Before Marvel became the major player it is today, DC Comics’ Superman would regularly sell over 1 million copies per month, and Batman wasn’t far behind. Those exact numbers have been lost to history for the most part, but here’s our list of the top selling comics of the modern era compiled from articles and information found online. Spoiler alert: Superman sold millions of copies again and it nearly wrecked the comic book industry …
Honorable Mention to these Valiant and Image issues that just missed the cut: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (1993) No. 1 (1.5 Million copies), Deathblow (1993) No. 1 (1 Million copies), and Spawn (1992) No. 12 (935,000 copies). Oh, and Marvel’s relaunch of Star Wars (2015) No. 1 made a run at this list with 1.07 Million copies. Close, but no cigar.
10. Spawn (1992) No. 1 (1.7 Million copies)
It was the beginning of the Image Comics revolution. In the early 90s was there nothing Todd McFarlane couldn’t do? Fresh off his run on Marvel’s Spider-Man (1990) series, McFarlane joined other comic book creator/superstars in forming Image Comics, where Spawn would rule for years and is still published to this day.
9. Superman: Man of Steel (1991) No. 22 (1.71 Million copies)
Part of the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline that introduced four “replacement” Supermen while the real deal was “dead”, this issue and it’s other three counterparts had speculators salivating at first appearances, new directions, and a change of status quo. None of that really happened and most collectors have six copies (each) of these things today. See below …
8. Adventures of Superman (1987) No. 501 (1.72 million copies)
More “Reign of the Supermen” only this time you at least got a brand-new Superboy in the deal.
7. Superman (1987) No. 78 (1.78 million copies)
“Reign of the Supermen” again. In retrospect, this whole thing was pretty out of control, wasn’t it?
6. Action Comics (1938) No. 687 (1.8 Million copies)
We have a winner! Action Comics (1938) No. 687 wins top prize for selling the most of the “Reign of the Supermen” tie-in issues!
5. Spider-Man (1990) No. 1 (2.5 Million copies)
A couple of years before he would break records again with Spawn (1992) No. 1 (using the same iconic pose for that series’ first issue as he did for this one), Todd McFarlane took complete control of a brand-new Spider-Man title for Marvel, and the comic book buying public couldn’t get enough. Aided by five slightly different variant covers, Spider-Man was the highest selling comic book of all-time … for about a year.
4. Superman (1987) No. 75 (3 Million copies)
Many believe this storyline — and the media hype surrounding it – is what lead to the “collector mentality” of the 90s that nearly broke the industry. DC Comics killed off the world’s most famous superhero in Superman (1987) No. 75, complete with a black, polybagged cover and now iconic bleeding ‘S’ symbol. The Man of Steel would of course return the following year, but the “death” of such a well-known character had everyone and their grandmother buying up copies. Three million to be exact. Consider that these days a popular title sells around 90,000 copies a month, and you can see how insane Superman (1988) No. 75 was.
3. Adventures of Superman (1987) No. 500 (4.2 Million copies)
If his death was going to generate $$$ imagine what his return would do! At least that was the thought when retailers went nuts on ordering hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies of this modern dollar bin favorite. Oh, don’t forget to grab six copies of the white polybagged version!
2. X-Force (1992) No. 1 (5 Million copies)
That’s right. A Rob Liefeld creation is one of the biggest selling comic books ever. Let that sink in for a minute. The X-Men were super hot, so what about a grittier, rougher version of them? Red-hot. Liefeld would move on to become a founding member of Image Comics not too long after this series debuted, basically duplicating X-Force as an off-brand team called Youngblood.
1. X-Men (1991) No. 1 (7.1 Million copies)
Today, he’s the main man at DC Comics, but back in the early 1990s, Jim Lee was THE artist everyone was emulating and no one – and no comic book property – was hotter than the X-Men. Lee had already worked his magic on a run for Uncanny X-Men (including the debut of fan-favorite Gambit), but with this series – the first new X-Men title in almost thirty years – fans would get his pencils and his scripts. And they ate it up, buying multiple copies. You know, just in case they ever went up in value (with 7 million sold, they didn’t).