Welcome to the first monthly installment of “Ten, Five, One” where we take a trip back in time. The latest addition to the H5* family will look back at the Diamond sales charts from ten years, five years, and one year ago and use those charts as a springboard for discussion. While there will be sales talk after looking at sales charts, this monthly column will also be used to discuss trends, stories, events, and creators over the years, and how all of those contributed to the changes we’ve seen over the years. So sit back and prepare to take a look at some of the industry storylines in the comic books using issues that were released ten, five, and one year ago this month.
Note: Any sales figure talk featured numbers taken from the charts over at Comichron.com whose meticulous documentation of comic sales to the Direct Market over the years is an invaluable resource for those interested. Make sure to go check them out and be ready to fall into a comic sales rabbit hole.
1) Jeph Loeb and David Finch Deliver Their Ultimatum
The top selling comic of November 2008 was the debut of the now infamous Ultimatum. For the first eight years of its existence, the Ultimate Universe was a sign of quality. There was no reason to believe that the superstar creative team of Jeph Loeb and David Finch wouldn’t continue that trend. Instead, that illusion was shattered with this miniseries, and in many ways the imprint would never recover. At least Finch delivered on his end of the bargain, as this comic looks very good.
2) Batman RIP Concludes In Batman #681
Batman RIP had been one of the most anticipated Batman stories since Hush ended about five years earlier. Grant Morrison’s Batman is one of the all time great runs with the character, but it’s safe to say this hyped story arc fell a little flat. It was quite confusing for a comic that DC marketed like a can’t miss event for all Batman fans, and not just those following the ongoing run. Even then it was a bit of a mess for those of us who had read every issue. All of this despite the strong art from Tony Daniel. Or maybe the problem was that Batman didn’t even die in this comic, but rather over in Final Crisis. That left readers a bit perplexed at the point of RIP. With that said, the next phase of Morrison’s tenure was arguably the series that cemented his run as a classic. Following a battle for the cowl to decide who would replace Bruce we would be getting Batman & Robin, and I’m sure we will me talking more about that in the months ahead here.
3) Alex Ross Stuns With JSA Kingdom Come Special: Superman
Of the top 25 best selling comics in November 2008, 4 were JSA titles spinning out of the “One World, Under Gog” story arc. Geoff Johns’ Justice Society Of America saw several aspects of the classic Kingdom Come brought into regular continuity, and these were explored more fully in a set of one-shot specials. The most impressive of the bunch was the Superman special, and with it being the first comic EVER fully written and illustrated by the great Alex Ross it was no surprise that it was also the best selling of the bunch. The sales of 72,848 was good enough to squeak into the top ten at the 9th spot.
4) Remember The Walking Dead Before The Walking Dead?
The Walking Dead shipped two issues in November 2008, and neither lit up the sales chart. Issue #54 came in at the 82nd spot with 24,089 units sold, and #55 moved 23,881 which was good for 86th overall. To put this in perspective the most recent issue of the series clocked in at 18th with 60,814 units sold while the 15th Anniversary Edition of the first issue was the second highest selling comic of October with 106,090 sold. Why the big discrepancy? Well, back in November of 2008 we were still 23 months away from the debut of AMC’s TV adaptation that would change the course of the franchise forever.
5) Creator Owned Comics Are Still Finding Their Way
With everything in the above entry said, those issues of The Walking Dead were still the best selling comics from Image Comics. Yes, it took 81 entries before the sales chart saw the first comics from Image, and those two issues of TWD were 2 of only 3 Top 100 titles for the publisher. In fact, there was only one creator owned title ahead of TWD. Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 from Dark Horse Comics came in at 50th for the month. 4 în the Top 100 (Umbrella Academy: Dallas, The Walking Dead x2, Spawn), 5 in the Top 125 (BPRD: The Warning). Out of everything in this article the growth of the creator owned indie market has been the biggest story of the past decade, especially when you notice how many more publishers are finding a market in 2018.
1) A New X-Men Series Debuts To Big Numbers
Almost exactly 5 years prior to this week’s Uncanny X-Men relaunch, Marvel successfully launched another high profile X-Men series with Jason Aaron and Ed McGuiness’ Amazing X-Men coming in at number 3 for the month with 112,337 units sold. The issue featured the long awaited return of Nightcrawler, and was released to rave reviews, including a perfect 10 and issue of the year selection from yours truly on this very site. Here’s what I said about Amazing X-Men #1 for the Comicosity Year End List, when I named it my Single Issue Of The Year:
“No comic book put a smile on my face quite like Jason Aaron and Ed McGuiness’ Amazing X-Men #1. The return of Nightcrawler was everything I wanted it to be and then some. I can honestly say that the first 12 pages of this issue are as fun as I’ve had with a superhero comic in a long time. No other issue of any other comic this year made me wish I was a kid again so I could go run around outside and play pirates without looking ridiculous. There were other issues of other books with more serious emotion, and more gravitas, but I read comics as entertainment. The most important part of entertainment is having fun and Amazing X-Men #1 was as fun as it gets.”
2) Harley Quinn Debuts To Massive Numbers And Some Controversy
Harley Quinn #0 was the released on November 20, 2013. It was the first solo series featuring the eponymous former psychiatrist since the 38th and last issue of her first ongoing series dropped on November 10, 2003. The new series was written by the wonderful wife/husband team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art from a who’s who of big name talent with names like Darwyn Cooke, Sam Kieth, Tony Daniel, Art Baltazar, Becky Cloonan, Jim Lee, Bruce Timm, Jim Lee, Charlie Adlard, Stephane Roux, Tradd Moore, Adam Hughes, Dave Johnson, Dan Panosian, Walt Simonson, and eventual series regular artist Chad Hardin. With a lineup of artists that impressive to go alongside the stellar writing team of Palmiotti and Conner, it’s no surprise the comic was a smash hit, as it sold 114,212 units, or more than every comic that wasn’t an oversized issue of Batman. This debut issue proved to the world, and top DC brass, that Harley was a star beyond her relationship with the Joker.
The series wasn’t without controversy though, as DC held a contest with a prize of drawing one page in this issue. The company caught flack for a panel description featuring Harley in a bathtub surrounded by electronics. The worry was that potential suicide was being used for laughs in a public description being used for a contest. Amends were made, and the panel didn’t make it into the final product from contest winner Jeremy Roberts. The controversy didn’t stop the title from being a huge hit for DC, and it continues to be a consistent performer five years on.
3) Big 2 = Big Events
Both Marvel and DC Comics released big event books in November 2013. Marvel was just finishing up the big Infinity story by Jonathan Hickman, and various artists. This event would mark the culmination of Hickman’s runs on Avengers and New Avengers to that point with each of those series tying in very closely with the main mini. The story has only received more attention over the past year with several elements of the story playing out on the big screen in the latest Avengers movie.
Meanwhile over at DC Geoff Johns and David Finch were three issues into Forever Evil. Now that Johns’ run on Justice League feels like a distant memory, this event seems to have almost been forgotten, despite being a well told tale whose effects on the DC Universe can still,be felt at times today.
4) What A Difference Five Years Makes
By 2013, The Walking Dead was a huge TV show whose comics sold very well. The two issues released in this month ranked 13th and 14th in sales with an average of about 69,000 units sold. The most recent TPB collection at that point was on top of the graphic novel chart with over 25,000 units sold. That doesn’t seem like much until you realize that it finished with over 3x the number sold than the book that came in second. The idea that comic book properties that make the jump to other mediums don’t help out comic has been proven right for the most part, but The Walking Dead appears to be a huge exception.
5) Ultimate Universe: Last Stand
At one point in the early the Ultimate Universe was the envy of the comic book world. The imprint was kept small with only top flight creators working on the few titles that were being published. The strategy worked, and the comics were some of, if not the best selling comics of the period. In the very first entry in this very article I mentioned Ultimatum being a downturn for the imprint. Within five years the launch an Ultimate Universe event went from being the best selling book of the month to the 35th best selling comic. That’s a big drop off, and looking at the numbers comparatively from this view helps make sense of why Marvel would eventually cut ties with the imprint in 2015 after one more attempt at a rebrand (which I’m sure we will get to in this column eventually).
1) Doomsday Clock Debuts
Doomsday Clock, from the modern legendary creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, made It’s much anticipated debut in November of last year. The hype was so big that the first issues took the TOP TWO SPOTS on the Diamond Top 300. There has been a lot written about the morality of new Watchmen projects with regards to Alan Moore’s views on the matter, bit despite the misgivings this issue sold like gangbusters. A year later and we’ve only seen six more issues, with the 8th scheduled for next week (12/5/18). The delays and scheduling combined with a bit of a slower build have all but killed the buzz for what had appeared to be a universe altering mega event that answered many questions presented in 2016’s much celebrated DC Universe: Rebirth Special. The sad part is that the comic has gotten better and better with each issue. The magic may not be able to be captured again from a hype perspective, but let’s hope Johns and Frank continue to deliver the goods the rest of the way.
2) DC Dominates The Top Of The Charts
Eleven of the top thirteen spots on the sales chart were filled with issues published by DC exactly a year ago. The company was riding high off the continued success of Rebirth with Tom King’s Batman coupled with interest in the Dark Nights: Metal event, and the aforementioned launch of Doomsday Clock. DC had three issues over 100,000 units sold with Doomsday Clock coming in at over 240,000 sold to the Direct Market. To say the company was on a roll is an understatement.
3) The Big 2 Are The Big 2
Over the years there have been times where creator owned comics from outside the Big 2 have started to make in roads with the Direct Market. There was a time just a few years back when companies like Image were the talk of the town. Some of that faded just a bit, and it really shows in the charts. Outside of The Walking Dead coming in at 14th, there was no non Big 2 comic in the top 83 spots. 82 of the 83 best selling comics just one year ago were published by either Marvel or DC. That’s not to say that indie publishers weren’t successful by their own metrics with the books they were publishing, especially outside of the Direct Market, but just goes to show how much of a stranglehold the Big 2 have on this distribution method.
4) Al Ewing Is Underrated
U.S.Avengers was a great team comic with an amazing writer and a comic whose title has the word “Avengers” in it. You’d think it would sell well, but you’d be mistaken. Issue #12 barely sold over 12,000 units and came in at #165 in sales for the month. Ewing taking on a huge Inhumans story featuring the royal family continued to falter as Royals #11 came in at #176 with just over 11,000 sold. I don’t get how a writer that good could be writing pretty damn good comics that sell that poorly.
5) Why “Bat-Privilege” Exists
On the internet some people use the concept of “Bat-Privilege” to complain about anything from the number of titles with the character’s name on the cover to things that happen in the comics themselves. Well, you know why that exists? Batman sells. Not only were spots 3-6 taken up by Batman related issues this month last year, but five years prior in November 2013 it was the best selling comic of the month. Then ten years ago in 2008 it was number two on the charts. With just the eponymous Batman title itself you have three different creative teams with three different takes on the character that all finished with top five issues in November 2008, 2013, and 2017. That model of consistency is something that you don’t see with any other comic. That, my friends, is a big reason why Batman is treated the way he is by DC Comics and their creators.