The sales estimates for February Diamond orders are up at ComicChron, and they make for interesting reading – Overall top 300 orders are significantly up on last year, even if publisher diversity is down (It’s not all Marvel double shipping, either, cynics; as John Jackson Miller points out, Dynamite alone have 25 more books charting than usual), making me wonder what exactly is going on in the market these days. I’ve been wondering that since the initial placements and order index was released, and it’s all because of one book: Marvel’s Defenders.
Yes, everyone keeps focusing on either Marvel being shut out of the top 10 for the second month in a row and the fact that Aquaman is outselling Uncanny X-Men, or that Marvel has claimed dollar and unit dominance for the entire top 300 despite that top 10 loss, showing up DC’s crumbling bottom end (Seriously, the Vertigo line is just falling apart, depressingly). But Defenders has gone from a top 10 book to #60 in the chart in just three months, which seems… well, completely crazy, really, right…?
Of course, that initial chart placing was somewhat false. Defenders #1 charted with an estimated 85,969 orders in December, sure, but that was including Marvel’s 50% overship of the issue, making the “true” order number somewhere in the region of 57,313, which would’ve made it a #16 book for that month, not a #8 book. But even so, February saw orders for Defenders #3 of 33,548, a 42% drop just two months later, without any change in creative team or end of storyline. If this rate of attrition doesn’t slow significantly, the title will be in the cancellation zone in another two months.
What seems particularly weird about this is that… well, on paper, Defenders should be doing so much better. It spun out of Fear Itself – Well, as much as anything spun out of Fear Itself – and is written by that title’s writer, Matt Fraction. More than that, it’s Fraction paired with Terry Dodson, and the last time the two worked together was on an Uncanny X-Men run that sold almost twice as many copies as Defenders is managing. Sure, there’s a “It’s X-Men” thing happening here, but Defenders isn’t entirely made up of unknown characters even if Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and Silver Surfer aren’t exactly household names for most of America.
There’s a weird defensive reaction I’ve seen from Marvel fans about Aquaman being in the top 10, which goes along the lines of “It’s one of the publisher’s top creative teams and a character that’s had a profile boost thanks to appearing in crossovers and event books, of course it’s a top 10 book!” But the same thing is true of Defenders – it even had the added benefit of launching out of previews in two of Marvel’s highest shipping titles in recent memory, Fear Itself #7 and Point One – and it’s not faring anywhere near so well. I don’t compare the two to say “Well, clearly Aquaman is awesome and Defenders sucks,” because (a) Defenders doesn’t suck, and (b) quality is never an indicator of sales anyway, as we all know by now. Instead, I bring it up because I’m confused; Defenders should be doing better. Any and all snark aside, I can’t help but feel that the fact that it’s being outsold by Teen Titans or Red Hood and the Outlaws is a sign that the direct market is in a really weird place right now, and a sign of concern for people who want to see something other than the already massive franchises come out of the Big Two.