This is an internal memo ranking the full line of Marvel Comics titles in 1985 by subscription numbers. This would only be a small fraction of overall sales, which at this time would mainly be newsstand sales and a relatively small but growing chunk of direct market comic shop sales. This is interesting to me in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that this is what Marvel was publishing when I first started reading comics when I was five years old. It’s worth noting that when faced with the spinner rack at the drug store, I naturally gravitated to Star Wars and X-Men, which were the #3 and #4 titles here.
• Licensed properties accounted for a large chunk of the Marvel line, and even more of it if you factor in the unlisted Star Comics imprint, which included kids stuff like Care Bears, Fraggle Rock, Heathcliff, Muppet Babies, et al. These are all licensed: G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Conan, Savage Sword of Conan, Conan the King, Transformers, Micronauts, ROM, Crystar, Doctor Who, Red Sonja.
• Note that Conan has three titles, and four if you count the related Red Sonja. That is unfathomable in today’s market. He was basically neck and neck with Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman in terms of market saturation.
• When I shared this on Twitter earlier some people were confused by the high numbers for Alpha Flight, which is understandable as that’s basically been a D-list property for Marvel since the late ’80s. But at this point in time, it’s one of two titles – Fantastic Four being the other – written and illustrated by John Byrne, and he was one of the industry’s biggest stars at the time. A year later, he’d bail on Marvel to go completely revamp Superman for DC Comics after Crisis On Infinite Earths.
• It’s probably also a bit “WTF” that Dr. Strange was in the top 20, but the series was illustrated mainly by Paul Smith in that year, not long after his brief but iconic run on Uncanny X-Men.
• In addition to Byrne being on Fantastic Four, there’s a few other classic runs going on at this moment: Walt Simonson is midway through his long run on Thor, Mark Gruenwald is writing Captain America, Denny O’Neil and David Mazzuchelli are on Daredevil, and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is on Hulk at a fairly early point in his career.
• And of course, Uncanny X-Men is by Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr, and New Mutants is Claremont with Bill Sienkiewicz, who was a particularly radical and inventive artist. This is also the year in which Claremont did the classic Asgard story with Art Adams in the New Mutants special and X-Men annual. Barry Windsor-Smith also drew some X-Men, including the famous “Lifedeath” story where Storm deals with the loss of her powers.
• Parts of Secret Wars I and II were published in 1985 too, but weren’t available for subscriptions.
• Around this time, one of the higher-ups at Warner Communications approached Marvel about licensing the DC Universe characters because DC was struggling so much with sales. If you look at what DC is publishing at this time, it’s easy to see why – aside from the Paul Levitz/Steve Lightle run on Legion of Super Heroes, Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, and the Marv Wolfman/George Perez New Teen Titans, the DC line is just really lame and old-fashioned compared to what Marvel was doing. (Of course, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns was just around the corner.)