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Nighthawk’s Fatal Battle Against a Civil War and a Rebirth

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comics Comment
Nighthawk’s Fatal Battle Against a Civil War and a Rebirth

Over the weekend, the word spread about Marvel Comics‘ cancellation of its “Nighthawk” series.

The groundbreaking series by the creative team of writer David F. Walker, illustrator Ramon Villalobos, and color artist Tamra Bonvillain told the story of a Black vigilante fighting against racism, police brutality and corporate corruption in the city of Chicago.

In that way, in its unflinching assault on the national status quo, Marvel’s “Nighthawk” series was an outlier among the publisher’s line of books, and for most intents and purposes, an outlier in relation to the entirety of American monthly superhero comic books.

So with the series nearing its recently announced demise with issue #6, fans have been vocal on social media about their love of the title, admiration for the book’s creators, and displeasure at news of the book’s end.

RELATED: Nighthawk Team Confirms Marvel Series’ Cancellation

Both Walker and Villalobos have also been vocal about their efforts to get “Nighthawk” coverage into media circles outside of the comic book industry ecosystem, Marvel’s support of the book and its champion in Editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, and the realities of the comic book industry as it relates to retailers, consumers and sales figures.

When a Twitter friend asked a group of people including “Black Panther” scribe Ta-Nehisi Coates and myself about the apparent lack of love for “Nighthawk”, I responded by informing her that I have purchased every issue. I was surprised to be asked the question, since I’m not an employee of Marvel Comics, and thus not privy to the data with which to unquestionably inform an answer.

But life isn’t fun without some exploration, so let’s start with some basic realities, and then get down to numbers.

Nighthawk-1

Not all titles are equal in any publishing house when it comes to promotional efforts and resources.

 

This is to say that based on a variety of factors including but not limited to, brand recognition, projected profit and loss, target audience, overall annual promotions budget in relation to the number of titles a publisher puts out in a year, some titles will be given a bigger promotional push than others.

So we have to look at the level of promotional push “Nighthawk” was given, pre-launch, out the gate, and afterwards.

“Nighthawk” involved a Black superhero lead fighting against racism and corrupt police officers, selling primarily in print in a nation with strong denial issues about its inherent racism and racism-based problems within its network of police forces.

 

Denial so strong that the video technology within our beloved smart phones can capture proof of such problems, and many people will still disregard and dismiss the revelations.

It’s entirely possible this would affect ordering patterns throughout this country in a number of ways, and not all to the benefit of the “Nighthawk” title.

Knowing this, unconventional approaches to audience targeting and outreach would have to come into play, as compensation. Whether or not such approaches were taken is unknown to most of us, since that’s confidential information on the part of the publisher.

Before you scream, “Yes, but how about the ‘Black Panther’ series?” I remind you that the series involves no engagement of subjects on the heavily debated American police forces, media pundits, or Black victims of racism-based murder in this country. That book is an entirely different animal in many ways.

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Lastly…there are more purchasers of “Nighthawk” than there are consumers with “Nighthawk” on their pull lists.

 

That’s a fact.

There are consumers who don’t know what a pull list is, or know what it is and don’t have one with the stores in which they regularly shop.

A pull list is a list of titles a customer gives to their retailer, to order and pull for them every month. It’s a vehicle for pre-ordering comic books, and retailers can measure customer base demand by using the number of pre-orders they have for any comic book.

So with the pull list demand for “Nighthawk” being disproportionate to the consumer want of “Nighthawk”, orders for “Nighthawk” will be lower than they could be.

With those pieces of information in mind, let’s look at estimated sales figures for the first three issues of “Nighthawk”, as per distributor data.

NIGHTHAWK #1 (May 2016) – 34,039 – listed as 50th of the top 300 titles

NIGHTHAWK #2 (June 2016) – 16,522 – listed as 134th of the top 300 titles

NIGHTHAWK #3 (July 2016) – 13,434 – listed as 165th of the top 300 titles

At a quick glance, one could attribute the sales erosion between issues #1 and #2 as natural, because of the speculators, first-issue enthusiasts and a drop-off of people who chose not to continue with the series for personal reasons.

That’s if you just look at the “Nighthawk” numbers on their own.

Let’s look outward and see what else happened in the American superhero comic book industry for those three months.

In May, DC Comics, the competitor of “Nighthawk” publisher Marvel Comics, kicked off an industry-shaking initiative across the majority of their superhero line with the release of the “DC Universe: Rebirth #1” comic book.

The book was released midnight on May 25. It sold 235,791 copies.

In the month of June, the first wave of “Rebirth” titles from DC Comics hit the stores. In that same month, the first wave of titles from Marvel’s “Civil War II” series did same.

In June, 19 of DC Comics’ “Rebirth”-related titles made it in the top 50 of 300 slots in sales. For Marvel, 5 of their “Civil War II”-related titles made it to the top 50. That’s 24 titles in the top 50, almost 50% of the slots.

Also, DC Comics released a second printing of “DC Universe: Rebirth” in June, with an increased cover price of $5.99. It sold 42,748 copies and came in at 58 of the top 300 titles.

So among other things, due to the allure of new issue #1s, the extraordinary cover price of $2.99 from DC Comics, and the reprinting of their top May seller at double the cover price, “Nighthawk” was mercilessly pushed out of the top 50 slot.

In July, the number of titles occupying the top 50 slots between DC Comics and Marvel’s initiatives rose from 24 to 33. 30 “Rebirth”-related titles, and 3 “Civil War II”-related titles.

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As major pushes from the two top publishers in American superhero comic books occupied more of the top 50 of 300 slots, books like “Nighthawk” descended further toward a dangerous sales threshold. Let’s look at those numbers again.

NIGHTHAWK #1 (May 2016) – 34,039

NIGHTHAWK #2 (June 2016) – 16,522

NIGHTHAWK #3 (July 2016) – 13,434

I’m going to take a wild guess and consider the danger threshold of a Marvel Comics superhero book aimed at an adult audience to be in the neighborhood of between 15,000 and 20,000 copies.

What we’re seeing is threats to “Nighthawk” which are title-based and industry-based. Extraordinary threats since “Nighthawk” was in the crosshairs of two major events.

So when someone asks me why a book as good, as daring, as distinctive, as relevant, as bold as “Nighthawk” is being cancelled before its apparent time, these are the variables I offer as part of an answer.

The collection of these variables serves to challenge the presumption that “Nighthawk” is getting cancelled because of the Black presence by way of co-creative collaborator, character, and point of view.

It’s important and proper to challenge such a notion, so that books like the upcoming “Mosaic” from Marvel Comics and “Vigilante” from DC Comics are given a somewhat fair shot for merit-based financial success.

Publishers will decide how to allocate monies for promotional budgets, people will engage content based on their tastes as reflection of their interests and belief systems, and retailers will place orders based on the data they have.

The onus is shared between all three parties for the success and, or failure of a title, but it is squarely on those of the consumer base in terms of methods of support, and examining the “why” something happens after asking the question.

And just so you know, “DC Universe: Rebirth” has gone into a fifth printing.

joeillidge

Joseph Phillip Illidge is a Senior Editor for Lion Forge Comics, and a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the Scout Comics hit miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph is the Co-founder of Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

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