A look at Superman’s sales
Not that I'm obsessed with DC, but after taking a look at Batman you gotta admit that it makes sense to look at Superman. I might be doing Marvel one of these days, but it'd interesting to see the numbers for Wonder Woman or one of the other DC characters that as comic readers we tend to label as A-list like Green Lantern or Flash. We'll see, let me know if you guys have a preference.
It also is a bit in the opposite side of Batman, in that the current run of Superman has been the surprise title of Rebirth, how does that translate into sales, though?
What looking at Superman's general numbers show is that while we can expect Batman to sell around 100K copies, it seems DC is OK with Superman doing around 60K …
Last week's disclaimers still apply, let's go!!!
Superman vols. 1 & 2: Blue Superman to Straczynski
For clarity's sake, remember that the 2nd volume started with John Byrne back in 1987 and went all the way to Infinite Crisis in 2006. The original Superman title became Adventures of Superman in the meantime. With issue #650, Adventures of Superman became Superman again.
The data starts on #121 of Superman vol. 2, which moved 56,462 copies. I decided to include some other milestones of the series in the chart, which I will be talking about below:
I wouldn't blame you if you don't remember what happened on Superman #123, because it's kinda sad. We are talking about Electric Superman, of course. More than 260K copies of which 213,481 were collector's editions with glow in the dark covers. Of course, we are talking about '97 and this is one of that covers people think about when they complain about the crisis. It was gimmicks and events like this that brought the industry to its knees. If you look at it from the publisher's point of view, though, perfectly understandable. The problem being that new people only came for the cover and the blue Superman, then left.
DC had a plan for the super-titles, though … Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz and Joe Casey writing a title each, with Ed McGuinness, German García, Dough Mahnke and Mike Wieringo on art. This was honestly a sound plan, great writers and artists working together to create a different feeling for each title while getting together every once in a while for mini-epics. Didn't seem to do much for Superman though, with Loeb and McKone's #151 (McGuinness would get there with #154) 41,509 and maintaining similar numbers for the whole run. In defense of this whole run, though, it hit the shops at around the crisis was at its worst, but as they say, you've made your bed …
Taking a page from Hush, DC decided to get Jim Lee on the case, and he brought Brian Azzarello with him for a run between issues #204 and #215. Buyers were alert this time, making #203 the most successful in a while (it had a Jim Lee sketchbook inside) and making #204 sell through the roof: 245,979 (that's 100K more than the first episode of Hush). It was not really Hush, though, it was written by Azzarello and it was a bit weirder than people expected, with the lowest-selling issue, #214, managing to sell “just” 100,818 copies (for comparison, Batman #618 sold 154,471). #215, being the last episode and having 2 covers, managed to do a bit better (116,179).
After For Tomorrow, the series went down to standard declining sales issues 70,193 for #216, 65,309 for #217, 61,504 for #218 with the rare peaks for #219 (84,153), which became an important part of the Infinite Crisis crossover. The series closed with issue #226 a tribute to Superman's history which crossed over on the three titles and sold 63,958.
DC had a plan for the super-titles, again … Kurt Busiek (and Pete Woods, Carlos Pacheco, …) was what Superman needed! Though his run started with promise (#650 sold 77,775), by the time he was over it had gone down by a third (#675 sold 54,843). Though some more fans (67,571) showed up for #700 (anniversary issue with variants), Joe Straczynski's run didn't really capture the readers starting at 54,506 (#701) and ending at 35,919 (#714). I don't really need to say this, but these numbers are horrible for a title called Superman and written by Straczynski. Had Superman become toxic? Did anyone say DCU reboot?
Note: For people who like this kind of information, the lowest selling issues are #697 for volume 1 with 31,504 (anything between #695-699 is in the same range) and #199 with 33,371 for volume 2.
Superman vol.3: The New 52
The New 52 was supposed to give a jump-on point to readers and some series did that a lot better than others. Superman was one of those where things didn't go as planned. The initial writer, George Pérez (a weird choice in itself), left after his first arc (“I can’t wait to get off Superman. It was not the experience I wanted it to be.”), Keith Giffen took over for a few issues, then Dan Jurgens, then Scott Lobdell, then Mike Johnson, no, wait, back to Scott Lobdell … And that's just the writers, you would probably need a 3D structure to try to keep track of the artists. So it's no surprise that sales numbers fell hard and went below 40K:
So DC decided to shake things up by getting the best creative team they could: Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. They started on #32 with the second best selling issue of the whole series with 95,972, but soon the numbers fell to around 50K. Gene Luen Yang took over the writing with #41, but it didn't do much for the numbers which kept declining, going below 40K with issue #48 (37,690) and #49 (36,318).
That “peak” on issue #47 is probably due to the Harley's Little Black Book variant (47,377). And then there's issue #50 with its store variants that connected with the Batman #50 variants, so there was probably a lot of people (starting with retailers who wanted in on the action) who were forced to get both. All of their efforts made #50 the third best-selling issue of the series with an impressive (for Superman) 91,396 copies. For comparison, Batman #50 sold 163,406.
Superman vol.4: Best Superman in a while?
I think we can all agree that Superman was one of the surprise hits of Rebirth. How well is it doing though?
It seems to be stabilizing around 60K, which is not bad at all, considering recent history of the title. It will be nice to see the next few months to see if sales continue to decline or not. It's funny to see that the Batman appearance had no effect on the sales of issues #10 and #11, even if it was a prequel to Super Sons.
There's a crossover with Action Comics starting this week, but I have no idea if that will hurt or help sales. It's supposedly related to the unavoidable Watchmen crossover, so that might make people take notice.
To put the whole thing into perspective, though, we can compare the evolution of the N52 and Rebirth sales for the first 15 issues (blue for New 52, red for Rebirth):
There are some differences in the earlies issues but then, even if the current series is performing better, the decline seems to very similar, right? And we are comparing the unstable mess that was N52 Superman with one of the best received Superman runs in the last few years.
The real question when it comes to this character is what does DC need to do to move some serious Superman copies? The last few times it has broken 100K copies (or come close to) it has been due to gimmicky events (Superman vol.2 #123), Jim Lee (For Tomorrow), an Infinite Crisis crossover (Superman vol.2 #219), first issues, Johns / Romita and a few variants (Superman vol.3 #32) or store variants that connected with a more succesful title (Superman vol.3 #50). Beyond that, it seems Superman is condemned to the 60K range at best.
Hope TPBs are doing better!