The numbers are crunched, the beans are counted and The Beat blog’s ace contributors Marc-Oliver Frisch and Paul O’Brien have offered their usual thorough and insightful analysis of the direct market super-comic sales for the month of March. Which means it’s time for me to offer a rambling, half-assed conversation with myself about them!
Here are some thoughts on the state of the Big Two’s publishing lines as revealed through the monthly Beat analysis…
1.) James Robinson is writing a lot of books for DC. I counted six that he had either written or co-written: Justice League of America, Justice League: Rise and Fall Special #1, Justice League: Cry For Justice, Adventure Comics, Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton and Superman. That’s three times as many as the number of books being written by DC’s two most popular writers, Geoff Johns (Blackest Night, Green Lantern) and Grant Morrison (Batman and Robin, Joe the Barbarian). Could part of Robinson’s problem simply be that he’s spreading himself too thin…?
2.) One of the most shocking facts Frisch had to share was this: Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet #1 sold 54,122 copies, while the Kevin Smith-written Batman: The Widening Gyre #5 sold only 34,338.
Do you know what that means? All—well, a lot of—things being equal, Green Hornet outsold Batman.
Check it out. Neither series has a superstar pencil artist (Jonathan Lau and Walt Flanagan, respectively), and are thus being sold by the popular writer’s byline and the cache of the character alone. And a Green Hornet comic sold 20,000 more copies than a Batman comic.
What’s that you say, it’s not fair comparing a #1 issue to a #5? Well, even the first issue of Widening Gyre sold worse than Green Hornet #1, at 52, 191. I suppose you could factor in the number of variants—Batman had at least two, Green Hornet had…more—but still. That is an amazing little fact there, and I’m sure someone somewhere at DC is scratching their head over it.
3.) While Marvel continues to be the direct market leader by a comfy margin, Blackest Night sure did eat Siege’s lunch, didn’t it? O’Brien notes that the first issue of Siege performed better than was originally thought, but even with reorders and reprints factored in, the first issue of Siege only moved 120,888, while Blackest Night’s eighth issue sold 130,061. Again, after over nine months, Blackest Night ended stronger than Siege began.
4.) Marvel’s relaunch of one-time bona fide hit The Ultimates as Ultimate Comics New Ultimates by Jeph Loeb and Frank Cho did much, much better than I expected.
Given how poorly received Loeb’s Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum were, and the fact that Ultimatum seemed to hurt the sales of everything with the word “Ultimate” in the title going forward, I would have expected a new Ultimates series by Loeb to be much further down the sales charts—especially since its competing with a Mark Millar-written Ultimates-like book (Ultimate Comics Avengers) and has probably the dumbest name of any current Marvel comic (and remember, the company is also publishing books called PunisherMax, Girl Comics and Marvel Her-oes).
O’Brien mentions that UCNU’s performance is rather poor compared to how past volumes have done—it charts at #8 with just over 71,000 units—but that’s a lot higher than I would have expected it.
Maybe I’m just a pessimist?
5.) I’m surprised at how poorly Wolverine: Weapon X is selling. These charts had it debuting at just under 98,000, and now that it’s just about to finish up its first year, its selling less than 30K?
That means a whole bunch of people who tried it didn’t like it and walked away during the course of the year (Well, that or retailers just ordered a ton of the first issue to get in on some variant scheme, but I don’t want to think about that because it’s just too depressing).
Why am I surprised by this? Because Weapon X is really, really good. I don’t care for the X-Men at all—Grant Morrison’s run and Jeff Parker’s First Class were the only runs of X-Men comics I’ve been able to get through—and I’ve read all the Wolverine comics I feel I ever need to read at this point, and I still loved the first trade of this series.
Does that suggest a problem though? That Weapon X is a Wolverine comic for people who don’t like Wolverine and/or The X-Men, and most of Marvel’s audience do like Wolverine and the X-Men?
Or is the title the problem, suggesting something other than an ongoing solo Wolvie title set in modern continuity? If that’s the case, Marvel’s plan to rename the title just plain old Wolverine soon should help out.
6.) Marvel’s superheroine one-shots are selling better than I expected. X-23 did over 27,000 worth of business, and She-Hulk garnered about 15 and 1/2 K. Neither are great, no, but for $4 one-shots starring minor characters they’re not bad, and the done-in-one format of these things makes sense. A four issue She-Hulk miniseries would be looking grim by issue four, but these one-shots allow the books to start strong and then stop before they get weak.
7.) I’m not sure what to make of Girl Comics doing less than 13 and a 1/2 K for its first issue. Obviously that’s pretty terrible, and no one can say Marvel didn’t promote the hell out of the book (and the mainstream news media, as well as the comics blogosphere, went way out of their way to talk endlessly about this project).
The most similar book Marvel’s published recently, Strange Tales, did slightly better, but was always going to sell pretty great as a perennial, evergreen trade collection, no matter how the serialized issues sold. Can the same be said of Girl Comics? Strange Tales has bigger, better-known names, a more friendly title and an easier to grab hook (Alternative cartoonist who you wouldn’t expect to see doing Marvel superhero stories do Marvel superhero stories), whereas Girl Comics’ is a bit more nebulous and more likely to put-off some readers (Creators who are women do Marvel superhero stories, because…um…just because?)
8.) Wow, Veritgo’s American Vampire, featuring back-ups written-written by Stephen King, sold like gangbusters. Well, for a Vertigo title anyway, doing just under 34K. That’s not anything near a hit by direct market standards, but when you consider that’s how many issues were sold to North American hobby shops, and before a hardcover trade gets into bookstores (and thus comes into the consciousness of most of King’s audience) then it’s a title that going to end up doing very, very well for DC and Vertigo.
9.) I’m not sure what this actually says about Justice League: Cry For Justice, but the seventh and final issue of the series sold a bit worse than Justice League: Rise and Fall Special #1, and markedly worse than the latest issue of Justice League of America. Those last two books are follow-ups to Cry, so Cry’s spin-offs, are more popular than Cry is…?
10.) The first issue of First Wave, the miniseries establishing, DC’s new line of books set on Earth-Pulp, only sold a little over 38K. And yet DC has already launched two $4 ongoing series spinning out of it. Those books—Doc Savage and The Spirit—can’t possibly have bright futures, can they?
11.) If the free market chose the Justice League, and the line-up were determined by which seven characters had the seven most popular solo, ongoing, in-continuity series, then the JLA would consist of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Batman Dick Grayson, Superman, Red Robin Tim Drake, Batgirl Stephanie Brown, Supergirl and Green Arrow. Currently, only one of those characters is on the four-person JLA line-up, and that’s Batman.
12.) Just for comparison’s sake, if The Avengers were chosen in the sam manner, then their lineup would consist of Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Daken, Iron Man and Deadpool. Interestingly, the lineup for the upcoming main Avengers title includes four of those seven characters.