Robot 6

Siege probably isn’t a bomb and Blackest Night probably isn’t a phenom

Siege #2

Siege #2

Marvel’s Siege #2 sold 108,429 copies in February, according to ICv2.com’s latest sales estimates. Remarkably, that’s only 55 copies fewer than the first issue sold in January.

This means one of two things: Either this is the most amazingly rock-solid issue-to-issue performance of an event comic ever or, more likely, as chartwatcher Marc-Oliver Frisch points out, Diamond knocked 20 percent of Siege #1′s sales off its January chart to account for returnability. Either way, it seems the earlier hue and cry that Siege is some kind of flop need to be significantly dialed down.

Look, I have no idea what Marvel’s internal sales expectations for Siege were or are. I know that the “seven years in the making” hype creates the sense that this was supposed to be the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and thus sales comfortably beneath those of a late-run Blackest Night issue give the impression of failure. But at the same time, Siege is way shorter than any of the other events Marvel has done in recent years, suggesting the company and creators had a different view of its structure and goal than, say, Secret Invasion. They also started promoting its follow-up, the line-wide “Heroic Age,” more or less concurrently with Siege itself, and in a way that pretty much assured readers of the outcome of the series — in other words, Siege has been treated as much as a means to the end of “The Heroic Age” as an end in itself. All in all, it comes across as a very different beast than Blackest Night does across town.

Meanwhile, Siege isn’t the only title with some mysterious sales-chart goings-on going on. Blackest Night #7′s 130,613 copies appears at first glance to represent an amazing 30-percent increase over Issue 6′s first-month sales of 100,651, and that’s pretty much how ICv2 reported it. But keep in mind Issue 6 was first sold during Diamond’s “skip week” between Christmas and New Year’s, meaning it actually shipped the week before it went on sale; retailers who failed to sign an embargo agreement received their copies the first week of January instead, and thus 35,344 copies’ worth of sales ended up showing up on the January charts rather than the December charts. Thus, Issue 7′s performance represents a drop of around 5,000 copies, not an increase of 30,000. Blackest Night is still the hottest thing in monthly comics these days by a long shot, but it’s not adding a third of its readership with its penultimate issue, any more than it lost a third of its readership in December.

Two caveats are necessary here. The first is that in evaluating the two series’ relative performance, I’m not making any qualitative judgments, pro or con, about their writing, their art, their core ideas, the way they stem from and lead into other storylines, and so on. Introduce that many variables into the equation and you’re talking about something very different than the simple notion of whether these books are performing to their publishers’ expectations. (For what it’s worth, I’ve got shelves full of books by both Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns, and read a roughly equal number of comics from both publishers, and know and like and have collegial working relationships with tons of folks at both companies. I’m Switzerland, baby.)

The second caveat — as is probably evident from the way tens of thousands of sales for both books have mysterious disappeared and reappeared from the charts at one time or another — is that the sales charts for comics are astonishingly opaque. I’m not Marc-Oliver Frisch or Paul O’Brien or John Jackson Miller or Milton Griepp, so I’m probably about to get some of this wrong. But as far as I know, we’re really looking at sales from the publishers to the retailers, not the retailers to the customers, first of all. And we’re extrapolating specific sales from that weird Diamond index system, not actually being told by Diamond how many copies sold. And we’re only looking at the direct market, not all the other sales avenues available to publishers. And there are tons of hinky variables, like that skip week or returnability, that can skew the numbers in a way that isn’t always immediately apparent or disclosed. And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a creator who will tell you just how wrong these estimated sales numbers that everyone bats around each month really are. And ultimately this kind of situation is much better for determining overall sales trends (given that all the built-in errors are, at least, probably consistent over time), not confidently calculating the month-to-month fates of individual titles. In short, in the absence of rock-solid, specific, total sales numbers backed up by a transparent methodology and provided by either Diamond or the publishers themselves, there’s a degree to which we’re all the blind men feeling the elephant. It’s just that in this case, the Siege elephant feels healthier than some doomsayers believed.

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11 Comments

As stated in all the sales charts, the numbers are not exact. Making your entire last paragraph rather redundant.

And sales to retailers equals approximately sales to customers…on a lagging basis. As customers buy fewer copies, retailers order fewer copies. With Final Order Cutoff, if issue #27 sells 5000 fewer copies than issue #26, retailers can then order 5000 fewer copies of issue #28.

Steven R. Stahl

March 11, 2010 at 10:25 am

If a movie’s box office totals are below expectations, industry observers generally consider the movie a disappointment, even if it ends up being profitable (do a Google search on “box office disappointment”). That might be because a studio can only release “n” movies per year, and a disappointing movie took a slot that should have gone to something else. If the studio is trying to capitalize on a perceived trend, and has films similar to the disappointment in production, then its prospects for the year are diminished, and other studios with similar films might have box office problems as well.

The qualify of SIEGE matters, because the flimsiness of the material conveys an unmistakable impression that the people at Marvel tried to think of some way to end “Dark Reign,” and SIEGE was the best they could come up with. From the creative standpoint, that’s humiliating — try to find a professional writer or editor who will extol SIEGE as story material by listing its specific strengths; I doubt you’ll find any willing to be identified. Would anyone be willing to defend the dismemberment in SIEGE #2 as gripping drama? Or was it a childish attempt to shock readers?

There’s been too little discussion, much less analysis, of Marvel’s reliance on retcons to shape premises and plots. If a flawed retcon is used to, in effect, rewrite previously published material and the result is a storyline crippled by multiple conflicts with the previous storyline, what is a reader supposed to think? That the editor and writer don’t have the reading comprehension skills that the average middle schooler does? I’ve never seen anyone defend the “story rewrite” retcon on an intellectual basis and I doubt that I ever will. Like the “illusion of change” policy, it’s something that’s practiced, but cannot be preached.

Movies aren’t comics, of course. The story material in movies is far more diverse. Given the “niche” status of superhero comics in the publishing world, though, it would be nice if the people at Marvel (and DC) could occasionally focus on the actual quality of what they publish , and not make excuses when their products are criticized, or say that the market is what it is, when the implication of the latter statement is that Marvel is publishing comics for the least demanding, least discerning readers in the country.

SRS

I’ll go on record as saying that I thought the shot of Sentry killing Ares was gripping, at least insofar as I am an adult whose sensibilities aren’t offended every time graphic violence is presented in a mainstream comic. It also isn’t as though Bendis pulled this bit out of nowhere–he’s been setting up the fall of the Sentry arguably for years (at least since his tantrum in Mighty Avengers, maybe going back to the beginning of New?) so we knew a moment like this was coming, and I wouldn’t call that shoddy storytelling. Go ahead and call me a dumbass or whatever.

You’re welcome to disagree, but you completely misunderstand the point of this post, which was not that “the quality of Siege doesn’t matter” but that objectively Siege is doing better than haters claim. If I were you, I’d save your fury for the far more egregious examples of retconning in the DC universe (it’s basically their MO at this point).

Sean T. Collins

March 11, 2010 at 11:27 am

Thanks, Q. People hear what they want to hear.

Sean T. Collins

March 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

Also, Alan: As stated in all the sales charts, the numbers are not exact. Making your entire last paragraph rather redundant.

The sales charts also say Siege #2 sold this and Blackest Night #7 sold that, making the entire post redundant, if that’s the standard you’re applying.

Also Siege and Blackest Night- while both being ‘event’ books- are two different beasts. Blackest Night has been built up, and is, a giant line-wide DCU event and book. Siege is a big event book for Marvel but it is not line-wide. It pretty much is only in the Avengers family of titles so the comparison is not quite kosher. Also the tie-in books are significantly lower which does have an impact on sales and momentum.

Actually this was all covered in the last thread about Siege being a bomb which it in fact is, Like I mentioned in one of my post there even by adding 20% to Siege #1 sales the final number is still a huge disapointment when compared to other Marvel events.

People can use all the caveats they want and try and spin and excuse reasons why it’s underperformed so badly but it doesn’t change facts that Marvel’s big event that was supposed to crush Blackest Night flopped worse than any event in years for the biggest company in the market right now. I’m sure Brevoort will keep tweeting away more excuses and justifications why it’s not a flop but like like the saying goes “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t”.

On the other hand Blackest Night continues to dominate the charts with it’s sister books, mini-series and tie-ins 8 months into the event, funny how “event fatigue” was supposed to be a problem but like Didio once said that only means that people don’t like your event.

The numbers don’t lie and in a business like this they sometimes matter more than anything else, Marvel is in fact experiencing their first real flop of an event maybe ever. While DC has managed to hit big on an event now it’s up to them to see if they can keep the momentum or lose it like they did after Infinite Crisis.

Sean T. Collins

March 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Marvel is in fact experiencing their first real flop of an event maybe ever.

Sounds like someone’s never heard of Maximum Cloneage.

Steven R. Stahl

March 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm

It also isn’t as though Bendis pulled this bit out of nowhere–he’s been setting up the fall of the Sentry arguably for years (at least since his tantrum in Mighty Avengers, maybe going back to the beginning of New?) so we knew a moment like this was coming, and I wouldn’t call that shoddy storytelling.

Bendis has been criticized roundly for oscillating between depictions of the Sentry as a woeful idiot who’s scared of his shadow and as an irresistible force who demolishes whatever’s in his path. Both versions show up only when it’s convenient for the plot. Note that Bendis retconned the Sentry’s origin to turn him into the drug-dependent Jekyll & Hyde analogue.

The major weakness in SIEGE, structurally, is Loki. He’s a plot device, not a character, and his presence automatically turns a story into an idiot plot fiasco.

I wouldn’t say I’m furious about the state of affairs re Marvel comics, but I’m increasingly exasperated at the unthinking response to retcons that some readers have. They can’t seem to grasp the principle that a flawed retcon, which contradicts several plot points and/or character aspects in the story that’s being rewritten, is an editorial disgrace. When the flawed retcon ruins a good story, it’s a reason to demand that the editor responsible for it be fired. The fans who seem to regard retcons as magical jumbles of words that miraculously transform stories and are immune to criticism, because they’re retcons, are some of the most obnoxious blithering idiots I’ve seen online. Right-wing political extremists make more sense.

SRS

In order to get the best and most accurate sales data, check out the STATEMENT OF OWNERSHIP found in most ongoing Marvel comics (those series that have been running for more then a year).

“lies, damned lies, and statistics” Benjamin Disraeli

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