Who's the top dog in the comic book world? Marvel has the edge in terms of comic book sales for a while, but for the past couple of months, DC Comics has reigned supreme. April 2017 was always going to be a tough one to call; DC's "Rebirth" was taking shape in a key crossover known as "The Button," while Marvel was relaunching their entire X-Men range while kicking off this year's controversial Summer Event, "Secret Empire." Now the sales figure are out, though, and here's the strange thing — even those have become the subject of controversy.
Recent months have seen #Marvel Comics come under real pressure, with a flurry of scandals and declining sales. Marvel is currently mid-pivot, finishing off the politically charged #SecretEmpire event before relaunching in the so-called "Legacy" era. And in this context, for the first time in years, comic book sales are big news. So, which publisher ended in poll position for April?
Here Are The Figures
As always, it's worth noting that these are sales estimates from Diamond Distributors. In truth, they represent how many books were ordered by domestic retailers, not how many actually sold. They don't include the international market, and they don't include digital sales — but, in the aftermath of Marvel's Retailer Summit, digital seems a lot less important than we thought it was.
Unusually, I'm going to focus in on the top 11 rather than the top 10. You'll see why in a moment:
- 1. Secret Empire #0: 162,718
- 2. Batman #21: (Lenticular Edition) - 130,216
- 3. X-Men Gold #1: 114,332
- 4. X-Men Blue #1: 108,836
- 5. Flash #21 (Lenticular Edition): 107,037
- 6. Batman #20: 97,554
- 7. Batman #21: 89,256
- 8. Star Wars #30: 70,175
- 9. Weapon X #1: 68,874
- 10. Walking Dead #166: 68,205
- 11. Flash #21: 67,766
Notice anything strange about those figures? Yup, you'll immediately notice that both Batman #21 and Flash #21 crop up twice. The reason is simple; both had a special 'Lenticular Edition' based around the latest crossover event, "The Button." These issues featured a special — and, frankly, beautiful — cover, with Batman #21 showing the Dark Knight and the Scarlet Speedster holding the Comedian's button. The covers were only available in the US due to copyright issues (the smiling emoji is actually under copyright in Europe), but they were clearly tremendously popular.
But here's the catch. The lenticular cover meant these books had a higher price. Diamond's sales estimates aren't about who "won" in a given month — they're there to help retailers work out what books to order. So whenever a company publishes variants at different prices, Diamond deliberately splits them up. It's a massive help to retailers, but it means that Marvel got the top-seller for last month — even though, if you add the numbers for their variants together, both Batman #21 and Flash #21 outsold Secret Empire #0.
In a normal month, this would be an amusing footnote. At a time when Marvel is desperate to claim a sales success in the hopes of escaping the taint of near-constant bad publicity? It's big news, especially after Secret Empire #0 writer Nick Spencer tweeted celebrating the win (he's since deleted the tweet).
What's Really Going On?
In reality, of course, this was a big month for Marvel. April saw the high-profile "ResurrXion," with Marvel attempting to revitalize the struggling #XMen brand. The last year's worth of comics had pitted the X-Men against the Inhumans in a battle for survival — and, although Marvel got some top-quality writers on board, the overarching narrative failed to connect with fans. "ResurrXion" was a "Rebirth"-inspired shift back to the classic concepts of the X-Men, with a lot of nostalgic elements thrown in to tempt back old-school fans. The first issues were clearly popular, although Gold's sales were boosted by an absurd controversy when an artist slipped antisemitic references into the text.
Unfortunately, here's the catch; while most sites are focusing in on the top 10, April also saw Marvel release the second issues of X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue. Disturbingly, sales of both books dropped by approximately 50%; that's a very ominous sign, and hints that "ResurrXion" may have come too late to reinvigorate this much-loved brand. That's going to worry Marvel a great deal, especially since everything we've heard about the company's future line-wide direction suggests that "ResurrXion" sets the pattern.
Meanwhile, Secret Empire #0 is roughly where you'd want it to be, considering it's launching this year's Summer Event. Nick Spencer's arc has proven to be mightily controversial thus far, so those sales figures will have Marvel breathing a sight of relief. It's going to be interesting to see how the event performs as it goes on.
DC's "Rebirth" Continues
Of course, the biggest success story last month can be found in Batman #21 and Flash #21. These two issues effectively launched the second phase of the popular #DCRebirth range, and their sales performance is a pointer to just how well "Rebirth" has resonated with the fans. This crossover event, "The Button," sees Batman and the Flash move closer to the heart of the mystery behind "Rebirth," and is a step towards bringing the #Watchmen into the mainstream #DC continuity. It's also gradually increasing the focus on Saturn Girl, a member of the famous Legion of Super Heroes who's currently an inmate at Arkham Asylum.
A Major Problem For Graphic Novels
Although most sites haven't really focused in on this, there's another background issue; Diamond also published performance charts for graphic novels, which shows a drop from 2016 to 2017 across all ranges. Nobody quite knows why, but Comics Beat has given the best guess; back in January, the New York Times dropped its bestsellers list for graphic novels, along with several other categories. We've never before seen evidence that bestsellers lists generate sales, but so far, this is the only concrete suggestion I've seen.
Although Marvel's "claimed victory" in April 2016, I can't help wincing at the way it works out. The real winner is undoubtedly DC's "Rebirth," still proving so popular one year on. Meanwhile, the "ResurrXion" doesn't look to have lifted off as successfully as the House of Ideas would have hoped. I don't think Marvel will find much comfort in these numbers.