Marvel's Cancelling Black Panther & The Crew, One of Its Most Important Comics Right Now

Marvel
Marvel

When Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey’s Black Panther & The Crew launched earlier this year, it proved that big publishers like Marvel can, in fact, still tell timely stories about real world issues, like how police brutality devastates black communities. But now, after a mere two issues, Marvel has cancelled the series.

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In this incarnation of the crew, Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight gather in Harlem to investigate the murder of Ezra Keith, a civil rights activist who mysteriously died while in police custody. With lines drawn between Harlem’s residents and the police seemingly trying to cover up Keith’s death, The Crew find themselves fighting to maintain the peace while also serving justice, and learning about the unknown history of other black heroes who protected New York during the Civil Rights Movement.

Speaking to The Verge, Coates explained that Marvel chose to end The Crew due to low sales numbers, and that its current story arc would come to a close later this year in its sixth and final issue.

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Illustration for article titled Marvels Cancelling iBlack Panther  The Crew,/i One of Its Most Important Comics Right Now

Depending on how you look at it, there are a couple of different ways to interpret Marvel’s decision. On the one hand, it’s a company in the business of selling comics to make money. If, for some reason, a book isn’t selling, it makes sense a publisher would consider bringing it to an end.

On the other hand, though, cancelling the only mainstream comic book featuring an majority-black team of heroes just weeks after Marvel’s VP of sales blamed the company’s drop in profit on books featuring women and characters of color is the definition of a bad look. What’s more, the cancellation feels incredibly abrupt. It’s as if Marvel chose the most nuclear option as a the solution to a problem without considering other, more thoughtful approaches.

Regardless of how you feel about Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire, you can’t deny that Marvel has put a considerable amount of money and effort into trying to make sure the event is a success. In addition to getting the book coverage at major news outlets like ABC, the company also reached out to brick and mortar comics shops with a (poorly thought out) promotional plan designed to boost visibility. Even though it’s been plagued by accusations of glorifying Nazism and fascist regimes by way of Hydra, it’s clear that Marvel cares about Secret Empire. It’s difficult to say whether the same was ever true of The Crew.

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Illustration for article titled Marvels Cancelling iBlack Panther  The Crew,/i One of Its Most Important Comics Right Now

When Christopher Priest created the original Crew series in 2003, it held all of the same promise that made Coates’ revival such an exciting prospect. While Priest is well known for his electrifying writing, part of what made The Crew such a refreshing series was that, in featuring a cast of characters made up entirely of people of color, they were all able to exist as people rather than being characterized as token minorities on predominantly white teams. In each issue that focused on individual characters, you got a deep and intimate sense of them in a way that felt informed by Priest’s own experiences as a black man.

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The Crew was a comic about black and brown heroes fighting gentrification in NYC. It was smart and spoke to a very serious concern affecting real people, including the characters. Sadly, after seven issues (and very little promotion), it too was cancelled.

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It’s not exactly surprising that history is repeating itself with The Crew’s premature cancellation, but it is keenly disappointing. Comics are at a crossroads right now, and decisions have to be made about how the industry needs to change in order to sustain itself and cultivate new readers. We’ve seen that people are tired of major events, and it looks like we can expect a whole bunch of classic characters to come back from the dead soon. But in the long term, even that won’t be enough.

Stories like Black Panther & The Crew deserve to be told not just because they’re socially relevant, but because they demonstrate how comics as a medium can bring people from all walks of life into important conversations they might not otherwise participate in. However, simply creating these comics is not enough. If Marvel (and other publishers) really believe in the messages of diversity and inclusion that it proudly preaches, then it’s got to get better about actually supporting these endeavors once they go to print.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

michaelmunro
Michael Munro

On the other hand, though, cancelling the only mainstream comic book featuring an all-black team of heroes just weeks after Marvel’s VP of sales blamed the company’s drop in profit on books featuring women and characters of color is the definition of a bad look.

It would be a terrible look if Marvel’s VP of sales actually had done that, but he didn’t. Here’s the verbatim David Gabriel quote:

Now the million-dollar question. Why did those tastes change?

I don’t know if that’s a question for me. I think that’s a better question for retailers who are seeing all publishers. What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.

... so, very clearly, he was not blaming diversity, he was saying that some retailers were reporting drops in sales that seemed to reflect a consumer rejection of the new and more diverse titles.

Then, after that statement had been widely misinterpreted as the click-bait, shoot-the-messenger headline Marvel’s VP of Sales Blames Diversity, he followed up with a clarification:

Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.

We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus of our core heroes.