Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Demise of ‘Black Panther & The Crew’

By Sameer Rao May 16, 2017

Marvel recently canceled one of its newest comic series—created by Black writers and showcasing Black superheroes investigating an activist’s death in police custody—barely a month after its premiere. 

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates announced the termination of his and fellow writer Yona Harvey‘s rebooted "Black Panther & the Crew" to The Verge on Saturday (May 13). Without offering numbers, Coates said that Marvel canceled the series due to poor sales.

"Black Panther & The Crew’s" first volume premiered April 12, with the second issue hitting shelves last week (May 10). The series follows its titular superhero, Misty Knight, Storm, Luke Cage and Manifold to Harlem, where they uncover how social justice activist Ezra Keith died under police watch in Harlem. Gizmodo’s io9 adds that as they investigate, the characters learn about earlier Black superheroes who protected the neighborhood during the Civil Rights Movement. Coates told The Verge that "the mystery will be solved" before the series officially wraps with its sixth issue. "’The Crew’ was an opportunity to get inside [the characters] as Black people," he added. 

Coates’ comments came just weeks after David Gabriel, Marvel’s vice president of sales, speculated to ICV2 that the company’s promotion of women and characters of color hurt comic sales: 

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.

Gabriel later followed up with ICV2 to say that he also heard retailers and fans praise new characters of color like Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales. "And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere!" he added.

Io9’s Charles Pulliam-Moore wrote that whatever reasons Marvel has for pulling the series, "cancelling the only mainstream comic book featuring an [sic] 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." He compared "Black Panther & The Crew’s" cancellation with Marvel’s recent promotion of "Secret Empire"—which Snopes notes faced criticism for protagonist Captain America’s leadership of Nazi-affiliated Hydra—with t-shirts bearing the villainous organization’s shield. "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,’" Pulliam-Moore writes. "It’s difficult to say whether the same was ever true of ‘The Crew.’"

Coates and Harvey’s series was a reboot of Christopher Priest’s 2003 series, "The Crew," which focused on Black superheroes fighting gentrification in Brooklyn. Coates will continue working with Marvel on his own "Black Panther" comic.