January 22, 2015

Judging the New 52: December 2014

December sales figures are in, with Batman once again the most popular comic book in America. Basically so long as neither DC nor Marvel run a major new issue one, or Loot Crate don't make an order through Diamond Distribution, then Batman winds up on top. Of course next month it will blown out of the water with Marvel's Star Wars #1 printing at least a million copies, but for now Batman is king. Overall DC managed to outsell Marvel by a small margin last month; it's usually the other way around.

If I was DC Comics, I'd be having a very close look at Batman to break down precisely why it's currently selling as well as it is. It's not just the title character, although that's obviously a big reason behind its success. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki have been kicking out one great storyline after another, with each one being treated like a Hollywood blockbuster: high concept, high stakes, and great marketable story titles. They also seem to have by-and-large been left alone to develop the stories they want to tell. There's not reason DC couldn't be doing this with another three or four lead titles.

This is particularly true of DC's properties that are currently finding success on television. Arrow continues to be a big hit, and The Flash and Constantine have both premiered to great success, yet when we look to their comic book counterparts we find Green Arrow shipping just 20,904 units to the direct market, The Flash just 37,026 and Constantine a shocking 15,574. All three should be selling above 50,000 copies a month with the TV series on the air.

With Convergence giving DC a two-month break to prepare and release a whole slew of new titles and, I suspect, numerous relaunches, this is the perfect time for the company to wipe a few slates clean, sign up a few key creative teams, and give some of these books the marketing push they deserve.

Let's have a look at DC's newest titles (six issues or less), and see how they're doing.
  • Secret Six was DC's sole new title in December, shipping an estimated 44,065 units to stores. That's at the upper end of the spectrum for a mid-range title such as this, likely due in part to the original volume's critical standing and Gail Simone's fanbase. It will be interesting to see how much of that readership the book retains over the next two months.
  • Arkham Manor dropped 9 per cent with issue #3, to 28,202 units. That still suggests a potential 18-issue run, had DC not already elected to cancel it with March's issue #6.
  • Gotham Academy hasn't run quite as strong, with a 14 per cent drop to 26,509. We're still probably talking about a solid 18 issue run though; it will depend on when and whether sales on this book level out. This kind of book has more potential with digital sales as well, and they're not included here. That could possibly prop it up for longer.
  • Gotham by Midnight suffered a 28 per cent drop for its 2nd issue, down to 27,849. That's probably a little worrying, and I wouldn't surprised to see this book wrap up by the end of 2015.
  • Infinity Man and the Forever People benefitted from a loose tie-in to the Green Lantern "Godhead" crossover: issue #6 got a bump of nearly 2,000 readers to 11,261. That's soft as all hell, and I strongly expect January's issue #7 to drop below 9,000 units.
  • Star Spangled War Stories actually held fairly steady in December, but since it's holding steady at 7,173 units, it's in pretty dire trouble. DC has, of course, already cancelled this book.
  • Lobo dropped another 20% with its third issue, down to 20,208 units. That doesn't bode well, and suggests a one-year run at best.
  • Trinity of Sin is a dead book walking, as I suspected it would be: cancelling two low-selling titles and combining them into a new near-identical comic isn't going to fool anybody. Issue #3 is down to 12,939 units.
  • And if you think that's bad, check out Klarion: this muddled teen fantasy dropped to an estimated 8,418 units. That's the lowest-selling third issue for an ongoing book in the entire New 52. Only the third issue of the Human Bomb miniseries sold less.
Some other observations:

  • Over 2014 DC's had varying success with themed alternative covers. December's set, featuring beautiful landscape art by Darwyn Cooke, doesn't seem to have had any effect on sales. This is a pity; I thought they were the best alternative covers of the year.
  • There were some pretty big 3,000-5,000 unit drops in sales across some of the older books, including Detective Comics, Batman/Superman and Batgirl. I have no idea what caused it, but it must be a bit of a worry for those books' editors.
  • Catwoman, which received a pretty stark change in look and direction when its new creative team came onboard, is holding up really well - only about 800 readers lost from the first new issue to the third.

So all up, which books are in trouble? Books coded 'orange' are selling between 20,000 and 30,000 copies a month, so there's a good chance DC is keeping a very close eye on them. Books coded 'red' are selling less than 20,000 copies and are in immediate risk of cancellation. Books coded 'black' are dead in the water with less than 10,000 copies shipped. Anything already cancelled is highlighted in bold text.

ORANGE: Green Arrow, Secret Origins, Catwoman, Arkham Manor, Gotham Academy, Gotham by Midnight, Supergirl, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Lanterns, Lobo, Justice League Dark, Earth 2: Worlds End.
RED: Worlds Finest, Justice League 3000, Aquaman and the Others, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Batwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Swamp Thing, Constantine, Trinity of Sin
BLACK: Star Spangled War Stories, Klarion

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