2015 was a very interesting year for comics that saw several large events, launch of the Star Wars books, and continued strong showing from the independent publishers among others. I did a similar blog earlier this year showing the impact the Star Wars books on Marvel’s line as of the 2nd Quarter found here that I wanted to update for the end of the year and take a look at the industry as a whole. A disclaimer before we start. These numbers come from the Diamond single issue estimates which are not exact and also do not include trade or digital sales which would potentially skew the data for a particular publisher (Image does very well in trade sales).
During 2015, nearly 46% of all single issues (49% of all revenue) were produced by Marvel. This dominance came from a very busy year including Secret Wars, launch of All-New All Different Marvel, and the launch of their Star Wars line which there will be more on later. DC had moderate success with their Convergence event in April/May and Dark Knight 3 provided a huge boost to end the year and brought in market shares of 29% and 28% in units and revenue, respectively. The rest of the of the results from 2015 can be seen in the chart below.
One interesting thing to look at is the year over year trend from 2014 through 2015. The industry as a whole shipped an approximately 5 million (5.7%) more books this year. Marvel led the charge with over a 7.5 million unit increase which helped to offset the 3 million (10.75%) unit drop sustained by DC. The mid range books were as much of a mixed bag of success as the Big 2. Image, IDW, and Boom all had respectable increases while Dark Horse and Dynamite both had huge fall off of readership. Impressively, Valiant is continuing to rise up the charts and nearly shipped a million units after only 4 years of their reemergence in the industry.
The most significant event of the year in the realm of comic book publishing was by far the release of the Star Wars comics by Marvel. Looking at the chart above, the increase of sales from 2014 to 2015 by Marvel seems to be a very impressive feat. What is most remarkable about it is the fact that this increase is made up entirely by the eight Star Wars books that were introduced throughout 2015. Actually, the Star Wars line makes up 103% of the unit increase. If the Star Wars line were their own publisher, they would rank fourth in units and third in revenue. The Star Wars title itself would rank fifth behind IDW in sales thanks in no small part to the first issue that shipped over a million units when all the subsequent printings are summed together.
While this sales juggernaut that is Star Wars is very impressive, it can also be viewed as a cause for concern. Without it, Not only does Marvel experience a slight decrease in year over year sales instead of a 22% increase, but the market as a whole retracts by nearly 2.7 million units as opposed to the 4.8 million unit gain it posted. It absolutely needs to be taken into account that the resources and talent spent on the Star Wars books would have been devoted elsewhere and would have eliminated some of that loss, however it is highly unlikely that the output would come close to the 7.8 million units and $33 million revenue that the Star Wars books produced.
Another interesting thing to look at is the potential impact of the Star Wars titles on the Marvel Universe proper. In 2015, top tier talent like Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Stuart Immonen, Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Gerry Duggan, Phil Noto, Mark Waid, Charles Soule, Alex Maleev, and others working on the line to incredible success. Sure some of them, especially the writers, were also doing work in the Marvel Universe, but that is a lot of talent employed by Marvel focusing on essentially licensed properties as opposed to Marvel characters. 2015 was obviously a huge year for Star Wars. There was hype all around due to the Force Awakens which helped drum up some sales. The question becomes what happens now that a lot of people's thirst has been quenched for more Star Wars and Marvel has already led with the big guns of the Star Wars and Darth Vader books. It seems unlikely that there is much they can do replicate the huge sales figures that were posted in 2015. However, with the success of the line, is Marvel going to continue add more of it's top talent to these books and potentially let the Marvel universe retract? I'm looking forward to seeing where they focus their efforts as well as the impact.
As I mentioned at the beginning, these numbers are all based on estimates of single issue sales. If I have the time, I might re-run the analysis with the trade estimates to see how that effects things. My initial guess is that it would significantly benefit Image sales figures relative to it's size versus the other publishers as their books usually fill the top ten. The numbers I truly want to see are digital sales. I personally have not purchased a physical book in nearly 3 years and would like to see the growth trend in the digital world and how significant a portion it is to the overall market.
UPDATE NOTE: UPDATED Q3 FIGURES ARE DISPLAYED IN THE COMMENTS.
January 2015 marked the start of a new era of Star Wars comics as the publishing rights moved from Dark Horse after the purchase by Disney. Since the beginning of the year, four books have been released in the Star Wars line: Star Wars, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and Kanan. Those four books have been a juggernaut in the comic book world over the past six months. Using the monthly Diamond sales on single issues (which is not a perfect gauge, but the best estimates that we have), the Star Wars line would be the third largest publisher based on revenue in the business only behind Marvel and DC.
The Star Wars series itself has sold more than every publisher in 2015 except the Big 2 and Image. Going forward, the line will also be bolstered by Lando in July so it has the potential to continue its torrid pace in the sales charts.
What is most amazing though is whenever the Star Wars line is compared to total sales for all of 2014. 3.65 million units and $15.9 million in sales is more than all but the Big Two and Image sold for the .
The success of Star Wars does raise some questions for Marvel going forward. Currently, these four books that comprise their Star Wars line make up approximately 19% of total revenue for the year. That percentage will decrease as Secret Wars continues to produce large numbers, but it is still remarkable to think that 4 books that are essentially licensed property are generating a fifth of the revenue for the publishing side of the company.
It will be very interesting to see how Marvel handles this success of the Star Wars universe. Will they be putting their creative efforts into expanding the universe instead of trying to develop lesser characters in the Marvel U? Will the top creators be ushered away from the Marvel books to headline the Star Wars Universe?
I have yet to read any of the Star Wars books because I have never been very interested in that Universe, but I am interested in seeing how it plays out from the business side to see how Marvel capitalizes on this property that has fallen in their laps.
Welcome back to the second volume of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine Through the Years, Volume 2 covering the remainder of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run of the Fantastic Four including issues 51 through 102 and annuals 5 through 7. Volume 1 of the review can be found here. The first fifty issues of the book sets up much of the Marvel Universe that is still present today. There were some uneven moments in the beginning, but Stan and Jack really started hitting their stride with compelling and exciting stories that culminated with the defeat of Galactus. This second half continues the momentum as the team pushes out some of the greatest comic stories ever written. PS. There are 45-50 year old spoilers ahead.
Stan and Jack start out the second half of their run on a high note. After completing a run of stories including escalating threats from Dr. Doom, the Frightful Four, the introduction of the Inhumans, and the coming of Galactus, they do a tremendous job of bringing the story back down to a personal level. Four of the next five issues after the repulsion of Galactus are absent of a real villain. They start with a deeply personal tale that is one of the most celebrated issues of the run; This Man, This Monster. The issue focuses on a man that feels slighted because his achievements are not celebrated and feels contempt towards Reed for all his fame and fortune. He manages to turn Ben back to human and takes his place as the Thing with plans to destroy the Fantastic Four. After he spends time with Reed though, he sees the compassion and bravery that Reed displays. He has a change of heart and sacrifices himself to save Reed from imminent death in the Negative Zone. The following issues take the Fantastic Four to Wakanda to introduce the Black Panther, follow Johnny and his new friend, Wyatt Wingfoot, on a search for his love, Crystal, and the rest of the Inhumans, and have a misunderstanding battle between Ben and the Silver Surfer.
By this stage in the run, Stan and Jack are expanding their issues to include multiple story lines. Each issue has at least two or three story lines so the main story only takes up half the issue while the ancillary stories which they use to set up future stories like the Inhumans take up the rest of the issues. These scene changes do not hinder the progress of the story, but to the contrary, add an additional level of suspense to the action due to where Jack puts the cuts in the story. This becomes very evident in another one of the most famous story arcs of this era in which Dr. Doom steals the power of the Silver Surfer in issues 57 through 60. The main story of Doom attacking the FF is cut with Johnny and Wyatt trying to train Lockjaw to take them back to the Inhumans and the Inhumans trying to escape their dome culminating in the first use of Black Bolt’s voice to destroy the negative zone barrier around their city. The action scenes are cut so that each fight has several climaxes and cliffhangers that wouldn’t hold near the weight if the scene cuts were not in place.
The book continues strong for another fifteen issues or so with inventive stories that introduce more new characters to the Marvel Universe including Blastaar, Kree Sentry, Ronan the Accuser, Psycho Man, Annihilus, as well as Adam Warlock who is only referred to as Him in this first appearance. Crystal and Johnny are also reunited and spend much of their time fawning over each other. The pregnancy of Sue and subsequent birth of Franklin Richards in Annuals 5 and 6 respectively add a unique plot point to the story. They do start to fall upon their own tropes though as the book proceeds through the latter half of the run. Alicia Masters is used for a third time to provide comfort to the misunderstood powerhouse after Ben, Silver Surfer, and now to Adam Warlock. Ben is changed back to human a few more times only to return back to the Thing. There are several instances of the team turning against each other as well as a frequent use of hypnosis. These stories might not be as original as the ones that came before, but they are still entertaining and exciting.
The book does decrease in quality over the final twenty issues of the run. Some of the arcs are entertaining, but do not reach heights of that they achieved in the middle of the run. However, there are some stories that are quite bizarre. There is an arc that includes Ben being captured by Skrulls and taken to one of their planets to fight as a gladiator. That is all well and good until they show the planet and all the Skrulls look like they are Prohibition era American gangsters. They even talk with the stereotypical style of the old gangster movies. It is all explained away, but still extremely bizarre. Also in the same arc while they are searching for Ben, Reed deduces that he must have been captured by Skrulls because he was last seen in a cab with a man that looked like Reed and they haven’t been able to find him in the few hours since they started looking. Therefore, it had to be a shapeshifting alien that took him off planet. Then, to find the enemy space craft, Johnny is somehow able to flame on and fly in the vacuum of space until he crosses over the path of trail and it flashes for some unknown reason. This arc is also preceded by one in which Reed and Sue purchase a random house in the woods that no one knows how it go there and just so happens to be controlled by the Mole Man who is in the process of trying to make everyone in the world blind.
Throughout the second half of the run, the usage of Sue and Crystal becomes exceedingly frustrating. Sue is barely utilized in the first fifteen issues or so after the Galactus Saga with the notable exception of keeping Dr. Doom off balance with her force field spheres in issue 60. After it is announced that she is pregnant, she is a total bystander and most everybody’s job when they are around her is to not let her get upset, so they hide things from her like the potential imminent destruction of the world if the Silver Surfer cannot find a new planet for Galactus in time before he has to resort to eating Earth. Then, after Franklin is born, she still has a limited role and barely goes on missions with the exception of a trip to Latveria in issue 86 where she appears just in time to place a force field around the rest of the team and some villagers just as Dr. Doom blows it up. Her being out of commission is a completely understandable and justifiable story line due to the pregnancy, and would have been great had they decided to use Crystal properly. After the Inhumans were able to free themselves from Attilan, Crystal was reunited with her love, Johnny. This could have been a great opportunity to add a new dynamic to the team while Sue is out of commission. Instead, Crystal is usually left behind with Sue. She utilizes her elemental powers more times on Johnny in the series than she did on villains. Anytime she does utilize her powers on villains, especially issue 81 against the Wizard, she does so with devastating results. She does not seem like the person to be left behind when entering the unknown. In issues that she is present in the fights, she is often not even on panel. During the fight in Latveria in issue 86, it has to be explicitly stated by Reed that he sent her off to help villagers as a way to explain why she is nowhere to be seen.
Reading the Bullpen Bulletin at the back of each issue provides a great look at the inner workings of Marvel at the time. It’s also nice to see they listen to their readers. There are several instances where they will make a decree in the Bulletin and then take it back a month two later citing a barrage of angry letters. This is expanded with Stan’s Soapbox that premiered in issue 63. These provide insights into the Marvel way of producing comics, continuity, Comic Code Authority, price increases, as well as Stan’s opinion on bullying and bigotry. Sadly, in issue 102 published in September 1970, the Stan’s Soapbox announces that Jack Kirby has “unexpectedly announced his resignation” from Marvel Comics ending an era of a near decade run of amazing and innovative stories that shaped the Marvel Universe that still uses that foundation today. Per the Kirby Museum, Jack left after receiving unfavorable contract conditions from Marvel after they were purchased by a conglomeration that barely even knew who he was. There were most likely many factors, including the much documented rift between Stan and Jack that led Kirby leaving for DC.
While this seminal run might not have ended on a high note, it is still one of best comic book runs ever produced. The middle fifty issues are without a doubt, some of the best put to paper as they put together masterful and memorable stories one after another. One of the important things not discussed yet in this review is the addition of Joe Sinnott to the team as inker starting in issue 44 and through the end of the run. His inks provide a consistency that was not present before and produced the same impeccable lines to Kirby’s layouts and pencils that made the book stand with such consistent quality. Inkers may not always receive a ton of credit, but his work should not go unnoticed.
Thank you for sticking around for another edition of this review. As of right now, I am not sure how the next review will be broken out. There are 130 issues between the end of Kirby and the start of John Byrne’s run. In addition to Stan continuing on the book for a little while longer, there are smaller runs by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman before it turns over to Byrne. I do not know if the next edition will be one giant review for the whole 130 issues or broken up into two or three if deemed necessary. It will all depend on the quality of the issues and if there is anything that really stands out as demanding to be reviewed. One of the things that will be interesting is to see how similar the art looks to Jack Kirby’s work, especially since Joe Sinnott stays on the book as the inker for the entire time up to the start of Byrne’s run.
If you want to check out more on the Fantastic Four, go see Chris Tolworthy’s website that documents that book as the Great American Novel. Also, the Wait, What! Podcast team is doing a read through of the series and publishes a new edition of the Baxter Building Podcast each month and provides a great insight to the book.
November 1961 was the start of something special in the world of comics. A new age, a Marvel Age, dawned as the first issue of Fantastic Four hit the newsstands. The Jack Kirby and Stan Lee creations were the first of many that would revolutionize the industry. I was able to purchase a DVD created by GIT Corporation that contains every Fantastic Four from that inaugural issue through 2006. The disk contains scans of every issue including annuals so not only are the stories included, but the advertisements and fan letters are included as well. It creates a time capsule that provides a lot of insight of how the book was received and the impact it had on the industry. I plan on providing a review of the book throughout the course of its history as I work my way through the entire run. This review covers the first fifty issues of Jack and Stan’s run. The entire run was going to be included in this review, but too much happened so it needs to be broken up. The lengths of the reviews will vary depending on how long they make sense to be.
This is the well-known story of four adventurers that are exposed to cosmic rays and develop incredible powers. They are not crime fighters or have secret identities, but they are heroes that manage to help those in need and save the world. Once their power is obtained, they are constantly tested. After they defeat the Mole Man in their first adventure, the Four are put to the test against the Skrulls, Namor, Dr. Doom, and the Puppet Master among a few other minor villains in the first ten issues alone.
As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to supporting characters like Alicia Masters, the Watcher, the Inhumans, and the Silver Surfer. Many more villains plague the First Family including the Red Ghost, Super Skrull, Rama-Tut (early incarnation of Kang the Conqueror), Molecule Man, Hate Monger, the Frightful Four, as well as the frequent re-appearances of the Dr. Doom, a few run-ins with the Incredible Hulk, and the ultimate climax with the Coming of Galactus.
There is a lot of character development that occurs in the first five years for each of the characters. The one that gets the most development is Susan Storm. Her main function at the beginning of the story is to be taken hostage as she starts out only with the ability of turning invisible. She often contributes in the final battle, but only after she proved to be a liability by being captured. The very beginning of issue 22 in January 1964 shows the beginning of her evolution to the lady she is today as she first develops the use of her force fields. There are still times throughout the following issues in which she is the damsel in distress, but they become fewer and farther between as her power develops.
Benjamin Grimm, the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, receives the most depth of all the characters. He is a former Air Force pilot that was transformed into a monster with a heart of gold. He is constantly troubled by his appearance and how everybody views him. He finds acceptance and love in the blind daughter of the villain, Puppet Master. Alicia never sees the monster. She only sees the kind soul underneath. Ben is often ornery as could be expected for someone forced to live his life as an orange brute. He is often the brunt end of Johnny’s joke and feels that he is only wanted for his strength. His courage and nobility always shines throughout the jokes and failed cure attempts.
Even at his inception, Reed Richards was the aloof genius. He loves his friends, but is never great at showing it and ends up spending more time in his lab than with the ones he loves. Sue is often exasperated to the fact that he doesn’t show her the love and attention she deserves. He spends much of his time trying to cure his best friend, Ben, from the malady of constantly being the Thing. This is the one thing that he fails at over and over as each cure he establishes is only temporary and Ben inevitably reverts back to the Thing.
Like his sister, Johnny Storm has a long way to go before being the character we know and love today. He is a love-sick teenager that spends a lot of time moping around over either a lack of love at the inception of the series or his lost love of Crystal for the latter part of the series under review. He does, however, possess many of the character traits that we still see today. He is very confident in his abilities and often uses them to torment and antagonize Ben.
The key thing to remember when reading the start of the Fantastic Four run is that this is the genesis of the Marvel Universe that we know and love today. There was nothing for Jack and Stan to reference or rely on as they started their tale, and in the first five years of their run, they had created the groundwork that is still very visible today. Most of the key character traits that are present today were established early on as well. Ben is often sorrowful of his condition. Reed continually tries to cure him. Sue and Reed are in love, but Reed has a hard time expressing his feelings and doesn’t spend enough time with her. Namor falls for Sue. Johnny gives Ben a hard time for looks. Ben falls in love with Alicia and she loves him for his heart. The Marvel Universe public is often wary of the heroes and turn on them quickly. Galactus is hungry. Etcetera. Etcetera.
The two forbearers of the Marvel Universe evolve their storytelling over the first 5 years on the book. They start off with single issue, stand-alone stories while the reader is getting acclimated to the characters and they build up a readership. The one concern with this type of storytelling is that the story needs to be wrapped up in neat fashion within 22 pages or so. There are a lot times early on where it just so happens to be that Reed has some sort of ray at his disposal or some other convenient way to win the day. As the series progresses, the stories start to get longer and begin to form arcs including the two part story of Doom taking over the Baxter Building, a three part Frightful Four story, a three part Inhumans story, and the final three issues for the Galactus saga.
There is also a noticeable shift in the art. The characters, Ben specifically, look significantly different at the beginning of the series than they doea few years in. Not only are the looks different, Jack Kirby begins experimenting with the layout of the book. Standard, small panels are present at the start. As the series progresses, panels of varying sizes and even full page spreads to convey significance of the moment.
This run is must read for anyone who is a fan of the Marvel Universe. This is the genesis of something great that is truly a fantastic ride. Some of the early stories may be hard for a reader if looked at through a modern lens. However, if you immerse yourself in this universe and story, Stan and Jack tell a wonderful story of friendship, love, and perseverance. There are emotional highs as Reed and Sue get married in the 3rd annual issue, Ben overcomes Doom to take back the Baxter building in issue 40, and Galactus is repelled in issue 50. There are also emotionally deep moments as Ben is often resigned to his condition or Johnny is torn from his love, Crystal. Everything you could want in comic book series or any form of fiction is present in these first five years, and from what I have read so far from the rest of the run, the best is yet to come.
I have seen people mention on this site that they utilize their library for books, but I don't think enough people take full advantage of this resource. I never did until recently when my wife took a part time position at our library to give her something to do while she is on summer break for her PHd. I had actually never been in a library that was not associated with a school I was attending.
Most libraries are part of a larger network of libraries that you can pull from as well an even larger network in which you can perform an inter-library loan. My library didn't have a single tpb, but a simple search yielded a plethora of titles available. I have had a bunch of books that I have wanted to read but have yet to come across during a sale. So far, I have only started pulling books for Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and Avengers as you can see from the picture. Utilizing the library to its potential will definitely save a ton of money as these are all books that I was planning on buying once I found a good sale as well as keep me entertained whenever I have to travel for work.
Have you ever read an issue that you thought was perfect whether on its own or as part of the story? I have started to read some of the classic Marvel stories and came across the Kang Dynasty by Kurt Busiek. The story itself was fantastic, but issue 49 stood out as perfect to me. ***12 year old Spoilers Ahead*** The overall story is about Kang succeeding in conquering the world. Issue 49 is titled 'There are No Words' and depicts the moment that Kang conquers Earth in a stunning fashion that includes no dialog or sound bubbles. The issue plays out like the scene in an action movie where everything turns for the worse. The scene where gun fire is muted and replaced with a somber overture or you see one of the supporting cast killed while the protagonist can helplessly watch.
The issue depicts Kang as the ultimate strategist as he calmly walks into battle. You get a glimpse that all might not be lost as the Avengers have success against his commandeered Sentinals. All of this is for not as Kang has a futuristic bomb that kills all the citizens of Washington D.C. (Thor had already used Mjolnir to evacuate the President and all the heroes except for himself and Wonder Man). They try to stop the Bomb to no avail.
By itself, the issue may not be perfect. However, when you look at how it factors into the story, it is truly a defining moment and masterpiece. The raw emotion that the dialog free issue provides perfectly depicts the gravity of the story and turns it into the one of the best single issues that I have ever read.