After 25 years in the business, critically-acclaimed scribe Priest almost quit comics…and it’s all your fault.
Despite an inspired attempt by Priest to carve himself a fresh position within Marvel’s catalog (after the cancellation of Black Panther), The Crew was cut down, only seven issues to its credit. Disappointed over what he believed was a decidedly premature judgment, Priest wrote in his blog that “I had all but decided to hang up comics.” Upon closer examination, the decision was nearly made for him.
Loosely tied to the controversial mini-series The Truth, the short lived series revolved around a group of men whose corresponding goal, bringing down the 66 Bridges Gang, forced them together, while simultaneously keeping them apart. Jim Rhodes wants to find the drug dealers that killed his sister. Kevin “Kasper” Cole is a cop, masquerading as an urban crime fighter, using his heightened abilities to score a promotion. Danny Vincent is a former spy that wants his old job back, and Josiah X is an urban legend made flesh, the son of the long rumored “black” Captain America. Though sharing a common enemy, the four men really want nothing to do with each other.
They didn’t call themselves “the crew,” wear personalized IDs, or have access to a supersonic jet, hidden in an underground base. There was no mission statement, and no appointed leader to recite excerpts from it, the common staples of super-team dynamics replaced by personal agendas. Ultimately, they end up doing the right thing, and Priest leaves you with the sensation that they could’ve done more of it.
So why didn’t they get the chance? What about The Crew made its cancellation simply a matter of time? Let’s start at the beginning.
Last spring, Marvel Comics launched its Tsunami imprint, which saw a flock of new titles released, that were designed to appeal to the new audience attacking the bookstores. These were stories and approaches Marvel believed may attract a decidedly younger, and potentially more female, readership. Subjecting new titles, and even worse, new characters, to the market is always a dangerous game, so it’s no surprise that titles like Sentinel and Runaways were lumped alongside Namor, Mystique, and Human Torch. And it’s also no surprise that Sentinel has only another couple issues before its recently announced cancellation, yet another casualty of the industry’s allergic reaction to the new.
The Crew was a product of the second wave of Tsunami, hitting stores alongside the revamped New Mutants and Inhumans, but a couple differences between the two “waves” is what’s relevant here, and what gave me a sinking feeling about The Crew before the first issue even dropped. The first wave got a nice little section in Previews, and the usual burst of web activity that scrambled to interview all the creators involved, and I even interviewed Joe Quesada about it here.
But, and this is the operative but, they were also supported by free dotComics featured on the Marvel website. I’m fairly sure the books themselves were somewhat incomplete, but it did offer an opportunity for readers to sample the new books before they hit stands, without paying a dime. And people tend to go for the word “free”.
So it’s second wave time, and I’m just patiently waiting for Marvel to post up a free preview of The Crew, alongside its revamped, yet very familiar, cohorts. Waiting…waiting…waiting… waiting…waiting…hmm. Well, that’s kind of funny, I really thought a free preview on Marvel.com would help sell this thing. In the following months, the industry saw Runaways and Sentinel emerge as the definite “buzz books” of the Tsunami line, with people talking them up online, and at the summer conventions, with the determinate phrase, “this is a book you should be reading.” Am I also correct in my recollection of a Marvel Must-Have featuring Runaways and Sentinel? Meanwhile, The Crew is wallowing in Little Mogadishu, wondering what happened to its promotion, and how anyone expects a book like this to survive without it.
This isn’t to insinuate that Runaways and Sentinel don’t deserve the vocal support they’ve been receiving, because they do, but people got behind these properties because they were exceptional in some way, and because they didn’t seem to have a fighting chance. And not getting a fair shot certainly epitomizes the work Priest and Joe Bennett delivered on The Crew, which if you want to break it down, was givin’ the absolute business to most of your favorite comics. After reading the stories, and looking at the artwork, it becomes almost insulting that this book couldn’t find an audience, when some of lesser craft have little difficulty. And you know who you are too, so there’s no need to identify you by name.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time this has happened, and certainly won’t be the last, but if a Monday morning quarterback like myself realizes that The Crew was likely a hard sell to both retailers and fans, than Marvel must’ve had some idea. First, if Priest enjoyed the rabid fan following that superstars like Bendis or Millar enjoy (and I see no reason why he couldn’t), Priest’s long running series Black Panther would still be running, and The Crew might not even exist. Second, exaggerating its connection to The Truth, a mini-series that was barely finished at the time of the series release, was probably unnecessary, and caused the new series to appear controversial, instead of contemporary. And then let’s also ignore the fact that black people were present, in their ever traditional urban settings. With 20/20, everything looks fairly obvious, but I wish some of the preceding could’ve been taken into account, and resulted in a stronger push for the book.
But it’s not too late to do the right thing.
Though The Crew has been extinguished, Priest is coming back in March with Captain America & The Falcon, a new monthly title that also serves as Bart Sears’ first post-CrossGen project. Priest explains his thoughts on the new title, his hesitation in accepting the gig, and what he hopes to accomplish with his first storyline, far better than I ever could – here.
Being one of six launches in March, the possibility exists that CAF will be overshadowed, but the presence of a marquee character like Captain America should stack the deck in Priest’s favor. And that’s all I think any of Priest’s fans want to see him involved with, a situation that doesn’t automatically trigger an uphill climb. Or at least one not as steep as the last couple he’s tackled. Based on some of his thoughts about Captain America and what makes him work, he appears to be on the right track.
Go ahead, click the link and see if you can disagree with me.
And I’ll see you good people in March. But first check out my stuff in this week’s All The Rage.