October saw the launch of #Marvel’s All-New All-Different range – and it was a hit! Now, Diamond have released their sales estimates for the US direct market retailers. It’s worth adding a few caveats before we get too excited; these don’t include digital sales (some books, such as Spider-Gwen and Ms Marvel, reportedly sell better digitally), and they don’t include international markets (Al Ewing’s Contest of Champions, for example, looks geared towards these). Still, these figures give us a wealth of information, and let us catch a glimpse of the state of the comic book market! So what can we see?
1. Star Wars is the biggest comic book winner of 2015!
When Marvel reacquired the license to Star Wars comics back in 2014, they were undoubtedly excited – but I doubt that even Marvel could have predicted the success of the franchise in comic book terms. #StarWars has a strong history in comic book format, but under Dark Horse it never came close to the stratospheric sales of today. To give you an idea, in July 1999, when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released, Diamond showed 33,864 sales for Star Wars comics. January’s Star Wars #1, in contrast, sold an outstanding 985,976 copies, while October’s sales included Chewbacca #1 at 122,952, with the second issue coming in at 74,311.
Let me put this in perspective: Chewbacca isn’t exactly a great comic. In fact, a friend at ComicsVerse couldn’t help giving his review of Chewbacca #1 a cutting title – “This New Comic Fails To Justify Its Existence“. Chewbacca‘s performance is an indication of the strength of the Star Wars brand.
But here’s what you need to realise: for all that Star Wars has been a tremendous success for Marvel, we’re only now about to hit the road. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, releasing in December, will open up a whole new era for comics and novels to explore. Showing the potential of this era, every issue of the Star Wars: Shattered Empire miniseries – which builds towards the movie – was in the top 20 for comic book sales. When the movie comes out, Star Wars is only going to get bigger.
That said, Chewbacca also incites a note of caution. It’s quite possible to over-saturate the market, and in order to avoid doing so, Marvel need to keep quality products there. At the moment, it’s looking as though Marvel are simply trying to milk Star Wars for all it’s worth, and that strategy could eventually backfire. I don’t foresee that happening for quite some time, though.
2. All-New All-Different Marvel is a Qualified Success
Let me give you an idea of how well Marvel’s All-New All-Different range has done: out of the top 10 comic books for the month, how many do you think were published by Marvel?
Answer: all ten.
OK, let’s try again: out of the top 20 comic books for the month, how many do you think were published by Marvel?
Out of the 14 comics last month to sell more than 100,000 copies, how many were published by Marvel?
Answer: All but one (Batman #45, continuing Scott Snyder’s tremendous run).
Last month, Marvel absolutely dominated the sales, accounting for 52.67% of total unit sales for the top 300 comics; this compared with #DC in second place at 24.92%.
That being said, this may not be as good as it seems at first glance. In October 2011, as part of their New 52 relaunch, DC took a record 56.07% of comic book sales. Some retailers have mentioned concerns that the strange scheduling between “Secret Wars” and the All-New All-Different range has damaged Marvel’s relaunch, and that seems borne out by this.
What’s more, second issues always sell less than first issues, and, with a couple of notable exceptions (which I’ll discuss in a moment), the second issues seem to be selling between 40-60% of the first. That’s actually the normal trend for Marvel sales, and suggests that the market may stabilise quite quickly. Marvel’s highest-profile first-issues are all launching by December, so it’s likely that the beginning of 2016 will see things settle down.
3. Marvel's Invincible Iron Man Strategy Probably Hasn't Worked
At Special Edition 2015, Marvel announced that they were putting Iron Man front-and-centre of the Marvel Universe, with Brian Bendis and David Marquez in charge of the book. For all #IronMan’s cinematic success, his comic book sales have never reflected it, and Marvel inteded the All-New All-Different range to rectify that.
At first glance, things look promising; Invincible Iron Man #1 sold an astronomical 279,513 units. However, those sales were artificially inflated by more than 10 variant covers, and we’re in an age of collectors once again, where people are buying multiple copies based on variant covers. Those sales figures were simply unsustainable, and so they proved; Invincible Iron Man #2 (with two variant covers) dropped to 66,664 sales (a horrific 23.85% of sales). For all it’s true that we’re in an age of lower sales, that’s not really enough to keep the book in the top 10, particularly since third issues of Marvel comics typically depreciate by another 30%.
This isn’t a disaster, but it’s certainly a failure, as Iron Man is most definitely not the sales “flagship” of All-New All-Different Marvel, as Marvel had hoped he’d be. Instead, that honour looks to go to Amazing Spider-Man, with first-issue sales of 245,873 (and 11 variants), but with the second issue (and its two variant covers) coming in at 111,321 sales. While that will surely fall – only Scott Snyder’s Batman has been able to sustain sales over 100,000 for quite some time – it’s still tremendously impressive.
4. Spider-Gwen Hasn't Been Damaged by "Secret Wars"
Alas, poor #SpiderGwen; her first series was cut down into a miniseries due to “Secret Wars”, and ended awkwardly; it was pretty clear Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez hadn’t known the series was ending when they penned Spider-Gwen #5. In spite of this damage, Spider-Gwen #1 hit the stands with an impressive 197,103 sales. In a month with first issues of Doctor Strange (there’s a movie coming out next year), Guardians of the Galaxy, New Avengers and Captain America: Sam Wilson (which got a publicity boost from Fox News), Spider-Gwen #1 beat them all. And if Spider-Gwen continues to perform better digitally than in paper format, who knows how the sales figures really looked?
Considering she’s really just another Spider-Man spin-off alt-universe character, Spider-Gwen‘s brand remains impressively strong.
5. Marvel's October Sales Success Didn't Need the X-Men
The last time Marvel accounted for so high a proportion of the comic industry’s sales was in December 2009, and back then, #XMen comics accounted for nearly 30% of their sales (a whopping 990,780 sales, to be exact). In contrast, October 2015 saw only three X-Men-related titles released, representing a mere 2.79% (116,314 sales). To be sure, part of that was the rescheduling of Uncanny X-Men #600, so November’s figures will give us a sense of how the X-Men books stand; but those figures are nonetheless troubling for X-Men fans. Marvel can have their strongest month since 2009, and they don’t even need the X-Men to do it.