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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 7/29/9

Oodles of sales numbers. Reviews of Fables, Hack/Slash, Books of Magic, and The Eternal Smile.

Oodles of sales numbers. Reviews of Fables, Hack/Slash, Books of Magic, and The Eternal Smile.

News

Direct Market Sales Watch

Another two months of sales numbers for single issues and trades. The top 300 for both can be found at ICv2’s site. May. June.

Battle for the Cowl
‘s extremely steady sales held up with the third and final issue, which was #2 on the May charts. The miniseries outsold every other DC title two out of three months. The second printing of issue one added 8,133 orders, bringing the totals to:

#1 – 103,913
#2 – 89,120
#3 – 89,170

The horribly titled one-shot Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive had 39,106 copies ordered. Battle for the Cowl: The Network had 38,927.

Oracle – The miniseries where (spoiler) no one becomes Batgirl. As you can see, that’s not quite what people expected.

Birds of Prey #125 – 20,161
Birds of Prey #126 – 20,772 (Faces of Evil)
Birds of Prey #127 – 21,424 (Origins and Omens; final issue)
Oracle #1 – 34,081
Oracle #2 – 33,371
Oracle #3 – 35,328 (final issue)

Yeah… So, some people figured out the last issue would have the big reveal, while most bought the whole thing to be safe. I have to admit, it was exciting in a nervous way until it turned out to be inconsequential. Here’s hoping the Batgirl relaunch follows a similar path. Only they have to have someone be Batgirl, so it can’t be as “good” as Oracle.

On a side note, wouldn’t it be amazing if every miniseries sold as consistently as these? Sure, one sold way better than the other, but usually you’d have a huge dropoff after the first issue and a further drop for every issue after, regardless of initial sales. These could’ve been twice as long and still sold near the same. The buzz around them is that Important Things are happening, which is not the impression you get from any of those Final Crisis: Aftermath minis. If they’re good, OK, but I think there’s something to be said for cutting back and only publishing new books when you have a good reason. It’d be something if the average reader could afford to buy every one of DC’s books each month, and they were all exciting enough that you’d want to.

Surprising no one, Batman and Robin #1 crushed everything in June with 168,604 copies ordered. The Bat-Relaunch is off to a good start, though it’ll be a couple months before we have a good idea of how much interest RIP and BftC have pumped into the line.

Batman – The least altered title was the second best selling, a $4 issue billed as an epilogue to BftC. #686 was also $4.

#685 – 72,654 (Faces of Evil)
#686 – 124,542 (Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?)
#687 – 96,913

Detective Comics – The start of Batwoman’s starring role, as well as a permanent move to $4 to account for the extra pages used on the Renee Montoya backup. #853 was also $4.

#852 – 56,656 (Faces of Evil)
#853 – 104,107 (Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?)
#854 – 72,808

Red Robin – Relaunched with a new name after a three month break.

Robin #181 – 27,891
Robin #182 – 28,684 (Faces of Evil)
Robin #183 – 31,682 (Origins and Omens)
Red Robin #1 – 64,261

Batman: Streets of Gotham – Replaces Gotham Central and Manhunter, I guess. If it’s very similar, it won’t last near as long as the top four Bat-Books. This is another $4 series, so the gross profit is higher than with Red Robin.

#1 – 57,650

Gotham City Sirens – Replaces Catwoman and, in some fashion, Birds of Prey. Batgirl will use more of the latter’s characters, but this is closer to the BoP concept. Predictably the poorest seller of the relaunch; I can’t see it lasting half as long as BoP did.

#1 – 52,439

Every Bat-Relaunch title outsold every title in the Superman family, which isn’t too strange these days. The top three figure to stay up there until the Superman event in the nebulous future, assuming that turns out to be something people care about. Red Robin should best the Supes for a few months yet, too, while the other satellite titles figure to fall behind quickly. RR‘s the standout, in my opinion. Morrison’s flagship series will settle in as a third core Bat-Book, like Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men or one of the nigh-weekly issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Batman and Detective Comics will end up selling about the same as ever, though it could take a while for the sales boost to even out. Red Robin, however, has double the readership of Robin. Several thousand will only ever buy that first issue, but I think it benefits more than any other title. It’s more or less the same hero with the same supporting cast, only now it’s much healthier. Time will tell whether it holds up at all, but this is pretty much the ideal relaunch. I could fill a page with titles who wish they could replicate that kind of success without becoming a completely different comic.

Justice Society of America – Another look at how it’s doing in what is now a post-Johns world.

#23 – 61,385 (Faces of Evil)
#24 – 65,207 (variant cover; Origins and Omens)
#25 – 65,713 (variant cover)
#26 – 81,200 (three interconnecting Alex Ross covers; final Johns/Eaglesham issue)
#27 – 56,102 (Jerry Ordway fill-in)

Issues 17-22 all had variant covers, with the regular cover by Alex Ross. I got bored and stopped checking past that, but I believe Ross did at least one cover for every issue, and clearly there was no shortage of variants. I find it curious that not only has Ross left with the rest of the creative team, there’s no mention of a variant cover in the solicitations up through September. I don’t want to say DC are sabotaging Willingham, Sturges and Merino, but they aren’t offering any extra support. The title will sell entirely on what they can do to attract readers, and it’s safe to say that won’t be as much as Johns & Co. did. Sales are going to steadily, perhaps swiftly, fall, until this is once again a midlist title.

Power Girl debuted at 25th in May with 47,322 copies. Issue #2 sold 36,756, which suggests sales will dip below 30k by the time a trade’s worth is published. It’s a much better start than several recent titles have had, but I’m not optimistic about this being an exception to the rule that female superhero comics don’t sell. It’s already a scant few thousand above Wonder Woman and Supergirl, two of the most successful examples in that category.

Wonder Woman – Wrapping up the Genocide arc. Once again, issues 28-30 had variant covers, 27 and 31 didn’t. 32 and 33 also had variants, while 34 and 35 do not, according to solicitations. Apparently, every issue from 26-33 had a variant, but only a few of those were advertised, which kinda precludes the others having an effect on orders. Let’s pretend for a moment that people read comics, that sales fluctuations can be attributed to a large number of fans being pleased/displeased with a story or jumping in for an exciting new arc. Now, back to reality.

#27 – 32,322
#28 – 32,622 (Faces of Evil)
#29 – 33,237 (Origins & Omens)
#30 – 33,365
#31 – 31,857
#32 – 33,065
#33 – 32,755

The new story arc lost readers before it started, and there was no surge to get the final issue, even by those who bought the penultimate part. It’s hard to imagine anyone giving up after seven issues of an eight issue story, especially when part seven kicked so much ass, so I’m forced to assume this is a combination of natural decline and variant covers. Ongoing titles almost invariably go down from month to month, spiking only when speculators take interest. Speculators bought the variant covers, a small number of people dropped the book for whatever reason, and no one new came in. Diverting to Marvel for a moment, this is why Peter David’s plan to triple sales on X-Factor hasn’t worked. The quality skyrockets and sales… don’t decline quite so fast. That’s it.

Gail Simone is in a similar situation here, having taken over Wonder Woman midway through with a bunch of continuity built up. New readers don’t want to slog through it all, and that task grows ever more daunting as the issues pile up. Important Things happen, so far as Wonder Woman and her cast are concerned, but there’s no clear jumping on point. You have to start with Simone’s first issue, or, arguably, the first of the relaunch. It’s a bit of a catch-22; if you had jumping on points showing up every month or two, the ongoing story wouldn’t exist in anything like the form it has, and sales would be entirely dependent on casual buyers (i.e. abysmal), assuming they knew the book was accessible despite the high issue numbers. High meaning greater than one, as casual interest decreases in inverse proportion to issue number. #1 is comicbookese for “you only need this one.” Every number after is another one you need.

Still, more than a few people, myself included, have started on a book well after the first issue and eventually caught up. However many of us there are, we don’t create a noticeable dent in sales. More readers drop a given title than pick it up 99% of the time.

Secret Six

#7 – 24,365
#8 – 24,338
#9 – 27,116 (Battle for the Cowl)
#10 – 24,272

At least it’s holding steady. As nice as it would have been for the tie-in to attract new readers, the established base don’t seem to be going anywhere. That’ll have to be enough.

Unwritten – As I mentioned before, the $1 first issue sold 26,915 copies and went to a second printing. No idea how that’s sold, but orders fell to 16,290 with issue two. Hard to tell what this means, but the implication is more people were attracted by the price than hooked by the content. The problem with this tactic is it won’t attract many tradewaiters. Why buy the first issue, even at $1, if you’re going to rebuy it when the trade hits? It’s a better way for customers to test out a new series than paying three or four dollars for the same product, but if you don’t like it, you’ve still wasted money. If you do like it, you either buy the trade, in which case you’ve wasted money, or you commit to buying new issues at $3 each.

There’s no incentive to buy a first issue for that issue alone. It’s part of a package deal. My first impulse is to buy all of these $1 issues, because they’re helluva cheap and vaguely interesting at a minimum. As yet, I’ve bought none, for the aforementioned reasons. It’s a more palatable prospect if you’re fairly certain you want to collect the series (and in single issue form, if only until you have a trade’s worth), as it saves you $2 you would otherwise have spent.

Outsiders – I’m all for truth in advertising, but considering Alfred’s involvement with the team, not to mention the new Batman playing some part, perhaps the title change was ill-advised. They’ve started putting the Batman: Reborn label on covers, which is equal parts gag-inducing and business savvy. If you have to have a label as insipid, as misleading as that, this is one of the titles you should use it on. You risk diluting the brand, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for that.

#15 – 30,024 (Origins & Omens)
#16 – 27,977
#17 – 27,171
#18 – 25,995
#19 – 27,485 (1 in 10 variant cover)

Booster Gold – June saw the addition of Blue Beetle and a $1 price hike. Let’s see how it affected the sales of issue #21.

#16 – 25,472 (Faces of Evil)
#17 – 24,732 (Origins & Omens)
#18 – 23,737
#19 – 23,203
#20 – 22,549
#21 – 23,222

Wow, yeah, sorry, Boostle fans. It could be much, much worse. More readers were attracted by the Beetley goodness than scared off by the higher price, but it’s not exactly adding one book’s modest readership to another’s to form a supermidlist title. We can only hope the increased revenue will offset a slide that’s sure to resume in July. I’ll be surprised if sales stay above 20k throughout ’09, so DC will need to be happy with whatever a gross profit of $80k translates to.

Vigilante – You might remember that, two columns ago, I pointed out that the sudden, dramatic jump in sales for this title was due solely to the crossover with Titans and Teen Titans, and that it was highly unlikely a significant number of readers who jumped on for that would stay. See if you can guess which issues were part of the crossover.

#4 – 11,125
#5 – 21,290
#6 – 18,677
#7 – 11,483

Hey, it’s OK, DC. Not your fault. You tried. Now you have empirical proof that no one wants to read this book. The tiny sales bump from #4 to #7 will disappear next month, and you’ll soon have a mainstream superhero comic with four-digit sales. It’s probably not your worst series, but it sells that way. Put it out of its misery.

R.E.B.E.L.S. will also have to be dealt with soon enough.

#1 – 23,739
#2 – 16,122
#3 – 14,442
#4 – 13,468
#5 – 12,909

You could almost say it’s leveling off. If the rate of decline continued to, ah, decline at the current rate, it would. The title would settle into selling about 12k a month. Odds are, it won’t stay above that past July, and I can’t imagine DC being happy with those sales, rock solid or not. Makes you wonder how many units a title needs to sell in order to be profitable. If this is enough for DC not to bring the axe down, Secret Six is practically a hit and can be expected to continue for at least a few years yet. Alternatively, failures like these two could lead DC to be more conservative and cancel books sooner. Marvel would’ve put two in the backs of their heads months ago, shaved Vertigo and Wildstorm back to a max of three titles each, put several other books on notice, and launched another Wolverine ongoing. His presence in the DCU would not be explained.

Air – One of many titles in May outsold by a reprint of Battle for the Cowl #1. It’s going to live or die on trade sales, which are adequate so far.

#6 – 7,607
#7 – 10,290 ($1 issue)
#8 – 7,216
#9 – 7,115
#10 – 6,954

Killapalooza – Six-issue mini by Adam Beechen and Trevor Hairsine.

#1 – 7,031
#2 – 4,316

Ahahahahahahahahaha!

Alan Moore topped the graphic novel sales chart again, this time with a new work, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III: Century 1910. The $8 volume had orders of 36,546, besting the #2 seller in May, the fourth volume of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, by almost 28k, then adding another 2,327 to Buffy‘s 628 in June. Whether or not it counts as a graphic novel is debatable – it’s only eighty pages – but that’s how it’s listed on the chart. If we cut the price in half and doubled the sales, it would rank ninth among single issues, shortly behind a 22-page, $4 issue of Hulk, so it’s a success however you look at it.

As Moore has dissociated himself from them, DC’s first entry for May was at #7 with the trade for Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul.

Still popular, a new HC collection of Dini and Timm DCAU comics, Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories, sold 3,299 copies in May and 399 in June. According to the solicitation, it’s the same as the collection I reviewed a while back, except there’s one more short story and it’s a hardcover instead of soft.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder got a trade, collecting the Jodi Picoult issues. First month sales were down from the previous trade (Heinberg; 1,999), but up considerably from the previous hardcover (Simone; 1,352) at 1,647, and for the first time this year, a Wonder Woman collection made the charts two months in a row, adding 596 orders in June.

Archie Comics got their best seller since March with TMNT Adventures Vol. 1: Heroes in a Half Shell. Considering the series didn’t take off until it broke away from straight cartoon adaptations with issue five of the regular series, and this trade only collects the three issue miniseries that preceded that, charging $12 for a bundle that originally cost $3… 1,564 units is pretty impressive. I’m pleased, all in all. Hope this encourages them to collect the rest of the series. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and while I’d have no use for the trades overpriced or not, it’s always good to have options. Every good comic ought to be in at least one collection, even if it falls quickly out of print.

The Final Crisis HC topped June’s chart with 8,219 orders. #2 was somehow claimed by the first All-Star Batman and Robin TPB at 5,579 copies. Nine issues for $20 would normally be a good deal.

In happier news, volume five of Adam Warren’s Empowered debuted at #6 with 4,193 copies. Although not in the same league as BtVS, it’s one of Dark Horse’s strongest sellers. Reorders for volumes two and three also made the top 300 in June, though only with a combined 850 copies.

The third $50 Starman Omnibus sent 2,908 copies to shelves. A new printing of Hitman Vol. 1 garnered 2,747 orders.

Reviews

Employee’s Pick

Books of Magic 34

[DC] Books of Magic Vol. 2 #33-38
Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Issue 33 takes a break from the main story to have Tim visit a literal ghost town full of dead actors from Westerns. Then it’s back to Rites of Passage for five more issues. Big developments here, and Tim contributes next to nothing. He’s barely around enough to remind you this is his series, which is fine by me. Lets the supporting cast be important for a change.

Molly’s still in Faerie, still cursed, now wreaking fiery vengeance on the land. But the land isn’t the land, or might not be, or never was. It’s complicated. This is the culmination of the long-running subplot about Faerie not being what it seems and its residents more existing than living. No more of that. We also learn Faerie’s terrible secret past.

And Molly stays cursed. This is a Vertigo title, so when terrible, awful, really bad, not good things happen to major characters, they’re not easily undone. She can go home again, but she can’t touch the ground. She kinda hovers. Can’t eat human food anymore, but she has an endless supply of fairy food to keep from starving. No such thing as fairy pizza, you know. No more magical combustion. Always handy to not light things on fire at the merest touch.

Stories like this make me glad there are stories with a rigid status quo. I’d hate to only read one or the other all the time, so it’s good to have alternatives when characters being permanently cursed, maimed or killed gets tiring, or when characters being locked into their iconic form gets boring. I wish Molly could go back to normal, but at the same time, I’m glad it’s possible for that to not happen. When you have a story where Things Happen, you need to occasionally have things happen and not unhappen, so readers know you’re serious. And that doesn’t mean carting in new characters to slaughter wholesale. It means stuff like this and what happened to Leah in the first half of the arc.

It sucks. It’s sad and you don’t want it to happen and if they’d only reverse it you’d be so happy… That’s how it’s supposed to be. If a character’s not endearing, they might as well be a rock. Smash a rock to pieces and see who cries. Now smash their favorite toy. You don’t have to break things, but it gets a reaction. Done right, it elicits an emotional response. You bend and twist and scuff and sometimes, you smash. That’s entertainment.

New-Type Books

Fables 82

[DC] Fables #82
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: David Hahn, Peter Gross

Haven’t reviewed this series in a while, and it’ll be a while before I do again. This is a terrible jumping on point, but for me it made a nice jumping off point, until later. You need to read the first eighty-one issues to get the full impact of this one, or to understand why the whole issue is given over to mourning a single character.

It also wraps up the war, as much as you can ever end a war. The backup story with Mowgli finally ends, featuring the only good art this side of the cover. Hahn, I’m afraid, is ill-suited for this series, as he would be for any series. Despite being the ugliest of eighty-two issues, it’s well worth reading. Characters have moments and the plot advances. With a series like this, you have little choice. You’re in or you’re out, all the way. There’s no use in dabbling. Completism over a long enough stretch will always have its drawbacks, and this is one.

Hack/Slash 19

[Devil’s Due] Hack/Slash #19
Writer: Tim Seeley
Artists: Kevin Mellon, Tim Seeley

Well, it’s less than a year old. This is relatively easy to follow considering it’s the first issue I’ve read and I barely knew anything about the series before. The premise is spelled out on the inside cover. Cassie Hack survived a slasher attack, yadda yadda yadda, now she hunts slashers. Hack. Slash. It’s all there. Mind you, I’ve no clue who these other people are or what happened to bring the story to this point.

I’m not getting near the full experience, but it’s still fun. Seeley makes it accessible enough by focusing the story on a POV character, Pooch the, er, devil dog. Or lowbeast, if you prefer. We don’t meet all the characters, and Cassie herself is indisposed, but we get Pooch’s story. Devil dog vs. devil woman. Good stuff.

Mr. Hell 1

There’s also a one-page backup with Lovebunny and Mr. Hell, some sort of comedy superhero duo or whatever. Seeley draws that. It’s prettier than the main story, but I suppose pretty isn’t appropriate for this material. Mellon’s style fits very well in places, but at times it simply looks crude. I’m tempted to read more of this series – I’m terribly curious about the backstory
– and I do have one more issue, but I don’t do well with horror. If you do, you might like this.

Back Issues

None this time.

Trade

Eternal Smile

[First Second] The Eternal Smile
Writers/Artists: Gene Luen Yang, Derek Kirk Kim

This is a collection of three stories, with the title taken from the second. All follow a basic formula. At first, there’s a generic, uninspired tale. Near the end, a hint becomes a twist and the story changes directions quite dramatically.

Duncan’s Kingdom is perhaps my favorite, for an odd reason. It starts as a straightforward fantasy yarn, and the twist justifies the blandness of the fantasy. It’s basically what North World should have been, both in substance and length. Looking back, it works better than it seemed to while I was reading it. They all do if you know a twist is coming, especially if you know what it is.

Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile is a variation on the first story thematically. It’s patterned on old Disney comics, with the Scrooge McDuck-like title character scheming to acquire enough loot to be able to swim in it. His latest scheme is to start a religion worshipping a smile in the sky. This one’s pretty good, too, but it falls short for me since I recently saw a similar story told in an episode of the anime Ergo Proxy. This is so generic for so long, and after the twist it’s still not as creative or engaging as the anime.

busy

Urgent Request is the weakest entry, in my opinion. It inverts the formula, starting in dreary reality before injecting fantasy, and has the most offputting tease. A spineless office worker gets one of those 419 e-mails and… she goes for it. Part of the twist here is that she didn’t fall for the scam, but so much of the story is spent on her appearing to be a mouthbreathing moron, I have a hard time looking at it objectively. The result is the same – she throws away thousands of dollars – and there isn’t any sort of payoff until the very end.

For me, character-driven stories are where it’s at. These are story-driven. There’s a basic idea the authors want to get across, and they go about it in a fairly simple way, though the execution is good. Characters are window dressing. Every story ends with unanswered questions, but those questions are of the “and then what happens?” variety. Like another comic First Second published, Life Sucks, these are all complete stories. There’s no powerful reason to ever follow up on them, and no compelling characters to justify a sequel. The story’s finished. More will happen after the final page, but it’s as good to guess at as see.

Truncation

Books of Magic – A tough but rewarding read.
Fables – Ugly but smart.
Hack/Slash – Clever horror comic. I’ve no idea how it compares to the rest of the genre, but it seems like most horror fans would enjoy it.
Eternal Smile – Solid collection of short stories. The sort of book you’d read in school if not for the medium.

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