Thursday, September 1, 2016

DC Rebirth and the New 52: Comparing Comic Book Sales

After years of domination by Marvel, DC Comics was able to outsell its competitors in July 2016. In about a week, we will be able to see if DC's Rebirth efforts were able to maintain the lead for August against Marvel's Civil War 2, which is a summer event designed to take advantage of the momentum created by the Captain America: Civil War movie. While we wait for those August numbers, I thought it would be fun to compare DC's Rebirth sales numbers to its previous line-wide relaunch -- 2011's New 52.

First of all, it's important to note that the New 52 was a complete reboot (starting everything over from scratch, thanks to the events of Flashpoint) whereas Rebirth was just a relaunch, with new creative teams coming on with a general back-to-the-heart approach but a lot of the continuity is maintained even though the books are renumbered. Moreover, the New 52 involved 52 monthly series all starting in a single month, September 2011. Rebirth, on the other hand, is centering on about 20 ongoing series, many of them are coming out twice a month, and the new #1's are being spread throughout June, July, and into the Fall.

To compare the sales thus far, I'm going to focus on eight of the most prominent series that were involved in both the New 52 and Rebirth -- Justice League, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Detective Comics, Action Comics, and Nightwing. The table below shows the comparative sales for the first few issues of these series.

Some things to notice about the sales numbers:

  • The New 52 started strong with Justice League, Superman, The Flash, Detective Comics, and Action Comics. But the New 52's subsequent issues often had drop-offs in the 80% range or even in the high 70's. Rebirth also had good sales numbers for the #1's and #2's and has posted better retention rates, so several series that started slower eventually overtook the New 52 sales numbers by issues #3 and #4 --- see Superman, The Flash, and Detective Comics.
  • Preliminary reports indicate that Rebirth Justice League will hold up better than New 52 Justice League, so once we see August's numbers, it will most likely be the case that Action Comics (by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales) will be the only New 52 title that will still be outselling its Rebirth counterpart. Overall, that's a win for Rebirth.
  •  Batman, Wonder Woman, and Nightwing started right out of the gate with Rebirth significantly higher than New 52. Rebirth Nightwing is almost double its New 52 predecessor, Rebirth Wonder Woman is almost 50% ahead, and Rebirth Batman started huge and even after a big drop-off is still running slightly ahead of New 52 Batman.
The overall story here is that DC Rebirth is doing very well, with a solid mix of good starts and good retention numbers issue to issue. That speaks to the quality of the creative content. It confirms what I have felt, which is that nearly all of the Rebirth books range from good to great. And some of my favorite titles aren't even on this list -- such as New Super-Man, Green Arrow, and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Superwoman #1 was also really good.

Stepping away from the creative side and just looking at business, there are some other things that bode very well for Rebirth. Namely, those large sales numbers in the Rebirth column are actually coming twice per month, whereas the New 52 numbers were spread out month to month. That means the extra issues of Batman, Superman, The Flash, etc., are all taking the place of what used to be DC's lower sellers (e.g., OMAC, Captain Atom, Static Shock, etc.). That means within a given month it's basically 100,000 + 100,000 from a single series instead of 100,000 + 20,000 from two series. Furthermore, I didn't even factor in the Rebirth #1's that came before the series #1's. Those all posted strong sales numbers as well, usually just below the #1's displayed above.

In closing, after just over two months, indications are very positive for DC's Rebirth initiative. Not only are the business calculations paying off -- consolidating around the most well-known titles and the ones that have synergy with other media (e.g., TV and cinema) -- but the storytelling seems to be very well received as indicated by general reviews and word-of-mouth but most importantly by the strong retention numbers from issue to issue.

Note: It's not just comics, WB/DC is having a great year across all media!


  1. I was kinda skeptical of the Chinese "New Superman" title, I thought the idea was interesting but I was not sure if it could be pulled off nicely. But I really trust you, so if you say it is good, then it definitely must be!

    1. Thank you for your confidence. I've heard some people don't like it, but I have enjoyed it and like the characters. Interesting, not run-of-the-mill, seem to have multi-dimensionality. It is lighter tone than most other books, but I like that every once in a while.

  2. I should've also mentioned that two of Rebirth's best sellers are not included in the blogpost -- All-Star Batman (more than 300,000 copies) and Harley Quinn (more than 400,000 copies, according to the Wall Street Journal).

  3. As a DC fan, those sale numbers really do make me feel glad, but as a Superman fan, the only thing that saddens me a little is seeing Action Comics dwindling a bit. But if you ask my personal opinion, I think what really helped the New 52 Action Comics sales a lot was Morrison's name. I really appreciate Jurgens as a writer, and the fact that he has defended both MoS's and BvS's depictions of Superman only made me appreciate him even more, but we all know he isn't as prominent/famous as Morrison is in the Comic Book world. I do like his current run in Action Comics and honestly hope he remains with Superman for a long time.

    But I do wonder; are those sale numbers also including digital sales? You see I don't live in America, and my country doesn't distributes hard copies of Comic Books of any company, thus I have to purchase them through sites like Comixology and the like.