Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Save The Shade

The Shade invites you to Starman #6 (April 1995)

Writer James Robinson tweets that low sales might cut short his twelve-issue Shade miniseries. That would be a shame, because the first two issues of The Shade are tremendously entertaining, great-looking superhero comics. Robinson has returned to the character he revitalized, bringing with him the artistic talents of Cully Hamner and a bevy of high-profile guests like Darwyn Cooke, Frazer Irving, Javier Pulido, and Jill Thompson. The Beat’s Todd Allen has written a supportive post, noting along the way that certain New-52 titles which are selling below The Shade #1′s level (30,648 issues estimated sold to retailers) might also face the axe.

I’m somewhat skeptical of this rumor, despite Robinson’s insider knowledge, for reasons having to do with the 2009-10 miniseries The Great Ten.

Created by Grant Morrison and introduced in 2006 as part of the weekly 52 miniseries, The Great Ten is the official superhero team of the Chinese government. The Great Ten miniseries, from writer Tony Bedard and artist Scott McDaniel, ran for nine issues (cover dates December 2009-July 2010), with a planned tenth issue cancelled due to low sales. Specifically (per ICV2.com and Marc-Olivier Frisch), The Great Ten #1 sold 13,159 copies to retailers, issue #2 sold 8,760, and by the time issue #9 came out sales were down to 5,782. Since each issue included a vignette about a particular member of the ten-person team, the cancellation also screwed up the series’ format, adding a bit of insult to injury. To be sure, low sales might have been expected, inasmuch as the Ten weren’t especially critical to 52’s plot, Morrison wasn’t involved in the miniseries, and it came out over two years after 52 ended. (In the meantime, the Ten had appeared in a few issues of Checkmate.)

Thus, while DC did pare an issue off The Great Ten, that miniseries started off with considerably fewer sales, suffered a 33% drop between issues #1 and #2, and still only lost the one issue. In fact, for whatever it’s worth, the Ten’s August General In Iron is now part of the New-52′s Justice League International.

By contrast, The Shade follows one of the more popular characters from Robinson’s fondly-remembered Starman series. For those who came in late, Starman was one of DC’s 1990s successes, thanks both to the hero Robinson and artist Tony Harris introduced (along with a city full of other new characters) and for the ways in which it examined characters and legacies from all of DC’s superhero eras. It’s been collected in a 6-volume hardcover series, so clearly DC thought there was still an audience for those stories. In that context, a seventh volume with twelve issues’ worth of The Shade isn’t hard to imagine. (Admittedly, perhaps it is a little easier to imagine a slimmer hardcover; but again, I don’t think it will come to that.)

* * *

Naturally, this Shade rumor carries with it a couple of startling implications about DC’s cancellation policies. Put simply, DC may now believe that, after two months of chart-busting New 52 titles, it can afford to hold its superhero line to higher standards. Regardless, just as the Shade rumor is hard for me to believe, so is this notion that DC has suddenly become more draconian.

In April — the last full month of comics sales before DC announced the New 52, and therefore the last full month before the entire line got Senioritis — the charts looked a bit different. As it happens, the superhero line published 52 issues’ worth of ongoing series, miniseries, and specials, led by the 75,780 copies retailers bought of Green Lantern #65. However, most of the rest of those issues sold fewer than 31,000 copies each, including the following ongoing series:

Superboy #6 (30,490)
Birds of Prey #11 (30,270)
Superman/Batman #83 (28,403)
Batman Beyond #4 (26,722)
Teen Titans #94 (25,187)
Gotham City Sirens #22 (24,438)
Batgirl #20 (24,310)
Legion of Super-Heroes #12 (23,419)
Adventure Comics #525 (22,946)
Supergirl #63 (21,598)
Titans #34 (20,590)
Secret Six #32 (19,714)
Zatanna #12 (18,432)
Power Girl #23 (17,071)
JSA All-Stars #17 (16,706)
Booster Gold #43 (16,018)
Outsiders #38 (13,092)
Jonah Hex #66 (10,335)
REBELS #27 (10,014)
THUNDER Agents #6 (9,680)
Doom Patrol #21 (9,435)
Freedom Fighters #8 (8,601)
Xombi #2 (8,345)
Doc Savage #13 (7,426)
Spirit #13 (7,041)

Even then, a number of those were dead books walking. JSA All-Stars, Outsiders, REBELS, Doom Patrol, and Freedom Fighters had already been cancelled, with their final issues coming out in May. In fact, in light of the relaunch, we can lop off just about everything from Titans on down; because except for Jonah Hex and THUNDER Agents, none of it has survived recognizably to the New 52.

And that’s another point in The Shade’s favor: the THUNDER Agents ongoing series was selling fewer than 10,000 copies per issue six months ago, and it’s about to be relaunched as a six-issue miniseries. Perhaps THUNDER Agents is a special case for which the math works out pretty well, albeit in some arcane fashion: in addition to the 10-issue ongoing and the 6-issue miniseries, DC has reprinted all of the back issues in hardcover Archives and is about to start paperback Chronicles reprints. However, it could mean simply that the feature has staying power, and it’s reasonable to contend that Starman and its spinoffs are similar. By the same token, I suppose that if the new THUNDER Agents miniseries tanks, it doesn’t look good for The Shade.

Anyway, at the very least it looked like DC in April had accepted a good bit of its line selling at or below the 30,000 mark. However, in October DC had jumped to an average issue selling (by my calculations) 56,851 copies, up almost 89% from April’s 30,148. As Todd noted, if The Shade’s 30K puts it in danger, then October’s bottom four New-52 ongoings (OMAC at 29,434; Static Shock at 29,124; Blackhawks at 28,534; and Men Of War at 28,301) should be a little nervous too.

For now, though, I’m more concerned with October’s other new miniseries. Legion: Secret Origin and Huntress debuted with sales of 38,248 and 36,099 respectively; and Penguin and My Greatest Adventure charted below Shade with numbers of 26,380 and 17,222 respectively. I note that while neither of the latter is a 12-issue miniseries, no one is talking about them ending early.

There’s also Neal Adams’ Batman: Odyssey vol. 2 #1, which charted just below The Shade #1 with 30,410 copies. No one seems especially worried about its future either, but it picks up about where Volume 1 left off in terms of sales. Plus, you know, Adams is apparently indulging every gonzo impulse he’s ever had. Again, though, the fact that Odyssey seems safe, selling about what Shade #1 did, argues against a stricter sales standard.

Somewhat counterintuitively, so does the news of Marvel’s recent cancellations. CBR’s Kiel Phegley summarized the grim details:

[R]egular series Daken: Dark Wolverine, Ghost Rider, X-23 and Iron Man 2.0 have all been cancelled. Miniseries Destroyers and Victor Von Doom were scuttled before their first issues even saw print, while All-Winners Squad was cancelled before the completion of its life as a limited series. Alpha Flight was downgraded from an ongoing to a miniseries after being upgraded from mini to ongoing earlier in the summer. And monthly series PunisherMAX and Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive will cease publication once their current, long-gestating storylines wrap in February.

[* * *]

For the most part, titles that remain untouched are those built off of properties and franchises that have proven to have long runs in the market, be they spin-offs of popular titles or series that have lasted for hundreds of issues, even through market fluctuations and creative changes. Even the lowest selling comics that remain, such as X-Factor, have shown a level of sales consistency from month-to-month, pointing toward a dependable place in the market. It is logical to assume Marvel is relying on steady, stable performers first and foremost rather than banking on newer, unproven titles bucking their downwards sales trends and building an audience over the long run.

Among the titles listed above, X-23 sold the most copies of its October issue (24,043). With that number as a guide, it’s not surprising that these books were cancelled; but at the same time, it’s hard not to think that if The Shade were a Marvel book, it’d be pretty safe. For the past several years, Marvel has dominated the sales charts both through popular titles and sheer volume, so its standards are going to be a little different from DC’s. Still, if DC aspires to those kinds of numbers, Marvel has just established its own cancellation threshold, which the vast majority of DC’s October superhero titles would be well above. Moreover, thanks to its Starman pedigree, The Shade arguably has that “dependable place in the market” Kiel mentioned. While DC may want better monthly numbers, it would probably be just as happy with consistent sales on the inevitable collection.

* * *

Naturally, for this kind of title, trying to arrive at an appropriate sales “sweet spot” is tough. Starman was a great series, but it’s been over for ten years. Not all of its collections are in print, and as nice as the Omnibus hardcovers are, they’re pricey too. Besides Starman’s eighty-plus issues, The Shade picks up a little from Robinson’s run writing Justice League of America, so depending on the amount of minutiae involved, it may not be too new-reader-friendly. In short, it can be a hard sell — and yet, DC solicited twelve issues of the stuff, of which two elegantly-written, exquisitely-drawn installments have been published so far. Additionally, DC ordered those twelve issues knowing they would run alongside the New-52′s almost-completely-different continuity. DC may be expecting more from its New 52 titles, but I’m not sure it’s fair to measure The Shade’s success the same way.

Having said all of that, certainly The Shade could use more readers. It’s a nimble, great-looking spotlight on a character who started out a Golden Age villain and ended up a peculiar sort of antihero, and it offers another glimpse into the unique world of Robinson’s Starman. If you haven’t read issues #1 or #2, they have my official endorsement (as does Starman, but that pretty much goes without saying). Heck, Gene Ha is the guest artist for issue #12, and he’s stoked about drawing it, so the book needs to be supported for that reason alone.

On one level I’m not overly worried about The Shade making its full allotment of issues. DC is still a fairly conservative company and I have to think it went into The Shade knowing the New 52 books would make market factors behave a little differently. However, the fact that a book’s writer is concerned about its fate this early is unusual enough to warrant some attention. Save The Shade, I say; and enjoy some great comics while you’re at it.

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33 Comments

Can’t remember DC ever cutting a mini-series short, hoping they won’t start now as the first 2 issues of Shade have been good reads.

Maybe a little bit of a sales pitch on Robinson’s part? 30k is far from bad business in these times, would need a HUGE drop off to put it in danger compared to other books.

Shade’s OK, but Huntress is a lot better.

It had better finish! I’ve waited, what, half my life for The Shade’s origin story…?

Honestly, the writing and art felt a bit so-so after issue one, but I thought both improved quite a bit with the second issue. Now I’m hopeful of some very good things from this series.

Don’t pull the plug now.

well, good luck. i’ll wait for the trade if it gets to that point. no sense looking into a story that might not reach its ending

Robinson never said it would be cancelled… he coyly hinted at it, presumably to generate this kind of “grass-roots” reaction in the blogosphere (twittersphere?). I’m sure he’s smirking somewhere right now. It’s a good book and I’m all for helping bump up sales but I don’t think we have to worry about not seeing all 12 issues.

Ok, so the Great Ten only had 6k in sales by issue 9!?! …. So it looks like The Shade has to lose ALOT of readers in 12 issues to be cancelled!!

I personally thought his recent JLA and Superman work were average at best, (and I’m scared to touch Cry for Justice) and have no interest in buying this in singles, dispite the top artists like Hamner and Irving.

I did however buy the first Starman HC – I’ve read about 6 issues, and while pretty good and with some great fast pacing (those were the days….), I’m not in any hurry to buy volume 2 …. let alone a Shade 12 issue HC somewhere down the line.

Judge Fred MANSON

December 2, 2011 at 12:08 am

The Dark line titles are among the best titles from the new DC. I do not fear that DC will cancel Shade because of low sales level.

The Dark line is like a Vertigo line. And Vertigo titles are not in the top ten singles each month. It’s OK (alas for the readers) if the sales are below 5,000 copies a month to axe the titles (despite the fact that a lot of indies sales are below this level and still are sold because it is a very good number of copies for them).

What I am most afraid of, is about some Edge line comic books. I already have stopped 5 comic books at the issue #5 (Blackhawks – no clone of a GI Joe series IS like the true one, and the ex-Wildstorm titles: Stormwatch, Grifter and Voodoo). I hope that this will the end of the drops, but I fear for the Suicide Squad because of the BIG spoiler from the Voodoo series…

So, as I have said, I am not afraid for the Dark line titles. I hope that there will be new titles added to this line, the more mature one from DC (except Vertigo of course!!).

Actually, it appears DC has cancelled the THUNDER Agents Chronicles. Its vanished from DC’s website and the Comiclist website actually lists it as cancelled.

If DC cancels the Shade, then I will drop DC once and for all.

Since the reboot, I’m only buying a few titles from them anyway. All I need is one more excuse to quite buying DC’s forever.

I’m sticking with Shade-apparently I’m one of the 30K who are reading it. Robinson’s Starman was one of my favorite comics ever and the Shade was one of my favorite characters. I think Robinson has a better grasp on Golden Age characters, evident in both Starman and the Golden Age, and how to make them come alive for a modern audience. That’s why I’m also leaving space on my holds list for his JSA mini if and when that comes out.

I will get the hardcover collection if the reviews are favorable, but have no interest in single issues. This series should be treated more like a Vertigo book than a mainstream DC title.

In mainstream comic book sales, the main selling factor is the character(s). While creative talent does matter, there are very few writers or artists with a dedicated fanbase that can drive sales. A good example of this is the sales on The Authority by Grant Morrison and Jim Lee. These two are arguably the most popular writer and artist working in recent years yet sales on Issue #1 were in the 50-60,000 range. That’s because of a lack of interest in the characters, and the fact that Jim Lee was already late on issues of All-Star Batman & Robin at the time.

The Shade is just not a popular character. It’s a testament to James Robinson that the series was approved and the initial sales were what they were.

And while the mini-series is employing some amazing art talent, they are also more expensive which makes the overall mini-series less profitable.

I don’t buy a ton of comics, but went to the shop just to get SHADE. The art is fantastic and the story is a lot of fun. It had that energy that made STARMAN fun. Just sort of reveled in all the fun comics can have. Total blast! I’m on board for the run. Robinson’s SUPERMAN made me totally lose faith in the guy, but this is a return to form and he has some amazing artists lined up: Irving, Cooke, Etc.! Come on, Guys! Check it out!!!!

Also, high sales will be rewarded with more stories!!!!!! He said it on his iFanboy review!

Sorry, but my plans are to get the collected edition.

The only way I could enjoy the Shade more is if they added a Xombie backup story to it.

Waiting for the collected edition in this case might mean no collected edition at all. Why collect an unfinished mini-series that didn’t sell well to begin with?

The Shade and The Dark line need all the reader support they can get in monthly form, to send the message to DC that these well written books are the sort that readers want (because I assume that we all want well written books, right?).

I’m a huge fan of James Robinson, and his work on Starman and with The Shade. It was good to see The Shade n Justice League. Unfortunately, I’m more apt to wait for it to be collected. It eventually will, or else it would not be published in the first place. If it were Jack Knight, I might consider getting the individual issues; but my money’s tight and I have to be a little selective. This sounds like Robinson has shaken off the recent Justice League debacle and gone back to familiar territory – great!

I doubt DC will cut the mini short, especially considering how well it could do in trade sales with Star Man fans. Honestly this seams like a publicity stunt by Robinson.

DC is absolute garbage if they cancel this before it’s end. I’m a big STARMAN fan, and yet a very tough critic of Robinson (after all the shit he’s written lately) but this is great and deserves a chance to shine.

For those “waiting” for the collected edition, I hope you realise if this mini gets canceled there NEVER will be a collected edition nor will anymore Starman-esque property be put out for a long time and if it did it wont be the same as the “series” you enjoyed.

As Rob said on ComicVines podcast, they have issue 8 scripted, and their is a HUGE risk that the series will be canceled before issue 12. Issue 12 being Shades orgin.

So its basicly now or never.

That’s where I find the way DC publishes their “new 52 initiative” counter productive. They flood the market with 52 titles that are carried with tons of advertising, and whatever comes next doesn’t have that luxury.

It’s ironic, because titles like The Shade and Thunder Agents (which are brilliant) actually work far better as issues #1 for the New 52 than some of the 52 titles. In many ways, it’s also the case for Legion Secret Origin and Huntress;

Canceling a mini-series seems absolutely insane to me. You promise a beginning and an end, let it go through, if the issues didn’t sell see what the collected edition is capable of.

And to the whole “don’t wait for the trade” thing. It’s sad to see it’s like this. I think judging book sales by floppies alone is fairly ridiculous. So just because of that we’re supposed to endure reading 20 pages at a time, with ads on almost every page?

“For those ‘waiting’ for the collected edition, I hope you realise if this mini gets canceled there NEVER will be a collected edition.”

Nobody will ever successfully use guilt to convince me to buy single issues. Any decision to publish a Shade mini-series should have counted on mediocre periodical sales and strong sales of collected editions. That’s just the nature of the property.

For what it’s worth, Starman #80 (the final issue) had under 25K sales to retailiers in June 2001:

http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2001/2001-06.html

It’s not as if Shade sales in the 30K range are out of step with historical trends. This really makes me curious about how ruthless DC will be with cancellations after their sales return to pre-New 52 levels (and they will).

the mention of the other mini series is pretty irellevant since there finish lines are much closer… all the new mini are 3-5 months til they finish…. Shade has a bit longer and could shed more orders by that time…[note i said orders]

Also is this a case where if they dont finish publishing it in paper form the book will be completed Digitally and then yet still be able to be reprited?

And DC has done this a few time before The Great Ten…

Sonic Disruptors
Gammarauders
Spellbinders
The Shadow Stikes

the last three the sysnopsis of the issues that were supposed to be printed were then related in special pages or in the letters page…

Sonic ended up as missing completely never to be heard from again

and then there is a case of the 12 issues Maxi that was solicited and the creator was promoting it and even had a few issues done and it was yanked weeks before the first issue arrived…

Joe Kubert’s Redeemer

I’ll join in on the “waiting for the trade” brigade. I don’t really see the need to buy it twice; I was waiting for the hardcover to sit next to my Starman Omnibuses (Omnibusae?). DC has to know there’s a lot of us out there like that.

The Shade is so far very entertaining. Robinson is hit or miss, but his Starman and Shade stories are amazing. I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

After buying the Starman omnibus hard covers, I will purchase Shade in HC format.

why should i save your comic book? did you try to save any of my comic books? granted i may not have your better taste, but why should it matter your comic is better than mine?

I’m trade waiting on this one, so I hope it gets to finish. I also hope me and others trade waiting isn’t the cause in the first place…

Yeah…no. I don’t enjoy Robinson’s writing, generally speaking.

@Battle cAt: I think you meant “Spelljammer” not “Spellbinders.” DC’s never published a title with that name. (Marvel produced a mini-series in the mid-00s called “Spellbinders”–written by Mike Carey and drawn by Mike Perkins–and, in the mid-80s, the company had a character called “Spellbinder” who was the star of “Spellbound,” a series created by Louise Simonson and Terry Shoemaker. Also, Fleetway/Quality produced a series in the mid-80s called “Spellbinders,” an anthology series of UK characters, including Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Amadeus Wold.) DC’s series was based on the TSR “D&D in space” game, Spelljammer.

I also wouldn’t really include “The Shadow Strikes” in the list since there were extenuating factors involved in the series’ cancellation (the primary one being the licensor, Conde Nast, decided to increase the fees).

As to “Sonic Disruptors,” even series creator Mike Baron has admitted that he really didn’t have an ending in mind. And from having read the 7 issues that came out, I’d have to agree. Each issue seemed to meander with only the vaguest hint of a storyline coming through.

Not really interested in The Shade. Liked the Starman series, but with the JSA wiped out in the New Coke DCU, I don’t really have any further interest in Robinson’s little corner of the DCU.

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