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

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.

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.

Depending on how you look at it, there are a couple of different ways to interpret Marvel's decision. On the one hand, they're 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 colour 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.

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 colour, they were all able to exist as people rather than being characterised 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.

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.

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 they proudly preach, then they have got to get better about actually supporting these endeavours once they go to print.


Comments

    This is completely unsurprising Marvel's line up is overly saturated with under selling titles, there were always going to be losses. If anything this hurts more because the writing and art are good (for Panther at least), but they aren't pulling the numbers needed to continue sales.

    Will be interesting to see what else gets cut now that their dominance of sales has broken, my guess is that Marvel will be paying attention to a lot of the lessons DC has learnt between N52 and Rebirth. Thry are already showing signs of such lessons in returning older characters back into the fold.

    His main Black Panther run is continuing because people are buying it. This is selling poorly and is being finished up after the story arc finished. That's business.

    They're cancelling a series about an all black team (no issue there), who they insist on sticking in Harlem (cliche) against a police force (oh the cliche)...

    How about rising up and going against the cliche Marvel? Just try it. Don't further it.

    I'm just going to say that's as subtle as slapping someone in the face with a giant horse dick.

    If they got away from the political aspect of it and tried to just tell some good stories, like DC has in the last 12+ months with Rebirth, they'd probably have a much more succesful time.

      Well said.
      I'm all for accurate and realistic representation, but this is cringeworthy from the get go.
      Always got to chase that hot button issue, creating rhetoric in short rather than crafting a proper and substantial story.

      I'm guessing this is just another casualty of the whole "We aren't being political" flip they are pulling.
      Here's hoping this means the characters will get some proper work done on them now.

        I'm all for a tackling of hot topics, if it makes sense. Sam Wilsons arc as Captain America had an outstanding moment where he mentioned the challenges of being accepted as a black Captain America. That was fantastic, because it echoed a realistic prospect. Would he REALLY be accepted? Not likely, not to the same degree Steve Rogers would. But this, this is just pure opportunism. Not to mention they have Black Panther in there, who comes from Wakanda, who isn't subject to the same issues that Luke Cage is. This opens up a whooooole lot of other issues...

          Oh me too, that sounds like some grounded character development. I'm talking about Sam having the same moment in Ferguson while fighting some kind of Nazi with a whip in a single issue, kinda hot button.

          I'm curious how they all come together as a team.
          I would like it on record that at no point did I think "Black Signal"

    If Marvel (and other publishers) really believe in the messages of diversity and inclusion that they proudly preach, then they have got to get better about actually supporting these endeavours once they go to print.
    So the idea here is that for the sake of "diversity and inclusion" a company needs to keep selling a product, at a loss, just for the sake of pushing the message? I'm sorry, but when did business work like that?

    Do morals, idealism and feelings pay for anything in this world? Nope! This world works around one thing: MONEY. If a product doesn't sell, then it is discontinued in order to minimize loss. To keep producing a product that continues to not sell is just bad business.

    People, especially those in entertainment media circles like Kotaku, need to stop holding things like Comic Books, TV shows, Movies and Video Games up as some sort of high holy ideal that needs to live and die on ideas like "diversity and inclusion". These things are PRODUCTS. Nothing more, nothing less. If they don't sell because no one wants them, then that's just business. It's no shocking reflection on the content, it's just a failed product.

    Earlier this year?

    It only launched last month!

    Issue #2 only came out last week, in fact.

    It's a bit unfair to compare a major company event like Secret Empire to a regular monthly series. Of course they're going to go all out with the advertising and promotion for an event.

    Also, FWIW this is the second Black Panther spinoff series to be cancelled early (World of Wakanda also only lasted 6 issues), but the main Black Panther series is still ongoing.

    And more FWIW a new solo Luke Cage series starts this week, plus Marvel are still publishing other so-called "diverse" titles like Sam Wilson: Captain America, Ms Marvel, Spider-Man (the Miles Morales series), Mosaic, America, & Nick Fury.

    Diversity is not the issue. Marvel have launched 120+ "all-new, all-different" books in the past two years and fans just don't have the disposable income to read all of them.

    Couple that with declining physical comic book sales across the board and of course it looks bad.

    Sales are thinning all over and the new titles just spread it even thinner.

    The subtle racism of the main characters might also have to do with driving some readers away. I've been a fan of the Black Panther since the 70s when I discovered comics. But the minute I saw the "mayonnaise store" joke in the first issue of this book -- a clear comment about white people -- I decided I'd never waste my time on this racist trash again.

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