Ta-Nehisi Coates, the celebrated public intellectual, faced a setback in his attempt to introduce racial diversity to the world of comic books when Marvel announced that Black Panther & The Crew, which Coates had been writing with Yona Harvey, would be canceled after six issues. Only two issues have been published thus far; The Verge, which first reported the news, said Coates cited “poor sales” as the reason for the cancellation.
Poor sales were certainly no issue with Between the World and Me, Coates’s 2015 autobiographical work on racial injustice, in which some saw echoes of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Jay Z celebrated Coates in a tweet, as did readers across the nation—black and white alike—who propelled him to the top of the bestseller lists, where he remained for many months.
The deal with Marvel was announced in the fall of 2015. “He has the baddest costume in comics and is a dude who is smarter and better than everyone,” Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso said of Black Panther. Coates’s rejuvenation of the franchise was to add much-needed diversity to the world of comics, where superhero has for decades meant “musclebound white guy.”
Coates has frequently celebrated the comic format for its cultural and literary potential. “As a child of the crack-riddled West Baltimore of the 1980s,” he wrote in The Atlantic last year, I found the tales of comic books to be an escape, another reality where, very often, the weak and mocked could transform their fallibility into fantastic power.”
The comics authored by Coates and Harvey focused on police violence against African-Americans in Harlem. Coates told The Verge that the remaining four issues will resolve the central mystery, which focuses on the suspicious death of Ezra Keith, a community activist critical of law enforcement.
Some bemoaned the cancellation of Black Panther & The Crew. Writing for Gizmodo, Charles Pulliam-Moore called it “incredibly abrupt.” He also questioned the timing: In April, Marvel vice president of sales David Gabriel said that “people didn’t want any more diversity.” Getting rid of Black Panther & The Crew seems to suggest his distate for diversity is widely shared.
Others cheered. On Heat Street, the right-wing website that frequently derides identity politics and its proponents, whom it deems “social justice warriors,” Ian Miles Cheong suggested that comics with a social message were bound to fail. “No one is buying Marvel’s lineup of social justice-themed comics,” he wrote. “It’s no surprise, given that few readers want politics to be forced down their throats.”
One could, of course, argue that Captain America—introduced by Marvel in 1941—is no less political than Black Panther.