Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The monthly sadness of the DC sales chart comes with a suprise this time: No one is reading JLA/The 99 for some reason

The monthly analysis of DC and Marvel direct market sales that Marc-Oliver Frisch and Paul O’Brien provide at The Beat is usually pretty depressing reading. But Frisch’s look at DC’s January 2011 figures was something else:
DC kicks off the year with a new sales record: Average numbers of the DC Universe line dropped by 21% in January, to 24,321 — the lowest number in the history of these charts, by about 4,000 units.

Traditionally a weak month in the comic-book market, January 2011 was even more of a downer than usual for DC. With only five titles selling above the 50k mark, average comic-book sales of the company at large fell to 21,922, the lowest figure since March 2009, while average Vertigo sales clung to the 10,000-unit mark, as they’ve done for the last three years.

The poor January performance of the DC Universe line comes thanks to three different kinds of erosion. First up, DC failed to get Green Lantern, Batman Incorporated and The Flash out of the door, three of its major titles, while a fourth one, Batman: The Dark Knight, was still late from December.

Second, DC is looking at a whole range of failing titles: Out of the 43 ongoing monthly DC Universe series currently on sale, eight have been marked for cancellation and won’t be around come June 2011. That’s almost 20% of the imprint’s regular output. And there are eight more — Doc Savage, The Spirit, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Jonah Hex, Booster Gold, Power Girl, Zatanna and Gotham City Sirens — that look less than healthy and sell fewer copies than some of the ones that have already been axed.

As Frisch noted, DC is going through something of a transitional period, and I think it’s worth noting that DC has made some very sharp, very quick turns in their pricing and format strategies over the past year or so, bumping many books up from 22 pages for $2.99 to 30 pages for $3.99 (22 pages of title story, eight of back-up story) to ditching the back ups and having some books at 22/$2.99 and some at 22/$3.99 for a few months and then going 20/$2.99 across the board.

The recently canceled Doom Patrol is a good example of a book that’s changed quickly through that period, and a Doom Patrol book is never a sure thing: It launched at $3.99 bearing a Metal Men back-up by the high-profile, fan-favorite Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire creative team, then lost it.

When all the dust settles from various executive juggling and pricing/format zig-zagging, DC will likely bounce back a bit, but man, looking at this chart and these numbers, I have a hard time imagining too many hits in the near future.

It still looks an awful lot like DC’s only real guaranteed hits are Things By Geoff Johns and Things By Grant Morrison That Aren’t Vertigo Titles (When They Manage To Ship), and maybe I’m just pessimistic, but I still maintain that the Green Lantern franchise’s popularity is more of a historical fluke than historical destiny finally being realized, and a Green Lantern bust is coming in the next few years.

Aw well, no skin off my back—I don’t have to sell the things, just read ‘em.


I did experience a new emotion while reading this installment of the sales analysis though, beyond the usual shades of the gray and blue rainbow of sadness I generally get from the chart—shock.

Specifically, I’m shocked at how poorly JLA/The 99 seems to be selling in the direct market.

Many of you don’t sift through Google News alerts about comics on a daily basis as part of a “job” like I do, and thus you may not have read the same 10,000 or so mainstream news articles I did about The 99.

If not, they’re a superhero team created by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, founder of Teshkeel Media Group. The characters come from all over the world, although they are based in Islamic culture and religion, and gain powers through magical Noor stones. Their name comes from the 99 attributes of Allah.

They received about as much press coverage as any comic book characters could hope to. In the six-issue miniseries JLA/The 99, the new heroes team up with The Justice League of America, the DC super-team (usually) composed of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the most popular and well-known superheroes who aren’t owned by Marvel.

Here’s Frisch’s sales data and commentary on the book:
127 - JLA/THE 99
10/2010: JLA/The 99 #1 of 6 -- 19,995
11/2010: JLA/The 99 #2 of 6 -- 15,525 (-22.4%)
12/2010: JLA/The 99 #3 of 6 -- 12,819 (-17.4%)
01/2011: JLA/The 99 #4 of 6 -- 10,265 (-19.9%)

Abysmal numbers. Whatever interest there was in the book, it’s evaporating quickly.
It started off selling pretty poorly, and, in just four issues, is selling half as many copies.

Why I find that so surprising is that while I haven’t been reading the book either (I wanted to, but DC priced it at the ridiculous 22/$3.99 price point), I have been flipping through the issues when I see them in the shop, and the JLA line-up they’re using consists of Superman, Batman Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern John Stewart, The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom and Firestorm. And those are just the one’s I’ve noticed.

That’s not quite the most popular, Big Seven version, but it is the Big Five, with some other perennially popular Leaugers in for Aquaman and Martian Manhunter.

It’s worth noting that Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, (a) Flash and (a) Green Lantern haven’t been in the official Justice League in approximately forever now, so JLA/The 99 has been offering the “real” (and/or popular) version of the Justice League for a few months now, while the official Justice League of America title has, in that same time, featured a team consisting of Batman Dick Grayson, Supergirl, Jade, Jesse Quick, Donna Troy, Congorilla and Starman Mikaal Tomas (If you don't read DC super-comics on a regular basis, I imagine at least half of those names are completely unknown to you).

In that time, however, the Justice League of America comic with the oddball cast was selling between 59,686 to 47,093; much, much, much, much better than JLA/The 99.

I find that curious.

There are a lot of plausible explanations for why that might be, of course.

First was the matter of pricing, which deterred me from the 99 crossover; both books were $3.99, but JLoA was 30-pages to JLA/The 99’s 22; the latter eventually dropped down to $2.99, but it launched at the higher price point, so people who don’t want to spend $4 for a comic book were already off-board.

Then there’s the perception that the book didn’t matter or didn’t count, because it wasn’t in continuity. Well, I don’t think it’s in-continuity; part of the reason an all-star Justice League hasn’t been in JLoA for a while was because DC was doing things to keep the big guns out of circulation (losing Batman in time, messing with Wonder Woman’s continuity, sending Superman to New Krypton and then on a long walk, changing Flashes, etc). I’m not sure if there is a point in recent continuity where the story could be taking place; the fact that Wondy seems to be wearing her JMS costume would seem to indicate that it’s some sort of Elseworlds, out-of-continuity book. Superhero fans tend to avoid those.

And then there are the creators: Stuart Moore, Fabian Nicieza, Tom Derenick and Drew Geraci. All talented folks, and two of whom have been heavily involved with The 99 and another of whom has been drawing the JLA off and on for a few years now. However two of those names—Nicieza and Derenick—were among those I rattled off when discussing DC’s Usual Suspects the other night, the talented creators whose assignments over the past few years have seemingly trained readers to perceive whatever they’re working on as unimportant and skippable.

Finally, I suppose there’s the possibility that DC didn’t promote it as well as they could have. I know no one sent me any review copies, and, now that I stop and think about it, I don’t remember seeing any reviews of any issue of it anywhere, although I’m sure Newsarama and Comic Book Resources at least must have reviewed at least the first issue.

At any rate, it certainly could have used some instances of Dan DiDio or whoever talking it up as an important chapter in the lives of the Justice League, or sowing seeds for big events that will shake the foundation of the DC Universe or whatever.

I’m looking forward to the trade, but, in the meantime, my mind is thoroughly boggled by the fact that it’s been selling sooooo much worse than Justice League of America.


The other surprise in this round of sales charts for me was how few copies of those DC Comics Presents volumes seem to move in the direct market.

I’ve talked about these things a lot, but I’ll say it again: These things are awesome. For $7.99, the price of 44 pages worth of Brian Michael Bendis/Mike Deodato Avengers comics, you get four-to-five issues worth of older, usually excellent DC Comics, in a trade-like format with a spine.

DC Comics Presents is basically an ideal presentation of reprinted super-comics and yet:
241/254/273 - DC COMICS PRESENTS
10/2010: Green Lantern #1 -- 4,418
10/2010: Jack Cross #1 -- 3,662
10/2010: Batman/Catwoman #1 -- 4,076
10/2010: Brightest Day #1 -- 4,988
10/2010: Batman #1 -- 4,643
10/2010: Superman #1 -- 3,685
11/2010: Flash/GL #1 -- 3,664
11/2010: Batman #2 -- 3,643
11/2010: Brightest Day #2 -- 3,292
11/2010: Superman #2 -- 2,915
12/2010: Batman Beyond #1 -- 4,531
01/2011: Lobo #1 -- 3,280
01/2011: Sole Survivor #1 -- 2,768
01/2011: The Atom #1 -- 2,185
I hope those numbers aren’t as bad as they look (I can’t imagine what the metric for judging these books successes or failures might be), because I’ve really enjoyed reading the volumes I’ve read, and the only reason I haven’t bought them all is because the bulk of the material is stuff I’ve already read and/or own.


Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

I would argue the biggest strike against JLA/99 was the fact that the first half of the series was $4/22 pages. I like the first 6 issues of The 99, but I wasn't willing to pay that price for the crossover, especially when a trade is almost a certainty.

Anonymous said...

I started buying JLA/99 and dropped it, because I just didn't think it was all that good a story. It was afflicted with such a huge cast (106 characters is way too many to do justice to in a six-issue miniseries) that it started feeling like issues were just strings of character vignettes stapled together.

KentL said...

In regards to the DC Comics Presents line: I would imagine these are selling similar to trades and that DC is betting that there will be reorders regularly. They seem like the sort of thing retailers would want to keep on their shelves (Well, maybe not Jack Cross--where did that come from? And what is Sole Survivor?).

Unknown said...

I'm with the other Nick 100% -- that's exactly how I feel. I like The 99, and I'd love to be reading this book, but the price point has been prohibitive. I'll scoop it in a softcover trade for sure, but how long is it gonna be until that comes out?

As for the DC Presents stuff, I love the concept, but haven't been crazy about the content they've decided to reprint. For example, I'm a huge Aquaman fan, and I'd love to see some of the as-of-now-uncollected stuff like the Shaun McLaughlin run end up in one of these volumes instead of the sorta-Aquaman themed one that they put out recently.

Unknown said...

I wanted to like the JLA/99 crossover, but after the first issue I dropped it with no plans to ever return. It was just not a good story. Nothing to do with pricing or page count, the story was just not interesting. I like the "Core 5" JL as much as anyone, but this was so out of continuity and out of character for the group that it felt more like a Halloween give-away comic than anything ("All your favorite DC heroes in an exciting story!"). Maybe if the guest characters had some previous DC exposure I'd buy into it a little more, but this book has that feel of "these characters are cool because we say they are." I won't be picking up the trade, the story is awful.

Martin Gray said...

Interesting piece, Caleb. As regards JLA/The 99, the obvious non-continuity aspect put it into the vategory of Elseworlds, which I decide whether or not to buy on a case by case basis. The creative time is a plus, but I just wasn't interested in the idea of 99 new heroes closely tied to a religion I don't know much about ... it sounded like Planet DC times five.

And yes, the price was the final nail in the Coffin.

Martin Gray said...

Oh, and I love the idea of the new DCCP, but as with Nick M, the contents haven't grabbed me. I'll buy the upcoming Night Force though, as that's one worth supporting.

"O" the Humanatee! said...

I'm not really in the candidate audience, but to me the JLA/99 series smacked of public-service comics like the Teen Titans/Don't Do Drugs comic. (That one, at least, had George Perez art.) Perhaps it's because I'd never heard of The 99, but the series, rather than seeming like a major cross-company team-up, comes across as The 99's attempting to ride on the JLA's coat-tails, with the added fact of The 99's association with Islam. It's not that I think most comics readers are bigots, but hints of "In this issue, the JLA battles Intolerance!" have an offputting moralistic flavor. Who wants to be lectured to?

Of course, I could be wrong (and the lack of continuity almost certainly plays a role).

Jeff said...

The real shame is that this comic looks great from an art perspective. Does DC have a more underutilized exclusive artist than Derenick? He went from a run on X-Men to Smallville, Countdown, Trinity and Magog.

Botch the Crab said...

I have to agree with many of the sentiments expressed here for why I'm not buying it: appears simply promotional for a shamelessly politically-correct new team; seems out of continuity; and no name recognition of the creators.

Caleb said...

Thanks all for sharing your thoughts. It seems like it would have been worth DC's time to try and fit a JLA/99 story into their continuity somewhere (Maybe near the beginning of McDuffie's run? I think everyone was on the team at that point, at least for a few issues), and to not have flirted with Marvel pricing for a book that was destined to be a harder sell than, say, JLA/Avengers.

Couple quick follow-ups...

DC Comics Presents line: I would imagine these are selling similar to trades and

Ahhhh... I was looking at those numbers and thinking, "Wow, those suck for a comic book," but maybe they are good for a trade...

(Well, maybe not Jack Cross--where did that come from? And what is Sole Survivor?).

Jack Cross was a DC espionage/terrorist-fighting ongoing written by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine which later became a miniseries. It was pretty good, and it made sense for DC to collect pretty much any Ellis stuff they had lying around.

The DCP format's not ideal—I woulda enjoyed reading Jack Cross as a trade or from a back issue-bin more, but I like the cheaper-than-a-trade price point and the not-having-to-look-for-it-in-back-issue-bins format.

Sole Survivor is actually Superman—Soul Survivor and has two stories from Legends of the DCU in it.

Does DC have a more underutilized exclusive artist than Derenick?

I like his work a lot. Sometimes it looks more rushed than other times, but when he's good I think he's very good. I'd still be reading JLoA if they kept him on it for longer than a fill-in...

Eyz said...

Since I'm more of a TPB kinda guy (due to my habits and love for Euro-comics), this drop on sales number doesn't come much as a surprise to me....

I guess what with most people tending to collect Harcovers and softcovers these days (better paper, books, durable, etc..) and/or digital comics it was bound to happen finally... And it seems that this finally was supposed to be January 2011 :/

I'll be interested in checking out Marvel numbers as well :P

KentL said...

Jack Cross was a DC espionage/terrorist-fighting ongoing written by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine which later became a miniseries.

yeah, I remember the series. Just baffled as to why they chose that. Maybe to coincide with the release of Red?

Sole Survivor is actually Superman—Soul Survivor and has two stories from Legends of the DCU in it.

Ah. Thanks.

RE: Derenick's work. I agree with Caleb. Sometimes it seems rushed, but when he's on, he's great. Doug Braithwaite seems like that, too.