By John Jackson Miller via Comichron

DC’s Justice League of America #1 turned in the strongest single-issue sales performance for a comic book in the month of February since at least 1996 — and the biggest single-month number for a DC title since that time, as well. That’s based on Comichron’s estimates of retailer orders from Diamond Comic Distributors. Click to see the complete estimates for comics sales in February 2013.

Released with more than 50 variant covers featuring flags of the individual U.S. states, Justice League of America #1 had orders of nearly 308,000 copies. That’s more than 100,000 copies more than any DC relaunch issue reached in North America in a single month — and enough to rank it seventh on the list of top-selling comics of the 21st Century. (It could still go higher, with reorders.) The issue outranks any DC title in the Diamond Exclusive Era, including Superman: The Wedding Album back in November 1996.

The quantity is also higher than any February release since at least Marvel Vs. DC #3 in February 1996. We don’t know the actual sales for that issue, as it came during the Distribution Wars period when Marvel was self-distributing, but I would guess that its sales were likely competitive with the February 2013 release. Click to see my column on past best-sellers for the month.

Another interesting cross-time comparison: with the top 300 comics selling just over 7 million copies in February, the figure beats not just the five- and 10-year comparisons, but also the 15-year comparative, as well. Retailers ordered 6.6 million copies in February 1998. By 1998, however, we’re getting to the point where a 15-year beat isn’t as impressive — the February 1997 figure was 8 million copies.

Graphic novel sales were slightly off from a year ago — by less than 1% overall — although when you drill down to just the Top 300 graphic novels, sales were actually up 14% in both dollars and units. That would require, if the figure is correct, for the backlist titles in the “long tail” to have significantly underperformed. It’s within the range of differences we’ve seen between frontlist and backlist figures before. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’sNemo: Heart of Ice hardcover from Top Shelf was the best-selling graphic novel.


  1. I’m constantly amazed that people still buy variant covers. My shop knows better than to even ask me. Can one of the store owners out there explain who’s buying these and why? I’m not trying to be derisive — people can spend their money however they like and God knows I wouldn’t want all my purchases scrutinized. I’m just genuinely curious. Surely they don’t think the value will skyrocket, do they?

  2. Publisher’s customers are retailers.

    Also, Best Gimmick Since 1996? The future’s so bright, I’ve got to wear shades.

  3. I’m actually curious to find out how this number was tallied. Was the set of variants counted as fifty-three sales of the book proper, or did it receive a separate listing altogether? I know of several shops that just ordered the variant set and stocked their shelves with that rather than getting X amount of copies of the book proper because of the discounted SRP making for a lower cost per copy in the end.

    Not that I’m really surprised that something with fifty-three covers would generate a big raw number, mind you, I’m just curious.

  4. As far as I know, each individual issue counted as a sale. Diamond combines all variants with different item codes into a single chart entry so long as they all have the same cover price.

    I suppose it’s possible that there’s an item code for the set somewhere and that its entry didn’t make the Top 300, but that would be more likely if the set was actually packaged together somehow. If they just pulled the individual books from the warehouse shelves to make sets, my hunch is they rang up as individual sales — and thus, are counted under that 308,000.

  5. The 53 copy set had its own order code, so probably would have been counted separately, but just didn’t make the top 300. In fact, some quick checking, and there’s a hole in the top 100 dollar rankings at #78 that nothing else in the top 300 fills. If you take average of the surrounding books, and the $150 price of the set, you get about 610 copies of the set, or about 32,000 extra copies of the book.

  6. Checked my press file first, which has some of the data for later entries. Diamond’s #78 dollar title is the $3.99 ADVENTURE TIME: FIONNA AND CAKE, which lands at #106 in unit sales, leapfrogging a bunch of $2.99 titles. (And some Marvel $3.99 titles — which suggests that the rankings are by wholesale dollars that Diamond realized, and not retail dollars.)

    There is no skip until #219, which falls after Zenescope’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES: MADNESS OF WONDERLAND #1 (#241 on the unit list). At that level, we’d be talking about 164 sets sold (plus or minus depending on the difference between retailers’ average DC discount and their general Diamond discount). That’s 8,700 copies in that event.

    My guess is that figure is much too low to be the number of sets, but I will ask in any event.

  7. Yeah, I thought that number seemed a bit high after I posted the comment, and I’d forgotten to consider that the different discount levels might factor in (usually the top 100 only has one or two non-DC/Marvel books, which seem to be on similar discount levels).

    Do you think the set might have been counted on the book chart, due to its price?

  8. The highest-ranking “missing entry” on the trade dollar chart is at a level that would only allow for 180 sets to have been sold as a unit. My assumption is they sold more than that. Let me see what they say.

  9. So even though they sold over 300K copies of JLA #1, they still got pwned by Marvel in both dollar and unit share. I also noticed that the main JL title is about to drop below 100K. Things aren’t looking very good for DC right now, and it may be time for them to go back to the drawing board.

  10. Bob H, Diamond’s Allyn Gibson has confirmed for me that Diamond broke out the “set” sales into individual issues, and counted them with the rest of the loose issues. They did the same for IDW’s MARS ATTACKS pack and MY LITTLE PONY pack. So I suspect this is how these sorts of packages will be tabulated in the future.

  11. @Muramasa
    ” I also noticed that the main JL title is about to drop below 100K.”

    Top 300 Comics Actual–February 2013
    #4 JUSTICE LEAGUE #17 $3.99 DC 105,304

    That’s EIGHTEEN straight months above 100K.
    Same goes for Batman (which will probably remain above 100K when the “Year Zero” storyline launches).

    Compare the numbers for DC’s February 2013 titles to the same titles published the 12 months before “Flashpoint”.

    For example: GREEN LANTERN #62 (Feb 11) 71,517
    GREEN LANTERN #17 (Feb 13) 71,060

    ACTION COMICS #898 31,935
    ACTION COMICS #17 57,189

    Or better yet, tally together DC’s Top 300 titles for the two months. Omit JLA #1. What’s the difference?

    Feb 2013 $7,868,656.50 2,139,132 pieces
    Feb 2011 $5,310,325.97 1,691,703

    447,429 extra books sold (not counting the 307K copies of JLA #1)
    An extra $2.5 Million in gross revenue. (Again, without the $1.2 Million generated from JLA #1)

    Now, let’s do this with Marvel!
    Feb 2013: $11,096,189.49 2,935,447
    Feb 2011: $9,172,124.44 2,505,514

    An extra $1.92 Million in gross revenue, and 429,933 more issues sold.

    So both companies are doing better than two years ago. However, Marvel just renumbered a lot of titles, so if these new NOW titles last to issue #18, we can do similar comparisons then. DC is doing well 18 months after, with 37 of the original New52 series still being published. (Firestorm is the lowest, at #178.)

    On top of this, DC has placed many of the New52 collections on the New York Times bestseller lists, while still selling a lot of backlist (mostly thanks to The Dark Knight Rises). That’s something Marvel hasn’t figured out yet.

    For DC, they’ve built on the success of Batman and Green Lantern, while rejuvenating many of their characters like Animal Man and Wonder Woman.

    Marvel has rearranged creative teams, creating new blood with old, proven talent.


  12. @Torsten Adair:
    Excellent analysis.
    I was specifically comparing where DC is now to where they were a year ago.

    Justice League #6: 135,374
    Justice League #17: 105,304

    Batman #6: 128,459
    Batman #17: 150,684

    Detective Comics #6: 94,415
    Detective Comics #17: 85,824

    Action Comics #6: 96,592
    Action Comics #17: 57,189

    Superman #6: 69,633
    Superman #17: (It got pushed back to March, but #16 sold 50,621)

    Green Lantern #6: 94,087
    Green Lantern #17: 71,060

    Batman The Dark Knight #6: 77,140
    Batman The Dark Knight #17: 55,990

    Flash #6: 68,061
    Flash #17: 42,936

    Aquaman #6: 63,450
    Aquaman #17: 58,578

    Wonder Woman #6: 54,190
    Wonder Woman #17: 39,110 (And this one really pains me because I consider it to be one of the few saving graces of the N52.)

    Teen Titans #6: 53,123
    Teen Titans #17: 39,186

    Batgirl #6: 47,836
    Batgirl #17: 65,751

    Nightwing #6: 46,051
    Nightwing #17: 62,107

    Red Hood and the Outlaws #6: 35,908
    Red Hood and the Outlaws #17: 53,076

    Catwoman #6: 37,302
    Catwoman #17: 30,194

    Batwoman #6: 49,227
    Batwoman #17: 32,041

    Swamp Thing #6: 41,235
    Swamp Thing #17: 31,497

    Animal Man #6: 34,654
    Animal Man #17: 29,425

    Stormwatch #6: 26,076
    Stormwatch #17: 13,657

    Justice League Dark #6: 34,524
    Justice League Dark #17: 25,841

    So basically, with the exception of titles that have had their sales artificially boosted by crossover events (Thanks, Batman!) or gimmicks (52 variant covers of JLA #1), The New 52 has more or less steadily declined since its inception. Not to mention that 19 of their titles (I think its 19) have been cancelled or are slated to be cancelled, and its a virtual certainty that more cancellations are coming. At this point it would be kind of redundant to bring up the disjointed continuity and the behind the scenes turmoil that’s been going on at DC. I think the New 52 has actually benefited other publishers more than its benefited DC.

    I’m glad that the industry overall is in a better place than it was a year ago, but I have to question whether or not these figures we’re seeing are sustainable without the reboots, relaunches, crossovers, gimmicks, publicity stunts, etc.

  13. Re Torsten vs Muramasa

    HEY. It’s fun with statistics time. I can use whatever numbers and analysis I want to prove the exact point I’m trying to make. I will refute any analysis my opponent makes with one of my own.

    1. Yes, there is a decline. But sales are overall much higher than before. MUCH higher.
    2. Yes, many titles have gotten cancelled. Most of them should have been. Not every comic needs to last 100 issues. A cancellation doesn’t damn the entire line. (Not every song an an album needs to be a hit to make the album worth buying.)

  14. Perhaps the biggest problem with boosting sales of comics via variant covers is that it makes the demand for a product mostly artificial. The buyers aren’t responding to the creative talent on the project or to the story per se; they’re responding to the packaging of the product, as though the packaging makes the product a collectible–when the actual resale value might be close to zero, or much less than the cover price.

    An analogy might be boosting the sales of a prose novel by using a unique font that strikes some readers as being gorgeous, so wonderful to look at that the actual text of the story doesn’t matter. Those readers will have trouble reselling the book to anyone who isn’t as enthralled by the sight of the font as they are–likewise, the publisher will have trouble matching those sales figures by using traditional sales methods. Irrational markets don’t work well.


  15. @jonboy:

    Whoa. Torsten and I weren’t arguing, but rather just comparing our observations. There’s no reason why we can’t discuss these things without it turning into flame war.

  16. That comics sales decline as issue numbers ascend isn’t a mathematical law, but the correlation has been very strong for more than 50 years. No, restarts, reboots, and events aren’t the only way to turn numbers in the opposite direction — but they are the easiest ones for publishers to control, and the results are usually easy to measure. It has not always been clear in comics which new creators or concepts were going to become breakout hits, even when they were in the process of breaking out! :)

  17. @John Jackson Miller:

    My concern is that even though we’re seeing a huge increase in sales, its not necessarily because of a huge increase in readership.

Comments are closed.