We are supposed to be in a glorious time. After years and years of trying to make black characters more prominent in comics, we are now being recognized in mainstream media. Black Panther has now gone down in history as one of the highest grossing superhero movies of all time. Meanwhile, his fellow superheroes suffer on the page…and what’s sad is that King T’Challa knows the sharp ax of cancellation all too well.
The Cancellation Problem
On November 9th, 2016 and April 12th, 2017, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther spawned 2 spinoff books: Black Panther: World of Wakanda, and the return of the title The Crew, now labeled Black Panther & The Crew. In the former, both Coates and writer Roxanne Gay explored the advanced city of Wakanda primarily and its people, focusing on two members of the Dora Milaje Ayo and Aneka. Black Panther & The Crew, co-written by Coates and Yona Harvey, told the story of a group of black superheroes from the Marvel Universe working together to stop a wave of street-level threats surrounding the death of a black activist. Both of these titles were canceled shortly after their launch, The Crew‘s cancellation was even more shocking because it happened not long after it’s first issue released with Marvel comics. Both books were canceled due to low sales.
Now, a year later after the end of both of these books, we’ve seen the end of the titles for the most prominent black characters in Marvel comics. Luke Cage, who just saw his first season on Netflix with the second soon approaching, recently saw his comic series canceled after being separated from Danny Rand in the series Power Man & Iron Fist with both titles being relaunched separately to coincide with the release of their respective Netflix shows. Then, after relaunching his solo series, Luke Cage had a total of ten issues released, even going back to his original numbering with Marvel Legacy and having only five of those ten be Legacy numbers before it’s cancellation.
Also with the announcement of Dan Slott as the new writer of Tony Stark: Iron Man, Marvel is even going as far as to put Tony’s name in the title to reassure fans of his return. It is very clear that with this new writer, comes the new direction and that new direction is causing the lack of prominence for Riri Williams.
Now with today’s release of Marvel’s June solicitations, Marvel has silently canceled both Falcon and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Spider-Man was left out in the cold due to Brian Michael Bendis leaving Marvel for an exclusivity deal with DC Comics while Falcon was canceled even though has only released six issues, with the eighth issue releasing in May. Its writer—Rodney Barnes—hasn’t left Marvel, even writing the upcoming Lando: Double or Nothing beginning release in May. The question remains now: why is every black Marvel hero besides Black Panther slowly being taken off the board?
The simplest answer is sales. Sales, sales, sales. The answer to why many of the newer diverse heroes have entered the cancellation station. In February’s Top 300 Comics Sold to North American Comic Shops, Falcon #5 was the 165th book in units sold and 166th book in overall sales, only selling 10,401 copies. Luke Cage‘s last issue #170 was 187th in units and 196 in sales, only selling 8,549 copies. Spider-Man: Miles Morales #237 is the 83rd book in units sold and 78th in sales, selling 25,281 copies. Invincible Iron Man issues with Riri in the starring role was at 61st in units sold and 56th in sales with 30,242 copies. So it’s easy to say that Miles and Riri might have stayed around if Marvel would have put effort into finding a new writer or not choosing to change direction, but based on sales alone, Falcon was easily going to follow in Luke Cage‘s footsteps.
What’s astonishing is the magnificent support and profits garnered from the theatrical release of Black Panther and single issues and trade sales for Black Panther comic books. This would suggest that the African-American community would be more inclined to support the releases of black heroes to help support representation in comics after many in the comic community have been calling for more minority inclusion and representation in these books.
Then what could possibly be causing this lack of support? Is it that us minorities don’t feel welcome in comic shops? Is it that many are choosing digital comics and don’t know that digital comics don’t make up a large number of sales due to fluctuating deals and there’s possibly not a way to track them? Maybe it’s that many minorities don’t feel comic books are for them? This might be the case with an example like the petition to start a Wakanda television show..even though there was a full Wakanda comic book a year ago. However, with no clear evidence besides that to this or any other possible answer, we might never know for sure.
Are They Just Bad Books?
The answer is solely subjective, but looking across the board, according to Comic Book Roundup, Falcon #1-5 has maintained a 7/10 or higher in rating from major comic review sites. All except one issue of Luke Cage got the same rating, Spider-Man: Miles Morales book had maintained 7/10 or higher until the Marvel Legacy relaunch and the announcement of Bendis leaving the project, and Riri’s run was 7.5/10 or higher until it’s most recent issue.
So are all of these books starring blacks just poorly written? Hard to imagine, especially with cases like Falcon and Luke Cage that have seen significant drops in sales after their first issues once the speculators and collectors had coveted them. So the idea of them just being bad books when many people don’t even give them a chance is very unlikely. Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, a book written by the creator of the superhero has seen reviews across the board higher than 7.5/10 during all five issues so far, is 190th in units sold and 182nd in the top 300, only selling 8,277 copies in February.
What Can Be Done Now In The Wake Of These Cancellations?
Here’s the fact of the matter. As of June, there will only be two solo ongoing comic books (Black Lightning is a mini-series) from DC and Marvel starring black characters: Cyborg from DC Comics who after almost facing cancellation, is returning and written by famed Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman, and Black Panther who is being relaunched in May. Both of these titles need to be pre-ordered at your local comic stores, they need to be purchased. Black Panther will have to stay in power solely because of movie sales even if the writing declines heavily, but Cyborg is at more risk. I asked its previous writer if he was going to be taking over and then him admitted the series was ending.
We, as both a comic community and humans want representation—good, non-forced representation with well-written stories that aren’t pandering to us, but reflecting our real world—need to support these books.
Your local comic book store has a program called a “pull list”, where you can pre-order these books and they will count as a part of the top 300 each month. Your purchase will matter in support of these heroes. That phrase that many comic creators say, “Vote with your wallet,” is true. We have the power to make these characters prominent. So let’s do it.
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