Not too long ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates announced that the spin-off of his popular Black Panther title: Black Panther and the Crew was cancelled. While comics being cancelled for low sales is by no means a surprise, it’s not often that a comic gets cancelled when only two issues have come out, with the first issue opening at 57 on the Top 100 of comics sales. This is rather surprising as well as disheartening given the success of the parent Black Panther title, especially given the initial rush to capitalize on that success with the similarly cancelled Black Panther: World of Wakanda title. Considering the release of the Ryan Coogler-directed movie is rapidly approaching, one might want Marvel to have more material available to precede the movie, especially with how critically acclaimed the Coates era of Black Panther has been.
Unfortunately there’s varying reasons for why this happened and where Marvel’s missteps began. For one: as a whole, Marvel simply publishes too many books. While that’s not a dint on the quality of those books, the reality is there’s simply too much content for a limited amount of money, at last count Marvel publishes a numerous amount of books between the Avengers, X-Men, Inhumans, Spider-Man, and Star Wars lines, with 5 books in the Top Ten at the moment. After a certain point there simply aren’t enough readers with enough money to support certain books, especially when the baseline price for Marvel books is $3.99 a pop, sometimes bi-weekly, it’s inevitable that some books simply won’t survive the lack of sales. It’s strange in the case of The Crew considering it opened up higher than its parent title in 57 of the Top 100, but without further access to Marvel’s sales and digital sales, there’s no definitive answer as to where it landed.
However, there’s also something to be said for supporting books you can anticipate will find success beyond the direct market. There’s more than a few examples in the Big Two and beyond of this. From Marvel: Ms. Marvel has been a steady if low seller in the direct market, but going by Marvel’s own indications from digital sales, as well as… just take taking a look at Marvel’s broader spectrum entries in the non-comic market, it’s simple to see that Ms. Marvel is a money maker of an I.P. There’s also of course Unbeatable Squirrel Girl which while also a slim seller on the Direct Market at 175 of the Top 200 has done well on the New York Times Best Seller’s list near the end of 2016. And not to be forgotten, but Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur has also seen a great deal of success via the Scholastic Book Fair circuit. And while we’re well past the point where the Spider-Gwen version of Gwen Stacy was a shock, the sheer initial popularity of that one spotlight issue birthed an entire ongoing, as well as several spinoffs and mainstream success practically overnight. The point being though, there’s a great deal of money that can be made outside of the Direct Market, and that’s just talking about Marvel.
DC similarly has had several instances where certain properties experienced mainstream success outside of the normal routes. Omega Men is a great example in the comics realm. While it was initially not going to finish its allotted twelve issues due to low sales, fan outcry led to DC reversing its decision and keeping its promise to publish all twelve issues. What’s even more surprising though is that when Omega Men came out in collections, it ended up being a New York Times Best Seller as well. While that’s simply an instance of a comic triumphing past the cancellation point, it’d do for both companies to take notes that simply allowing a good title, let alone as critically acclaimed as the above is fool’s errand. You can’t simply keep throwing mountains of books into the direct market, especially in Marvel’s case where some books don’t even get promoted unless in the case of certain books like the Kelly Sue DeConnick run of Captain Marvel end up being promoted by the creators and become fan-favorites from there.
Black Panther and the Crew isn’t an isolated case in Marvel. There’s been plenty of ostensibly diverse titles, even ones with a diverse creative team that suffer from a lack of promotion, or get cancelled with perhaps a trade paperback’s worth of material. A recent example of the latter would be the Prowler series. Spinning off from the Amazing Spider-Man which is definitively one of Marvel’s top books, you would think it would stand a chance, especially one with a black lead who’s been around for around the same length of time that the Black Panther has (albeit without the same obvious pop cultural footprint), but it lasted one arc before it hit the ground. Which comes down to a few factors which for my money include that it kicked off with the main protagonist being out of the book till the very issue, as well as again being part of a very crowded line ending up below the Top 200 at 215 when it finally got cancelled with a final sixth issue. Unlike Silk, Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen, the Prowler wasn’t telling a substantially different kind of story from most other Marvel books, and it ended up rendering its own story pointless by the end with the protagonist swap, in effect becoming ancillary to the parent Clone Conspiracy story it launched out of. With a few tweaks, the book would’ve likely had some survival, but the reality is all of that is moot when books get buried underneath a sea of content.
Another type of book that’s had issues with sales is Occupy Avengers. This is a book that’s near and dear to my heart. Launching out of Civil War II with Hawkeye hoping to make amends for his murder of Bruce Banner by traveling across America and fixing problems where he can with Red Wolf and a growing cast in tow dealing with real-world (or close to real-world) problems. While it has a bit of an unfortunately dated title, the comic itself is of a type with Black Panther and the Crew dealing with some sadly relevant problems from community water poisoning, to persecution of war refugees, and injustice against Native Americans. It also has an electric cast with Hawkeye in the lead, the time lost First Nations sheriff Red Wolf, former supervillain Tilda Johnson aka Deadly Nightshade. However, the comic itself like David Walker’s other socially relevant Marvel offering Nighthawk has been under-marketed and is in danger of getting lost in a sea of books and tie-ins. It hasn’t helped that the book as of April 2017 sales is sitting at 190 of the Top 200. However, it has to be stressed that these aren’t firm sales, nor do they account for digital sales, or that a bevy of other popular titles like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. But the reality is, an Avengers title selling that low isn’t exactly ideal regardless, but that’s been an issue across the board for Marvel. Unlike Nighthawk however, this book has already lasted longer simply by virtue of being an Avengers book, as well as getting the chance to tie in with the Secret Empire event, there shouldn’t be so much internal competition for a book to stand out within its own publishing company. Given those precedents, it’s strange that Marvel would simply give a book the axe after two issues, especially with someone who’s a big name outside of comics like Ta-Nehisi Coates onboard, if nothing else wait for the trade to land so it can market outside of comic book stores. While it is gratifying that like Black Panther and the Crew, or Nighthawk got published, the end result should be for these books to thrive, not die.