The comic book market is a fickle beast. Can she slay it?
The Wonder Woman movie has raked in $663.6 million worldwide, pleasing moviegoers and painting a bright cinematic future for the character, but what about her performance in the comic book market?
While Wonder Woman’s solo title has taken some breaks and seen five relaunches since its debut in 1942, it is considered to be one of DC Comics’ staple titles due to the character’s importance as a member of the Justice League, being one third of DC’s Trinity alongside Batman and Superman, and her status as a feminist icon and the world’s most popular female superhero. Yet despite all of that, the ongoing Wonder Woman series has never been a sales juggernaut on the level of Batman or Amazing Spider-Man that regularly dominate the monthly sales charts.
In September 2011, the kick-off of the New 52 saw Wonder Woman #1 sell 76,214* units, making it the 13th best seller that month and 11th best of DC’s rebooted line. It saw a steep drop-off in the following months (which is the way most new comics perform) and settled around an average of 30-40k per month. Written by Brian Azzarello and with art by Cliff Chiang and alternating artists Goran Sudzuka and Tony Akins, the title reinvented Wonder Woman’s mythology and — movie spoilers ahead! — added the twist that Wonder Woman was the secret child of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus, a plot point so juicy it made it into the film. While many superhero comics use crossovers or tie-ins to big events to reinvigorate sales, a tactic annoying to readers that nevertheless works, Wonder Woman told a story focused squarely on Diana’s adventures with the gods, only deviating to take part in the New 52’s special anniversary issues every September. This may have made it less of a sales performer than it could have been, but it at least reads like a dream as a trade.
Moving on to the Rebirth relaunch in June 2016, the Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 prologue sold 94,458 copies and followed up with Wonder Woman #1, the start to the series proper, selling 107,737 copies. The promise of Rebirth was to bring DC’s characters back to the classic roots that fans most highly regard, and the series did just that as lauded Wonder Woman creators Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott were joined by Liam Sharp to tell a dual-narrative story that retold Diana’s origins (getting rid of the New 52 changes, including the aforementioned twist) and started a new quest for her in the present. This return to form was embraced by readers, who were now getting two issues of Wonder Woman per month thanks to DC double-shipping their marquee titles, and was evidenced by the average monthly sales of 65,000 units.
While Wonder Woman’s name doesn’t appear in the titles, she also stars in Justice League and Trinity, both of which started strong with their Rebirth launches (209,187 and 93,797, respectively), although now sales stand at 55,351 for May 2017’s Justice League #21 and 34,317 for Trinity #9. Wonder Woman’s membership on the Justice League has become a routine inclusion and she won’t be going anywhere considering she’s part of the November 2017 Justice League movie lineup. Trinity focuses on her dynamic with Batman and Superman, although why a comic featuring three of the world’s most iconic superheroes is only selling in the 30-40k range remains a mystery.
That’s pretty much it for Wonder Woman’s presence in DC’s current core print publishing, which strikes as odd considering her new movie has given her greater exposure to the general public than ever. (There was the Superman/Wonder Woman team-up/romance comic that ran from 2013-2016, which started with a solid 94,859 units sold, dropped to the 40-50k range, and received a second life thanks to a 15k sales bump from the “Doomed” crossover, all before the title was shuttered heading into Rebirth and the romance was shortly thereafter obliterated from continuity.) There’s a sense DC hasn’t done as much as they could to invest in Wonder Woman as far as the monthly print titles go, certainly not as much as Batman (11 titles) or Superman (8 titles). Seemingly obvious groups and team-ups she could feature in are aplenty — her magical prowess gives her relevance in the Justice League Dark, her supporting cast of humans and gods alike (Steve Trevor, Ares, Etta Candy) are ripe for their own spin-off series, and who wouldn’t be down to see her partner up with heroes other than Bats and Supes?
There was one new Wonder Woman comic announced recently, a Wonder Woman/Conan crossover mini-series by fan-favorite Wonder Woman creators Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti and co-published by DC and Dark Horse Comics, but that was revealed just after the movie released instead of hitting shelves in tandem with the premiere date when, assumedly, those newly turned on to Wonder Woman will be hungriest for her comics. Then again, now is when readers can pre-order the book, so perhaps they were smart to wait for a wave of eager new readers driven by their excitement for what they just saw in theaters.
That said, DC has kept up a healthy offering of digital-first comics featuring Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman ‘77, which ran from 2014-16, tells more Lynda Carter tales and has created the opportunity for team-ups like Batman ‘66 Meets Wonder Woman ‘77 and Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman.
Wonder Woman is featured in DC Bombshells, running 2015-17 with a relaunch coming soon in the form of Bombshells United, set in a new universe inspired by the popular line of statues that see DC’s female (and occasionally male) heroes reimagined as 1940s pin-ups and is a critical favorite for its feminist and queer themes from writer Marguerite Bennett and a team of various artists including Ming Doyle, Laura Braga, and Marguerite Sauvage.
Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman was revived as a digital-first series in 2014, following in the footsteps of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman anthology series, letting numerous comic vets and new voices tell their own stories featuring each respective hero.
The Injustice video game tie-in comics include Wonder Woman as a main player (pun intended) and have proven to be massively popular from the first series, Injustice: Gods Among Us, the in-game story retelling Injustice: Ground Zero, and the current Injustice 2. (Speaking of Injustice, Wonder Woman has been on the fighting game’s roster for both installments, and Injustice 2 released the “To End All Wars” in-game event that unlocks Gal Gadot’s movie costume.)
The Legend of Wonder Woman by writer/artist Renae De Liz gave a refresh to the Golden Age beginnings of Wonder Woman in 2016 and earned DC some fan backlash when it was unceremoniously canceled after 27 digital chapters (or nine print issues).
DC Super Hero Girls stars Wonder Woman, ahem, Wondy among other female DC heroes and is aimed squarely as younger girls, with Shea Fontanna writing the digital series (along with the graphic novels, films, web-series). It’s worth noting how since its launch in 2015 DC Super Hero Girls has exploded into a lucrative multimedia franchise with novels, toys, and a TV show on the way from Lauren Faust on Cartoon Network, which means Wonder Woman is entering the lives of the next generation at a much earlier age.
Because these are all published digitally first before coming to print, the individual issue sales data doesn’t hold up when compared to print-first series. However, the graphic novel sales stats reveal they are popular indeed, often selling a few thousand copies and placing high in the monthly sales charts.
Speaking of graphic novels, that’s where Wonder Woman seems to truly shine, which might explain why there’s a more concerted effort there when compared to DC’s floppies.
Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman: The True Amazon combined storybook visuals with a dramatic retelling of Princess Diana’s upbringing on Themyscira, moving 7,001 units in September 2016. The well-received original graphic novel continued to sell well leading up to the movie’s release.
In the year heading into the movie, there have also been new printings collecting iconic runs of Wonder Woman’s series from the likes of Rucka, John Byrne, and George Perez.
Writer Grant Morrison labored over Wonder Woman: Earth One with artist Yanick Paquette for years before it saw release in April 2016, tallying up an impressive 16,199 units shipped. Taking place in DC’s Earth One universe (similar to Marvel’s clean slate Ultimate universe) that only tells stories published as graphic novels, the story retold Wonder Woman’s origins with an emphasis on the S&M, nonviolent, and feminist themes of her original creator, William Moulton Marston, and proved to be a critical and commercial hit.
As you’ve probably noticed, the common trend for many Wonder Woman projects is the re-telling/re-imagining/re-booting of her origin story. Perhaps it’s time to move her past her roots and let her grow a little, which just might lead to a meatier comic presence with more villains, allies, gear, and adventures for fans to latch onto. For as much as the New 52 deviated from her usual path — even controversially so with its Amazon murder orgy — it explored new territory, added different members to her supporting cast, and gave her some extra abilities, all in refreshing and exciting ways.
With all these stats and anecdotes in mind, DC’s Wonder Woman publishing strategy seems more geared towards female readers’ buying habits. For as many strides as the comics industry has taken towards making its monthly superhero books more inclusive, it ultimately still caters to the attitudes and buying habits of its male audience. A study from Penguin Random House showed that women read more novels than men by a 60:40 ratio, hence why DC is leaning more into the graphic novel space when it comes to Wonder Woman. That’s not to say that Wonder Woman stories are only being told for women or that men don’t enjoy reading the character, but Wonder Woman is a draw for female readers because of her iconic status and for being one of the few well-known characters in a sea of otherwise male superheroes. With the movie success escalating an already-prolific character to new heights in pop culture, Wonder Woman has filled the tank with potential; it’s up to DC to grow her presence in the monthly print market and take her stories down new avenues.
*All sales figures in this article are estimates calculated by Comichron, a comics sales tracking website that works off of Diamond’s sales reports. Figures for each book are based on the first month of sales and do not factor in new printings. It should also be noted that these sales numbers are derived from pre-orders by specialty comic book shops and not actual units sold, which, yes, is strange, but it’s all we have to go on when it comes to comic book sales figures because publishers do not release individual sales data.
I’ve Got Issues is an ongoing column exploring the ins and outs of the comic book industry.