Can New Characters Flourish in Today’s Market?

I was listening to John Siuntres’ always excellent Bendis Tapes this week and something they discussed served as inspiration for this week’s column.  During the Q&A, one of the questions related to whether Bendis would ever consider launching a new team book, akin to The Order, where he would get to establish an entirely new lineup of characters.  I’m paraphrasing, but essentially Bendis made the point that he may someday get that urge, but the market currently isn’t very supportive of those kinds of initiatives including Hustle Life. He and John went on to observe that had Bendis launched Alias in today’s market, its chances of success and staying on the shelves would’ve been far less likely.

When you juxtapose Bendis and John’s comments with some of the more vocal complaints fans have had lately as their favorite books get cancelled, it brings up a great point.  Can new teams or characters thrive in today’s direct market?  
In addition to The Order, we’ve seen other books featuring new (or previously obscure) characters struggle to sustain. Off the top of my (and fellow iFanboy staffers) head we’ve got:
  • Atlas
  • Azrael
  • Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)
  • Captain Britain & MI-13
  • Manhunter
  • Magog
  • R.E.B.E.L.S.
  • S.W.O.R.D.
  • Young Allies
Rather than simply opine off the top of my head about characters that are reasonably new and commercially thriving, I thought it might be interesting to take a bit more systematic approach.  So I went over to the Comic Chronicles and took John Jackson Miller’s list of the top 1,000 comics sold in 2010.  Out of those 1,000 issues, 163 different titles ranked (excluding one-shots):
1 Action Comics
2 Adventure Comics
3 Age of Heroes
4 Amazing Spider-Man
5 American Vampire
6 Archie
7 Astonishing Spider-Man Wolverine
8 Astonishing Thor
9 Astonishing X-Men
10 Avengers
11 Avengers & Infinity Gauntlet
12 Avengers Academy
13 Avengers Childrens’ Crusade
14 Avengers Initiative
15 Avengers Origin
16 Avengers Prime
17 Batgirl
18 Batman
19 Batman and Robin
20 Batman Beyond
21 Batman Incorporated
22 Batman Odyssey
23 Batman Return of Bruce Wayne
24 Batman Streets of Gotham
25 Batman the Dark Knight
26 Batman the Return
27 Batman Widening Gyre
28 Batwoman
29 Birds of Prey
30 Black Panther Man without Fear
31 Black Widow
32 Blackest Night
33 Brightest Day
34 Buffy the Vampire Slayer
35 Cable
36 Captain America
37 Catwoman
38 Chaos War
39 Daken Dark Wolverine
40 Daredevil
41 Dark Avengers
42 Dark Tower Battle of Jericho Hill
43 Dark Tower Gunslinger Journey Begins
44 Dark Wolverine
45 Dark X-Men
46 DC Universe Legacies
47 Deadpool
48 Deadpool Corps
49 Deadpool Merc with a Mouth
50 Deadpool Team-Up
51 Deadpool Wade Wilsons War
52 Deadpoolmax
53 Detective Comics
54 Doc Savage
55 Doctor Solar Man of Atom
56 Doomwar
57 Dungeons and Dragons
58 Fall of Hulks Red Hulk
59 Fall of Hulks Savage She-Hulks
60 Fantastic Four
61 First Wave
62 Flash
63 Flash Rebirth
64 Franken-Castle
65 Generation Hope
66 Gotham City Sirens
67 Green Arrow
68 Green Lantern
69 Green Lantern Corps
70 Green Lantern Emerald Warriors
71 Guardians of Galaxy
72 Haunt
73 Hawkeye & Mockingbird
74 Heroes for Hire
75 Hulk
76 Image United
77 Incredible Hercules
78 Incredible Hulk
79 Invaders Now
80 Invincible Iron Man
81 Iron Man Legacy
82 Izombie
83 Joe the Barbarian
84 JSA All Stars
85 Justice League Cry for Justice
86 Justice League Generation Lost
87 Justice League of America
88 Justice League the Rise of Arsenal
89 Justice Society of America
90 Kevin Smith Green Hornet
91 Kick Ass
92 Legion of Super Heroes
93 Marvel Universe Vs Punisher
94 Marvel Zombies 5
95 Marvels Project
96 Mighty Avengers
97 Ms Marvel
98 Namor First Mutant
99 Nation X
100 Nemesis
101 New Avengers
102 New Mutants
103 Prelude to Deadpool Corps
104 Punisher
105 Red Hood Lost Days
106 Red Robin
107 Scarlet
108 Secret Avengers
109 Secret Six
110 Secret Warriors
111 Shadowland
112 S.H.I.E.L.D.
113 Siege
114 Siege Embedded
115 Spider-Girl
116 Spider-Woman
117 Steve Rogers Super-Soldier
119 Superboy
120 Supergirl
121 Superior
122 Superman
123 Superman Batman
124 Superman Last Stand of New Krypton
125 Superman Secret Origin
126 Superman War of the Supermen
127 Superman World of New Krypton
128 Teen Titans
129 Thanos Imperative
130 Thor
131 Thor for Asgard
132 Thunderbolts
133 Time Masters Vanishing Point
134 Titans
135 True Blood
136 Ultimate Comics Avengers
137 Ultimate Comics Enemy
138 Ultimate Comics Mystery
139 Ultimate Comics New Ultimates
140 Ultimate Comics Spider-Man
141 Ultimate Comics Thor
142 Ultimate Comics X
143 Uncanny X-Force
144 Uncanny X-Men
145 Vampirella
146 Walking Dead
147 Warlord of Mars
148 Web of Spider-Man
149 Wolverine
150 Wolverine Best There Is
151 Wolverine Origins
152 Wolverine Weapon X
153 Wonder Woman
154 World War Hulks
155 X-23
156 X-Factor
157 X-Force
158 X-Force Sex and Violence
159 X-Men
160 X-Men Hellbound
161 X-Men Legacy
162 X-Men Second Coming
163 X-Women
164 Zatanna
Now I haven’t read all of these books, but I believe I have a good sense of the characters involved.  Scouring through that list, we can quickly eliminate any books that feature well-established characters and icons.  That leaves, by my count, 35 books that MIGHT be considered examples of new teams/characters with potential to flourish.
1 American Vampire
2 Avengers Academy
3 Avengers Childrens’ Crusade
4 Avengers Initiative
5 Batgirl
6 Batman and Robin
7 Batwoman
8 Blackest Night
9 Daken Dark Wolverine
10 Dark Wolverine
11 Fall of Hulks Red Hulk
12 Fall of Hulks Savage She-Hulks
13 Generation Hope
14 Green Lantern Emerald Warriors
15 Guardians of Galaxy
16 Haunt
17 Heroes for Hire
18 Hulk
19 Incredible Hercules
20 Izombie
21 Joe the Barbarian
22 Kick Ass
23 Nemesis
24 Scarlet
25 Secret Six
26 Secret Warriors
27 S.H.I.E.L.D.
28 Superior
29 Thunderbolts
30 True Blood
31 Uncanny X-Force
32 Walking Dead
33 World War Hulks
34 X-23
35 X-Factor
Let’s dig a little deeper into these titles:
Kick Ass Mark Millar John Romita Jr
Mark Millar Creations
Kick Ass
Say what you will, but Millar has been masterful at getting his own ideas to sell.  Kick Ass has already been turned into a film and a 2nd mini-series is in motion.  Nemesis and Superior are less proven properties, but it’s also believed that they have the potential to be turned into film properties.  So do these creations count?  I’m not so sure, because I see no evidence that Millar plans on telling stories with these characters on an ongoing basis. These are largely finite stories. And since they’re owned by Millar, it’s not like Marvel can co-opt them into the mainstream Marvel universe to flourish.

Robert Kirkman Creations
The Walking Dead
Invincible didn’t rank in the Top 1,000 comics sold last year (which was the cut off for the list), but the sales of the collected editions would certainly warrant inclusion. In terms of Haunt, while the book got a lot of hype at the launch, the erratic release schedule and declining sales would give me pause in considering that a viable candidate. Will we really be reading Haunt stories 20 years from now? And that brings us to The Walking Dead. We’ve written copious amounts about the success of this book in the past, but this is clearly a WIN for the idea of being able to create new characters and concepts in today’s market.

Damian Wayne DC Robin Batman

The Bat Family
Batman & Robin
Stephanie Brown, Damian Wayne and Kate Kane are all relatively new characters, and all featured in solid-selling books currently.  Is it too early to say any of these characters have staying power?  I’m not so sure, because there seems to be genuine interest in all of them.  I could see Batgirl as the least assured, simply because her book is more critically acclaimed than commercially successful, and the Batgirl character has a history of turnover.  Damian Wayne seems to have taken hold as a fixture in the DC universe, though, and given DC’s long history of developing offspring and legacy characters, I would be surprised if he’s not here for the long haul.  Kate Kane is probably the wild card.  She hasn’t really been in enough comics yet to say she has a lasting place, but the interest appears to be there. 

Other Creator-Owned Properties

Scarlet Bendis Maleev Marvel Icon

American Vampire
Joe the Barbarian
It’s tough to characterize creator-owned books in this context because so few of them rank in the top 1,000 issues sold.  What’s defined as a “success” in creator-owned works would be considered cause for cancellation in the Big 2 mainstream universes. You’ll note, for example, that the list of the 1,000 top selling books excluded Vertigo mainstays like Fables and Hellblazer.  But sticking with the top-selling books, we had three Vertigo series warrant scrutiny.  Joe the Barbarian was a mini-series, and I’ve heard nothing from Grant Morrison to suggest he plans on regularly revisiting that concept.  American Vampire is off to a great start, but we’re probably too early to say for sure whether Skinner Sweet & Friends are sustainable breakout characters. The same goes for the iZombie cast of characters. And while Bendis’ namesake and history with creator-owned books (i.e., Powers, Torso) bodes well for Scarlet, we need to see more than four issues before we can anoint it.

X-23 Marvel Wolverine Clone

X-Men/Wolverine Family
Daken / Dark Wolverine
Generation Hope
Uncanny X-Force
X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force are pretty easy to remove from the conversation, although I thought the emergence of Layla Miller in X-Factor warranted a nod.  The new incarnation of Uncanny X-Force is too new and includes all long-established characters outside of Fantomex, so scratch that from the list.  Wolverine, one of Marvel’s premier characters, has spawned a clone (X-23) and a son (Daken) which have potential staying power. It’s kind of sad, in a way, that two of the leading “new” character candidates are essentially derivatives of Marvel’s most overexposed hero.  Last but not least is the emergence of Hope, who has been set up as a major cog in the re-emergence of the mutant population.  She’s too new to say for sure, but it appears the Marvel editorial group certainly has a lot invested in Hope as a future story-generator. 

Red Hulk Marvel Thunderbolt Ross

Hulk Family
Fall of Hulks Red Hulk
Fall of Hulks Savage She-Hulks
World War Hulks
All of these books have had closely-tied continuity, and have effectively born a bunch of new characters in the last few years, including of Hulk’s sons (Hiro-Kala and Skaar), the Red Hulk, the Red She-Hulk, and a new Abomination (A-Bomb).  I don’t expect we’ll see all of these characters carve out important, long-lasting arcs as key characters, but I wouldn’t discount the Red Hulk from the conversation.  If you know the identity of Red Hulk you might argue against his inclusion, and that’s fair. But hey, it’s hard enough coming up with characters that pass this litmus test!


Avengers Academy Cover Marvel

Avengers Family
Avengers Initiative / Avengers Academy
Avengers Childrens Crusade
Initiative was a book chock full of new characters, and that’s morphed into Avengers Academy, which features a more concentrated set of new, young characters.  It’s too early to say whether anyone from Academy will emerge, and many of the characters from the Initiative are already in limbo. Avengers Children’s Crusade is a mini-series, but features the Young Avengers who may, ultimately, be some of the best examples of potential lasting characters.  Marvel has pushed this cast hard, featuring them in some capacity in most of their major events of the last few years. 

SHIELD Hickman Marvel

Other Marvel Titles
Guardians of Galaxy
Heroes For Hire
Incredible Hercules
Secret Warriors
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my personal favorite books of the last decade, and while it was by no means a commercial smash success, it did sustain itself as a solid mid-list book for several years.  The book mixed some old characters with some new ones, but certainly as a TEAM it was a “new” creation. I’m not sure I can anoint the Guardians yet, but I’m hopeful that 10 years from now we’ll look back and be able to say Groot & Rocket Raccoon are the rock stars they deserve to be.  Incredible Hercules is included because of Amadeus Cho, who is a new character and as much a part of that book’s multi-year run as Hercules.  Cho seems to be the kind of character that can evolve and last.  The Secret Warriors has some well established characters, but is centered around a group of “legacy” characters that we hadn’t previously seen.  Time will tell if any of them emerge from the pack, but it’s certainly feasible to think one or two will do just that.  S.H.I.E.L.D. is a hard to categorize book, because it’s an entirely new idea for the Marvel U, but can we really call Leonardo Da Vinci or Galileo Galilei new characters? Last but not least, I think we can pretty easily dismiss Thunderbolts and Heroes for Hire, as both “teams” have existed for quite some time and the majority of the current incarnations have been around, at least in the periphery, for decades. 

New Guardians Green Lantern DC Johns

Other DC Titles
Secret Six 
Blackest Night
Green Lantern Emerald Warriors
Blackest Night is an event book and Green Lantern Emerald Warriors is the third leg of the current Green Lantern trio, but both represent what’s been a major expansion of the “Lantern” lore in recent years.  DC has massively expanded that pocket of the universe, as we now have an entire rainbow of ring-bearing corps, guardians and entities to match.  We’ve also seen the emergence of specific characters like Atrocitus and Larfleeze.  I strongly suspect that we’ll see characters from the other corps around for a long time into the future.  Now Secret Six is an entirely different beast, as it follows a band of B- and C-list DC villains around the world.  Most of these characters existed long before Gail Simone put them in a book together, but this book is a success because of the TEAM dynamic – which is certainly new.

True Blood
I’ve got nothing here folks. 
Conclusion – The Cupboard Isn’t Bare, but it’s not Stocked Either
Going through the list of titles on the shelves didn’t yield many new characters or team concepts that seem assured of long-term viability.  And those that did are largely derivative of long-established concepts.  One of the tricks to this kind of discussion is that it requires the passage of TIME.  If we were having this discussion 20 years ago, would Deadpool, Gambit and Cable have been obvious choices out of the explosion of  late 80s mutants to outlast the rest?  When Kyle Rayner was made Green Lantern, would many have tagged his as a lasting addition to the DC landscape a few years into his existence?
So what do YOU think?  Which new characters or teams do you believe have staying power? Or which relatively new (let’s say 10-15 years) characters/teams do you think have already ascended into the realm of lasting importance?


Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.


  1. About Superior lasting, Millar said that its an ongoing told in arcs or miniseries. He says he has planned past issue twenty, so while there will probably be some breaks in between arcs, that series should stick around for a bit.

  2. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but does Bendis bring up Secret Warriors? He is credited as one of the creators, hopefully he remembers that.  Though understandable if he forgot since Hickman seems to be running it.  Except for the Howling Commandos, they all seem to be new characters (minus the God child).

  3. Where’s my Irredeemable and Darkwing Duck?

  4. I agree. Ongoing mini series is the way forward for the industry. Easily turned into trade, easily marketed, guaranteed on time, revolving stable of creators, flexible scheduling. It all makes sense. Hoping for the 70 year unbroken runs is now long gone, but new characters can be successful.

  5. In terms of newer characters aka ones created in my lifetime since the 80s i’d say Hellboy and the BPRD universe to be the most successful hands down. Scott Pilgrim has to be in the conversation although that character’s story is basically done right?

    I guess Deadpool, Savage Dragon and Spawn…for longevity at least.  

    It sucks that new ideas can’t thrive today. I don’t know what the answer is…and i don’t think its fair to just blame purchasing habits. The top creators aren’t spending their time with new stuff maybe? 

  6. The reason why these books with new characters don’t survive is because they’ve flooded the market with multiples of the big established character titles so most don’t have money to buy anything new. Having 5+ Batman, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Deadpool, X-Men, Avengers, titles coming out each month makes it very unlikely that fans of those characters are gonna have much room for anything else. 

  7. @gothamcentral79  – I see this sentiment pop up quite often, this idea that the publisher dictates the market, not the audience. I don’t believe that’s truly the case. The publishers will print whatever you will buy. And they only know what that is by seeing what sells and adjusting accordingly. In fact, there are cycles where the “multiples” dwindle and the companies launch new products, but these new titles just don’t catch on. What catches on? A fifth bat title or whatever it is. The audience votes with their wallets, and the fact is that people CHOOSE to buy multiple Deadpool titles, rather than one Deadpool and one Captain Britain and the MI-13. No one’s being forced to buy every Wolverine title, and if there were two fewer Wolverine titles, it doesn’t mean that sales on, say, S.W.O.R.D. would have gone up.

  8. i’d be willing to bet that if spiderman or batman were created today, and was beholden to the previews/direct market system to sell, they’d suffer the same fate as so many others…i.e. canceled prematurely. 

    The way of getting new material to consumers is kind of broken. You can’t sell what’s not on the shelf. 

  9. @wallythegreenmonster  I’d agree. It’s not just one thing. The distribution system is such that retailers mostly boutique hobby shops focused on their core customers, who are adult men who like what they know: Batman, X-men, etc. They order non-returnable product based on three-month advance solicitations. This strikes me as a very closed system, ya know?

  10. @wallythegreenmonster  & daccampo – Agreed. The distribution system seems to be the real problem. I’m not blaming the LCS’s — if I had a non-returnable product, I’m sure I’d play it pretty safe too.

  11. I’d say both Avengers Academy and Young Avengers are the titles to look the closest at.  Both are doing well more because of the writing and art teams, than anything else.  Damien is DC’s Deadpool.  Every writer wants to write a story with him and he will get overexposed but will stick around.  I wonder why he doesn’t have his own solo book yet?

  12. “whether Bendis would ever consider launching a new team book, akin to The Order”

    Secret Warriors.

  13. @KickAss Well Bendis clearly didn’t include Secret Warriors in that category, and probably because even though there are new characters, it’s a book led by Fury, and steeped in classic Fury/Shield/Hydra lore. The Order, save for a tie in via Pepper Potts was almost entirely new characters set in a typically unused environment (Los Angeles versus NY where most Marvel stuff happens).

  14. Avatar photo Arrrggghhh (@Arrrggghhh) says:

    I think the cost is the major reason I dont try new books as much anymore. Average $4 a new title = ouch! Also, I think many readers don’t purchase unsure titles anymore (or at least they don’t spend as much trying something new if a popular talent isn’t connected to it.)
    When something like Chew or Sweet Tooth come along, I’m usually late to join in – but pulled into reading these titles because of word of mouth. So to me – I often get into NEW characters through trades.

  15. While they aren’t currently in print, and they don’t really pop up elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of BKV’s Runaways. I believe their collections still sell pretty well, too.

  16. Agents of atlas was an awesome new team.  Boy do I miss em.

  17. @KenOchalek  Actually Bendis specifically mentioned Runaways as an example of a great title full of new characters that should do well, but can’t in the current market.

  18. i think there is room for new voices and new ideas, but i don’t think its in the direct market. Creators need to figure out new ways of getting their stories in front of people that doesn’t require a 3 month in advance pre-order for a $4 book that no one’s ever heard of. That system barely works for household name characters from the top creators in the business. An unkown creator with a new character stands no chance of making a splash, and even less of a chance of earning a penny from their work when their indie publisher requires them to subsidize their hard costs of getting that book out to market. 

  19. New superheroes? Yep, tough sell. But awesome to see how most of the new iconic characters in comics are coming from non-super hero titles like Scott Pilgram and Tony chew

  20. @wallythegreenmonster:

    If Batman were to debut today, like it did in the 30’s , it would die not because it’s a new character but because it wouldn’t be any good. Batman’s popularity persists because of subsequent creators’ hard work.

  21. @Shallam- Definately agree

  22. @muddi900  — That wasn’t my point really. What i was getting at was the quality of the product wouldn’t even factor into things. It would get lost in the back of previews, hardly presell any copies and last a dozen or so issues before poor sales killed it. Even good stuff like Thor the Mighty Avenger can’t get enough traction to stick around. 

    @Jdudley–it is interesting indeed. I mean look at what sells big numbers…Avengers, Spiderman, Superman, but you don’t really see a lot of new creator owned superheroes. I kind of view it as wondering why people who go to action movies aren’t checking out the new foreign drama at the art house across the street. Different products for different audiences. 

  23. Question: are comics available in Wal-mart? There has to be no better way to reach a large mass of people in today’s America.

  24. @NaveenM  –i’ve never seen them. really it always comes back to the non-returnable nature of comic distribution that is keeping it out of expected places like wallmart, grocery and drug stores.  the Direct Market is strangling itself and creating a smaller niche for itself as every year goes by. 

  25. I think the last new character from DC, that I read was Simon Dark

  26. @wallythegreenmonster  – But they do have comics in bookstores still. I see them on spinner racks at places like Borders and I think B&N. Are these guys buying them non-returnable as well? I was under the impression that the mass market still functions on a returnable (or semi-returnable) basis.

  27. And by comics in bookstores, I do mean monthlies, not trades.

  28. @NaveenM  —i think they are non returns though…i always see old issues that are beat to crap. and the selection is inconsistent at best. 

  29. @MoniBolis  Man that book was awesome

  30. New characters can flourish in today’s market. New books can flourish in today’s market. New characters in new books are a harder sell.

    Let’s face it; Avengers Academy is awesome, but it helps a lot that the instructors aren’t new and it’s got Avengers in the title. If there were nothing but new characters in the book with no Avengers in the title, it would be awesome and cancelled.

    So, if you want new characters, stick them on existing titles and they’ll survive. You want new teams of new characters? Good luck. Making them legacy characters will help (Young Avengers); keeping them too far away from their universe (Runaways) will not.

  31. @Diabhol  —yeah so the creators will be screwed into creating new IP for Marvel or DC, while anyone wanting to spend time on creator owned stuff will just wallow in obscurity. WIN!

  32. @wallythegreenmonster  I see floppies on the spinning rack at Borders as well. I have the spinning wire racks – people bend them, mangle them, they are all beat to hell. That rack is the worst thing to happen to floppies. I know it’s a throwback to childhood when they displayed them like that at the drugstore or whatever, but seriously, worst idea ever. (BTW all our local Borders stores are closing).

    B&N has very few comics but at least they put them on the shelves like regular magazines, which limits the damage. But their selection is very meager.

    Now, on to this article. I have a fundamental problem with the terminology. I don’t think you can list any book that is closely tied or spun off from established books. While they might be new series, and in some cases feature new characters, the close ties to established books (Batman, X-men, etc) and frequent appearances by established characters really provide an unfair support system for these books. And any books listed with only established characters are right out.

    If you really prune the list to original, new stuff (or at one time new) that is not closely tied in with anything else, the list is short:

    1 American Vampire
    16 Haunt
    20 Izombie
    21 Joe the Barbarian
    22 Kick Ass
    23 Nemesis
    24 Scarlet
    27 S.H.I.E.L.D. – ties to Marvel universe, but original enough that it stands on its own
    28 Superior
    32 Walking Dead – original universe, but it’s been around a while

    I would put Invincible on there too since it is in its own universe, but I didn’t see it on the list. I have to disqualify Batwoman That’s a pretty discouraging list if you want to make a creator-owned book or character. I’m sure there are tons not listed because they weren’t even a blip on the sales radar too. Lots of indie stuff I’m sure.

  33. Shoulda been “ I hate the spinning wire racks”… Makes a lot more sense!