How do you get your book canceled after two issues? It sounds like a super nerdy diss that Childish Gambino would spit in a freestyle, but sadly, it’s a reality for Black creatives now that Black Panther and the Crew has been canceled. The comic series is at least partially a result of the recent success Ta-Nehisi Coates has seen from his Black Panther run that depicted the fall of Wakanda.
The third book in the Coates era of the Panther franchise, co-written by poet Yona Harvey, has T’Challa teaming up with Misty Knight, Luke Cage, and Storm in Harlem. The conflict walks a clear tightrope between “super” and “human” as the new incarnation of the Crew gets to the bottom of a respected community activist’s death while in police custody. The team struggles to keep the neighborhood from turning into a sociopolitical powder keg while also uncovering the truth behind Ezra Keith’s death. Meanwhile, Coates and Harvey also delve into the secret history of heroes who have defended Harlem long before the Crew.
The short version is that this is an important book, perhaps the most important book Marvel (a publisher that has tried to convey how serious it is about appealing to a savvy, diverse new generation of potential readers) had in its arsenal. Much like the Christopher Priest version over a decade ago, it was a timely, nuanced tale that invoked the demons that hang over black bodies in America and held the potential to awaken the boldness necessary for woke, young readers to confront them. Now, it’s just a matter of months away from being the trade paperback version of an appetizer for voracious new readers eager to jump headfirst into “important” Black Panther books a little less than a year away from the character’s first solo addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
According to Coates, the book is ending due to low sales and quite honestly, it’s not completely unreasonable for a business to prioritize making money even when the product is artwork. However, the fact that it’s something as subjective as artwork being monetized means that it takes time to properly cultivate an audience for a character being brought into the top tier. Certainly, that takes more time than barely two issues (though the story arc’s remaining four issues will still run their course to wrap the series).
Marvel’s latest universe spanning event of the week, Secret Empire, is more or less a well-produced book that brings an unconscionably stupid premise to its boiling point. In response to the backlash they’ve experience from readers who’ve taken offense to the idea of Captain America, a character created by two Jewish men (one of which was a real life Nazi puncher), being a secret Nazi, Marvel has tried to convince readers that HYDRA doesn’t count as a Nazi organization when the answer is “Yes AND No” at best. They’ve spoiled at least part of the plot just to reassure us that Captain America’s legacy as a hero would return back to status quo.
They’ve all but outright begged readers not to chase them out of town with torches and pitchforks and yet there are still people buying Secret Empire just to burn it. The level of agility required for the amount of backflipping, cartwheeling, and flip-flopping Marvel has done in the service of selling this book is reserved circus acrobats or maybe that cyber ninja from Metal Gear Solid. No matter how readers say, “No thanks,” somehow this event remains covered in editorial Teflon.
If this were a rom-com, Marvel would be like Matthew McConaughey chasing the taxi down on the Brooklyn Bridge with a motorcycle to beg Kate Hudson not to leave. Yet, Coates and Harvey’s book is treated with the stoic resolve of Rhett Butler cruising out the door saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
It seems that even in its demise, Black Panther and the Crew is still representative of the cost of being creative while Black in America. As the old saying goes, we often have to be twice as good as our white counterparts to get half as much as they do and even then, sometimes it’s still not enough to avoid the chopping block. Even with all the progress that’s been made for diverse content, it’s heartbreaking that Marvel doesn’t understand that part of cultivating safe spaces for these conversations and characters is allowing room them to grow. Sadly, even our heroes aren’t allowed to be too big to fail.