The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Not a Flop?
How The Most Disliked Batman Comic Truly Fared
It is easy to beat up on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Fans everywhere eagerly waiting over fifteen years for the successor to Miller's magnum opus of The Dark Knight Returns. A graphic novel that changed Batman and comic books forever! To many fans' dismay, the sequel does not deliver, with negative to mixed reviews at best. Although, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is hardly a flop. The fact of the matter is, it is a moneymaker!
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1 debuts on December 5, 2001, just in time for some holiday shopping. You have over 187,000 orders for the debut issue, with a cover price of $7.95. Expensive - you may say when DC comics average roughly $4 to $6 in 2020. Adjust this first issue for inflation, and it will run you closer to $12. The reasoning for this price includes the fact it is almost four times the length of your average comic book. It is a premium format, with at the time new digital artwork, and Frank Miller's name is on it. With all of this, DC Comics can argue in charging readers $7.95. Even with this high price and late-year release, The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1 was the number one selling comic book for 2001. By no means can we understate this and write it off. Many comics before it throughout the year have the advantage of later readers picking up issues from earlier in the year to play catch-up.
Beginning in 2002, The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2 has over 166,000 orders for January, still at the same cover price of $7.95. Sure, this is a roughly 11% loss from the last issue's numbers. Now it is common for second installments to sell less - comics, sequels, second-weekend box office returns, you get it. Of course, this is not a rule of absolute, yet worth noting. Furthermore, The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2 is the second best selling comic of the month. Hence, its drop is nothing catastrophic.
Second issue downturns and negative reviews still do not keep this series down. The Dark Knight Strikes Again #3 closes things out in February 2002. Frank Miller's sequel has an uptick, with over 184,000 orders, almost a 10% increase from the previous month. That number is roughly 98% of the first issue's orders. It seems that the series was able to keep its initial reading base. Not only that, but the final comic is also the number-one best selling comic for the month. With re-orders throughout the year, this three-issue series goes on to sell over 543,000 comics. Take this with that high cover price, and you are bringing in roughly $4.3 million in revenue.
DC Comics publishes The Dark Knight Strikes Again hardcover collection, retailing at $29.95. This collection debuts at the number six spot in the top-selling graphic novels in October 2002. With over 6,500 orders, this brings in an additional $205,000 in revenue. Here and now, critics and nay-sayers are thinking this is it this is the end! Far from it, when in December 2003, DC Comics releases The Dark Knight Strikes Again in trade paperback form for $19.99. The graphic novel peaks at the number three spot, with more than 5,300 orders. Of course, the series will drift away into obscurity afterward. In August 2006, DC Comics published Absolute Dark Knight, a packaged collection including The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This item retails for $99.99 and has over 3,600 orders.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again trade paperback continues to sell over the rest of the decade, averaging roughly less than a thousand each year. Yet somehow, sales pick up in the next decade. Sales increase year over year in the beginning, with over 2,600 in 2010 to 3,100 in 2011, to 4,300 in 2012! What happened? If this comic is such a piece of trash, why the steady increase in sales over the years? Nearly a decade after its debut, by this point in time, the internet is universal, chock-full of negative reviews for this book. The all-time low comes in 2017 with over 1,700 orders. However, it sold more than 6,000 copies in 2015! Again, what happened?
There is no one right answer. Part of this can stem from varying trends including, Christopher Nolan's films helping to re-establish the Dark Knight name in the pop culture zeitgeist. A new generation of readers picking up The Dark Knight Returns and curiously wanting to see what follows. Then you have Ben Affleck's Batman and its Dark Knight influence. Again that title goes a long way in swaying many people. In 2015 is the release of The Dark Knight III: Master Race, helping to stimulate orders of The Dark Knight Strikes Again as well. Graphic novels are picking up now. Many young readers prefer to read the entire story all at once, uninterrupted. With that said, good luck finding back issues of this series in your local comic shop.
Now, these numbers are still somewhat abysmal to most graphic novels, which can pull in roughly tens of thousands of orders in a year, sometimes even a month. Grant you, this is an older title, trying to battle in a larger market share of graphic novels. Go back to issues sold of the comic, and you will find each issue outsold every issue of The Dark Knight III: The Master Race except for the debut issue in 2015. You have over 35,000 orders of The Dark Knight Strikes Again trade paperback to date! That is an additional $701,000 of revenue to DC Comics. Couple this to the numbers of the hardcover and Absolute collection, this graphic novel has over 46,000 orders and making more than $1.27 million in revenue. In total, The Dark Knight Strikes Again has made more than $5 million. That's right - the universally disliked Frank Miller sequel is a million-dollar series. Numbers as these may seem modest at best, but keep in mind this is comic books, not movies, with billion-dollar franchises like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight or Marvel's Avengers. Therefore, these comic book numbers are sound and highly profitable.
We see DC Comics continues to keep the series in print. In 2018 they published Batman Noir: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, an uncolored version of the book. It is highly doubtful DC Comics will ever do this to say the out of print Batman: Year Two, for example. Understandably, financial success does not equate critical success. We can continue to lash out and critique the art, coloring, characterization, and more. Yet,that is not the point! However, it is worth noting how such a disliked book can garner such financial success and continue to. DC Comics sees the numbers, and with their 2018 publication, know they can continue to squeeze money out of this book. Plus, without this book, you do not have The Dark Knight III: Master Race, which critically fared better. May I ask then, if you and many others hate this book so much, then why do you continue to buy it?
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