Captain America may have won the war in his Secret Empire takeover of Marvel's Universe, but he didn't win the comic book sales race. It's the news that has come to light after the comic book sales figures for April 2017 were covered among industry outlets, showing Nick Spencer's Secret Empire #0 at the top of the charts. Unfortunately for the event and publisher, fans began to notice a strange detail when the April numbers were observed beyond the top spot. The twist ending? DC Comics beat the debut of Secret Empire soundly... twice.
These kinds of competitions aren't always the most noble among the fans, used as a sign that one publisher is 'beating' the other. In truth, almost every month's sales require a deeper reading than most fans will ever give, or desire. But when controversy, the promise of changing a publisher's whole universe for the worse, or an iconic hero becoming a supervillain are involved in a comic's release, higher sales numbers are guaranteed. Cynics say it's why those stories are told in the first place. Secret Empire's writer says it's in the name of a valuable story. The sales numbers say it's made a splash... just not as big as some are claiming.
It was DC Comics who raised the stakes for their competition with the launch of DC Universe: Rebirth, a company-wide return to the heroes, villains, and stories their fans connected with most. Not to mention a shift towards core titles shipping twice monthly, and dropping the price to $3.99 per issue. And it was no coincidence that as DC launched their universe-changing move, Marvel revealed Captain America was loyal to Hydra. And as DC returned to the Watchmen/Doctor Manhattan mystery at the heart of "Rebirth" in the joint Batman/Flash storyline "The Button," Marvel met the move with one of their own.
There we go. Retailers and readers-- thank you, thank you, thank you for making SECRET EMPIRE 0 the best-selling comic of April 2017!
— Nick Spencer (@nickspencer) May 5, 2017
From the sales numbers calculated by Comichron, meeting DC's mystery with a Hydra takeover of the United States worked. While these numbers are only approximate (representing the issues sold through to retailers, not specifically sold to customer), they do, indeed, show Secret Empire at the top of the heap as April's best-selling issue - as writer Nick Spencer proudly noted via Twitter, thanking the retailers and teams who helped make it possible against "stiff competition."
But check out the sales numbers by issue for April 2017, and see if you notice anything strange about the top eleven entries:
- Secret Empire #0 - 162,718
- Batman #21 Lenticular Cover - 130,216
- X-Men Gold #1 - 114,332
- X-Men Blue #1 - 108,839
- Flash #21 Lenticular Cover - 107,037
- Batman #20 - 97,544
- Batman #21 - 89,256
- Star Wars #30 - 70,175
- Weapon X #1 - 68,874
- Walking Dead #166 - 68,205
- Flash #21 - 67,766
If you're a bit confused as to why there are two entries on the list for both Batman and Flash #21, it's due to the fact that special edition covers were released to give collectors further incentive. That's the same reason variant covers are typically issued, but in most cases those variant covers are still lumped together in sales for the same particular issue (as is the case with Secret Empire #0). But in the case of "The Button" arc spread across Batman and Flash #21, DC commissioned lenticular covers - heavier stock covers that when turned side to side reveal two separate images. For Batman #21, it featured both Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen holding the titular Watchmen button, and for Flash #21 it depicted Eobard Thawne both reaching for the same button, and being reduced to a skeleton by its power.
The cover art turned heads immediately, guaranteeing they would be a coveted item - even at the additional $1 price tag bringing them from $3.99 to the previous (and current for the competition) standard of $4.99. But that also distinguished the issues as completely separate products, meaning they no longer contributed to total unit counts for their specific issues.
Add the numbers together - both standard comics, and the lenticular covered variants, and you have Batman #21 coming in at approximately 219,472 units, and Flash #21 with 174,803 - both beating out Marvel's Secret Empire #0's 162,718 units. In the case of Batman, dominating the month with over 200,000 issues shipped, showing that the mystery of the DC Rebirth is still an eye-catching storyline for mass comic consumers. Not to mention the iconic combination of DC's two greatest detectives with the symbol of the Watchmen universe in top-notch artwork courtesy of Jason Fabok.
None of this is to take away from the success of Secret Empire, since 160,000 units shipped for a new event launch is good news for any comic publisher in the best of times. There's no question that the content of the issue made it a collector's item for both those enticed by the story, or those simply eager to fuel their frustration with Marvel's decision to turn Captain America into a fascist dictator. But controversy sells, and has always been the case with Marvel and DC Comics, fans of one are guaranteed to point at the competition reaching the same success, if not greater by honoring the history of their characters - not reinventing them with "edgy" twists.
Marvel's hopes of launching a headline-grabbing event succeeded, as did their return of the X-Men in not one, but two flagship team titles. But if there's a winner of April 2017, it's unquestionably DC Comics - who are no doubt hoping those numbers will continue throughout the conclusion of "The Button" mystery... and beyond.
Batman #21, Flash #21, and Secret Empire #0 are available now.