Confession time: I own almost all of the “minus one” issues Marvel put out in 1997 as part of a “flashback month” storytelling gimmick. The idea was that the “-1″ issues would occur at some point prior to the parent series (though not necessarily immediately before issue #1). While most of the industry appeared to treat it as the perfect time to take a month off without missing anything, I went in the opposite direction and bought all kinds of books that normally, I wouldn’t touch. The only Silver Surfer comic I own is the minus one issue. It was the only Deadpool comic I owned until 2005. I bought things like Daredevil and Elektra, which previously I wouldn’t have touched. A real-world example of hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of angling times if ever there was one.
Having read all of them, though, I feel capable of saying that the best is Incredible Hulk #-1, which captured the spirit of the event without forgetting to make the story interesting to the readers.
Although every issue got flat, muted colouring, for the most part the aesthetics and techniques remained “modern” – but the creative team on Hulk, Peter David and Adam Kubert, took the idea to a further extreme than most, flashing back their storytelling methods as well. As a result, almost every page of Incredible Hulk #-1 is a 4-panel grid. Something about the format obviously appealed to at least one member of the team, because it went on for a while afterwards too, even after “flashback month” had ended, causing a very strange shift in the tone and pacing that latest until Kubert left.
Unlike most writers, who used the minus one issues to seed future stories (which, almost inevitably, didn’t happen before they were moved off the book), David wrapped his issue in a framing sequence which saw the Hulk/Banner finally discover his role in his father’s death – a plotline David had been circling around for years, hinting at but never quite getting to. This, in fact, is the comic in which we find out that Bruce Banner killed his own father, Brian Banner. Unlike most of the flashback books, it actually reads continuously with the issues immediately before and after it. It was, by any metric, one of the better outcomes from the Flashback stunt.
Luckily, the failure of this pseudo-event merely highlighted the fact that renumbering comics to try and generate sales was a doomed idea from the start, and today, 13 years on, you almost never see a comic with an unexpected or illogical number slapped on the front in the hope of providing a sales boost. Now if you’ll excuse me, I had to go and weep in the corner.