Marvel Comics is a company that is all about the bottom line. With a chair in Ike Perlmutter, if it's not making money, it is out of the door. He is famous for his "Marvelcutions" — cutting comics, cutting lines, cutting staffers — to keep Marvel profitability up. With a Marvel comic book, it doesn't just have to make money — pretty much every comic book does — but it has to make enough money, more money than a replacement title might. This means the sales of an X-book or an Avengers title are judged more harshly than others, and they should theoretically be bringing the respective fanbase along with them.
So watching the sales charts isn't just an exercise in navel-gazing for Marvel Comics readers; it's a way to ascertain if their favourite title has a future. And, more recently for some, it's a way to judge if a comic book that isn't socially or politically acceptable to some is heading for the scrapheap — accompanied by victory shouts if it does, or wails of unfairness if it somehow remains published.
But how do some comics survive and others don't? Let's take a look at the depths of the December charts… the comics that have made it and the ones we know are being cancelled from March's solicitations.
Firstly, ignore the estimated sales figures. They are only estimates; ones that also ignore non-North American sales that can make up between 5% to 20% of sales, depending on the title. But chart positions in relation to other comics can be useful when you see what has and hasn't been cancelled at that level.
The recent chart has some worrying drops for the likes of Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man #298 at no. 58, which may strike as a disappointing figure as it debuted at the top and was one of the best-selling comics for the year for issue 1. At no. 63, almost exactly the same sales (around 3/10 of Batman) is Invincible Iron Man #595. Probably should be doing better with its media profile, hardly in danger of getting cancelled. The book receives criticism from some quarters to the prominence given to Ironheart, a black woman teenager, who took the lead, and lower sales are blamed on this. But at no. 65, with also almost exactly the same sales, is Daredevil #596, which also should be doing better with its media profile. Ditto with Punisher #219 at no. 71.
There are some people who rail against what they see as "diverse" comics, usually those with central female characters, usually not of the boob'n'butt brigade, possibly with more cartoony or slice-of-life storylines, as if they are some kind of personal affront. If Ms. Marvel is the figurehead for that, it is worth pointing that her tales, written by G. Willow Wilson, have a strong non-comic store market. At no. 67, Ms Marvel #25 also has the benefit of strong digital sales and strong sales into the Scholastic book fair market in collection form. If Ms. Marvel wasn't selling, Ike Perlmutter would dump it.
(UPDATE: Thanks Ryan, I missed this was a lenticular cover, November's placing was no 136, so see Moon Girl explanation below)
Doctor Strange may worry some folks, its post-Marvel Legacy titles with lots of buzz languishing at positions 82 and 91 for #382 and #383 in December. Again, high profile, poorer performance, with Thanos #14 at no. 76 possibly not helping, both written by Donny Cates.
Between the Doctor Strange issues, you also have Guardians of the Galaxy #148 at no. 84 and #149 at no. 100. That's dropping off a cliff, again, a title with strong media performance.
But The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #27 at no. 94 also raises the ire of some, and is a monster Scholastic seller. It also has almost the exact same comic store sales as Spirits of Vengeance #3, which probably can't claim as much as an outside store following.
(UPDATE: Thanks Ryan, again I missed this was a lenticular cover, November's placing was no 197, so see Moon Girl explanation below)
Around here, we must be looking at titles heading for the chop if they are comic store focused books. And Moon Knight #190 at no. 97 may also be vulnerable.
Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows at no. 102 is a massive drop — the biggest fall of the chart. Maybe people don't want to read about a married Spider-Man and Mary Jane after all. It is followed at no. 103 by Cable, who is meant to be in a certain Deadpool film this year. There are rumours of a relaunch, as well.
But we are in a world where Squirrel Girl outsells Cable in comic book stores. Just saying.
Jessica Jones is the Marvel book that drops below a fifth of Batman sales at no. 111. A new creative team is coming, but again with the media profile, this should be higher. But it is doing better (just) than Iron Fist #74 at 113. Defenders at no. 95 was cancelled when Bendis left…
She-Hulk #160 at 117 is a book we already know has been cancelled for upcoming issues, without a creative team leaving. This may be the Marvel benchmark for cancellation decisions right now. It's the highest selling of the recently cancelled Marvel titles. Anything that sells below has to be in danger — unless there are other reasons.
Jean Grey #10 at 118 will be cancelled, relaunches as X-Men Red. It's an X-book, it ties into the best-selling Phoenix Resurrection, it should have done a lot better.
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #11 is at no. 119, #12 is at no. 121. And it's a Spider-book, with a quarter fewer sales than Renew Your Vows. The next trade goes up to #14.
Falcon #3 is at 123. Can it make it to Infinity War? #6 is in March and the first collection goes up to #6.
Runaways #4. There is a TV show on Hulu right now which everyone loves. But few read the comic, a sixth of Batman readers. Here's the thing — March has an #7, the first collection goes up to #6… can this last to a second collection? The author is a Young Adult writer, could the trade sales save this?
Gwenpool #23 at no 127 will be cancelled.
Captain Marvel #127 is at no 131. Has to be on the chopping block… but again, the film…
Iceman #8 is at no 142. Will be cancelled.
Luke Cage #168 is at no 158. Will be cancelled.
Royals #12 is at 164. Cancelled.
Secret Warriors #11 is at 194. Cancelled.
America #10 is at 201. Cancelled.
Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur #26 at 213. Not cancelled. Again, this is down to Scholastic sales and the like, where this book outperforms its rivals. A lovely little book, but not one rewarded by the comic store. Instead, it receives its rewards elsewhere. And the next trade going up to #30 already.
And then at 222, Monster Unleashed #9. And no, not cancelled either. By all rights, it should. But there is a court case going on over the trademark use of the name with Monster Energy Drinks, and it would really help Marvel's case, I guess, if this comic continued to be published. Even selling 7% of Batman's numbers. The upcoming trade collection goes up to #11, but #12 has been solicited for March.
I mean, that's enough to still make money for Marvel — just not much. If you are looking for Marvel publishing a comic purely for political reasons, here it is. Just maybe not the politics you were thinking of.
Also, it seems no one in comic stores cares about whether or not a character has a movie or TV show out right now… not everything can be The Walking Dead.
But to answer that question: why is Marvel not cancelling their lowest-selling comics? Answer: they are, just sometimes those sales are happening elsewhere. Oh, and lawyers.