Sunday, September 18, 2016

Harley Quinn, the superhero* of millennials, tops August 2016 sales along DC Comics

Now that the comic book sales numbers of August 2016 are finally available at the Diamond Comic Distributors's site, we are clear on three things: 
  • August 2016 has been the highest mark for comic book sales in nearly 20 years,
  • DC got the biggest share (outselling September 2011, the month of the New 52 reboot), and
  • Harley Quinn was its best selling property.
That's right. Not Batman, or Superman, or the Justice League, but  
Harley Quinn.

Outselling Marvel is an extraordinary achievement for DC Comics, but it has happened several times since 1996, especially around September. This time, however, it happened during the best selling month since December 1996, just as DC was going back to its basics, after years of trying different approaches.

Within 'the New 52' era of DC Comics (September 2011 — June 2016), the history of all its characters was deeply modified; romance, relationships, comedy, lightheartedness, and legacy were toned down in favor of violence and grimness. However, one of the most successful characters during that era was Harley Quinn, who broke with its conventions.

Harley in The Adventures of Batman & Robin's episode "Harley's Holiday" (1994),
along with Bud and Lou, two of the New 52 casualties.
Thanks mostly to Batman: The Animated Series and the Batman: Arkham video games, by late 2013, Harley Quinn was popularly known as the henchwoman and codependent girlfriend of the Joker, a recurring enemy of Batman, friend of Poison Ivy, a histrionic inmate of Arkham Asylum, and a member of the Suicide Squad. 
Harley, from the Batman: Arkham Knight video game.
Consequently, at least in theory, her own title, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, shouldn't have broken the dark tone of the New 52; only it totally did, it had great selling numbers, and it paved the way for other titles breaking the mold.

Harley Quinn, vol. 2, #0 (November 2013).
The early stories of Harley in her Conner and Palmiotti series, didn't rush to redefine her immorality, and they showed great violence; however, they also established her as an independent, industrious, and empathetic woman who only attacks cruel people. In Harley Quinn #0 (2013, vol. 2) she has almost nothing, but in issue #1, she becomes the landlady and matriarch figure of a group of friendly misfits who live in a building she gets by chance.

Throughout the series, despite her evident madness (and apparent mental disability) Harley always succeeds in whatever she decides to do. Eventually, she gains the approval of Power Girl and Batman and goes on to establish her own team of vigilantes.

Harley as Power Girl's "sidekick".
While comics have had feminist icons since the time of Sheena (1937) or Wonder Woman (1941), they are few and always represented traditional values. Comics have always focused on stories about white male heroes for white male readers1. Harley Quinn is the first superheroine to be both different (female, Jewish, deranged, and teased as bisexual), and champion the different. Undoubtedly, this has struck an emotional chord with millennial readers, as her title's success has only increased with time.

The DC superheroes after Rebirth (Harley is at the bot.  
After a couple of attempts to change the tone of the New 52 continuity last year2, this June, DC Comics began publishing Rebirth, a series in which the characters return to their original traditions and values, including hope, legacy, romance and optimism. As a result, its first title, DC Universe Rebirth # 1, was the the bestseller of month, DC Comics dominated the market with the rest of the series in July, and nine out of the top ten in August3.

However, the biggest surprise of August 2016 was the relaunch of Harley Quinn # 1 (vol. 3, August 2016), which sold the impressive amount of 400,000 copies, beating its previous sales, and all the other titles of the same month, including Batman.

Harley Quinn, vol.3, #1, and Suicide Squad #1

The August 2016 comic book sales reflect a major shift in popular culture. The sales of two Suicide Squad titles exceed that of the Justice League. Harley Quinn, appeared in those titles as well as in the first two issues of her own series, amounting 4 appearances in the top ten list. If DC had to define his trinity —Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—, based on its most popular characters of that month, its members would be Batman, Harley Quinn, and Supergirl 4 .

So far, DC Comics's success these last two months is extraordinary 5and the best part of it is that the company has found a way to diversify without losing its traditions, reconnecting with their long time fans, keeping the recent fans, and gaining new ones. It's safe to say that Rebirth was a brilliant play by the guys taking decisions at DC: Dan DiDio, Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. 


* I call Harley Quinn a superhero because that's what she is becoming. She also has the full deal, with a double identity, a skintight costume, and super-powers.

1 Save Spawn an anti-hero, whose title topped sales during the mid-90s for some reason (the 90s were weird), forerunning the success of Harley's.
2 In April 2015, Convergence teased readers with the idea of restoring the old DC continuity, and since June 2015, the 'DC You' titles tried to increase the diversity among authors to attract a more diverse readership.
3 Only Marvel's Amazing Spider-man #16 made it, and in the #4 spot. 
4 For more information of how Harley Quinn is has become more popular than Wonder Woman, go to

5 Even if it happened for two and a half years, starting in January 1999.