EDITORIAL: Is Everything Really Better With Batman?

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DC Comics seems to think so. In the recently released solicitations for August, almost a third of DC’s output will be Batbooks. But is all that bat a bad idea for business? Major Spoilers runs the numbers.

While doing my comic book business due diligence, I came across an interesting article from the Grumpy Old Fan over at Robot 6. In looking at DC’s August solicitations, he noted a number that might be surprising to some people. While DC is all about the number 52, there’s another integer with a certain amount of significance in their stable, and that is the number 14. As in, DC is publishing fourteen Bat titles in the month of August in the year 2013.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

I decided to throw some numbers around Excel to see just what that really means. Reviewing DC’s August solicitations, I came up with the same number of Batfamily issues, That number can vary depending how you code the data. Is Detective Comics a Batbook? Yes. Is Justice League? No – while Batman is in it, the focus is on the League, not Batman. But what about Talon, Birds of Prey, or Red Hood and the Outlaws? Yes, yes, and yes. Batman/Superman? Both a Batman book and a Superman book. Obviously, there is room for interpretation, but only enough for a title or two of difference. A categorical quibble should not skew the results significantly.

I broke DC’s publishing into five different groupings – Justice League, Batfamily, Green Lantern, Superfamily and Dark titles. The Batfamily has by far the largest share, with the aforementioned 14 published titles out of 52. This is a hair under 27% of DC’s New 52 output for the month of August. The next highest category is tied between Justice League titles and the Superbooks – which come in at 6 titles, and an 11% share of the total. DC Comics has been betting significantly on Bruce Wayne and his associates to carry the company, and that will continue into the foreseeable future. No one else comes close.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER GUYS?

How does that compare to what’s going on at the House of Ideas? A common criticism of Marvel is that they brand everything with either an Avengers or X-Men tag, sprinkle in some Wolverine, and then it’s up to God to sort it out. Marvel’s August solicitations bear that idea out. X-Books make up 26% of Marvel’s output in August, while Avengers-affiliated titles make up just under 20% of the share. So while it might be surprising that DC is leaning so heavily on Batman and assorted Batpeoples, Marvel’s merry mutants are just as important for their respective corporate overlords. But the Avengers seem to figure into Marvel’s bottom line much more than the Justice League does for DC.

These numbers are slightly skewed by a few factors. A big one is Marvel’s tendency to double ship their X-Titles. Astonishing X-Men, Cable & X-Force, X-Factor, and Uncanny X-Men are all getting sent out twice in August. If double-shipping is ignored for all titles, the X-Books make up 23% of the line-up, and the Avengers books creep up just over 20% – a more equitable division. Marvel also has a greater propensity for team books. Half of their output is team books, whereas DC publishes more solo titles (55% of their respective make-up). I did not include series Savage Wolverine or Gambit in the X-Books numbers. These solo titles tend not to involve the other X-Men, being much more self-involved affairs, as are Captain America, Iron Man and Captain Marvel. If you do take a more liberal, lumping approach, the X-Book share becomes 30% of the total, which is equal to the adjusted Avengers share.

LUCRATIVE IMPLICATIONS

These numbers are interesting, but what do they mean? I figured it might be possible to draw a conclusion or two if we compared them to March and April’s sales figures.

Right off the bat (har), some interesting stuff there. In both March and April, 70% of the top twenty titles are Marvel titles – that’s fourteen out of the top twenty each month. But while Marvel has been outselling DC for a while, something about that top twenty made me uncomfortable. Look at how many top titles are #1s and #2s or wonky event books like Age of Ultron. I wanted to look at established titles with at least four or five issues published, and ignore the miniseries and tie-ins.

Stripping out the (possibly) anomalous stuff, it turns out that DC actually has 9 titles in my personally revised top twenty in March, and 6 in April. Of those cumulative 15 titles, 9 are Batbooks, with Batman being the highest adjusted selling series each month.  When almost a quarter of the non-miniseries, non-first issue top twenty selling books are Batman-related, it is a significant thing. Looking solely at DC’s top twenty titles in the months of March and April, 40% are Batbooks. For what it’s worth, very similar numbers pop out for Marvel and the X-Books – 9 titles in the two industry-wide top twenty lists, and 38% percent of Marvel’s top twenty.

BOTTOM LINE: YES

What does this tell us, ultimately? As far as DC is concerned business-wise, relying on Batman is a sound strategy. Everything really is better (or at least sells better) with Batman, or some form of Bat-relation. There is a very good reason that the stands are so full of Batpeople and X-Mutants; they sell.

While my primary focus was whether this market concentration seemed like a good strategy for Batman-related titles, I also realized how much Marvel benefits from relaunches and Big Event miniseries. In March, their five top telling books were Age of Ultron #s 1-3, Wolverine #1 and Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (in no particular order). In April, it was Age of Ultron #s 4-6, Thanos Rising #1 and Guardians of the Galaxy #2. It seems like some of the businesses practices I find most annoying are likely to continue at Marvel so long as they produce numbers like that.

But if these numbers really tell me anything, it is that the highest selling comic book of all time would be an eight issue miniseries titled Batman and Wolverine & the X-Men versus the Age of Avengers, written by Brian Michael Bendis. It’s gonna be a hit!