Gotham, we have a problem.
The general consensus seems to be that DC Comics had a particularly great month in October, but that’s not quite true. Despite making a spectacle of the Top 300 chart by claiming — literally for the first time in ages — all of the Top 6 spots, sales of the average new DC comic book were actually down from September. In fact, DC’s October performance isn’t even in the Top 3 of the past twelve months, if you compare average sales or gross dollar value.
The main reason for that is easily spotted: While Blackest Night and its tie-ins keep performing well, the number of flagging franchises and tanking new projects is on the rise again. The Titans books, Outsiders, Justice League, Justice Society, Wonder Woman, Superman/Batman and the entire Superman line are all formerly strong properties that have been skidding down the charts for months and years now; missed opportunities like the failure to capitalize on high-profile creator J. Michael Straczynski don’t help matters. Alarmingly, even the Batman line, which saw a strong relaunch a few months back, is losing steam quickly.
The bleak picture continues through the publisher’s sublabels. For the first time in six months, average Vertigo figures dropped below 11K again in October. WildStorm saw a rare spike, meanwhile — thanks, largely, to the stoically consistent numbers of the Planetary epilogue issue, which brought sales of the average WildStorm periodical closer to 10,000 units than at any other point in the last ten months.
See below for the details, and please consider the small print at the end of the column. Thanks to Milton Griepp and ICv2.com for the permission to use their figures. An overview of ICv2.com‘s estimates can be found here.
1 - BLACKEST NIGHT 07/2009: Blackest Night #1 of 8 -- 177,105 [199,863] 08/2009: Blackest Night #2 of 8 -- 146,092 (-17.5%) [155,512] 09/2009: Blackest Night #3 of 8 -- 140,786 (- 3.6%) 10/2009: Blackest Night #4 of 8 -- 137,169 (- 2.6%)
DC’s big crossover storyline of the year remains the strongest performer in the comic-book direct market.
Blackest Night is promoted with some of the most aggressive variant-cover incentives we’ve seen to date: There’s a 1-for-250 variant for issue #1, a 1-for-200 variant for #2 and a 1-for-100 variant for each subsequent issue, all in addition to 1-for-25 variants.
But, while these variants no doubt distort the numbers, it’s worth pointing out that sales are also bottoming out very quickly — which is unusual for high-profile “event” titles, and especially for books with multiple gimmick covers.
Looking back at this time last year, Final Crisis #4 had just come out, and its charts looked like this:
FINAL CRISIS 05/2008: Final Crisis #1 of 7 -- 144,826 [166,641] 06/2008: Final Crisis #2 of 7 -- 126,082 (-12.9%) [134,116] 07/2008: -- 08/2008: Final Crisis #3 of 7 -- 123,881 (- 1.8%) 09/2008: -- 10/2008: Final Crisis #4 of 7 -- 115,666 (- 6.6%)
The raw numbers would suggest that Blackest Night is doing better than Final Crisis, but then again, those were much simpler times back then: Final Crisis was promoted with one 50/50 variant edition per issue, which seems positively restrained by today’s standards.
The big difference between the two, of course, is that Final Crisis was up against Marvel’s Secret Invasion, which outsold it by up to a 100,000 units per issue. This time around, the closest thing Marvel has to a direct rival is Reborn, whose sales aren’t quite as spectacular; Reborn #1 outperformed Blackest Night #1 by about 15,000 units, but with September’s issue #3, the book dropped to 108K, which is significantly below Blackest Night. (Reborn didn’t ship in October.)
It remains to be seen whether Marvel’s upcoming Siege series and its tie-in books will come close to the commercial achievement of Secret Invasion. For now, Blackest Night appears to be as much of a success as the direct market is able to produce at this time.