It’s Pie Day, everyone: a day when we all celebrate the greatness and wonder of the pie, perhaps the superior food delivery system in the history of civilization as we know — sorry, I’ve just been informed that it’s actually Pi Day, the annual celebration of π, the mathematical constant that everyone knows but very few know why. (It’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter; no, there’s no real reason you should know that offhand.)
Pi Day has taken place on March 14 since 1988, because the 3/14 date matches the first three digits of π, which is approximately 3.14159, or roughly 22 divided by 7. Don’t worry; this isn’t a post about math. Instead, it’s a post about 314th issues of long running comic book series… or, more particularly, three meaningful #314s, 1 genuinely amazing #314, and four oddities to search out and enjoy.
3 is the magic number
The idea that any series could have a meaningful #314 feels ridiculous, never mind that being true for three different series. After all, any long-running title — especially one that has lasted 300 issues, or roughly 25 years of monthly publication — should have learned the value of pacing itself, meaning that any important moment should be saved for an anniversary issue. Why waste something big on #314 when #350 is just around the corner…?
And yet: some things can’t wait, for any number of reasons including the wider publication schedule of any given publisher — that would explain Captain America #314, published in 1985 and marking the sole mainstream Marvel Universe crossover with writer Mark Gruenwald’s iconic Squadron Supreme miniseries. It helped that Gruenwald was also the writer of Captain America at the time, of course, but the Cap issue wasn’t just some throwaway sales stunt to drive readers to the alternate universe mini starring Marvel’s ersatz Justice League of the moment: it’s this issue that brings Nighthawk together with the so-called supervillains of the Squadron’s home world, setting up the back half of the pre-Watchmen superhero dystopia series.
That same year, Marvel also published The Incredible Hulk #314 — the first issue in John Byrne’s brief run as writer and artist on the series (he’d quit to go work for DC on the Superman reboot within a year), and the first issue following one of the strangest crossovers in superhero history: The previous issue of Hulk had ended with a cliffhanger that was resolved in Alpha Flight #29, an issue that — like Hulk #314 — saw the creative teams of Hulk and Alpha Flight just up and swap books in their entirety, in everything from writer and artist down to editorial teams. The reasoning, as given at the time, was that everyone on both books was bored and looking for a change, but… that’s still absolutely ridiculous a reason, even close to four decades later.
The third and final notable #314 is 1984’s Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #314, the first issue of the long-running DC series to have that exact title. With this issue, Tales of The Legion went from being the only Legion of Super-Heroes book to being the secondary Legion title, with a new Legion of Super-Heroes #1 launching as part of a short-lived hardcover/softcover experiment on behalf of DC, where Tales would reprint the “main” Legion series after a year. Things worked out for a few years, but sales weren’t strong enough to keep the reprint book going past #354. Still, 40 issues isn’t bad…!
1 is the loneliest number
It’s another Legion of Super-Heroes comic that might be the greatest #314 of any comic book series: Adventure Comics #314 features a story titled, simply, 'The Super-Villains of All Ages!' and, let me promise you, it lives up to that title. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, 'you know, the Legion is a futuristic superhero team with time-travel in their mythology, maybe someone should create a supervillain team for them made up of history’s greatest monsters,' don’t worry: writer Edmond Hamilton and artist John Forte got there first back in 1963, and it’s so much better than you could imagine.
How much better? Well, the villain team is made up of Emperor Nero, John Dillinger, and Adolf Hitler… and they manage to swap minds with Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy, making the bad guys have essentially unstoppable, superpowered bodies in the far future to abuse until their own evil natures get the better of them. (They end up fighting amongst each other and knocking each other out, because of course they do.) As the natural order of things is restored, the reader is only left with two questions: “Why can’t all stories be this amazing?” And “Was Dillinger really punching up with his membership of that particular team, or what?”
I can only count to 4
Sure, not every #314 can be Adventure Comics #314, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some fine other #314s to enjoy, nonetheless. Consider 1964’s Action Comics #314, in which we get to see computer simulations of what would have happened had Kal-El’s rocket ship landed on other planets besides Earth — there’s a twist, because of course there is, but it’s one inexplicably ruined by a cover announcing, the story inside as 'THE DAY SUPERMAN BECAME THE FLASH!' (The gimmick is, on each planet, Kal-El essentially adopts the identity of a different Justice League teammate unknowingly; by the end of the story, he’s been declared “a one-man Justice League!”)
Perhaps you’d prefer the previous year’s Detective Comics #314, where Batman and Robin try to solve 'Murder in Movieland' by tangling with submarines disguised as great white whales, chasing after fake Phantoms of the Opera, and failing to stop trains driving off cliffs. Comic books sure were different, back in the day; they might have been far more fun, if we’re honest with ourselves.
Don’t believe me? Let’s jump to 1988’s The Amazing Spider-Man #314, in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane celebrate the holiday season by being made homeless — don’t worry, they end up staying with Aunt May by the end of the issue, but not before a visit to Uncle Ben’s grave, and more than a seasonal share of angst, because it’s a Spider-Man story. (At least it looks good; this is the David Micheline/Todd McFarlane era of Amazing, after all…)
Or, wait, there’s also 1994’s Uncanny X-Men #314, in which Emma Frost possesses Iceman’s body, and uses it to… confirm that her former students have all been murdered senselessly…? Thankfully, this one doesn’t have any kind of holiday tie-in — it is titled 'Early Frost,' which is a particularly unseasonable title for a comic that was released in early May — but there’s no getting away from the fact this one is a particular downer in an era of X-Men comics being downers. The 1990s, man; not a good one for mutants in any manner other than sales.
Enough about this kind of thing; maybe it’s time to revisit March in comic book history, instead.