The '90s are remembered as the time of the speculator boom, where fans and investors alike stocked up on comic books, with the publishers only too happy to feed their desire with new launches, variant covers and collectible editions. The list of top selling comics is lengthy, including Spider-Man #1, Spawn #1, X-Force #1 and Superman #75.
But there is one comic from this era that towers above all the rest, with the combined sales from its multiple covers reportedly exceeding 8 million copies. This whopping figure secured X-Men #1, by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee, a Guinness World Record for 'Best selling comic of all time'. Claremont would leave the X-Books soon after, to be followed by Jim Lee and much of the line's artistic talent. Yet the X-gravy train kept a rollin'. with the main X-books secured in the upper echelons of the sales charts and even the most tenuous spin off securing impressive sales.
That was then; the X-books of 2018 are a different matter altogether. Since the new millennium the X-books have seen a continual drop in sales, and a line that seemed almost untouchable in the '80s and '90s has become well acquainted with cancellations, countless relaunches and continual changes in direction. The launch of New Avengers in 2004 seemed to show the Avengers replacing the X-Men as Marvel's premiere franchise, and the intervening years have seen the mutant-driven line decrease further in both sales and fan attention.
In the May 2018 sales charts, the highest ranking X-book is X-Men: The Wedding Special in 19th place, followed by various Hunt for Wolverine specials. Of the core X-titles, the new X-Men Red series appears first in 31st place, followed by X-Men Gold in 50th place, Astonishing X-Men in 52nd, and X-Men Blue in 61st.
Suddenly, the '90s seem a very long time away.
So what exactly has happened? Is there any one factor that's contributed to the X-titles' decline or is it simply a fact of life that nothing can stay on top forever? In fairness it should be noted that their one time sales chart nemesis, Spawn, has also left the glory days behind, with the latest issue at 44th place.
It's undeniable that something has changed. In recent years, the X-line has reinvented itself on multiple occasions, both with titles, characters and creators, and with the recently announced cancellation of X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue, looks set to do the same again. But why is this, and are such changes part of the problem or part of the solution?