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Pipeline, Issue #359

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #359

Pipeline Commentary and Review #359
by Augie De Blieck Jr.
27 April 2004

TOP 300 COMICS

Diamond produces a list every month of the top selling books it distributes. CBR publishes that list every month. You can see the numbers for February here. ICv2.com comes up with its own list every month of their guesses as to actual sales figures. Put them together, and you can get a pretty bleak look at the comics industry, but still have a lot of fun in putting together some patterns, theories, and questions.

With critical darlings like WILDCATS 3.0 and STORMWATCH being cancelled, it’s important to start paying attention to these lists earlier than usual. It’s a better idea to drum up business for a comic before it is cancelled, rather than after. Steven Grant’s column last week hit this particular nail on the head.

So let’s take a look at what this list might have to show us. Where should we be worried? What can we learn?

WILDCATS 3.0 was cancelled at the 151st spot of the list. This does not bode well for Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey’s THE MONOLITH, which came in only one spot higher. The latest PREVIEWS shows an upcoming story arc with DC Universe heroes making guest appearances. So it’s obvious they know the book is in trouble.

Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s well-received SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY found its second issue falling 285th on the list in unit sales, and only bouncing up to 236th in dollar sales. Its high price point can logically account for a big loss of sales, and I’m sure there are those who are waiting for a trade on it. However, it’s not a bad guess that this book isn’t selling more than 5,000 – 7,500 units per issue. Obviously, it’s too late to affect the sale figures on this book. If you want to read it and encourage further works like it, you’ll have to support the trade or hardcover compilation if and when it arrives.

Correction: As with the Superman title above, these are re-order
numbers on the book. GOTHAM KNIGHTS actually came in at 47, with better than
35,000 copies in circulation. Again, the re-orders for the issue I cited
above actually show strong sales with re-orders. (Thanks to Luke for
pointing this one out.) This just means that someone should compile these
lists to come up with a better idea of circulation numbers for these books,
after re-orders. Also, that Diamond should put a star next to the
re-orders, to save me from such silly mistakes. My apologies to the
creators on these books.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 is selling better than that, though, months after it first hit stands. It’s still selling out of the warehouse at #259. I guess this is proof that Marvel is overprinting in select instances, and that the initial sales for the first issue — which debuted in the pole position — are selling through at stores.

Coming in at #235 from DC is BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHTS #50. It sold just under twice as many copies as SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY. That’s not a good thing for a monthly title under one of DC’s flagships. By comparison, DETECTIVE is at #53, BATMAN ADVENTURES is at #160, BIRDS OF PREY at #66, ROBIN at #77, and BATGIRL #50 hit 72nd with a higher price point than normal. BATMAN and SUPERMAN/BATMAN are in the top 10. I have no idea how DC justifies the continuing existence of GOTHAM KNIGHTS. Heck, even GOTHAM CENTRAL is doing better, currently ranked at #125. It would be nice to see a quality book like that break into the top 100, though.

Correction: Those numbers were for a reorder on a previous issue.
The good news is that the new issue for the month sold much better, in the
96th position, selling about 23,000 copies. The even better news is that
the numbers I gave above were for re-orders, which means that there’s still
serious interest in the book. (Thanks to Devon for catching that first for
me.)

SAVAGE DRAGON #144 comes out at 177th position, with sales shy of 10,000, by icv2.com estimates. SPAWN #133 is at 51st position, selling better than 35,000 copies. Yes, that shocks me, too. I haven’t seen a critical word of praise for the monthly SPAWN book in many a moon, but DRAGON has its fans. Sales, obviously, don’t reflect this.

Gemstone produces a Mickey Mouse and a Donald Duck comic at $2.95 to help introduce younger readers to Duck books, for those parents who don’t want to shell out $6.95 for UNCLE SCROOGE or WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES. It might be working, but I get the feeling that it’s mostly just the Duck collectors picking up one of everything. Those looking for just their latest Barks/Van Horn/Rosa fix, though, stick with the expensive books. UNCLE SCROOGE places 204th (sales in the mid-6000s) and WDC&S hits 218th. DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS and MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS fall in between. The manga-sized DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES sells about two-thirds those numbers, starting at the slightly higher a $7.95 price, albeit for a much larger page count.

Over on the trade paperback list of sales, HELLBOY takes advantage of the movie momentum, to place its five trades in the Top 25. Oddly enough, the least-selling of the batch is the second volume, “Wake The Devil.” Everything else falls in order, with Volume 1 being the top-seller (#5), straight on down the line to Volume 5 coming in 18th. Volume 2 falls into the number 21 position. Did retailers not order that volume in similar numbers because they already had them sitting on the shelves?

It’s good news for us Giffen fans, as FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE is in the fourth spot, selling just under 7% of the orders of the month’s BATMAN issue.

The best selling trade of the month is the third collection of Y: THE LAST MAN, which came in at 8.76% of those BATMAN orders.

With MVC coming back into the Image fold, the good news is that the Robert Kirkman-penned series, TALES OF THE REALM, will see a trade paperback. When you look at the sales figures, you’ll see why it’s a miracle. The fourth issue came in at 266th position, with sales probably lower than 3,000 copies. Since the price tag was hiked up to $3.95, that shouldn’t be a big shock.

Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD is picking up steam, but still lands only at #185, behind an issue of RUSE: ARCHARD’S AGENTS.

INVINCIBLE #9 is even lower, at #209.

It appears that all of Dark Horse’s Rocket Comics line is past the #200 mark, also. They’re getting one trade apiece, but not many look to be coming back past that.

The first Mature Readers title on the Top 300 is SUPREME POWER at #20. That’s followed by THE PUNISHER (#32), WANTED (#46), SWAMP THING (#59), Y THE LAST MAN (#86), FABLES (#88), POWERS (#89), and AUTHORITY (#101). Over at the Graphic Novels/Trade Paperback list, however, the #1 spot goes to a Mature Readers title with a Y THE LAST MAN collection. Then a SUPREME POWER collection at #3, the MIGHTY LOVE hardcover at #10, HELLBLAZER (#14), MAXX (#20), ALIAS (#25), and BATTLE ROYALE (#34). Does this mean anything? Are mature readers more likely to hold out for the trade? Are they a more patient people? Is it that Mature Readers shop at bookstores and don’t see the monthly installments of their favorite books? Or do Mature Readers have greater disposable income, so paying $25 for a hardcover graphic novel is more attractive?

These are fun numbers to play around with, and a careful analysis of all of them, particularly along a period of time, might be instructive. On the other hand, it would probably be predictable: If you’re not Marvel or DC, you’re pretty well screwed.

THE LOSERS

THE LOSERS: ANTE UP collects the first storyline of the relatively new Vertigo series. It’s about a group of black ops soldiers killed in action and disavowed by their government. As it turns out, though, they faked their own death and are on the warpath now to clear their names and take out those who are responsible for their untenable position. Wacky hijinks involving high powered ammunition ensues.

THE LOSERS is a great action/adventure/spy piece. It rarely slows down, pushing the gas pedal to the floor and taking the reader along for a wonderful ride. The gun play gets more amped up, the explosions become more bombastic, and the chase scenes conjure up visions of Bond movies. Simply put, THE LOSERS is the perfect comic book to be translated to a major motion picture, but would sadly break the budget of any movie studio that tried to. There’s just that much going on here.

It does have a brain to it, though. It’s not just run and gun. The characters act with motivation and don’t throw themselves stupidly into situations. You won’t often find yourself groaning at the book, the way you would in, say, a horror movie where the nubile young woman enters the dark house, doesn’t turn on the lights, and starts calling plaintively for her friend. These people willingly place themselves in danger, but they know what they’re doing and have the friends to back them up.

The stories leave the reader in the dark up front. We’re following the adventures of a well-trained team of combatants as they carry out missions like you might find on ALIAS, but end up in the middle of events you’d expect to see in a Schwarzeneggar movie. That carries the suspense over the course of the issues presented in this book. It’s a much better and more tense spectacle that way.

Andy Diggle writes some great moments, keying off the ludicrous situations the characters find themselves in, combined with the simplified character traits they display. Take particular notice of the first issue for the series. It’s a great example of how a comic book series should begin. The story is complete in the first issue. You have a great idea what the general tone and theme of the series is. And you’re introduced to the characters on the fly, usually by their actions and not some clunky block of text next to their first closeup. The first issue makes you want to read more, and not out of any obligation.

Diggle’s also obviously British. British writers, after all, specialize in writing stories with paranoid American government conspiracies. I wonder if they teach that in the textbooks over there as retaliation for losing a war almost 230 years ago?

The one big shortcoming of the book for me is its visual style. The one-named wonder, Jock, has a harsh angular art style that grates on my nerves. Imagine Mike Mignola or Matt Smith, but with less definition and much dirtier. Jock is good at displaying emotion and has some strong facial expressions in his toolbox, but at least two characters on the Losers team look alike, and hiding them half in shadows so often doesn’t help the cause.

The art problems carry over to the coloring. I think Lee Loughridge is one of the best colorists in the business today, but usually gets overlooked. Hopefully, Loughridge will be overlooked on this book, which does not point to any of her strengths. This book is filled with muddy earthtones, flat backgrounds, and flatter characters. Of course, the colorist has to deal with the art as given, and I’m afraid there’s not much for her to work with here.

Although not without reservations, I would recommend this book for those who are looking for a fast-paced action romp with half a brain. It would be right up your alley if you enjoyed COURIERS, for example. It’s just a matter of personal preference for you if you’ll find the art as distracting as I did.

QUICK THOUGHTS AND NEWS

* I wrote last week that I was impressed by the focused way in which Dark Horse was supporting the HELLBOY movie with its five basic trade paperbacks and a couple of art books. It seems that I’m not alone, as reports bubbled up shortly afterwards that Dark Horse is having troubles keeping up with the high demand. They won’t be completely replenished until mid-May.

* This auction will be done by the time this column is published. Right now, though, it’s at $1500 and the reserve price still hasn’t been met. It’s an original page of Todd McFarlane’s art from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Say what you will about McFarlane, but his art still garners some incredible prices. Those who have it usually hold onto it.

* Eric Wolfe Hanson has his 24 Hour Comic from this past weekend on-line already. Check it out here. It’s a fun story of a young man racing across the desert to get to the city and being attacked my big bugs and — well, I’ll let you read it for yourself. It’s called “Late Fees.” The great thing about doing a 24 Hour Comic is that it frees up the artist. Without the luxury of time to tighten up the line work, you get a wonderfully loose and energetic line. I love the look of this comic for that reason alone. Hanson has a winner on his hands here.

* More from Chuck Dixon on AMERICAN POWER. Looks like my guess about what the series was going to be about wasn’t that far off. Too bad it never got a chance. The cartoonish caricature that some have used to define Dixon’s writing will have more ammunition, just without any basis in fact.

Pipeline Previews is back this Friday, in the meantime, with a look at some books shipping in July, as well as some of the books that won’t be shipping. What are the Olsen Twins doing in Marvel’s solicitations? What’s a Ninja Egg? And who is CrossGen’s latest writer? Come back on Friday to find out.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with more news, reviews, and the inevitable corrections.

Over at Various and Sundry this week, you’ll get more dust clouds still lingering from the AMERICAN IDOL voting controversy of last week (yawn), plus word on Jill Sobule’s next album, SURVIVOR’s latest immunity challenge, and David Mamet directing THE SHIELD.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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