Have you even been in that situation? You’re talking to someone who’s into comic books or reading a wiki entry of a comic book, and all these unfamiliar words keep popping up and make you go “huh?”. Some bit of it does sound confusing at first. Believe me, I went through it myself, and I still get lost from time to time. But fear not, for I intend to write a detailed explanation that will hopefully help you out. By the end of this entry, you should have some understanding of the usual lingo that is frequently used in the comic book world.
Let’s start with the simplest one first. A Comic Series is usually a comic dedicated to a single character or group which comes out every month. There are some unique cases where an issue comes out twice in a month like the Superior Spider-man series, or the once a week routine that DC’s 52 series did back in 2006, but once a month is almost always the norm since the Golden Age of Comics back in the late 1930s. One of the comics back then that survived all the way til present time is Detective Comics due to its chronicles of the Batman’s adventures. It managed to reach a daunting 881 issues before it was reset to #1 again when the New 52 reboot occurred. To differentiate between the previous and present incarnations of the comic series, they are assigned Volumes to denote their hierarchy. So the previous series is known as Detective Comics Volume 1, and the current New 52 incarnation is Volume 2. Should there ever be a reboot and the numbering goes back to #1 again, then the new version will promptly be labeled as Volume 3.
Having at least 2 different comic series telling the same story simultaneously is what we call a Crossover. For example, the current Justice League series (it’s actually Justice League Volume 2 because of the reboot) did a crossover with the Aquaman series when it told the tale of how Aquaman’s half-brother, Ocean Master, led the army of Atlantis in attacking the surface world. The story was printed in Justice League issues 15 to 17 and Aquaman issues 14 to 16, alternating from one issue to another. Another use for the term crossover is when two characters from different series, or even publishers, join together in a limited or miniseries. It could be the Avengers and the Justice League banding together, Superman boxing with Muhammad Ali, or even Archie Andrews having the Punisher as a chaperone.
Continuing the example I used above, that story about the Justice League’s battle against Aquaman’s half brother is actually titled Throne of Atlantis, a crossover Story Arc or Storyline that DC Comics published in 2013. A story arc is pretty much what its name suggests, it’s a story that spans several issues. In the world of comics, it means the hero deals with a single threat or villain and once the villain is defeated, the arc is done and a new one takes over. This could be a bit confusing since a story arc can be part of both a comic series and a crossover. To put it in perspective, the Throne of Atlantis story arc was featured in the Aquaman issues of 14-16 as I mentioned above. And issues 1 to 4 was titled The Trench, and issues 8 to 13 was The Others.
An easy way to help remember all this is that publishers print out trade paperbacks featuring a complete story arc for ease of reading. This is real handy especially in crossovers so that a casual fan won’t have to buy individual issues of two comic series to follow the story – the trade paperback has it all in correct order.
Now here comes a tricky part. Events share a lot of characteristics with story arcs. The thing to remember about events are they’re usually bigger in terms of scope and promotion. Whenever an event happens within Marvel or DC Comics, you know something grand is about to occur and they’ll milk the whole thing for all it’s worth. During an event, it will generate its own limited series that tells the main story while at the same time having story arcs in any comic series that’s connected to the event.
Let me use the Avengers VS X-men event of Marvel as an example. It had its own 12-issue limited series that delved into the main crisis between the Avengers and the X-men. At this time, the Avengers as a whole had 4 comic series about them: Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy while the X-men had 3: Wolverine and the X-men, Uncanny X-men, and X-men Legacy. All of these separate comic series partook in the event and shelved any ongoing story arcs of their own to better tell the story of the event. It’s not uncommon to have a short scuffle, maybe even just in the background of the main fight, between two individuals in the limited series to be expounded in the comic series issue. This allows the publishers to maximize the storytelling without derailing the main story with too many details and side stories. And one thing to remember is that it’s fairly common for comic book fans to interchange the term “events” for “crossovers” and vice versa due to their similarity. I myself have taken to calling Throne of Atlantis as an event even though it didn’t have a miniseries of its own.
And lastly, a Miniseries or a Limited Series is kind of similar to a comic series. But where the latter could go on for a hundred issues or more, a miniseries always has a set limit. Publishers would announce how many issues there are going to be for the miniseries before or during the release of the first issue. A miniseries can be used to illustrate the main story in an event, as explained above, or sometimes it’s just a way to tell a one-time story arc without breaking the flow in the character’s main comic series. One good sample is the X-Men: Schism miniseries. At the time it was released, I believe the X-men had at least 3 series ongoing. Schism told the tale of how Cyclops and Wolverine battled about their opposing ideals and split the X-men into two groups. Once the miniseries was done, the other 3 series just kept on going with their own story arcs and incorporated the repercussions of Schism’s story.
In some cases, a miniseries is also used to tell a story that will not be counted as part of any main continuity, just for the chance to place a character in a different setting. They’re quite fun, really. If you’ve read something that’s too ludicrous or far-fetched even for a comic series with superheroes, then it’s what’s commonly known as an Elseworld story. Some examples are Marvel superheroes in a noir setting, or an alternate world where Superman’s ship lands in the Soviet Union instead of the United States. Anyway, that’s about it. Hope I didn’t lose you in all the yammering. If I did, well, here’s a recap:
Comic Series – a numbered continuous issue about a certain hero or group. Could restart number in a reboot or a new volume.
Comic Crossover – an ongoing story that jumps from one comic series to another.
Storyline/Story Arc – an ongoing story within a comic series or crossover.
Comic Event – company wide event that would have its own limited series and a storyline within a comic series.
Miniseries/Limited Series – A storyline that may or may not have effects on the main comic series of the character.