DC SALES: Will Young Animal get a chance to grow old?

Hey, sales chart fans! Here we are, still delving into analysis paralysis on DC’s February sales stats. Previously, we’ve taken a close-up look at the Batman family titles, and the Superman stable of books, as well as those titles populated by the Justice League and its roll call of members who are, shall we say, cape-challenged.

This time out, lets peek inside the sales numbers for DC’s newest initiative — its Young Animal imprint. Spearheaded by pop star and occasional comics writer Gerard Way (he co-founded and sang lead for the group My Chemical Romance, and also won an Eisner Award for The Umbrella Academy), Young Animal seeks to put a “mature readers” spin on DC super heroes, somewhat like Vertigo of old, but with perhaps an even more purposefully experimental, avant garde approach.

Sadly, the books may be a little too ahead of their time, as sales have kind of cratered since the line’s launch late last year. Here’s a look at how far each has fallen from its debut. Listed below are title, sales for the first issue and its rank (in parenthesis) on that month’s Diamond Distributors sales chart among all comics released in that cycle, then the sales and rank for the most recent issue in February, followed by the percentage decline.

1. SHADE GIRL: 32,081 (100) — 11,670 (172) — [-63.6%]
2. MOTHER PANIC: 40,990 (64) — 14,783 (151) — [-63.9%]
3. CAVE CARSON: 35,204 (89) — 12,388 (165) — [-64.8%]
4. DOOM PATROL: 76,225 (19) — 26,261 (105) — [-65.5%]

So, what you see here is the old adage of, “he who starts highest, has furthest to fall.” Doom Patrol has lost the greatest percentage of its initial buy-in from retailers, but then it started in the Top 20, and I expect many retailers ordered high, assuming some fanboy speculators would pick of the latest DP#1 with no intention of following the series from there. Just into the mylar it goes. Shade, meanwhile, barely cracked the Top 100, so retailers could only cut their orders by so much without hitting zero.

Still, this is not pretty, I don’t think. All four titles have lost very nearly two-thirds of their retailer orders since their debut issues. Compare that if you will with our sales analysis of the Justice League member books:

1. THE FLASH: 100,392 (11) — 55,234 (18) — [-45.0%]
2. SUPERMAN: 105,380 (10) — 54,561 (19) — [48.2%]
3. WONDER WOMAN: 107,737 (9) — 48,662 (26) — [-54.8%]
4. GREEN LANTERNS: 84,910 (18) — 36,626 (54) — [-56.9%]
5. AQUAMAN: 77,041 (24) — 30,358 (76) — [-60.6%]
6. BATMAN: 280,360 (2) — 99,637 (3) — [-64.5%]
7. JUSTICE LEAGUE:  209,187 (1) — 64,230 (11) — [-69.3%]
8. CYBORG: 56,280 (37) — 16,274 (136) — [-71.1%]

Now, keep in mind, the Young Animal losses are from Issue #1 to, at most, #5, while the JL member titles have run for between nine and 17 issues of attrition, as of the February charts. So, about all you can say for Young Animal at this point is, “Hey, they’re outperforming Cyborg at least!”

Now, let’s take a quick lock at the individual YA titles:

 

DOOM PATROL ($3.99)
09/2016:   (19) Doom Patrol #1* — 76,225
10/2016:   (79) Doom Patrol #2* — 37,856  (-50.3%)
11/2016:   (96) Doom Patrol #3* — 30,140  (-20.4%)
12/2016: —
01/2017: (105) Doom Patrol #4 — 26,261  (-12.9%)
02/2017: —

The tardiness of this title can’t be helping its pre-orders. Issue #5 is finally due March 22 and Gerard Way & Co. better hurry along with #6, as the trade paperback collection has already been solicited for May.

What we often refer to as “standard attrition” gives us an expectation of a 35 percent drop-off from Issue #1 to #2. Retailers know a lot of their customers will try the first issue and not like it, or else they are “investors” who buy the #1 as a “collector’s item,” with no intention of actually reading it, or following the series. We then expect a drop-off of 12-15 percent on Issue #2, as retailers are still ordering blind, basically making an educated guess without yet having seen the book, or customer reactions to it. Orders for #3 and #4 are generally made after the first actual sales and, if the retailer has ballparked anywhere close to correct, we can expect drop-offs in the 5-to-7 percent range. By Issue #5, we like to see that a book has “found its level,” as we say, with attrition from that point on of no more than 2 percent per month.

So, as you can see, the numbers for Doom Patrol are falling off a little faster than what we might consider optimum for a “hit” title.

It is worth mentioning here that the first three issues were returnable. At Comichron.com, the site where I get my sales numbers, John Jackson Miller subtracts 10 percent from the sales volume he calculates to account for returns, coming up with a number that more closely resembles the amount of actual copies that remain in the marketplace after unwanted issues are returned and pulped (actually,  I think just the covers are returned). Given that closer to 84,000 copies of Doom Patrol #1 arrived in stores with the potential to be sold, the cliff-dive to 26,261 is even more dramatic than it first appears, I’d say.

 

 

MOTHER PANIC ($3.99)
11/2016:   (64) Mother Panic #1* — 40,990
12/2016: (126) Mother Panic #2* — 18,642  (-54.5%)
01/2017: —
02/2017: (151) Mother Panic #3* — 14,783  (-20/7%)

I know ZERO about this title. I think the fact that nobody else did either actually helped its initial sales. After all, while Cave Carson and Shade (even as a girl) may have drawn a collective jaundiced yawn from fans and shop owners, who knows? Mother Panic might just be the next Walking Dead.

For what it’s worth, there are about a dozen “fans” at my LCS who buy every single new Image #1 just on the hope they’ll be able to buy a house with it some day.

If, like me, you have yet to give this title try, our own Tony Farina has been providing regular reviews. He gave the first issue 4 DC Bullets out of 5, and has remained similarly upbeat about every issue since. In fact, he even gave the most recent issue 4.5 Bullets!

Ya know, I may actually try this one out just based on his recommendation!

 

 

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE ($3.99)
10/2016:  (89) Cave Carson #1* — 35,204
11/2016: (129) Cave Carson #2* — 20,096  (-42.9%)
12/2016: (145) Cave Carson #3* — 15,232  (-24.2%)
01/2017: (163) Cave Carson #4 — 14,183  (-6.9%)
02/2017: (165) Cave Carson #5 — 12,388 (-12.7%)

I’m old, but not quite old enough to remember Cave in his original incarnation, although I have bought some of the back issues and enjoyed them immensely. So, I was hoping for a lot here. Plus, the whole cybernetic eye thing seemed just quirky enough to make for a compelling tale that was not weird-for-weirdness’-sake. Not like Doom Patrol, where the main character goes on and on about how she wants to help people, then doesn’t blink and eye when her roommate’s head blows up, and just carries on by taking in the next person to show up at her door. And please, how could she not question the obviously-not dispatcher on her ambulance radio? I mean, there’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s ignoring all basic logic. But Cave seemed to promise more and the first issue was pretty decent. But it faded into going nowhere fast. Plus, I’m not at all in love with the art. So, I’ve already canceled my pre-order at my LCS. Issue #7, I think, will be my last.

For what it’s worth, I don’t get the inclusion of Wild Dog at all, especially given that an entirely different version is currently running around on the CW TV show,  Arrow. Personally, I would have much preferred if Cave’s sounding board and fisticuffs-friend had been a contemporary, such as Congo Bill, or Dane Dorrance of the Sea Devils, or even one of the Challengers of the Unknown. Heck, if a generation difference was supposed to be key to the relationship, Way could have used Clay Brody, from the 1997 Challs series, who also was a car guy.

Anyway, it appears that maybe a lot of other fans reacted the same as me to this series. That, or else retailers, being generally at least my age or older, misjudged the nostalgia-factor of this title. I imagine a lot of modern comics fans have not only never heard of Cave Carson, they probably don’t even remember the Forgotten Heroes!

After all, when attrition picks up (and actually doubles) at the point where retailers are reacting to actual sales, I think we can assume they took advantage of maximum returns on the early issues, and still ended up with a lot of unsold copies destined for the dollar bin.

 

 

SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL ($3.99)
10/2016: (100) Shade Girl #1* — 32,081
11/2016: (135) Shade Girl #2* — 19,526  (-39.1%)
12/2016: (151) Shade Girl #3* — 14,397  (-26.3%)
01/2017: (169) Shade Girl #4 — 13,536  (-6.0%)
02/2017: (172) Shade Girl #5 — 11,670  (-13.8%)

Same goes for Lady Shade — higher-than-average early attrition, then a big spike at #5. This title will likely limbo in under the 10k line within an issue or two, and then it’s only a matter of time until cancellation, unless sales of the trade paperback collection are really stellar enough to warrant leaving this on the schedule as a loss leader.

If you’re interested, I wrote a little bit about the original Shade in my most recent Time Bubbles column, on account of the other-worldly warrior making his debut 40 years ago this month.

 

 

 

Now, since we’re only examining four titles in this sales chart column, let’s close out by comparing how the Young Animal Doom Patrol compares to past versions.

The Doom Patrol made its debut in My Greatest Adventure #80, on sale April 18, 1963. From that point on MGA was a de facto Doom Patrol book, and DC formalized that by changing the title with #86, on sale Jan. 23, 1964. The series lasted until #121 (on sale July 18, 1968), when its creator, Arnold Drake, famously faced cancellation by killing off the entire team. There was then a brief three-issue reprint reprise in 1973 when DC was trying its damnedest to flood Marvel off the newsstands.

I mention this series because, well, it’s our high point, sales-wise. Not surprising, of course — all comics sold better back before basic cable. DC didn’t include sales figures in its federally-mandated Statement of Ownership and Circulation for the first couple of years of the DP run. But in 1965 we find average sales of 200,188 per issue. That compares with top-seller Superman at 823,829, and placed it just above House of Mystery (196,677) and just below Young Love (206,456). Yup, the Doom Patrol was getting outsold by a romance comic. Also, Jerry Lewis (209,691), although the team did at least out-perform Bob Hope (191,656). Doom Patrol also sold better than the Sea Devils (182,866) and Mystery in Space (182,376), but not as well as Challengers of the Unknown (220,965) or Metal Men (334,235).

For 1966, Doom Patrol sales had fallen 4.4 percent to 191,420, barely ahead of Sugar & Spike (190,515) and now behind Bob Hope (194,004).

For 1967, series’ sales had slipped way down, by 17.5 percent, to 157,900. That was just ahead of Blackhawk (157,700), but behind House of Mystery (158,500) and Tales of the Unexpected (162,600) both of which it had historically outsold.

Due to its cancellation, there are no reported sales for 1968. Now, my point of this is that, even when it moved the greatest number of copies per month, Doom Patrol was always a bottom feeder on the DC sales charts.

We don’t have sales numbers for the Vol. 2 series, that ran from 1987 to 1995, because Comichron doesn’t have any. Its charts start, basically, the month after this version of the Patrol ended its run.

But that’s okay, that period was just as different from today for comic book sales as the 1960s, frankly. Where we do get a fair comparison is in the three DP series immediately preceding the Young Animal revival.

In 2001, writer John Acrudi teamed Robotman with an all-new grouping, basically redoing the 1978 reboot. That series lasted 22 issues. Then came an 18-issue run written and drawn by John Byrne. That issue started out comparatively strong, but quickly faded below the 2001 series as fans grew frustrated by Byrne’s unwillingness to explain how the dead members were back in action, and his penchant for focusing the narrative on a girl and her ape at the expense of the classic revived heroes. Still, on its last issue, sales did pop back above the previous run.

Then, in 2009, Keith Giffin got a hold of the reins. Sales were understandably slack given the Great Recession era, but there was a massive sales spike for Issue #4 and #5 (due to a “Blackest Night” cross-over), with a more modest bump at #19 (when the Secret Six came a-callin’). Still, that series was allowed to chug along selling fewer that 10,000 copies per month for quite some time before it finally got the ax. Interestingly, given the disparity of print runs, and even given the ravages of time, it can be easier to complete a Silver Age run of the Doom Patrol than it is to find the latter issues of the Giffin run.

 

By comparison, we see the current series dramatically out-performed all three previous runs at the outset. That is probably due to the Young Animal marketing by DC and the belief this new series would harken back to the Vol. 2 Grant Morrison oddball years, when the title was a critical darling. But, as we see, by Issue #4, the Young Animal DP is already more or less tied with Byrne’s fourth issue. Assuming the book follows the previous trend lines, it should be selling less than 20,000 copies per month by #10, and will be lucky to see #20, as DC seems generally less tolerant of under-performing series these days, with 12-14k seeming to be the cut-off line.

So, what will happen from here? My prediction is that the Young Animal books will soon get folded into the struggling Vertigo line. Now, I have absolutely no inside information, but based on how things like this usually work, I can see this happening one of two ways: Either Gerard Way gets put in charge of the entire Vertigo line in return for agreeing to the merger and using his titles to “save” the Vertigo imprint, or he walks from the project entirely and one or more of the surviving YA titles get a Vertigo label slapped on them.

But of course, as noted above, a LOT will depend on how well the YA titles sell in collected trade paperback form. DC, like all publishers, is willing to print a series as a loss leader to promote the collected versions, which, in some cases, can actually sell better than a regular periodical, or at least reap a higher profit. The first Doom Patrol TPB has been solicited for May, collecting issues #1-6 — charitable, I think, given that the last two of that run have yet to hit stands. Meanwhile, Cave‘s first six issues will be bound together for a June release.

So, when sales reports come in for those volumes, we’ll have a much better idea whether Young Animal will live long enough to become Old Animal, or if it will burn out in an adolescent apocalypse.

Okay, that’s it for this sales chart. What shall we cover next time? Well, if this outing was Young Animal, how about next column we tackle the Titans and other DC young heroes?

See ya then . . .

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Duke Harrington

A newspaper reporter since 2004, Duke Harrington currently writes for the Kennebunk Post and the South Portland Sentry. He lives in Western Maine with one wife, one dog, two cats, and 19,087 comic books.