When I was writing that post about the state of the Justice League last week, and thinking about what superheroes DC has running around at the moment that aren’t already on another super-team in a different book the company iss publishing, I realized that there seemed to be relatively few book starring single, solo super-heroes from DC at the moment. Or from their marvelous competition.
Well, perhaps few isn’t really the right word, but it sure seems like the ratio has changed over the years. Instead of a team book like Justice League or Avengers offering a unique chance to see many of the companies’ superheroes in a single book, the teams have been proliferating over the years (like rabbits, when it comes to Marvel’s merry mutants; rabbits, or maybe cockroaches). It’s almost as if the superheroes are all unionizing, the better to collectively bargain with their readers.
This makes perfect sense, of course. If something works once, it will probably work two, three or four times more, at least until it stops working. So naturally a successful book like Giffen and DeMatteis’ ‘80s Justice League relaunch lead to a Justice League Europe and Quarterly. Or if fans were excited about Grant Morrison’s “Big Seven” JLA relaunch in the late ‘90s, well then naturally they’d dig a similar approach to a JSA and Titans book.
Regardless, I got the impression that rather than team books being an exception to the rule, it seemed like they were becoming the rule, and solo books were now the exception.
Was that just my perception, or was that actually the case?
Well, this week the Publishers Weekly’s The Beat blog did their monthly analysis of the Big Two’s sales figures, so I thought I’d dust off the math skills I learned in grade school (and was told I’d use every day for the rest of my life—ha!) and see just what the landscape looked like in terms of solo books vs. team books.
So after the jump, numbers!
Let’s start with DC, shall we?
In the process of looking what sold how much and conjecturing the whys and wherefores of those sales, Marc-Oliver Frisch assembles a list of everything DC and its imprints published that month. In this case, March of this year.
I realize these numbers are extremely fluid, and will change in the coming months. DC is missing a few of its regular solo books at the moment (Robin, Nightwing, Batman, The Flash) and at least one failed to ship (Green Lantern, The Spirit). They just added a new solo book (Power Girl), and have plans to launch several more this summer (Red Robin, Batgirl), but let’s just go with what we have at the moment, shall we?
First, let’s narrow the focus to the DC Comics line, so we won’t be counting books published on the WildStorm, Vertigo or CMX imprints, nor any of the informal imprints like Johnny DC. And let’s not count The Mighty either, as it’s creator-owned, despite being published as a DC book.
With those (arbitrary) parameters established then, it looks like DC Comics published 30 DC comics in March of this year.
Of those, 15 were solo titles, seven were team books, two were team-up books and eight were either event books involving large, ensemble casts revolving around a particular plot rather than a particular character or group of characters.
The characters carrying their own books in March consisted of Batman, Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Booster Gold, Oracle, Solomon Grundy, Jonah Hex, The Vigilante, Simon Dark and Black Lightning. Batman and Superman each had multiple titles, of course. The Bat-event Battle For the Cowl aside (we’ll get to that below), Batman was featured in Batman Confidential, Batman: Cacophony and Batman: Gotham After Midnight, while Superman had Superman, Action Comics and Superman: World of New Krypton. (If you ever wonder how Big Two super-comics are doing with books starring characters other than straight white men, it looks like three female characters starring in their own books, and Black Lighting was the only hero of color with his own book…although I don’t know what Simon Dark looks like under his mask).
The team titles are Justice League, Green Lantern Corps, Titans, The Outsiders, Secret Six, Terror Titans and R.E.B.E.L.S. (Justice Society of America and Teen Titans apparently didn’t ship in March).
The team-up titles, shared by two characters and functioning as something between a solo series and a team title, were Superman/Batman and Green Arrow/Black Canary. (The Brave and the Bold, which would also fit into this category, didn’t ship).
And falling into that final category, we have Batman: Battle for the Cowl, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, Batman: Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon, Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead?, Trinity, Strange Adventures and The War That Time Forgot.
So, if you eliminate Batman and Superman’s multiple titles to one apiece, and add in the books that didn’t ship in March due to a delay of some sort, then it looks like DC would have had 12 characters carrying their own titles as solo stars, versus nine different team books. That’s actually a little closer than I thought it would be.
(To address what really got me thinking about this in the first place then, if McDuffie were to fill out the Justice League with characters popular enough to have their own book in a given month—March—but aren’t already in another team book or off-limits due to another editorial office’s plans, he could fill out the League with Booster Gold, Oracle, Solomon Grundy, Jonah Hex and The Vigilante).
Now, on to Marvel!
Paul O’Brien handles The Beat analysis of Marvel Comics, so that’s where I’m getting the list of titles that shipped in March from that company.
Here we’ll be just be excluding Marvel’s Max imprint (their only other imprint, Icon, didn’t release anything in March), their informal imprint Marvel Adventures, as well as books occurring in their own pocket continuities, like the Ultimate line, Spider-Girl, the Noir books and those literary adaptations (both classic and trashy) that Marvel puts out.
If I counted correctly then, it seems Marvel had 58 Marvel titles released in March.
Of those, 25 were solo books, 17 were team books, three were team-up books and three were event books or anthologies.
The characters who carried their own titles in March were Wolverine, Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man, Deadpool, Daredevil, Punisher, Elektra, Black Panther, War Machine, Cable, Hercules, Skaar, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Bishop, Sub-Mariner, Nova, Adam the Blue Marvel and The Sentry. A few carried multiple titles, including Wolverine (Wolverine and Wolverine: Origins), Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man: Extra) and Deadpool (Deadpool, Deadpool: Games of Death).
(As for how Marvel did with comics featuring title characters who weren’t straight white males, there were three women with their own books—Elektra, Black Panther and Ms. Marvel—and four black characters with their own books—Black Panther, War Machine, Bishop, and Adam the Blue Marvel. At least that I know of. I’m not sure what Deadpool’s race was before his face got all…mask-worthy).
The team titles were Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors, Thunderbolts, Guardians of the Galaxy, Runaways, Captain Britain and MI13, The Eternals, Dark Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, X-Force, Young X-Men, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Sword of the Braddocks, which O’Brien says is actually the epilogue of the cancelled Exiles (The last volume; a new volume was just launched).
Marvel team-up titles consisted of New Avengers: The Reunion, X-Men/Spider-Man and Spider-Man/Human Torch: Bahia de Los Muertos.
And the only standalone event books were X-Men: Kingbreaker and War of Kings: Darkhawk (which isn’t to say Marvel has abandoned event storytelling, they’ve just been branding many of their books with a “Dark Reign” logo and having a line-wide status quo reflected in all of them), plus the anthology Astonishing Tales.
So, if we eliminate the extra-titles a few characters are carrying, factor in the solo stars who didn’t see books ship this month (Thor, The Hulk) then it would seem that Marvel has 22 characters who carried their own books in March, versus 17 team books. Those two numbers are actually quite close to one another.
What do these numbers mean? Uh, I don’t know. I was just kind of curious how many team books vs. solo books the Big Two publish these days, and now I know. At least for March of 2009.
As far as trends go, it seems obvious Marvel is publishing a lot more comics, which perhaps goes a way toward explaining their market share superiority, in addition to whatever their dominance might say about their popularity and/or quality vs. DC’s line.
Oh, and Batman and Wolverine are pretty popular these days. We can safely infer that from the data.