When Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey's Black Panther and; 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.