It's a strange coincidence; just a few days after the release of a phenomenal Black Panther trailer, #Marvel Comics has quietly canceled the spinoff comic World of Wakanda. The publisher was thrilled to announce the series just last year, as it united Roxane Gay, poet Yona Harvey, and artists Alitha Martinez and Afua Richardson — and thus was the first ever Marvel title helmed by black women. The cancellation is a real blow for diversity in the comic book industry, and yet here's the catch; it was inevitable.
The Comic Book Industry Is Changing
This is actually the second Black Panther spin-off to be canceled in recent months (Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther and the Crew was canceled after just two issues), and fans are understandably getting confused and concerned. As The Daily Dot has pointed out, neither book received strong promotion, and publishers tend to focus in on pre-orders to assess sales — that may not be representative in these cases, as the books are aimed at readers who aren't part of the traditional comic book market.
The real problem, though, isn't to do with promotion or a flawed system that centers around pre-orders (although both are real issues). The problem is that the comic book industry as a whole has changed, and Marvel Comics seem to be struggling to realize that.
Ta-Nehisi Coates's Black Panther #1 was the best-selling comic of 2016, and Marvel approached the success in a traditional manner; they decided to build on it, launching spinoffs and trying to turn the one successful title into the basis for a range. They rightly identified the diverse creative team as a core part of the book's success, and even tried to replicate that. Their assumption was that anyone who was reading Black Panther would want to read more titles set in Wakanda, and that all they needed to do was make sure the spinoffs matched the style and tone of the main title. They could then sit back and rake in the cash.
The only problem is, the comic book market doesn't work like that anymore. As retailer Brian Hibbs explained:
"With “Black Panther”, it was tons of new faces, diverse faces, genuinely excited about comics. And they were vibing on it… until Marvel saw it had a hit on its hand, and decided to push out “Black Panther: World of Wakanda”, and then “Black Panther: The Crew”. And this new audience began to leap off in droves because they don’t grasp (or want) Marvel’s publishing plan."
Adding a second Black Panther title didn't double sales; instead, it caused a steep drop in customers buying the main title, while the spinoff book failed to sell too. Modern comic book readers aren't looking for a line of comics. They just want to follow a single title. Essentially, in this modern market, all these spinoffs were achieving was brand dilution.
Let me be clear: both Black Panther and the Crew and World of Wakanda are excellent books, and I'll miss them. But the strategy Marvel followed in launching these books in the first place wasn't one that would ever work in the modern market.
Why This Is Good News And Bad News
It's an open secret that Marvel Comics is struggling. Sales have been dropping, and the company's been trying to rebuild its relationship with retailers in order to understand and fix the problems. The sad truth is that, in the modern market, both Black Panther and the Crew and World of Wakanda were never going to be a success. Their cancellation is simply an acceptance of the inevitable.
Here's the thing; this is good news for Ta-Nahesi Coates's main Black Panther book. The brand is no longer diluted. Sure, this comic has lost readers over the last few months, but if Marvel invest in a bit of marketing, there's no reason it can't get them back. The book is tremendous, and really deserves to be one of Marvel's best-sellers. I'm confident that, with the right support, Black Panther can easily find its second wind.
Meanwhile, the fact that Marvel hasn't already announced yet more Black Panther spinoffs is something of a relief. I'm not entirely sure the publisher fully understands the way the market is changing; after all, we're partway through Marvel's third attempt to turn the success of Guardians of the Galaxy into a new cosmic line, following the traditional approach that isn't likely to work in the modern market. Still, with any luck the absence of further Black Panther spinoffs suggests that somebody is beginning to notice that the market has changed, and hopefully the troubled publisher will begin to get back on its feet.
The cancellation of World of Wakanda is sad, not least because Marvel Comics could really do with a nice, healthy shot of diversity among its creative staff. Losing World of Wakanda — and thus the creative teams involved — is frankly devastating for diversity in the comic book industry as a whole. But it was also inevitable, because the book simply wasn't tailored to the modern comic book market. With that comic canceled, now perhaps Marvel can begin to launch books that are actually tailored for the market as it now is — not as it was a decade ago.