Looking at the most-ordered comic books in the North American comic market, DC Entertainment had a particularly strong year, with seven of the top 10 issues of the year being published by the home of Superman, Batman and the Justice League. The numbers illustrate how much the market has changed in the past few years — in more ways than one.
Comparing this year’s most-ordered issues with the top 10 from 2014, the scale of DC’s success becomes more apparent; just four years ago, not one DC title made it to the list, with nine titles coming from Marvel alone. (By comparison, Marvel takes just three places this year, with one of those due to its inclusion in a subscription mystery box service.)
Here, with sales estimates from John Jackson Miller’s incredible ComicChron website, are the top 10 comic books from January through November, 2017 (December’s sales date will not be released until mid-January 2018):
Marvel Legacy No. 1 (303,574) (Marvel Entertainment) September
Dark Nights: Metal No. 1 (271,108) (DC Entertainment) August
Doomsday Clock No. 1 (238,643) (DC Entertainment) November
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 1 (231,566) (Marvel Entertainment) June
Batman No. 21 (219,472) (DC Entertainment) April
Batman No. 22 (186,914) (DC Entertainment) May
The Flash No. 21 (174,803) (DC Entertainment) April
The Flash No. 22 (163,767) (DC Entertainment) May
Dark Nights: Metal No. 2 (162,823) (DC Entertainment) September
Secret Empire No. 0 (162,718) (Marvel Entertainment) April
There are things to point out about these estimates before we go any further. First, these are not end-point sales estimates to readers, but the numbers of issues ordered by comic book stores, and only to those within North America — that’s the only information Diamond Comic Distributors releases publicly. This means that the data can be — and, in fact, is — skewed by a number of factors, not least of which are ordering incentives put in place by publishers that require that a certain number of copies are ordered by stores in order to achieve a specific discount, as is the case for the top-selling issue of the year, Marvel Legacy No. 1, or bulk orders on behalf of a third party, as in the fourth most-ordered release, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, which was part of the Marvel Collector Corps box for that month.
Beyond DC’s amazing comeback since 2014, there’s another comparison needing to be made that should be more troubling to publishers beyond just Marvel: Not one release on the top 10 list from 2015 has order numbers lower than 250,000, whereas the third most successful title of 2017 is already below that figure. While that year was an unusually good year for comics — thanks, in large part, to multiple issues being included in subscription boxes, as well as the phenomenal success of Marvel’s Star Wars line launch — it’s worth noting that, across the board, order numbers for comics in the North American market fell 10 percent compared with last year. The market is shrinking, unless something turns it around soon.
That something isn’t likely to be Marvel’s Marvel Legacy relaunch. Whereas the publisher’s annual line-wide relaunches have tended to buoy sales in recent years — and the Marvel Legacy special issue that rolled out the entire promotional push was the most-ordered issue of the year — the Legacy relaunch stalled across the line, hurt by retailer pushback against Marvel’s order levels and customer cynicism towards the publisher in general.
Perhaps surprisingly, the big winner of 2017 looking at the top 10 list is DC’s crossover between its DC Universe and Watchmen properties. The first issue of the Doomsday Clock series charted third — and could end up higher on the final list for the year, depending on re-order numbers in December — but all four issues of the prologue storyline “The Button,” from summer issues of Batman and The Flash, also made it into the top 10. The crossover continues throughout 2018 with the remainder of the 12-issue Doomsday Clock series, with the second issue — out this week — bringing in a number of additional DCU characters, including Batman and Lex Luthor alongside Watchmen’s Adrian Veidt and Rorschach; it’ll be interesting to see how sales continue as the storyline evolves.
One last thing to note about the year’s top 10, and also the comic market as it currently exists in general: It’s probably time to stop pretending that mass media projects significantly impact comic book orders. In a year with Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters, there isn’t a Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor or Spider-Man title in the top 10. Indeed, Marvel has just canceled the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series.
With Marvel upping the amount of Black Panther product on the shelves ahead of February’s movie, it’ll be worth watching how order numbers and sales respond as the movie hits theaters. It’s possible that, contrary to popular belief, characters appearing on the big screen doesn’t appreciably increase demand for their comic book adventures, but instead demonstrates that comic books seem less necessary than ever to a mass audience when so much is possible onscreen.