The Age of the Limited Series is Here

On the continued shift towards finite titles, and what that means.

Back in the pre-pandemic times, I openly wondered whether miniseries were becoming the new ongoings. Long considered a non-starter, a comparatively unimportant variation to the single-issue formula that inspired trade-waiting above all, minis excelled in 2019 — particularly on the high end. That was a major change from the past, and it inspired questions as to whether a shift was on.

It was a worthy topic to consider, especially at the close of a decade in which DC and Marvel’s endless relaunches effectively erased what remained of the obsessive consumer behavior that came with the litany of long-running, high-numbered ongoings each published. While the ongoing was still the dominant form, the conditioning of comic shop customers had been broken, and along with it much of the loyalty each felt for titles they once loved. That’s why my closing statement was unequivocal: “The era of the traditional ongoing series as the monolithic structure of comics feels like it’s on its way out, effectively buried by the actions of the pair of publishers that once propped it up.”

That was then. And as you may know, a fair few things changed in the nearly three years since.

When the pandemic hit, markets were closed, habits were broken, and, perhaps most crucially, predictable consumer behavior became irregular. Despite that, the market thrived, with increased reader interest and a surge in collector and speculator activity oriented on “key” releases playing a substantial part. Those have been crucial data points in how the market has continued to shift, as each amplified the need to deliver what certain sides of the market needed and/or wanted.

The truth is, what once was a question is no longer one. The limited series – meaning anything that is planned to be finite from the start – is now the 1b to ongoings’ 1a, evolving from a secondary format to a dominant one. Short runs are the name of the game, and it was always coming, pandemic or not. 20

This may not sound like news to you. It has been fairly evident for years, at least to some degree. But how significant has this change been? And why is it happening? And finally, what does it mean? This trend opens an array of questions as a follow-up to the one I explored nearly three years back. Each is worth asking — and answering.

Let’s do that today.

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  1. It’s likely only been accelerated by the environment we find ourselves in.

  2. This remains as true as ever in 2022, despite how many behave.

  3. Or at least it’s outwardly presented that way. I suspect we’re seeing a fair few stealth minis — or announced “ongoings” that have a planned exit back to a mini if the numbers aren’t there — these days.

  4. This includes how DC and Marvel have recently been sequencing one-shots in a way that suggests they’re turning a series of #1s into implied minis. That’s the final form of this trend, so they had to count.

  5. One interesting note, though: Reprints are far less common in 2022 and 2019 and before, at least from what I saw.

  6. Quick note: Just to ensure this wasn’t a random, December only thing, I checked October and November 2022 as well. The splits were effectively the same.

  7. It’s worth noting that both publishers are releasing far fewer titles. If you compare the Decembers from 2020 to 2022 against 2017 to 2019, you’ll find 12 and 11 fewer releases per month on average for DC and Marvel respectively. That plays a part here.

  8. I cannot even imagine trying to order or sell these comics when there’s zero evidence as to whether some titles are finite or not.

  9. This is backed up by ICv2’s most recent sell-through data from ComicHub, with just under half of the top 50 counting as a limited series, with one facsimile edition reprint omitted from the count and the rest being ongoings.

  10. Creators have started to talk about it too. Writer/artist Liam Sharp’s recent-ish thread on Twitter about the fortunes of his Image series StarHenge — which, fittingly, is an ongoing comprised of multiple limited series — underlines this well.

  11. This is why the season model has always seemed like an eventual end form for single-issue comics.

  12. Time Before Time, Little Monsters, That Texas Blood, Fire Power, Black Panther, X-Men Red, She-Hulk, Punisher, Batgirls, Nice House on the Lake, Superman: Son of Kal-El, and Human Target.

  13. That site doesn’t map every site that does reviews, just ones with scores. But it’s still a nice standardized guide for this study.

  14. Unless there is a change to the creative team or status quo.

  15. This also creates a problem of accidental jumping-off points, as shop point-of-sale systems are not always the most adept at transitioning subscribers from limited series to limited series. When it was just ongoings, keeping subs was much cleaner — and consistent.

  16. Unless they have a foil variant!

  17. There are other factors in play here too, as this piece opens many doors to many issues. I can’t cover everything here. One of them, though, we’ll get to in next week’s feature, which acts as part two to this larger idea in many ways.

  18. I suspect this is part of the reason why some traditionally direct market-centric creators are turning a lusty eye towards book market friendly formats and publishers.

  19. Sticking with something you don’t like just because you once liked it is not good for you!

  20. It’s likely only been accelerated by the environment we find ourselves in.