Tuesday 16 May 2017

Goodbye, Black Panther & The Crew

Patience, they said as they made Captain America a Nazi. Patience, they said as the situation got worse and worse, as they told us Magneto was joining Hydra, too. Patience, they said as more and more context piled moral offense upon moral offense on the road to Secret Empire. Patience, they said for more than a year as they geared up to fill my pull list with unavoidable Nazis.

Then they cancelled Black Panther & The Crew after two issues due to poor sales. The most promising team book I've seen Marvel put out in years, that I did not see one ad for in any of their comics aside from Black Panther, will now run for a single six issue arc.
All this has happened before and all this will happen again, as the saying goes.

This was genuinely the most promising team book I've seen from Marvel since Keiron Gillen's Young Avengers. Its Harlem setting was fascinating and well-researched, Ta-Nehisi Coates' angles on Storm and Misty Knight were interesting even beyond the sheer novelty of having those two very different women working together. It was all tied in with the history, both real and fictional, of Harlem which is just something you don't have reason to learn much about when you're a white bloke from the south of England. All that was great and at the end of the second issue Coates finally introduced Black Panther to his own team book and we were off to the races.

Well, not so much now.

This is a microcosm of something I've been banging on about for a while. You see, as I write this I have Coates' Wikipedia page open and I am wondering how a series written by someone like this, with past work like his, isn't one of the biggest deals in Marvel's publishing portfolio. His second book Between the World and Me won the (US) National Book Award For Nonfiction and was a Pulitzer finalist. He has a television deal developing a series for HBO about Martin Luther King being produced by Oprah Winfrey. Not being American, I don't know exactly how famous these distinctions make him but I think that there would be some potential in getting his name out there to attract new readers...

if Marvel, or any comics company, actually advertised anywhere other than inside their own publications.

So here we are again, with the insular nature of comicbooks coming back to bite the industry on its arse. Now, I'm as big a supporter of promoting internally and recognising when someone has paid their dues as you'll get but right now a title about a team of African and African-American characters set in Harlem written by a Pulitzer finalist who has written extensively about African-American history and philosophy has died on the vine. Meanwhile, a huge crossover event about Captain America being a Nazi at the worst possible moment in modern history is being handled by a man whose only claim to fame outside comics is a failed political career in Cincinnati and whose Wikipedia page refers to a 2011 one-shot in the future tense gets the lions' share of the company's meagre advertising budget, questions have to be asked.

Questions like: what the hell are you guys doing? Do you want new readers or not? Why did you bring Ta-Nehisi Coates into the comicbook industry if not to use his existing reputation to sell product?

Do you, in short, have any plans to actually grow your business or are you content to allow Disney to act as your life support system until they decide that just having the IP rights means they don't need your niche, barely profitable product cluttering up their portfolio?

Because that's what's going to happen at this rate. 

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