clone Wars.  Routinely, you will see the Star Wars (1998) title called Star Wars: Republic, even though issue #1 - 45 does not have Republic in the title.  Star Wars: Republic #46 is the first issue of that title.

Another interesting side effect of second-class mail was letter pages.  In order for a comic book to be classified as a magazine to qualified for a second-class mailing permit, a small percentage of a comic book had to be text.  Some comics had 2-page stories, but this eventually gave way to 2-page letter columns.  The text pages saved comic publishers from having to pay artists for those 2 pages and they saved even more by using letters written by readers.  Over time, even letter pages have disappeared from comic books.

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