Blog Post: A Marvel-ous Fail

By Puja

No new episode; We will  be back next week with one.  However, we are committed to bringing you new content, and in that vein, I will be blogging about a topic we previously discussed in part 1 of episode 6 When in Doubt, Ask An Indian

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there.  That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.”

– David Gabriel, Marvel VP of Sales (March 2017)

Almost immediately after that comment was made, we got news that Black Panther and Ms. Marvel were nominated for Hugo Awards! Well guess what happened a little more than a month after that?

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther & the Crew comic has been canceled

That’s right, you heard it here third or fourth. Marvel canceled the Black Panther & the Crew series penned by MacArthur Genius Fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates…after two issues. The reasons provided by Marvel were poor sales. The first episode hit the stands on April 12. Today is May 15.

Before I go on, I should clarify that what was cancelled is a spin-off series, not the main Black Panther, which is still being written by Coates. READ THIS SYNOPSIS of Black Panther & the Crew:

Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Manifold band together to take on a dangerous wave of street-level threats in this new ongoing series by co-writers Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times best-selling author of Between the World and Me and Marvel’s Black Panther) and Yona Harvey (Black Panther: World of Wakanda) and legendary artist Butch Guice! The death of a Harlem activist kicks off a mystery that will reveal surprising new secrets about the Marvel Universe’s past and set the stage for a big story in the Marvel Universe’s near future. Fear, hate and violence loom, but don’t worry, The Crew’s got this: “We are the streets.”

That’s Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Manifold

Marvel Comics

I got into comics around five or six. When I would visit my mother’s family in Guyana, my great grandmother had comics in her room, the Archie comics and Hindu religious comics. I have pleasant memories of reading them, which led to me continuing to read comics and graphic novels well into adulthood. I did not grow into someone who hangs out in comic book stores, collects comics, or can articulate any side of an argument regarding Marvel vs. DC in any cogent way. Like most of my interests, I tend to follow things I like and that resonate with me.  Aside from great illustrations and engrossing stories, I like comics where women aren’t the damsel, aren’t scantily clad (all the time, I get that it is a motif of the genre), where gender norms aren’t forced on you, and don’t relegate people of color as the villains, to the sidelines or used as a last minute deus ex machina.

Essentially I am the comic fan that die hard comic fans hate.

The one that craves something other than what the mainstream wants. And I do seek that out – and I do spend my money on them, but once in a while the big conglomerates do something interesting with a character that makes me want to see how it affects the story-telling. The die-hard fans feel you are being catered to and them maligned because you’d rather see more than just the 915th variant of Spiderman (to my point, I’d follow Spiderman if he is a she or minority or differently abled in any of those variants).   So when David Gabriel looked at his sales numbers and said ‘hey you random fan of random titles,  your only worth to this company is as a consumer’ I already knew what was coming.

Why do you read comics? I read them because they, like science fiction, present an alternate reality to the one we exist in. Ones where gender equality and racial equality are closer to being achieved than in our society. What if society were different in this ONE way?  What Black Panther and Crew endeavored to do was show real problems, affecting real people in the real world. But because sales aren’t there, these “what ifs” won’t be explored. Being told you don’t matter because you don’t spend enough money on something is short of a gut punch. Depending on how cynical you are, it’s either a rubber band snapped on your wrist, or catching a dodge ball hurled at maximum velocity with your face. You don’t matter. Money matters.

Marvel Comments

I get it, I do.

What I don’t understand is how Marvel can call it cancellation when they barely did anything to promote it in the first place? There are two stories on Marvel webpage dedicated to this title. You would think there would be more if they actually tried to give this title a chance. During launch week. Well what does Twitter say? Turns out everyone but Marvel had words about the cancellation.

Question, since when has two episodes of something been enough to call it a bad trend? From what I could find there have been 20 television shows cancelled after the first episode, the most recent American show was A&E’s 2014 Breaking Boston “A reality show produced by Mark Wahlberg for A&E about four young women working to change their lives in the titular city.”

Wow a show about regular women didn’t have an audience? Surprise, surprise.

The numbers for television shows canceled after two episodes are similar in number. Why is this rattling? Why is the cancellation of a spin-off series of a main title troublesome? Because a company just commodified diversity and inclusion. Someone assigned value to the concept of diversity and inclusion and said that it wasn’t valuable enough to keep around. Do you see the meta[phor] in that?

If titles aren’t making money, the message they are trying to put forth is silenced. When we started this podcast Miranda said she wanted to get our stories out there because she believes in the power of the personal narrative to change someone’s mind.

I don’t agree with that. I think that people by default should respect each other because we share HUMANNESS in common. And how do we do that? How do we make it so that people recognize you are a person before they see you as an “other?” Well by being taught that. And unfortunately, being told something doesn’t really bring it home as much as seeing it does.  I should not have to tell you my life story for you to respect that my opinions and points of view are formed by life experiences. If life experiences (such as being Black or being part of BLM) are things that other people can’t understand wouldn’t it be nice if those concepts were introduced en masse? In an ingestable way in case someone doesn’t have access to a social justice activist to explain why movements such as BLM are important.  I can’t talk to every single person who thinks that diversity in comics is wasted effort. Why can’t we normalize things by presenting broad concepts to people and then individual life experiences can add context? You know like when your parent/caregiver teaches you that fire is hot,  you probably won’t believe them until you experience your first burn? Like that. People may be more likely to engage in civil dialogue if there is some basic understanding of the concept before-hand.

Aside from it being a teachable moment, that wasn’t the biggest touchstone of this title, or titles like it, it was seeing a different sameness. Sometime between 2042-2044, the amount of racial minorities in the United States will supersede the number of Caucasians, something that was probably last true in the 17th century. The biggest touchstone of this title and others featuring a person of color as the hero is simply representation. To see someone who not only looks like you, but struggles with the same / similar issues you struggle with and colored by perspectives that draw from the same well of “community” you drink from is always a plus. If Marvel had done enough to market this title to fans of the “parent” title or just in general maybe this poor sales malarkey would be believable.

In that respect, the cancelation of this comic is the difference in someone saying ‘I see the struggle of minority communities’ vs ‘I am not racist, I have that one X friend.’ I understand it was not Coates’ job (story-telling) or Marvel’s job (money making) to teach people that racism is bad, to bring the lofty superhero iron will to fighting everyday battles. It was about seeing the other side of the story, seeing the realness of fighting the unmasked villains in the real world (#Resist).

I am worried for titles like Ms. Marvel, which has name recognition in the Marvel universe, but does not have a multi-million dollar movie tie-in and can change iterations any time. Meaning, the current Ms. Marvel is a Muslim teenage girl, it can just as easily go back to being a white blonde woman tomorrow. I am worried because my dear friend showed me a picture of her pre-teen cousin dressed in her homemade Ms. Marvel costume at a comic con. She was the only Ms. Marvel there, people lined up to take pictures with her.  What if that moment where representation intersects fandom is taken away? What does my friend’s cousin go dressed as to a comic con? What character can she say is most like her and that she relates to?

Black Panther & The Crew is/was about social justice and how different people with different philosophies were coming together to solve real world problems. Not an invading alien force, it was about resistance. Optically, it was about Black Excellence within the Marvel Universe (again, Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Manifold!!!). What greatness could this have become? Coates himself said that “The Crew was an opportunity to get inside them as black people.”  Can we fanfic this out?

Let’s all say a collective prayer that Kamala Khan lives to represent another day, because young Brown girls are superheroes too.

Sources:

Marvel’s only entry about this comic include an interview posted last Friday:  https://news.marvel.com/comics/61983/black-panther-crew-coming-together/

Just for giggles, peruse the  wikipedia on Black Superheroes, tell me what you notice.

Read up on cancelled TV:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_television_series_canceled_after_one_episode

Charles Pulliam Moore makes a better case why this comic should stay than I do, you can read it here: http://io9.gizmodo.com/marvels-cancelling-black-panther-the-crew-one-of-its-1795200916

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