Marvel had the largest percentage of the unit sales for the top 300 in November 2013 with 36.33% of the total units for the top 300. DC was not far behind with 34.92% of the unit sales. The gap between Marvel and DC for the top 300 comics was the narrowest it has been all year at an estimated 94,331 units. The last time it was this narrow was December 2012 when Marvel outsold DC in the top 300 by only 77,044 units. May 2005 had the narrowest gap between Marvel and DC with DC edging out Marvel in the top 300 by around just 44,798 unit.
The challenge for DC isn't the size of the gap but the fact Marvel has outsold DC in 119 of the past 130 months since the final order era began in early 2003. While DC outsold Marvel by around 1,326,521 unit in October 2013 and by an estimated 1,843,243 in October 2011, Marvel has outsold DC in the top 300 comics by over a million units 28 times. Of the two big dogs in the direct market, DC is the underdog in some respects.
The New 52 relaunch has given DC a number of top selling titles such as "Batman" #25 which was the best-selling title in November 2013 was with an estimated 125,602 units. "Harley Quinn" #0 launched strong with approximately 114,212 units as did "Amazing X-Men" #1 with around 112,337 units. "Superman Unchained" #4 sold around 110,611 units. All of those beat out both "Forever Evil" #3 with an estimated 105,755 units and "Infinity" #6 with around 100,292 units. "Batman" is the lynchpin title of the Zero Year storyline and has routinely been at the top of the charts since the start of the New 52. Both "Harley Quinn" #0 and "Amazing X-Men" #1 are the first issues of those titles. Event titles usually top the charts, so it is a little surprising four other titles outsell "Forever Evil" and "Infinity." If we are starting to see event titles cool off in sales, then we might see Marvel and DC pull back a little on them.
The solicitations for March shipping issues revealed DC is ending "Animal Man," "Batman: The Dark Knight" and "Talon." Both "Talon" and "Animal Man" having been selling around the 20,000 unit level, so those titles ending makes sense. "Batman: The Dark Knight" is clearly not ending for sales reasons as it has been over 40,000 units.
With those titles ending, the survival rate of the initial New 52 titles drops to 29 which is around 55.77%. Over half of the original titles are still around after 31 months. To avoid this becoming a matter of some people seeing the glass half full while others see it half empty we need a little perspective. If Marvel is beating out DC in sales for the top 300, maybe titles are lasting longer over at Marvel.
Marvel has either just relaunch or announced a relaunch of the following titles: "All New X-Factor," "Avengers Undercover" (which is essentially a relaunch/replacement of "Avengers Arena"), "Captain Marvel," "Daredevil," "Fantastic Four," "Ms Marvel," "Punisher," "Secret Avengers," "Wolverine," "Wolverine and the X-Men," and "X-Force." And that is just a list of recently active titles. If we expand the scope to include older titles the list increases to include "All New Invaders," "Ghost Rider," "Iron Patriot" (which is essentially just a renamed "War Machine" title), " Moon Knight," "New Warriors," "She-Hulk" and "Silver Surfer."
I'm not suggesting those 18 titles shouldn't be relaunched. Every property deserves another chance. Low selling titles should be ended and replaced with potentially better selling titles. Not doing so is irresponsible on the part of the editors and publishers. But simply ending one volume and launching another generally doesn't solve the problem of declining sales. Usually the new volume gets a large increase in sales which dissipates over the following months until the title is selling back around the level prior to the relaunch.
The net result of the rotation of titles with the Marvel Now initiative is the only Marvel titles with an issue number of 29 or higher in the solicitations for March 2014 are "Superior Spider-Man" (which launched in January 2013) and "X-Men: Legacy" (the current volume which features David Haller/Legion launched in November 2012 ends a 25 issue run with #300 in March).
Here are some charts of the more recent volumes of some of titles which have or will be relaunched as part of Marvel Now:
There are the expected sales bumps and spikes for the various cover gimmicks, major plot twists and other sales and marketing wizardry. While I can probably chase down each major single issue spike in sales on these charts, I'm not going to do so as they are sales anomalies. The underlying trend is a continued decline in sales. It is very easy to only remember the big splash a title first makes and to quickly lose sight of the actual sales afterwards.
Obviously, not all relaunches follow this pattern. Sometimes relaunching a title with a new creative team or a new direction is exactly what is needed to boost sales on a title. The New 52 relaunch of "Batman" is a great example of a successful relaunch:
Another obvious point I'm going to make is titles can be changed without requiring a new first issue. DC has tried this with both "Batwing" and "Green Arrow." Both titles had major changes in direction and creative teams while retaining the original title and numbering.
The minor bump in sales in April for "Batwing" was when the title characters was recast. Had it been relaunched under a different name the initial sales would have almost certainly been above 20,000 units giving the title a higher starting point.
"Green Arrow" adopted some of the tone, style, characters and backstory of the popular "Arrow" television series. Some of the bump in sales has worn off, but the title is still selling better than was for the year prior to Jeff Lemire taking over the title.
For those in the half empty glass camp, DC has a much longer list of titles around 30 months old than Marvel does. While DC did a big band approach with the New 52 in September 2011, Marvel have been slowing rotating titles as part of the Marvel Now initiative. The end result is no titles set in either the DC Universe or Marvel Universe with lifespans over 31 months.
Time for a little more perspective: Imagine if, by some alignment of the stars, another issue of "Image United" was published. It would be sitting on the shelf with a completely different set of Marvel Universe and DC Universe titles than the first half of the series. Somehow, we've gotten to the point that the gaps between issues of some long-delayed creator-owned titles exceeds the entire lifespan of a volume of a mainstream super-hero titles from Marvel and DC.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.