From 'Star Wars' to 'Secret Wars': What Comics Sold Best In 2015

Marvel star wars variant Cover - H 2015
<p>Marvel star wars variant Cover - H 2015</p>   |   Joe Quesada/Marvel Entertainment
Marvel dominates the top 10 best-seller list for 2015's comic books, thanks to Disney sibling 'Star Wars.'

Compared with last year's list, Marvel Entertainment might have misgivings about the list of the best-selling comic books of 2015. For one thing, it "only" has seven slots on the top 10, compared with nine in 2014; for another, more than half of those titles come from a licensed property, instead of its own Marvel Universe.

The comparison is somewhat misleading, however; it should be noted that all 10 of 2015's best-selling titles outsell five of last year's top 10, with six of this year's list outselling all but one of last year's. Overall, sales were up compared with last year — around 5.5 percent — thanks to a number of new high-sellers offsetting a general drop in sales at the lower end of the market, something which is itself in part due to a number of titles being included in alternate outlets such as Lootcrate and Marvel's Collector Corps in addition to specialist comic book stores.

Here, with sales estimates from John Jackson Miller’s wonderful ComicChron website, are the top 10 comic books of January through November, 2015 (December’s sales data will not be released until mid-January):

Star Wars No. 1 (985,976) (Marvel Entertainment) January
Secret Wars No. 1 (527,678) (Marvel Entertainment) May
Bravest Warriors: Tales From The Holo John No. 1 (502,737) (BOOM! Studios) May
Orphan Black No. 1 (497,002) (IDW Publishing) February
Dark Knight III: The Master Race No. 1 (440,243) (DC Entertainment) November
Star Wars: Vader Down No. 1 (384,969) (Marvel Entertainment) November
Invincible Iron Man No. 1 (279,514) (Marvel Entertainment) October
Darth Vader No. 1 (264,399) (Marvel Entertainment) February
Spider-Gwen No. 1 (254,074) (Marvel Entertainment) February
Princess Leia No. 1 (253,655) (Marvel Entertainment) March

Before we go any further, it needs pointing out that the numbers above are merely sales estimates, and moreover, sales estimates for the North American market only, because that is the only information Diamond Comic Distributors releases publicly. (However, given the relative scale of the international market for U.S. comics, it's unlikely that foreign sales would significantly disrupt the ranking.) It's also worth mentioning that the figures above are estimates for copies ordered by retailers to sale to customers, not end-user sales themselves, and also only account for the first month's orders — Star Wars No. 1, for example, went through multiple reprintings though out the year, with final sales figures upwards of a million copies.

As with the previous year, it's inescapable that almost every title on the list has a connection to a property known outside comics — even Spider-Gwen, the least well-known title on the list, is a Spider-Man spinoff — with the sole hold-out being Marvel's Secret Wars, a much-hyped event that essentially ended the Marvel line as-was ahead of an equally hyped relaunch at the end of the year. Released in the same month as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Secret Wars (named, of course, after a toy line from the 1980s) might have been an unfamiliar title in and of itself, but it was clearly trading on the overall strength of the Marvel brand as a whole.

The big success of the year, of course, was also Marvel's: the Star Wars comic book relaunch didn't just result in the top-selling book of the year, but a new consistent best-seller for the publisher. Unusually, orders for the core Star Wars series stayed above 200,000 for four months, with multiple spinoff titles maintaining a similar sales velocity in the first half of the year. While retailer orders began to slow towards the end of the year — somewhat counterintuitively, given the December release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, although budgets were likely stretched with Marvel's line-wide All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch also taking place during the period — the launch issue of Marvel's first Star Wars crossover event, Star Wars: Vader Down, were high enough to warrant a late entry into the top 10.

Despite the growth of the market on show, however, there are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. As already noted by some retailers, both DC Entertainment's midyear DC You and Marvel Entertainment's fall All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunches are opening at order levels beneath earlier such reboots, suggesting a readership drifting away from the superheroic mainstream ...  and arguably outside of comics altogether, given the lack of appreciable growth in other genres. (Even Image Comics' growth in recent years appears to have stalled out, at least in terms of marketshare.)

Whether this will translate into a downturn for orders in 2016 — or leave room for a new surprise hit — is something that won't be apparent until this time next year at the earliest. With next year bringing a number of high-profile superhero movies to theaters, could comic books such as Superman, Batman, Deadpool and Captain America end up gaining a whole new audience after all this time?