It seems every week between DC and Marvel a new comic series is announced; in April, DC is launching four new series, and over at Marvel, they are launching eight. But just as new series are launched with hopeful speculation for big sales on the part of publishers, some current series are crushed with the harsh reality of low, unsustainable sales. <p>Earlier this week we learned that DC’s <I>The Movement</I> was being cancelled with its twelfth issue in May, so we turned our attention to ten other ongoing series of the superhero variety at DC and Marvel to highlight – and possibly sound the first alarm – that higher sales might be needed to keep these titles afloat. <p>To find which titles were on the bubble, we relied on the sales rankings released by Diamond Comics Distributors, the leading comic book distributor in the United States. While these rankings do not factor in re-orders, second printings or digital sales, in the past decade it’s proven to be a somewhat accurate barometer of the general performance of comic book titles at comic stores. <p>We picked the five lowest selling books in both Marvel and DC’s primary comics line, providing an educated guess on which titles might need saving to avoid being on the chopping block.
Launched out of the <I>Age of Ultron</I> event series of 2013, <I>Avengers A.I.</I> focuses on a new offshoot of the Avengers franchise that are tech-based: either tech-savvy like Hank Pym, or made of tech entirely like the Vision. The series, written by Sam Humphries with art by Andre Lima Araujo, stands apart from most of the other Avengers spinoffs in that it doesn’t feature one of the “modern” core Avengers defined by the Avengers film. Founding Avenger Hank Pym plays an integral role, as does the Vision, but it’s arguable that for some readers it might be lost in a sea of similarly dubbed “Avengers” books in an already crowded comic shelf. <p>Upon its debut in July 2013, <I>Avengers A.I.</I> was the 18th best selling comic book of the book; no small feat for any book, Avengers or not. But based on the January 2014 sales figures released by Diamond, that month’s <I>Avengers A.I. #8</I> showed a drop down to being the 115th best-selling book of the month. That would make it the lowest-selling ongoing series published by Marvel in their main comics line that hasn’t been cancelled yet. There are also signs – no issue solicited in the May 2014 solicitations, as well as rumors that a Hank Pym/Ant-Man ongoing will launch soon, replacing this series.
<I>All-Star Western</I> launched in September 2011 as part of DC’s New 52 initiative, but as far as history goes it can be traced to 2005 when the second <I>Jonah Hex</I> series launched. It was launched back then by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmoitti, and they’ve stuck with the title, through the disappointing movie performance, through the relaunching of the book, as well as it’s renaming to <I>All Star Western</I> and a recent excursion by Hex out of western times and into the far-flung future. In addition to the clenched-teeth, consistent and dramatic storytelling by Gray and Palmiotti each issue, the series has benefitted from a surprising array of top-flight artists doing guest spots from Darwyn Cooke to Fiona Staples, with their May 2014 issue to host a back-up by José Luis García-López. <p>But even as Hex tracks down the world’s most wanted in two different times, the <I>All-Star Western</I> comic series ranks low on comic stories list of their most wanted. After the September 2011 relaunch as <I>All-Star Western</I> resulted in a 65th ranking in a crowded month, the sales figures for January 2014 show it plummeting almost one hundred spots to being #152 on the American comic book store charts. In comics Hex has shot his way out of tighter spots before, but here in the comics marketplace he might need some back-up if <I>All-Star Western</I> were to make it to see 2015.
Spider-Man is arguably the most identifiable character Marvel has in their line, and that spotlight can’t help but bleed over into those near him – friend or foe. After a number of Sinister Six miniseries in the 1990s, Marvel revived that idea – and recruited a new Sinister Six – to commit crimes against their fellow criminals in <I>Superior Foes of Spider-Man</I>. Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber carved out an interesting new avenue for these villains as they fight amongst themselves as they fight to make a buck, and stands as part of the mini Spider-Man line alongside <I>Superior Spider-Man</I>, <I>Superior Spider-Man Team-Up</I> and the recently ended <I>Venom</I> and <I>Scarlet Spider</I> series. <p>When <I>Superior Foes of Spider-Man</I> debut in July 2013 during Superior Spider-Month, it ranked high on the sales charts – 24th to be exact, outselling heavier hyped debuts such as <I>Batman ‘66</I>, <I>Trinity of Sin: Pandora</I>, as well as the <I>Dexter</I> tv-to-comics series. The most recent sales figures show it falling down to #106 and skipping January 2014 entirely. Marvel’s already solicited a 13th issue for the series in May 2014, and a second collection of the going series says it’ll collect issues #7 through #15, so that could be a portent for a potential end point. We already know that the main <I>Superior Spider-Man</I> series would be ending due to the impending return of Peter Parker, so it’s worth considering that this similarly named series might as well – or at the least, undergo a name-changing relaunch.
Who said DC and Marvel never gave a new character a chance? Well, we might have said that once before – but DC gave a newcomer a shot – a villain no less – when it launched the <I>Larfleeze</I> series In the summer of 2013. Spinning out of Geoff John’s epic <I>Green Lantern</I> run, the Orange Lantern greedy avaristic ways made him an earlier fan favorite and earned him a series of his own fairly quickly for a comic character. <p>Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins’ <I>Larfleeze</I> started off in the middle of the pack when it launched in June 2013, holding the #59 spot. It was a busy month however, as it had to share the shelves with other debuts including <I>Superman Unchained</I>, <I>Batman Superman</I>, <I>Kick Ass 3</I>, and Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s creator-owned <I>Lazarus</I> series, and did manage to beat out Marvel’s debuting <I>Daredevil: Dark Knights</I> miniseries. But now not even a year into its run, <I>Larfleeze</I> has tumbled down the sales charts to #144; it was still 100 places above the just-cancelled <I>The Movement</I>, but you can easily assume both DC and the book’s creator wish there was even more distance between them and that book.
<I>Thunderbolts</I> is one of the most interesting concepts in modern superhero comics, and one that’s proved to have quite a life no matter the iteration. Now under the guiding hand of the rising comics star Charles Soule, <I>Thunderbolts</I> has doubled-down on evocative meaty stories involving the Red Hulk and his recalcitrant group of villains and anti-heroes. Recent issues of the series saw the team lose their East Coast base forcing a trip out west for the “Code Red” team, and we got an extra surprise in May 2014’s solicits when we learned comics veteran (and Moon Knight creator) Doug Moench is joining the series as co-writer. <p>When Daniel Way and Steve Dillon relaunched <I>Thunderbolts</I> in December 2012, it defied expectations and became the #10 book for the month – the second highest debut of any book on our countdown today. The series received a slight bump with the simultaneous <I>Infinity</I> tie-in and debut of Soule on the book, but since it’s seen a slow but steady decline setting down to be #72 for the month of January. That puts it well above all of DC’s titles featured on our list today, but Marvel has higher sales expectations and culled <I>Avengers Assemble</I>, which was only 15 spots lower in January 2014’s charts. <p>The <I>Thunderbolts</I> concept has weathered many other low-selling periods and continues to find a way to reinvigorate it’s audiences, and Soule is one of the most in-demand writers working in superhero comics today. But everything shown here leads us to believe that there might be a change to the status-quo like a relaunch, a change to the creative team, or a cooling off period coming up for these reformed villains.
When you serve under Batman, there’s bound to be high expectations; look at the turnover rate for Robins. More seriously though, being a spin-off series to a popular character such as Batman is a double-edged sword; you live by the associated popularity, but you could die by it as well. Initially created by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham in <I>Batman Inc.</I> and then launched as a solo series in September 2011, <I>Batwing</I> is a Bruce-Wayne-endorsed hero that some fans have dubbed ‘the Batman of Africa.’ Last summer the original character in the role was replaced by Luke Fox, the son of close Batman associate Lucius fox and since then the series has attempted a more inclusive breed of superhero stepping out from the shadow of Batman. <p>When <I>Batwing</I> debuted in September 2011, it had 51 other DC debuting series to contend with – and that’s not counting what came from Marvel, Image and others. But in that crowded marketplace, it still earned a respective rank of 58th best-selling comic of the month. But in a sea of comic titles on comic shelves and the high volume of DC titles with “Bat-“ as the prefix, <I>Batwing</I> has had a hard time getting its foot in the door with fans. The most recent sales figures show the series #155 for the month of January 2014, with no signs in the advance solicitations to indicate a course-correction to attempt to alleviate these flagging sales. <p>Who knows – now may not be the right time for Batwing to have a series. Now with the <I>Batman Inc.</I> title mothballed, and his inclusion in the <b>Batman Eternal</b> “Batsgiving” series, DC may pull back on his solo book for awhile why he builds a closer relationship with the rest of the Bat-family in the new weekly.
Spider-Man’s at his best when he’s quipping and yacking his jaw; Superior Spider-Man, even more so. But he needs someone to talk with, and that’s been one of the great parts of the <I>Superior Spider-Man Team-Up</I>. Spiritually the successor or the previous <I>Avenging Spider-Man</I> and before that <I>MarvelTeam-Up</I>, it features the Superior Spider-Man – SpideyOck – teaming up with heroes like the Avengers, the Scarlet Spider, Namor and others. <I>Mad TV</I> writer Kevin Shinick recently took over the series from Christopher Yost, and he’s quickly come into his own as he leads up to the <I>Goblin Nation</I> tie-in issues. But with this series sitting on the outside looking in as far as sales go and the impending end of the main <I>Superior Spider-Man</I> title, could this title’s days be numbered? <p>As far as numbers go, <I>Superior Spider-Man Team-Up</I> launched with a very impressive #10 spot in July 2013. In the issues since it’s been on shaky ground however, with four different writers and over a half dozen artists, which makes it hard for retailers and readers to know what to expect with the series. As of January 2014 the series slid down to be #100 in the comic book store sales charts. As stated earlier, Shinick’s work on the series has been a bright spot and the upcoming crossover with <I>Superior Spider-Man</I>’s “Goblin Nation” could see a upward sales bump for the series but who knows where it’ll be six months from now. This, like <i>Avengers A.I.</i>, did not have an issue solicited for May, 2014. Marvel declined comment on either series.
Superheroes can be strange people – and they don’t come much stranger than DC’s Phantom Stanger. Launched back in the fall of 2012 by DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio and <I>Astro City</I> artist Brent Anderson, <b>Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger</b> revised the classic DC character and makes him the Biblical figure Judas Iscariot, the man who sold out Jesus to the Romans. Shamed by his ways, the figure is put on a redemptive path as the Phantom Stranger, in league with Pandora, the Question and others such as the Spectre. It’s high-drama in the supernatural side of DC’s superhero universe, with heavily Biblical overtones. <p>Interest was high among fans to see how Phantom Stranger would develop in the wake of the New 52, but upon this series debut as <I>Phantom Stranger</I> in October 2012 it failed to capture significant buzz amongst fans, reviews or the comics news media. After premiering at #84 in October 2012, it glided downward over the following months. It had a brief jump in the late summer of 2013 jumping close to its debut numbers, but in the months since it’s continued to slide to end up #127 by January 2014. DC, for its part, has been trying to push the character and book more recently, making him a part of the Justice League Dark team and crossing his series over into the <i>Forever Evil</i> event.
Since its launch in January 2013, <I>Savage Wolverine</I> has cut a new path in Big Two superhero comics by being an artist-centric series pairing artists with an interest in writing their own stories with a character who always seems to sell books. For fans who read comics for both the story and the art, <I>Savage Wolverine</I> offers the opportunity for stories light on continuity and heavy on showcasing stories with a more visual focus. From the inaugural arc by Frank Cho to later stories by Joe Madureira (with help from Zeb Wells) and Jock, it’s created a different kind of Wolverine story and has been a great read for those who pick it up. <p>Pairing up the words “Frank Cho” and “Wolverine” worked wonders for <I>Savage Wolverine</I> when it was launched; the January 2013 sales figures for the first issue ranked it #6 in America and selling over 100,000 copies, beaten only by fellow debuting books <I>Superior Spider-Man</i>, <I>New Avengers</I> and high-selling titles <I>Batman</I> and <I>Justice League</I>. But due in part to limited runs by each artist and a new creative team for each arc and competition from the main <I>Wolverine</I> title, future issues of <I>Savage Wolverine</I> saw a rapid decline averaging 7% per issue with January 2014’s installment going down to be #67. With each new arc and a creative team there was an upward tic in orders, but those were cancelled out and then some by the arc’s end. <p>In the recently released May 2014 solicitations for Marvel we saw a change in the status quo for <I>Savage Wolverine</I>, with Marvel segue out of hiring “superstar artists” in favor of more balanced creative teams, but still making it high-profile with the return of Gail Simone to the Marvel writing fold. Could this be the canary in the coal mine for the end of <I>Savage Wolverine</I>, or just the first steps in a new long-term plan for the series that we do not know as of yet?
For a British blue-collar warlock, John Constantine sure has made a name for himself. After a 300 issue run in the <I>Hellblazer</I> title at DC’s adult-themed imprint Vertigo, Constantin was drafted back into the superhero fold first as a part of <I>Justice League Dark</I> and then as the star of his second series – this time, simply titled <I>Constantine</I>. Ardent fans of the characters’ Vertigo run were a bit flummoxed at how Constantine could make the transition. <p><I>Constantine</I> started off shaky in March 2013, losing its original writer before the book was launched but pushed towards it’s original launch date. The series premiered #62 that month, with sales roughly considered to be in the high 30,000s range. The sales were much higher than its previous Vertigo series <I>Hellblazer</I> and was DC’s highest #1 that month, but far below what DC’s other major series launched at – even during the New 52 launch month. Ten issues in, <I>Constantine</I> is outpacing <I>Hellblazer</I> but still leagues behind DC’s other stalwart titles. <p>But despite all that, John Constantine is a character DC has a lot of support for – both because he’s so diametrically opposed to their classic heroes, but also because of the development of a Big 3 network television series at NBC. It’s easy to imagine DC giving some leeway to the <I>Constantine</I> comic series should the television series develop as rapidly as <I>Gotham</I> seems to be at Fox, but we wouldn’t put it past them to consider giving the title a jolt of some kind in terms of storyline or creative team.