UPDATE 9/26/2013 9:37 AM PT: The fourth paragraph of this article has been updated.
For the month of September, DC Comics replaced their regular lineup with 52 one-shots starring the publisher’s villains, along with the release of “Forever Evil” #1, the first issue of the first wide-scale event series since the New 52 era started in September 2011. Each of the Villains Month titles shipped with two covers — the 3D motion cover with a retail price of $3.99, and a standard edition of the same book, selling for $2.99.
With the final crop of DC’s Villains Month books on sale today, CBR News reached out to a selection of retailers across the United States to see how the initiative has performed for their stores thus far. The majority of retailers responding said they’ve seen higher DC sales this September than in recent months.
“Villains Month has performed much better for Midtown than an average month for DC, and that’s saying a lot,” said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics, a New York City-based chain with a significant mail order business.
On the opposite coast, Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, California, said he expects September to be up “almost 30 percent” from an average DC month in 2013 — though he cites an appearance from DC co-publisher and “Superman Unchained” artist Jim Lee at his store on Sept. 14 as a factor. [An earlier version of this story cited Field as the president of retailer organization ComicsPRO; he left that position in February 2013 and is currently on the board of directors.]
Jud Meyers of Blastoff Comics in North Hollywood, California saw a similar bump, citing the collector mentality fueled by the Villains Month 3D motion covers.
“There’s no doubt DC sales have been higher than normal,” Meyers told CBR News. “When you have customers who normally only get two or three DC titles going to the racks and picking up nearly every book line-wide, it makes a difference. Even more so when that’s happening for four weeks in a row.”
The 3D motion covers were heavily touted by DC before the launch of Villains Month, but in early August it was announced that they would be allocated, due to not being able to meet the demand of the initial orders. The standard edition covers were then announced as a supplement for the sold-out 3D versions.
For Jason Leivian, owner of Floating World Comics in Portland, Oregon, the 3D covers were both a boon and a source of frustration.
“Sales were up because the lenticular covers have sold out across the board,” Leivian said. “Sales would have been better if our orders hadn’t been allocated. It was a lot of extra work to figure out how to fill subscription boxes. The thing that bugs me about the allocation is it reveals that DC didn’t even buy their own hype. They ask us retailers to buy it, we ask the customers to buy it. But they didn’t even have faith in their own event or promotion. They ordered conservatively, ask retailers to take a risk on a bunch of random titles with different creative teams, then didn’t have enough to meet demand. Then they get to benefit from the perceived scarcity, creating a rush for these ‘limited’ covers. Basically being rewarded for making a mistake.”
Each store that responded to CBR News stated that despite the allocation, they sold the 3D versions at cover price.
“I heard horror stories that some stores were indeed selling the 3D copies for more than cover price on the day of release,” said Jermaine Exum, manager of Acme Comics in Greensboro, North Carolina. “In one case 3D copies were seen to be $10, but standard copies remained at $2.99.
“Despite the printing allocation which has made the 3D covers more rare, in my opinion, it is short sighted to have done that. The 3D copies are not variant editions. Stores were not required to order a certain number of standard editions to receive the 3D editions. So while those shops probably did make a quick additional few dollars, they may have given regulars a reason to try to beat their prices online. Or turned off a new customer.”
W. Dal Bush, co-owner of Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago, said the 3D motion covers may have resparked a mentality among some customers that collectability is more important than what’s inside the comic book.
“One of the sadder elements of Villains Month is that DC really seemed to ignite the interest of comic fans who don’t appear to care about content,” Bush said. “Like most stores, we’ve sold out of a few of the 3D covers for Villains Month. Any time we’ve informed a customer that, while we may not have the 3D cover of the comic they’ve asked for, we do have the 2D, they always pass. Every single one. People only seem to want the 3D cover. Literally, only the cover. If DC had sent out 3D covers with no comic inside, we probably could have satisfied those customers who didn’t want the 2D version.”
Across the board, retailers cited the Batman-related Villains Month one-shots as particularly strong sellers — not an entirely surprising occurrence, given the steady sales of the current Batman titles and the enduring popularity of the character’s rogues gallery.
“Most of the Batman titles performed really well, ‘Joker,’ ‘Two Face,’ ‘Court of Owls’, ‘Harley Quinn’,” Leivian said. “Green Lantern performed a bit under expectations. The Justice League books were pretty popular, ‘Lobo,’ ‘Darkseid.’ It seemed like customers were going for books with the coolest covers. Were any of them any good? I haven’t heard anyone say a single thing about the content of any of the books.”
Meyers also cites the “Lobo” one-shot — which attracted pre-released controversy due to a redesigned version of the character debuting in the issue — as a solid performer for his store.
“The only surprise as far as customer interest is Lobo,” he said. “Like Deadpool, that character has a loyal following that seems to have been waiting for him to make an appearance again. Not sure they got exactly what they were looking for, but they sure want that cover!”
Though, for Challengers in Chicago, not every surprise was a pleasant one.
“When DC solicited Riddler as being the only Batman comic in September even partially written by Scott Snyder, we assumed that it would perform well,” Bush said. “But, perhaps because DC neglected to incorporate cover credits into the Villain cover design and few knew that Snyder co-wrote it, most customers skipped it.”
The Villains Month one-shots were organized into branches of preexisting titles, with some — like “Batman” and “Justice League of America” — getting up to four issues under their umbrella, and others, like “Stormwatch” or “All-Star Western,” not represented at all. Exum told CBR this led to some unexpected sales patterns at Acme Comics.
“‘Dial H’ only had 11 pre-order customers, but ‘Justice League #23.3″ Dial E’ garnered 40 pre-orders,” Exum said. “And we aren’t quite sure why that happened that way because if ‘Dial H’ maintained those numbers, the series might endure.”
Drew Sullivan, owner of Ash Avenue Comics in Tempe, Arizona, noticed a similar trend.
“Obviously ‘Dial H’ readers were going to pick up the ‘Dial E’ issue, but so did the majority of our ‘Justice League’ readers,” Sullivan said. “All of the sales on the Batman family of titles were up too, with customers who may only usually read the core title giving ‘Detective,’ or ‘The Dark Knight’ point ones a read.”
DC Comics made the standard editions of the Villains Month one-shots 100 percent returnable by retailers. Gladston said he doesn’t anticipate Midtown returning any of their stock, but most retailers responding said they were taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Depends entirely on sell-through,” Meyers said of the plan at Blastoff. “We’ll definitely have overstock on certain titles, but that will be a game-time decision when the return cut-off date rolls around.”
“It looks like only a couple of titles will need to be returned,” Sullivan said of the situation at Ash Avenue Comics. “Through a combination of quick advance reordering and item adjusting once the allocations were announced, and the option to make the titles returnable, we’re going to have done well with Villains Month, but kind of a headache at times.”
Which is the general impression from much of the responses received by CBR from retailers — Villains Month has been a success, just not one without its challenges.
“Putting the debacle with allocations to the side, I’d say this event has been successful,” Field said. “Just not as successful as it could have been under different circumstances.”