The Mayo Report: Marvel NOW! and DC Comics' New 52 Report Card

During November, 2012, the Marvel NOW! campaign picked up speed with seven first issues landing in the top ten. As expected, Marvel had the largest percentage of the sales for the top 300 comics with 43.44% compared to the 34.77% accounted for by DC. For the first time in a long time, Marvel had 8 titles over 100,000 units.

A number of Marvel NOW! titles shipped both a first and second issue in November. "All New X-Men" #1 was the top seller with around 181,710 units, while the second issue dropped by almost 47% down to around 96,445 units. "Uncanny Avengers" #2 sold an estimated 114,268 units, down over 62% but sales remained strong enough to keep it in the top ten. Both unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the Marvel NOW! titles dropped an average of 43.25% with the second issues. The shallowest drop was 33.35% on "X-Men Legacy" #2, bringing it down to around 58,043 units from the 87,089 estimated units on the first issue. These drops are a reflection of the inflated sales of the first issues caused by the numerous incentive covers and sales gimmicks used to promote the Marvel NOW! initiative. It is going to take a few months for the sales on the Marvel NOW! titles to stabilize.

I received a request to review how the New 52 titles are performing, and since we are a full year past the initial three month "honeymoon" period for the first wave of New 52 titles, now is a great time to do that. The first few months of a new title reflect how retailers expect the title might do with the potential for major adjustments as the retailers learn how the title actually sells. As we saw this month with "Uncanny Avengers" #2 losing well over half of the sales of the first issue, it is risky to judge the success of a title early on.

Starting with the initial wave of New 52 titles, I'll go group by group in alphabetical order and then cover the later waves of titles and finally the miniseries titles. All of the charts have horizontal lines every 10,000 units. More horizontal lines indicate a larger scale for the chart and fewer horizontal lines means lower sales. Each issue is placed on the week it was first released and includes all known reorder activity regardless of when that activity happened. These charts include the zero issues but do not include the annuals. The combo packs which included both the print and digital versions of the comics are also not included.

For reference, here is a chart of the sales minimum, average and maximum for each shipping week excluding reorder activity. Keep in mind, only "Justice League" #1 was released on August 31, 2011, and only "Legion: Secret Origin" #2 and "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #1 were released on November 30, 2011, resulting in the narrow range on those dates. Obviously, some weeks have a lineup of stronger titles than others.

While this is jumping ahead a little, here is a chart with all of the New 52 titles that have ended:

I wanted to start with this chart since it indicates the point as which titles tend to be cut. The commonality among all but one of these titles is sales under 20,000 units. As such, it seems safe to suggest any title below that point is in the danger zone and at risk of ending soon. DC deserves credit for giving the titles some time to try to turn things around as most of these titles were under 20,000 for months before ending. While I will be referring to sales under 20,000 units as being in the danger zone, this is my assessment and the folks at DC might not come to the same conclusions.

The obvious exception case on that chart is "Justice League International" which was selling over 28,000 units when it ended. While sales probably did factor into the decision to end that title, it probably wasn't the only factor in that decision. We'll see how much better "Justice League of America" sells when it comes out in a few months.

In the initial group of Batman titles, "Batman" is unsurprisingly the top selling title by a noticeable margin. Not only does that title top the sales in this group, it is routinely at or very near the top seller for DC. There are visible increases in sales during the "Night of Owls" crossover in May 2012 and the current "Death of the Family" crossover. In some cases, such as "Batgirl" and "Catwoman," the sales increases are bring the titles back up to the levels they were selling at around the second and third issues. Since the crossover storyline sales tactic is working very well for this group of titles, expect it to continue.

The higher sales of "Batman" and "Detective Comics" make it difficult to see the lower selling titles, so here is a chart with those two titles removed:

"Batwing" #14 sold an estimated 15,968 units, clearly placing the series in the danger zone.

"Green Lantern" outsells the other three titles in the Green Lantern group by tens of thousands of units. Those other three titles are within about ten thousand units of each other most months. This sort of dynamic with one title in a group dramatically outselling the others is fairly common. Usually, one title, in this case "Green Lantern," is seen as being the series to follow if a reader doesn't want to get all or most of the titles in the group. We've seen this even when the chapters of a storyline crossover from title to title. In those cases, certain chapters of a story outsell other parts of the same story by a wide margin. I have to imagine the result is a fairly confusing and incomplete narrative for those only following selected titles in those cases. There are increases during the "Rise of the Third Army" months. Since that was a promotion banner and not a crossover event, the increases are not as strong as they might have been if the storylines crossed over between the titles. None of these titles are in danger of ending due to low sales.

In the Justice League group, the clear winner is the "Justice League" title itself. The spike in sales in late August 2012 was the result of the mass media promotion around the Superman/Wonder Woman kiss.

Zooming in a little closer on the sales by removing "Justice League" and "Flash" from the chart, we can see "Aquaman" #14 has sales around 53,669 units, down from the sales of the first issue which were around 100,000 units. Most of that drop happened during the first three months with a bit of a recovery on the fifth issue. As with many of the New 52 titles, the zero issue sales in September show up as a bump in sales. This chart puts the cancellation of "Justice League International" into context. If the decision of which title to cut from this group was based solely on sales, one of the lower selling titles would have been cut. Titles currently in the danger zone in this group are "Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men," "DC Universe Presents" and "Savage Hawkman."

Over in the Superman group, we have a situation similar to what we saw with the Green Lantern titles: a clear main title and a group of lower selling titles. What is different is, while "Action Comics" is seen as the main title in this group, the "Superman" title itself is selling much stronger than the group of lower selling titles. This makes sense in so much as those two titles are the only ones in this group that feature Superman and the other titles could have just as easily be put into the Young Justice group.

Another interesting aspect revealed by that chart is that "Supergirl" is narrowly outselling "Superboy," even though the character of Superboy is in "Teen Titans" and has appeared in "The Ravagers." By comparison, "Supergirl" has been relatively self-contained. This raises the question of the effectiveness of trying to get readers on to other books by having characters in team books or guest starring in other titles. If putting a character in other titles was an effective way to grow an audience for a character and resulted in increased sales of that character's title, shouldn't "Superboy" be outselling "Supergirl?"

One of the major ramifications of "Flashpoint" was the importation of DC characters from the Vertigo imprint. Vertigo never really had a distinct narrative universe the way WildStorm did, so moving those characters back into the DCU made a certain amount of sense. "The Dark" group is where those characters and titles landed. So far, none of those titles have ended, but "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E." #16 will be the final issue of that title. This group breaks cleanly in half. One half is "Animal Man," "Justice League Dark" and "Swamp Thing," which are all selling reasonably well. The other group, consisting of "Demon Knights," "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.," and "I, Vampire," is firmly in the theoretical danger zone for New 52 titles. "Demon Knights" #14 sold around 16,007 units and "I, Vampire" #14 sold an estimated 13,667 units putting both of those titles below the sales of approximately 16,445 sold of "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E." #14. Don't be surprised if the solicitations for "Demon Knights" and "I, Vampire" in the coming months contain the words "final issue."

"The Edge" group is a collection of titles with no clear unifying aspect as far as I can tell. Three of the titles, "Blackhawks," "Men of War" and "OMAC," were in the first round of cuts for the New 52. "Voodoo" was in the second round of cuts and "Deathstroke," "Grifter" and "Stormwatch" seem like likely candidates for the next round of cuts. "All Star Western" #14 sold approximately 20,186 units, putting it just above the theoretical danger zone. That title might get a little extra time since it is a Western title and not just another one of the dozens of superhero titles. Frankly, I tend to consider "All Star Western" to be part of the Batman group, since it was included in the "Night of the Owls" crossover and is often set in Gotham City. Likewise, "Suicide Squad" benefits from having Harley Quinn in the title, therefore allowing the title to be part of the "Death of the Family" crossover currently going on in the Batman group. "Suicide Squad" #14 sold 63,697 estimated units, which was an increase of over 130% from the 27,642 units of "Suicide Squad" #13.

The final group of the first wave of New 52 titles is Young Justice which ironically has nothing to do with the wonderful cartoon series of the same name. "Hawk and Dove" was part of the first round of New 52 cuts in April 2012. Topping this group in November was "Teen Titans" #14 with approximately 39,749 units. The three remaining titles, "Blue Beetle," "Legion Lost" and "Legion of Super-Heroes," are all in the danger zone, with "Blue Beetle" #16 and "Legion Lost" #16 the last issues of those series. Perhaps using Superboy and Supergirl to bridge the gap between the better selling "Teen Titans" title and the lower-selling "Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Legion Lost" titles might have unified these titles better. Then again, I'm not convinced that sort of tactic really works.

In May 2012, DC launched a second wave of titles. Of these, "Batman Incorporated" and "Earth 2" have performed the best. "G.I. Combat" #6 sold around 9,714 units, making it the lowest selling title by far. The seventh and final issue of the series hit store shelves on December 5, 2012. While seven issues might not seem like much time to find an audience, the series entered the danger zone early, with "G.I. Combat" #2 selling approximately 17,103 units. "Dial H" #6 sold an estimated 17,834 units and "The Ravagers" #6 sold approximately 17,336 units putting both of those titles in the potential danger zone.

In September, four titles launched with zero issues as the third wave of titles for the New 52. "Sword of Sorcery" #2 sold around 16,274 units, down from the 26,957 estimated units the series started at with "Sword of Sorcery" #0. "Team 7" #2 sold around 17,561 units, down from the approximately 31,051 units the title started with on the zero issue. Neither title seems likely to make it into double digit issue numbers. "Phantom Stranger" #0 sold around 36,090 units, but the series dropped to around 22,483 units with "Phantom Stranger" #2. This title is above the danger zone and might get a boost from the upcoming Trinity War event, though whether the title survives past that event is questionable. "Talon" #0 was the best seller for this wave with around 53,718 units. "Talon" #2 sold an estimated 37,128 units, putting it at the lower end of the Batman group of titles.

With a relaunch as big as the New 52, there are going to be some surprise hit titles and some flops. What I consider to be the major sales flop of the New 52 are the miniseries titles. Since March 2012, all of these titles have been selling under 20,000 units. The only miniseries to stay above 20,000 the entire time was "Huntress." Many of these miniseries have launched inside the danger zone. I've included "DC Universe Presents," which is the series of miniseries disguised as a series. Based on the sales, nobody has been fooled.

For those curious about how the New 52 line is performing overall, here are the total unit sales broken down by month and by week. Both charts including reorder activity with the week the item first shipped. What that means is the data for August 31, 2011 includes both the initial 171,344 units of "Justice League" #1 in, as well as all of the reorder activity afterwards which brought the total known reported sales for "Justice League" #1 to around 253,778 units

The overall sales of the New 52 titles have been reasonably stable after the initial honeymoon period. The effectiveness of crossover storylines is clear. What isn't immediately obvious from those charts is that the New 52 can be judged a success, with the average monthly sales for the New 52 is around 2,356,624 units. Prior to the New 52, the DC Universe had been averaging 2,283,613 estimated units each month during the final order era which began in March 2003. The bottom line is the reboot increased sales. While it was a major gamble, it worked. Hopefully the Marvel NOW! initiative at Marvel will be a similar or stronger success story.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at John.Mayo@ComicBookResources.com.

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