Value Over Replacement Batman

Does Batman sell Batman? Or is it more complicated than that? Let’s find out, as we answer some good ol’ fashioned Bat-Questions.

When James Tynion IV announced he was leaving the cushest gig in superhero comics – writing Batman – to take his talents to Substack, there were a range of responses to this absolutely loaded concept. Questions about Substack and Tynion’s focus on creator-owned works were pervasive, amongst others. But the dominant angle wasn’t about where Tynion was headed; it connected to what he was leaving. Headlines almost always said something like, “James Tynion Quits Batman” or “James Tynion Leaves Batman,” as if it was a marriage rather than a for-hire job. That’s understandable. Batman is a big deal!

That ultimately led to another recurring idea, which was something like, “DC’s going to have a tough time replacing Tynion on Batman.” The writer’s run was notable for reigniting heat on the title after it aged in the post-Rebirth era, introducing a deluge of new characters and surrounding energy to the series. That type of inventiveness hadn’t been seen on the title for a bit, save for a Court of Owls here or a Duke Thomas there. There was a juice Tynion brought to Batman that was refreshing for readers and retailers, attracting interested parties of all varieties in the process. 22

That idea was always a bit confounding to me, though. Not because I don’t think highly of Tynion’s work. It’s just in my mind, there’s one thing that sells Batman comics above all: The Dark Knight himself. All you have to do is swing by a movie theater or a big box store to see that people absolutely love the character. That is, if you needed a reminder, because he’s going on multiple decades of pop culture dominance. Tynion is great. But Batman is Batman. The series would be fine. It would continue to sell, no matter who took over writing it. 23

Or at least so I thought. Maybe I was wrong! Maybe this was one of those theories that was as fictional as the character himself. Sure, I had conversations with people about the very idea, even previous writers of the title, in which they echoed my sentiment. But that hardly verified it. I mean, it would hardly be the first time that multiple people shared an incorrect hypothesis. So, who was right? Does Batman sell Batman, or is it more complicated than that? The good news is, there was a way for me to answer this question: by diving into sales data.

That’s exactly what happened recently, as I tracked and charted 25 years of single-issue orders for Batman 24 from comic shops 25 as well as the creators involved to see if there is a notable impact from those who work on it, and when that tends to happen. And let me tell you, I went into this exercise expecting one thing. I came out having learned a lot more than I could have predicted. Today, we’ll be breaking down those learnings by answering eight questions related to the subject, and it all starts with the creation of a new statistic to better answer the question that inspired all of this.

The rest of this article is for
subscribers only.
Want to read it? A monthly SKTCHD subscription is just $4.99, or the price of one Marvel #1.
Or for the lower rate, you can sign up on our quarterly plan for just $3.99 a month, or the price of one regularly priced comic.
Want the lowest price? Sign up for the Annual Plan, which is just $2.99 a month.

Already a member? Sign in to your account.

  1. Fun fact: Speculators love first appearances.

  2. That they got Joshua Williamson and then Chip Zdarsky made it even more certain.

  3. The title, not the character.

  4. Via Comichron, John Jackson Miller’s invaluable resource of direct market sales from throughout the years. It is the best.

  5. Meaning pre-New 52 and post, as those are rather different periods. We’ll go over that in a second

  6. Shouts to DC for pretending like Batman was both dead – this was around Final Crisis – and no longer a series. I would describe this effort as moderately convincing.

  7. Kubert probably played a role here too.

  8. Today’s formula is sprinkle a bunch of variants on, add returnability, hype it up to retailers, and then watch the magic happen.

  9. A standard deviation is, “a measure of how dispersed the data is in relation to the mean.” Or, basically, how much variation there is in a set of numbers, which helps us gauge consistency.

  10. Miller is doing a great job making a tough situation work, but it’s been suggested to me that order numbers for DC’s top titles have been underestimated.

  11. Its rise was beginning right before the pandemic.

  12. This stretch did come during a boom time where per title sales unexpectedly rose industry wide because of shifts in consumer behavior during the pandemic and because of a reduction in the total titles published, though.

  13. At least in the 100 or so shops that use ComicHub.

  14. They were still going strong.

  15. While DC was at Diamond, this was literally true. Batman formed the baseline of sales estimates from Diamond, sort of like VORB but for the whole industry.

  16. Here’s a chart tracking overall industry unit sales in the top 300 over the past 25 years. You can see just how low things got during that stretch.

  17. Behind titles like Green Arrow, G.I. Joe, and an Image release called Battle of the Planets!

  18. Incredibly, that title and Batman vs. Aliens #2 were the top two sellers from the line that month. Batman vs. Aliens!

  19. For example: during one five issue period in 2001, Greg Rucka, Brian K. Vaughan, and Ed Brubaker each wrote at least one issue. This was before they were the household names they are today in comics, though.

  20. Unless you’re Neil Gaiman.

  21. The weirdest fact from the last six years of comics might be that Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York #1 was the most ordered comic of 2016, simply because it was included in a Loot Crate.

  22. Fun fact: Speculators love first appearances.

  23. That they got Joshua Williamson and then Chip Zdarsky made it even more certain.

  24. The title, not the character.

  25. Via Comichron, John Jackson Miller’s invaluable resource of direct market sales from throughout the years. It is the best.