Happy 30th X-force #1 and the truth behind 5 Million
I guess it’s time to talk about X-force #1 again. It is the 30th Anniversary after all.
X-force #1 turns 30
Welcome all to Extremely Uncanny and I want to talk to you about the second highest selling comic of the modern era, X-Force #1. Well, it’s sales numbers. With 5 million direct market sales, this comic is what Rob Liefeld a “house-hold” name in the comic industry.
It should be noted that the 5 million units sold is at the vendor level. Meaning comic shops ordered 5 million copies. It doesn’t mean that 5 million people bought the comic. On contrary, it is the result of the ugliest part of comics: The Speculator Boom.
The Speculator Boom!
For the uninitiated, the Speculator Boom took place in the late-80’s and early-90’s. It was fueled by the idea that comics could be a form of investment. This notion was given weight due to comics like Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, and Amazing Fantasy #15 selling for hundreds of thousands if not millions. This led people to think all comics would increase in value. People didn’t understand that the value of these old comics was rooted in the idea that those comics were extremely rare because they came from a time where comics were disposable. The mere fact people started to bag and board their comics and collect them immediately killed their value.
So, casual fans started ordering cases of particular issues in hope of them becoming retirement funds, college tuition for their kids, or just a nice investment. Of course, by the mid-90’s it became clear that the bottom was out of the market as people and shops began to struggle to unload these comics. A wide number of comic shops folded under this pressure and the comic industry collapsed. I will be covering this more in the next edition of History of Heroes Reborn, as it is central to the development of Captain America.
X-force #1 sales numbers were the product of speculator boom. People bought up droves of the comic for an investment. It should be noted there was a further incentive to buy many copies: Trading Cards. That’s right we are overlapping one Speculator Boom with another! Either way X-force comics came packaged in a polybag and a X-force Trading Card.
The Truth behind 5 Million Copies of X-Force #1 Sold
Now, current narrative around this book was that fans were so HUNGRY and EXCITED for this comic that they bought up the book in droves. There were not 5 million people reading X-force. It was hundreds of people buying up hundreds of copies thinking they were going to bankroll their kids’ college tuition or people buying 8 copies trying to get the card set. Anytime the X-force #1 or X-men #1 numbers are brought up, no one mentions the truth. This is a problem because it creates a situation where certain creators, namely Rob Liefeld, will present that their books were selling because they were good! Not because of a speculator boom or variant cover shenanigans. Then they go further to talk about how these bloated numbers show that they know what sells comics these days.
Folks like Rob and the Image folks came into the industry and shook it up. They did get people excited, but they are benefactors of a broken market. Let’s not pretend anything otherwise. Context matters when talking about the past. People need to know the truth with these numbers. It is even more frustrating when folks like Rob will rail about comics reaching top numbers by providing context to their sells such as a flood of variant covers, retailer incentives, and placing them in subscription boxes like Loot Crate. Yet, those same creators will want YOU to think their numbers are fair.
The Speculator Boom is much like the Steroid Era of Baseball. It cooked up a lot of numbers and made things look bigger than they really were. You cannot ignore this era. You cannot deny their numbers. Yet, you cannot pretend the forces at play didn’t shape it.
I would like to see more honest context to these numbers. I would love to see those creators admit their numbers are the by product of a market run amok. However, this will be unlikely to happen because so many of them have their own self worth tied up in these numbers. They cannot take solace in the fact they have a record that will never be beat. They cannot take solace in the money they made. Instead, they will start twitter fights with anyone that challenges them on the claim.
If you enjoyed X-force #1 or more comics like it? That’s perfectly fine. I find the comics enjoyable and I have spent years talking about the merits of such comics, but I don’t have any disillusions about what the comic is about or the truth behind its numbers.
Trading Card images courtesy of http://mattsignal.blogspot.com/2014/10/a-second-look-at-no-1-x-force-1991.html