Ten years can be a long time in the entertainment industry. In that space of time, it’s possible for a whole generation of casual consumers to grow up, move on and be replaced by a new decade’s worth of youths with their own particular tastes. I’ve been reading comics, in a serious way, for around 15 years now, and that means I’ve stuck around to see all those people come and go over time and watched the industry change with it – or, at least, I think I have. I’m going to now look back on the sales charts for comics released in August 1998 (cover dated, for simplicity, as October 1998) to see just how much symmetry there might be with the present day. Notably, of all the comics released in August 1998, almost none of them had any kind of crossover going on. The low numbering of Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and Fantastic Four reveals that the rather large “Heroes Reborn” event was still fairly fresh in everyone’s mind, and it’s likely Marvel was intentionally leaving the idea of any crossovers fallow in an attempt to allow their rejuvenated universe to take proper root.
Despite that, Avengers and Fantastic Four were both still top-ten books. Today, Avengers has morphed into the similar-but-different “New Avengers” series, but still hovers in the top 10. Fantastic Four, however, can usually be found way, way down the charts, outside even the top 20. So, 10 years ago, Avengers was doing big business – as it still is today.
DC’s biggest comic in 1998 was, at the time, JLA. If you exclude Final Crisis, the crossover tentpole series, DC’s biggest ongoing comic is… Batman. But Justice League of America is a close second!
Meanwhile, the X-Men have fared slightly more poorly, dropping well out of the top 10 – although August 2008’s #500 might just get the book back up there. In fact, despite an overhaul, the X-Men line is one of the few big properties that isn’t doing as well as it was at the time. Of course, it’s all swings and roundabouts – in between Avengers being a top property in 1998 and a top property in 2008 there was a period of cooling off where it languished in the middle of the chart. All we’re really saying here is that the popularity of certain properties might seem like lightning striking, but that if you hang around long enough it’ll eventually come back around.
That said, the same isn’t necessarily true of creators – or is it? The number #1 comic in the industry, at the time, was Battle Chasers #4. Created and Drawn by artist Joe Madureira, this issue knocked Joe Mad’s old job – a little title called Uncanny X-Men – back into second place, largely because the holo-foil cover that issue of Uncanny sported cut its sales in half on the chart, since the regular cover was listed separately. Battle Chasers itself wasn’t without its own variant cover gimmicks which undoubtedly boosted it up the charts, however, and its sporadic shipping meant that it was unlikely to top the charts again – but for this one month it was #1.
Joe Mad eventually left the industry a year or two later, leaving the Battle Chasers story unfinished, though he did recently return to a warm (if not ecstatic) reaction to draw the industry’s top-selling book (in months when it manages to come out) Ultimates Vol. 3. So, here we are ten years later, and books drawn by Joe Madureira are topping the charts! Would any of us have seen that coming in 1998?
James Hunt writes Alternate Cover at Den Of Geek every Monday, although he’s away for two weeks after this week. Still, check out last week’s here..!