January 2012 was an historic month for DC Comics which took all of the top ten slots on the comics sales list from Diamond for the first time since Diamond started releasing sales information based on sales invoiced to retailers in March 2003. Having been shut out of the top ten twice before during that time, this is a major achievement for DC. Even more impressive is that one of the items did it with estimated sales reduced to account for possible future returns. This is the fifth month in a row that DC had had the largest percentage of the total unit sales of the top 300 comics. All of this points to the decision to reboot the DC Universe with the New 52 as having paid off so far.
Relaunching titles can be successful, as the New 52 illustrates. Sales boosts from relaunches typically don’t last long, however, which is already becoming apparent with the New 52. In January, only 40 of the New 52 placed in the top 100. The trends for the New 52 titles are all fairly similar. Like most titles, they start solid and decline from there. None of the titles have spiked or dipped drastically. Those that started lower than the other titles have generally stayed lower than the others. Since the chart of all of the New 52 is too busy to really see how most of the individual titles are doing, here are charts of each group of titles.
The Justice League group of titles is both large and diverse. "Justice League" remains a strong seller thanks to the top name talent of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. With a change in the creative team coming up, the sales trend could change significantly on this title. "Aquaman" might be starting to trend upwards with the 11.35% increase bringing "Aquaman" #8 to an estimated 65,102 units which was enough to beat out even the bestselling Marvel title. DC has announced that "Mister Terrific" will end with the eighth issue.
"DC Universe Presents" should re-enter the honeymoon period next month since #5 concluded the Deadman story and the Challengers of the Unknown storyline begins in #6. Sales might go up as a result, but there is no guarantee since the change in content and creator team is as much of a jumping-off point as a jumping-on point. Most likely, "DC Universe Presents" will trend like a series of miniseries. Speaking of which, the various miniseries surrounding the New 52 have been following similar sales trends as the ongoing titles.
Unsurprisingly, "Batman" outsells the other titles in the Batman group of titles by a wide margin, though "Detective Comics" and "Batman: The Dark Knight" are both starting go up in sales. As with any upward movement on a single issue, it is entirely possible the units gained will quickly be lost. Given the returnable nature of the New 52, it is also entirely possible and probable this is indicative of the titles finding their new sales levels.
The Green Lantern family of titles is another one which continues fairly seamlessly from the pre-Flashpoint continuity. "Green Lantern" continues to be the bestselling title, with the other three selling in close proximity of each other. The chart suggests the difference between readers who are satisfied with a single Green Lantern titles and those willing to read all four is around 30,000. This phenomenon of one title in a group vastly outselling the others is common, even when all of the titles star the same character like Batman or Spider-Man.
"Action Comics" #5 sold around 105,102 units, which is very strong but a far cry from the sales of the first issue which has surpassed 200,000 estimated units. "Superman" didn't start as strong, but the title is potentially starting to increase in sales with "Superman" #5 selling around 73,729 units to retailers, increasing around 4,847 units from the prior issue. "Supergirl" and "Superboy" are following very similar sales trends with "Supergirl" outselling "Superboy" by only a few thousand units each month.
"Teen Titans" is the clear leader of the pack in this group, selling about twice as much as the any other title. The two lowest selling titles, "Static Shock" and "Hawk and Dove," are ending with the eighth issues. If things don't improve soon, expect "Blue Beetle and "Legion Lost" to be in the next group of titles to be cancelled.
The Dark group of titles consists of the characters originally from DC Universe who moved into the Vertigo imprint and have now returned to their DCU roots. This group seems to split in half. The better-selling half includes "Swamp Thing," "Justice League Dark" and "Animal Man" with the lower-selling group consisting of "Demon Knights," "Frankenstein, Agent of Shade," "Resurrection Man" and "I,Vampire." Titles in this second group are ones which could be in the next group of titles to face cancellation. The upcoming crossover between "Justice League Dark" and "I, Vampire" should help the sales of the latter, but it seems unlikely it will result in a permanent increase in sales as crossovers rarely provide any long term lift for titles. The sales bump during the crossover usually evaporates with the issue after the crossover ends.
The Edge is a very diverse group of titles virtually guaranteed to face an uphill battle to survive. DC took a lot of risks with these titles and some have worked out better than others. "Blackhawks," Men of War" and "OMAC" were all on the list of titles ending with the eighth issues. Odds are the next group of titles to be retired will include "Voodoo," "Grifter" and probably "Deathstroke." Despite the low numbers, DC should continue to do more titles like this which aren't surefire hits as titles which aren't expected to be big sellers give creators the opportunity to take chances they often can't on top tier books.
The various miniseries DC has launched as companion titles to the New 52 are selling understandably less than most of the New 52 titles. Most interesting is "Legion: Secret Origins" which shows one of the sharpest drops seen on a DC Universe title since the New 52 relaunch. The title quickly fell into a normal sales trend after the second issue drop. "My Greatest Adventure" #4 is by far the lowest selling DC Universe title these days, with only 7,592 estimates units. Part of the problem with these titles might be as simple as most readers thinking 52 titles is more than enough.
DC announced six would be ending after the eighth issue which clearly shows the relaunching only successful in the short term in certain cases. In December, ten of the New 52 titles had estimated sales under 20,000 units with the lowest only a little below 15,000 units. Unsurprisingly, the six ending titles were all on that list. Now that we have the January 2012 data, we can see those titles continued to decline in sales.
While some readers will be sad to see those titles end, the sales level and sales trends justify the decision to end and replace them with ones that might sell better. If nothing else, titles tend to sell better when they are new. That fact alone should result in an increase in the aggregate sales for DC over the short term.
Things aren't looking great on the sales charts for Marvel these days. Topping the list for the publisher is "Uncanny X-Men" #5 with around 63,485 units, a little better than "Uncanny X-Men" #4 right below it on the list with an estimated 63,183 units. That puts each issue of the top selling Marvel title decidedly below half the sales of the top selling DC titles. Marvel was, however, able to retain the percentage of the top 300 unit sales by shipping multiple issues of numerous titles such as "Uncanny X-Men," "Uncanny X-Force," "Thunderbolts" and "Daken: Dark Wolverine."
A few years back, the X-Men and Avengers titles routinely topped Diamond's monthly charts. The attrition on the Avengers titles is minor, but over time, even minor attrition can cause a serious problem. Both of these groups of titles are selling far less than when they routinely topped of the bestselling comics list each month. There was a spike on the X-Men titles with the latest reshuffling of the mutants across the titles but already much of that spike has been lost.
Given how often Marvel has done an in-place relaunch of the Avengers and X-Men groups, it has gotten hard to remember which titles were the main ones for each franchise over the years. Building up confusion of that sort can lead to diminished sales as readers decide it isn't worth the trouble to figure out. The problem isn't which character is in which book -- it's that the stories aren't keeping readers engaged enough to come back for the next issue. Solve that and then maybe readers will follow characters from title to title.
Maybe the "Avengers vs X-Men" series will renew interest in the Avengers and X-Men family of titles. If not, perhaps Marvel will resort to more drastic measures along the line of DC's New 52 reboot to revitalize the Marvel Universe titles. 2012 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year for Marvel. Hopefully they can rise to the challenge.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.