Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
Both Marvel and DC have provided us with countless outstanding superhero teams over the years. With Black Panther, Misty Knight, Luke Cage, Storm, and Manifold, the crew in Black Panther & The Crew certainly packs a punch. The roster alone ranks among the most intriguing team-ups in comic lore. In addition to the super-team, Ta-Nehisi Coates puts forth a riveting and important story, as the team investigates the death of a Harlem activist and his role in assembling a team of superheros in the 1950's. The story also delves into race relations and the ramifications of police brutality, hitting close to home in American society today.
The series reunites Coates with World of Wakanda partner Yona Harvey. Coates has given voice to activism, Civil Rights, race relations, and the Black experience in his previous books, memoirs, articles, and speeches, as well as in his previous work in comics, including the aforementioned World of Wakanda and his current Black Panther run that began in 2016. Whereas World of Wakanda and Black Panther were both set in Wakanda, The Crew is unique as it is set in the United States and deals with socioeconomic and political issues exclusive to the country. Black Panther & The Crew follows in the footsteps of the 2003 series The Crew, which focused on gentrification and poverty.
Issues one and two set the stage for the conflict, weaving between the past and present. The second even briefly ventures back to Little Mogadishu, the setting for the original The Crew series. The story moves at a glacial pace in introducing the super team, focusing solely on Misty Knight and Storm in the first two issues, with Black Panther making his debut at the very end of the second. Editor Wil Moss called for patience in the letters page of the first issue as the crew comes together.
Unfortunately, after just those two issues it was announced that the series was cancelled, with poor sales being cited as the main reason. The news got me thinking about a few things. First, what exactly does 'poor sales' mean in the comic world? How low do sales have to be before the plug is pulled on a series? Second, if The Crew did suffer from poor sales, why weren’t people buying it?
The great folks over at Comichron.com keep monthly sales numbers using the 'Final Orders' numbers from comic book distributors who serve comic book shops nationwide (it should be noted that this doesn’t account for digital or international sales). Using their data, I found that Black Panther & The Crew #1 sold 35,604 units. That ranked The Crew 57th in comics sold in the month of April. By comparison, the top three sellers were Secret Empire (162,718), Batman #21 (130,216), and X-Men Gold #1 (114,332).
The Crew’s figures were good for the most sales among Black Panther properties, beating out Black Panther (30,509) and World of Wakanda (only 14,547). Among other 'big name' titles, it beat sales for Marvel’s Iron Fist #2 (28,649) and Hulk #5 (22,644), and the hyped-up Archie comic Riverdale #1 (15,781).
At over 35,000 copies sold, The Crew wasn’t at the top of the charts, but by no means was it a failure. In fact, it performed better than a variety of Marvel properties. So why was it pulled early? Some takes from the media have suggested that it was related to the ongoing discussion of diversity in comics. It could be that the month-to-month market is crowded for Black Panther right now with three titles out. While The Crew outpaced Black Panther and World of Wakanda in April, Marvel may have decided to stick with the two established series. Or it may have just been the case that many comics face a short lifespan. That’s sometimes the nature of the business.
Whatever spurred the cancellation, it is unfortunate for a number of reasons. First and foremost, The Crew is covering some very timely and extremely important issues, including police brutality and race relations. It’s always good to have another voice lent to the heavy problems in the world right now. The cancellation is also rough because it forces the tempo of the comic. The team will now have much less liberty to unfold the story slowly as originally planned. While Coates and the team will still get a few more issues to wrap up the story, it’s a shame that they’ll have to share a marathon’s worth of a story in a sprint’s pace.
Nonetheless, Coates’ and Harvey’s venture truly deserves support. As far as short runs go, it would be hard to find such a compelling, powerful and timely story with an all-star cast of characters elsewhere. The final four issues should be a whirlwind worth checking out. Black Panther & The Crew #3 goes on sale Wednesday, June 14th.
Update: In the time after this article was written, Marvel quietly cancelled the other Black Panther spinoff, World of Wakanda.