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Marvel exec insists wave of cancellations not motivated by books’ diversity

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The readers ‘ultimately decide what survives,’ said Marvel chief

America Chavez, the Marvel superhero known as Miss America.
America Chavez, the Marvel superhero known as Miss America.
Joe Quinones/DC Comics

The release of Marvel Comics’ publication schedule for this coming March had some unpleasant surprises for fans: A lot of cancellations. Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada has since responded to concerned readers on his Twitter account, insisting that the cancellations are only about sales — not an anti-diversity pattern.

Marvel’s March solicitations were notably missing some books when they were released on Dec. 18, while other titles seemed to have oddly conclusive synopses and cover images attached to them. The news slowly trickled out from creative teams, rather than an official announcement from Marvel: Generation X, Gwenpool, Luke Cage, Iceman, Hawkeye and America were all confirmed to be canceled.

Fans, naturally, were looking for a broader explanation. Marvel changed its editor in chief recently, so perhaps this was an affect of new management. March is also the month in which the publisher will kick off its Infinity event to tie in with Avengers: Infinity War, a traditional time for comics publishers to shake up their slate. And many fans couldn’t help but notice that the cancellations appeared to follow a certain pattern.

Most of them had diverse creative teams. All of them featured lead female characters, lead characters of color or lead queer characters. Generation X followed the X-Man Jubilee, in her adventures with a group of students at Xavier’s school. Iceman was the original X-Men character’s first solo series since coming out as gay. Hawkeye followed the adventures of Hawkeye’s partner, Kate Bishop (whose superhero name is also Hawkeye). America was the first solo series for America “Miss America” Chavez, a long-time fan-favorite and queer Latina superhero. In fact, America and Iceman were the only queer characters with solo series at Marvel.

So-called “mainstream” American comics have been approaching a crossroads ever since digital distribution became a core part of the business — whether to shake up marketing and publishing strategies to acknowledge the convenience of the digital and book markets and treat them like a viable territory for the industry rather than a supplement to direct sales ... or to double down on the existing comic shop audience for monthly physical issues.

“For all the fans who buy trades and read digitally, or just fans who want to get more involved, is there a way beyond purchase to help comics creators?” Twitter user Matt Ligeti asked Quesada. “Writing reviews? Telling Marvel they love a creator?”

Quesada answered:

It’s an odd question to ask in the hypothetical, when what Marvel did in the face of that dilemma — cancelling Generation X, Gwenpool, Luke Cage, Iceman, Hawkeye, and America — is what motivated Ligeti to ask in the first place.

Quesada conversed with many fans over Twitter during the discussion (apparently killing time while stuck on a plane), emphasizing that Marvel’s March cancellations were motivated merely by sales. And not just comic shop pre-orders, but digital and collected trade paperback sales.

But in the comics industry, where all comic shop pre-order sales are publicly available data, some folks are calling foul. According to Bleeding Cool’s Joe Glass, Iceman, America and Luke Cage were selling as well or better than series featuring classic Marvel standby characters like Daredevil and Wolverine. Daredevil and Old Man Logan don’t seem to be on the chopping block.

And in the case of Iceman, the series’ first trade collection won’t hit shelves until January. It’s been canceled before it even hit the traditional book market.

Without the same transparency on digital and trade sales that fans have comic shop pre-orders, it’s impossible for them to know what other factors led into Marvel’s decisions. They just have to take Quesada’s word for it:

And after the troubled year Marvel has had, with controversial crossover events, partnerships and gaffes, it seems many fans are finding that difficult.