How many copies of Ultimate Fallout #4 exist?
Decoding the sales charts to investigate a decade-old mystery
by John Jackson Miller
One of the ways in which readers use the Direct Market distributor sales data on Comichron is to find the original supply on back issue comics. There's often incorrect terminology used there — people use the phrase "print run," which is not the same thing as the number of copies shipped — but we can say that the distributor charts provide an accurate minimum number of copies in existence, and once you account for possible overseas shipments, you've got a pretty good idea of what's out there.
When a title is reprinted, however, things get a little more complicated. That's because Diamond Comic Distributors bundled all variants of the same issue as one entry in its charts, so long as they all have the same cover price. That includes second and later printings.
Diamond went this route for the simple reason that, if it didn't, the charts would be a mile long. It's not very easy for retailers to see how one title is selling relative to another — the reason the charts exist! — if a comic book's sales are split up four ways. Or, sometimes, forty!
Isolating a reprint's sales in the charts: An optimal case
Sometimes, it isn't difficult to parse what the monthly sales numbers are referring to. Take, for example, Champions #19. It appeared three times in Diamond's monthly charts, and here were our published estimates:
The issue didn't sell enough additional copies to appear in May's chart, which means it couldn't have sold more than the 500th place comic in that month. That's 769 copies — you can find our month-by-month guide to where that cutoff is here. It also didn't appear in Diamond's year-end page for 2018, so what we see there is what information there is.
Champions #19 came out on April 11, 2018, while its second printing released on June 27. That gap between the printings — and the fact that it didn't rechart in May — gives us more confidence that the June and July copies are very likely mostly or all second printings. So an assumption that North American sales of the first printing were, at minimum, 17,922, and likely no higher than 18,691, given the cap on what May sales could have been, seems safe. So, too, an assumption that those later copies are mostly if not all second printings: 2,594 is the minimum for that printing based on June and July, though there could be some later copies as well.
So that's a straightforward example. But in the era of snap reprintings that began in earnest in the 2010s, it's not always easy to tell what's what. Which brings us to the case of a comic book more frequently asked about...
The Ultimate Fallout #4 dilemma
Ultimate Fallout #4, the 2011 comic book featuring the first appearance of Miles Morales — a character who would go on to be the focus of an Oscar-winning film — was part of a weekly series begun in July 2011. The solicited title wasn't even the one used on the comic book: Marvel had called the series Ultimate Comics: Fallout, to go along with its "Ultimate Comics" event for the summer. Marvel was facing
a competitive environment where getting attention was key: DC was about to launch its "New 52" event, which would ultimately help to revive the industry after its Great Recession-era slump. The issue went on sale August 3 with two different versions — the main Mark Bagley cover and a Marko Djurdjevic platform variant.
It appears that it took a few days for the general buying public to trip to what transpired in the issue, because while it made the Diamond reorder chart for the week of Aug. 1-7, it only landed in 23rd place. But it would be #1 on the reorder list for the next two weeks — and as it happened, Marvel had already ordered a snap reprint using the Bagley cover with a Final Order Cutoff of Aug. 15. That version placed fifth on the advance-reorder chart for August 8-14.
Marvel made a further offer — and doubled down on it. A second reprint version, using Sara Pichelli's interior artwork as a cover, had been announced in the Aug. 11's Marvel Mailer #267; the plan was that if retail orders of the Bagley reprint exceeded sales of the original by 50%, they'd get an equal number of the Pichelli variant for free. But a week or so later, it extended the free Pichelli-copy match to retailers' entire reprint orders — and offered a unique bonus: for every 5,000 copies of the reprint, either version, that retailers ordered, shops would receive an Ultimate Spider-Man #1 Sara Pichelli sketch variant limited to a print run of 20 copies — and a free print ad in Marvel comics to come.
It was an unusually grandiose pitch, as remarked by commentators at the time (including here), 5,000 copies seemed an incredibly high target, no matter what the underlying comic. Especially as — as Eye on Comics' Don MacPherson pointed out — as of Aug. 26, reorders for the original version of the comic book were still shipping. CBR's John Parkin likewise asked, "You have to wonder what drove this special deal -- did they overprint and are now trying to move copies with the reward?
(The Pichelli Ultimate Spider-Man #1 sketch cover certainly does exist — CGC has graded six of them — but it's unclear whether anyone actually took the deal and received the ads, and as we'll see, there aren't 100,000 copies of the Fallout reprint variants in existence anyway, so there must have been other ways for people to get them.)
Back to Fallout #4. The Bagley reprint would land on August 31 — coincidentally, the day that Justice League #1 went on sale — and so did at least some copies of the Pichelli version.
Right away, there's a problem for readers trying to use the procedure above (and many have tried!) who are looking to know how many copies of each variant were produced. Since the reprints had the same cover price as the first printing and came out in the same calendar month, Diamond bundled their sales figures together. Had the reprints came out just a day later, they'd have been separate; we'd have had no guarantee that some of the September reorders weren't first printings, but there would have been fewer of them in the mix.
There's another wrinkle on top of that. Using the procedure described above, we see that orders for all versions of the issue worked out like this:
August 2011: 73,764 copies
September 2011: 14,372 copies
October 2011: 8,679 copies
November 2011: No report
December 2011: 20,877 copies
January 2012: 9,125 copies
February to April 2012: No reports
May 2012: 5,791 copies
That's 117,692 copies in calendar 2011, plus another couple of batches in 2012 to add up to 132,608 copies.
We can see in the November and later entries that the copies were blown out at a deep discount: their dollar rankings are much below their unit rankings. In January 2012, Diamond offered both the Pichelli and Bagley variants for free for every copy of other unrelated (i.e., non-Fallout) comics that retailers ordered in a special 80¢ sale, so those copies all cost basically nothing. (That sale lends credence to the theory above that the reprints were significantly overprinted.)
But those monthly charts aren't the whole story. Recall there's another set of charts: an annual one that includes everything sold, including in those months, like November 2011, when the reorders didn't make the Top 300 (which was the chart's lower limit for listing Marvel titles at the time). And we see there that the total is...
Full-Year 2011: 130,667 copies
And there's the next problem. Because
130,667 minus 117,692 is 12,975 copies — which is far more than could have been sold in the one month for which we don't have a Diamond chart, November 2011. The 300th place level that month was 4,330 copies. If it had moved nearly 13,000 copies in November, it would have charted again. Is something missing?
Possible theories presented themselves — all of which were non-starters. No, the January 2012 figures couldn't have been part of the 2011 end-of-year data; that sales information didn't exist when 2011's chart was released. And no, Diamond's sales through its UK arm — which would indeed be around 10% of the North American total — are never mixed in, even accidentally.
Years later, after having received more questions about the issue than any other in Comichron's history to that date — and having been unable to work out a possible explanation that held up, I asked if Diamond still had any relevant information in its files. Turns out that it did — and I was also able to tap other sources for official information.
I learned that for some reason — unknown, but likely tied to the nature in which the two variants were offered and the last-day-of-month timing of their release — around 12,000 copies of the second printing missed being tabulated, and did not get recorded in August or any of the other monthly reports. The error was caught by the end of the year, however, and the total is reflected in the end-of-year stats.
Diamond did not specify the nature of the oversight, but it's easy to see a case where one of its warehouses didn't report on one or both of the versions in time. Regardless, we now have most of the missing 12,975 copies from the annual report; the rest, however many there were, would have wound up in November.
Next, it appears that a significant number of first printings did ship in September and October, even as the second printings were coming out; these make up a large portion of what charted in those months. Even books that sell out can have copies shipping for some time alongside later printings, especially when a reprint becomes available so early, as happened here. In this case, there appears to be about 20,000 first printings in September and October for which Diamond received relatively little money, as suggested by their low dollar rankings. It's at least possible that in the case of something being miscoded that these 20,000 copies could be reprints, either some or all — but even in that case, only the Pichelli ones would have been free. They almost look like overships.
(An additional — if remote! — possibility is that some quantity of these September-October first printing copies were Marvel's postal subscription copies, which Marvel might have routed through Diamond to its subscription agent, Midtown Comics. Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 had around 7,000 postal subscribers monthly in 2010; while there is no mention of subscriptions in #4's indicia, it wouldn't be unprecedented for its subscription list may have flowed into Fallout, which was its successor series. And there wouldn't necessarily have been a cost associated if Diamond was just passing them along.)
In any event, Diamond revealed that both the second printings were produced and shipped to it by Marvel in exactly equal numbers. This makes sense, given the one-to-one match retailers were offered. On top of that — and this is the final piece of the puzzle — we have information from a corroborating source that the sales of the Bagley and Djurdjevic first printings in August totaled around 66,600 copies, which was well over the number for the previous issue of Ultimate Fallout and the one that followed.
This means the North American copies break down as follows:
And the monthly sales would likely break down as follows:
August 2011: Around 85,800 copies
• of which around 66,600 were first printings, spread across the Bagley and Djurdjevic editions
• 7,200 second printing copies were reported
• and another 12,000 second printings were not reported
September 2011: 14,372 copies
• of which around 11,500 copies appear to be first printings for which Marvel received little money,
given the low dollar volume ranking
October 2011: 8,679 copies
• which appear almost entirely to be first printings for which Marvel received little money,
given the low dollar volume ranking
Finally, there's a straggler report:
May 2012: 5,719 copies
• which appears again to mostly be first printings for which Marvel received little money,
given the low dollar volume ranking
Figuring leftovers in November not accounted for by the August adjustment, figure that the total number of North American copies, reprints included, is around 150,000 copies.
Now that we have an idea of how many copies Diamond shipped in each month, is there a way to break down the first printings? That wasn't something Diamond was able to fill me in on, but we can make an educated guess. The Djurdjevic first printing variant was offered at a rate of 1 for every 25 copies of the Bagley version that retailers purchased. So it's about 1/26th of the 93,000 copies that shipped, right?
No, not really. This is a common error collectors make when looking at ratio variants. Read again the promotion: retailers were able to order one Djurdjevic variant for every 25 Bagley copies they ordered — but not all retailers would have ordered 25 copies. There are many retailers who wouldn't have met that threshold. So there'd theoretically be even fewer than one Djurdevic first printing in existence for every 25 Bagley first printings.
So while a true 25:1 ratio would result in 89,700 Bagley copies and 3,377 Djurdjevic ones, the real figure looks much lower: we believe it's somewhere closer to 1,400 North American copies ordered for the variant, making it more like 65:1 in actual practice. And as a result, this round of detective work yields something that looks like this:
So the numbers above are as close as we're going to get using information from Diamond, both back in 2011 and from my later conversations. There's just one piece left out: the number of copies that were sold through the UK operation.
As noted above, Diamond doesn't report those copies in its monthly charts because North American retailers rarely have need to care about them; the vast majority of comics sold overseas never re-enter the local market and so don't have to be considered as part of the regional supply. But Ultimate Fallout #4 of course is definitely one of those fortunate few comics that are worth an international shipping charts.
Given contemporaneous UK sales levels from 2011, it's likely the first printing would have seen something like 5,000 additional copies going to that market on initial order, about a hundred of which would have been the Djurdjevic variants. That'd take it to around 96,600 Bagley first prints, and 1,500 Djurdjevic copies overall.The number probably wouldn't have been boosted much by reorders or the second printings; all too often, items saw only token reorder and later printing copies in that era.
The final word?
What appears above draws upon official information, but there's still some question about some elements — like whether the reordered first printings that shipped in September, October, and — astoundingly! — May of the following year really were that, and not second printings. Should more authoritative information become available, we'll add it to the picture.
—Updated March 30, 2021