Being Twice as Good Didn’t Give ‘Black Panther’ Spin-Off Half the Chance as Worse Marvel Books

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

RIP Black Panther and the Crew (2017 – 2017)

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  • Wynn

    Can you still buy the book ?

  • Jiba Anderson

    The Crew wasn’t “twice as good,” though. It was alright, but it definitely could not go the distance. It really was meant to be a mini-series. Some concepts aren’t meant to be ongoing titles and this was one of them honestly.

    A bigger issue is the lamentation of this series leaving as if this were the only opportunity for Black readers to have any sort of representation. If some of these blogs would focus on promoting independent titles from creators of color half as much as sucking on the poisoned “Corporate Two” teat…

    • Musa

      Thank you for saying this, Kina. While I obviously recognize the struggle for black artists to breakthrough and have our work recognize, I don’ t think this was the case here. The comparison of The Crew with the new Captain America storyline was a poor one IMO. Firstly, with Captain America, we’re talking about a long standing comic book icon who is supposed to be the epitome of what a comic boom hero is, turning evil and being a part of the very orginzation that he’s fought against basically since his inception. It’s a traditional comic book story telling tool as common as bringing someone back from the dead. Love it or hate it, its going to sell. The Crew, while its a story line that someone like myself would prefer, thats actually speaking to real world issues in the form of a fun and digestible medium in a comic book, is just not going to be as appealing to a general audience.

      As you said, we need to promote and support independent work and not cry foul every time something doesn’t go our way. I’m an aspiring writer and I recognize the struggle of being a black artist, and as a person who was raised by members of the black panther party, I don’t want to be the guy who says stop playing the race card, but damn, I can’t help it. They didnt cancel his Black Panther series which is doing quite well, so why are we whining?

  • Steve

    It was an OK comic. Just Ok. The question we have to ask is why do people read comics. Is it to see our favorite heroes deal with modern real life issues or is it for escapism to get away from modern real life issues. Do I want to pay 3.99 for a comic in which has one page of action or do I want junk food in which my fav heroes fight other bad guys with super powers? Marvel can have diverse super teams but they have to identify what the core audiences really want first.

    • jared whittaker

      ” Is it to see our favorite heroes deal with modern real life issues or is it for escapism to get away from modern real life issues. Do I want to pay 3.99 for a comic in which has one page of action or do I want junk food in which my fav heroes fight other bad guys with super powers?”

      Captain America being a closeted hero while being a nazi sounds like a “modern real life issue” that we have to sit through.

  • Nick fade

    I just want to point out that this series was only scheduled for 7 issues to begin with. And also, the story was ehh. The artwork was great tho.

  • leyssallenne

    They’ll complete the series, sell all of what they print, let a minute pass and call it a classic. Do they care about getting new diverse fans? For some crazy reason they like to act like all the “diverse” $$$ isn’t green.

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