IDW Cancels G.I. Joe Series Early Under Controversial Circumstances

Upcoming G.I. Joe comic book series Scarlett’s Strike Force has been cancelled by IDW Publishing before final orders from retailers were due, leading to to the book’s writer and industry professionals publicly questioning the circumstances behind the decision.

Scarlett’s Strike Force is set to debut in comic book stores on Dec. 27, but as confirmed by CBR, the book has already been cancelled with no issues planned after #3. Its fate was sealed more than a month before the book’s “Final Order Cut-off” (FOC) date of Dec. 4, and the series will now end on a cliffhanger.

RELATED: GI Joe Spin-off Series Scarlett’s Strike Force Launching from IDW

While IDW has stated that the cancellation is due to low sales, observers have wondered if ongoing controversy surrounding series writer Aubrey Sitterson influenced the decision.

On Sept. 11 of this year, the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C., Sitterson tweeted, “Oh good, it’s Self-Centered National Tragedy Remembrance from People Who Weren’t Even Anywhere Near New York City Day.” As provocative as that may be, the tweet didn’t receive much attention until one day later, when, as detailed previously by Bleeding Cool, the G.I. Joe fan site posted on Facebook that it would “no longer promote anything from IDW Publishing while Aubrey Sitterson is involved with G.I. Joe or any other Hasbro brand.”

Scarlett’s Strike Force #1 cover by Harvey Tolibao.

Sitterson, who lived in New York City during the time of the attacks, provided further context to his comment on Twitter, underlining the difference he sees between “sincere remembrances & self-centered ones.” That didn’t stop the writer from being targeted over social media from both a section of G.I. Joe fans — many of whom already had issues with his direction for the franchise — and the same corner of comics fandom that earlier this year targeted Marvel editor Heather Antos. This contingent of fans purports to be displeased with the push for increased diversity and representation in the industry, and employs tactics that have drawn association with and comparison to the alt-right. One of the most vocal critics of Sitterson has been the highly contentious and widely condemned “Diversity & Comics” Twitter and YouTube account, which currently has published at least six videos targeting the writer, including “This Is What You Get When An SJW Writes G.I.JOE.” (Its other videos include “ICEMAN Coming Out Is Worse Than You Could Possibly Imagine” and “SJWs Look Even Worse When Compared To Normal People.”)

On Sept. 13, IDW released a statement distancing itself from Sitterson’s 9/11 tweet. The statement, which did not mention Sitterson by name, read in part, “IDW in no way condones or supports these personal opinions whatsoever, and recognizes the pain they may cause our readers. Discussions regarding next steps are underway.”

Reached by CBR, IDW Publishing Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall said the decision to cancel Scarlett’s Strike Force was solely based on sales numbers. Sitterson told CBR he was told the same, and was informed of the cancellation via email on Nov. 1.

“The decision to cancel the book was based solely on the low initial orders,” Ryall said to CBR. “At the time of the tweets you refer to, the last G.I. Joe series written by Aubrey was under way and it continued on with Aubrey at the helm until it reached its conclusion at issue nine, something we’d already settled on with Aubrey due to low sales.”

Sitterson first wrote G.I. Joe in the 2016 Street Fighter x G.I. Joe miniseries, which led to him writing IDW’s main ongoing G.I. Joe series. Scarlett’s Strike Force, illustrated by IDW veteran artist Nelson Daniel and starring Scarlett as team leader, is a relaunch of the series following the company’s First Strike event, its latest crossover involving its licensed Hasbro titles. The series was initially announced as G.I. Joe: Unmasked.

While writing G.I. Joe, Sitterson drew criticism from some fans of the franchise for progressive moves including reinterpreting the character of Salvo (traditionally a white man) as a Samoan woman, abandoning traditional guns in favor of lasers (similar to the G.I. Joe animated series) and a variant cover by Wuvable Oaf‘s Ed Luce, described by the artist as knowingly homoerotic. Given this history, Sitterson told Bleeding Cool last month that he believed he was already a target of the same fans that attacked him following his 9/11 tweet.

According to Ryall, not only is it his belief that Sitterson and Daniel were “doing great things” on Scarlett’s Strike Force, cancelling a book before FOC is a relatively commonplace move.

“It’s common for all publishers to cancel a series when orders result in losses from the first issue,” Ryall told CBR. “Very low pre-orders create a hole that FOC, which might swing sales up (or down) 5 percent or maybe 10 percent, would not dig us out of.”

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Still, news of the cancellation led to speculation on correlation between Sitterson’s 9/11 tweet and the subsequent response, and those who had targeted the writer before and after the comment. An editorial on The Mary Sue surmised that IDW’s decision may “paint the picture of a company catering to a very small but vocal contingent of fans of this franchise who stoop to long-term harassment in order to get what they want.”

Writer and artist Brandon Graham questioned the timing of the move, tweeting, “If it was about the sales @IDWPublishing really needed to convey that in a better way to Aubrey (at maybe a time not so close to right-wing outrage-over his twitter).” This week, after comedian and talk radio host Sam Seder was fired as an MSNBC contributor due to a crusade against him led in part by alt-right figure Mike Cernovich, surrounding a 2009 tweet Seder said was meant to jokingly criticize Roman Polanski apologists, comics artist Chris Burnham wrote on Twitter, “Reminder that what happened to Sam Seder is alllllmost exactly what happened to @aubreysitterson.” Magdalene Visaggio, the writer of IDW’s Transformers Vs. The Visionaries, wrote on Twitter in the midst of the 9/11 tweet controversy, “I think it’s genuinely fucked up that @aubreysitterson is being hounded out of comics for speaking his mind in a non-hateful way.”

Sitterson also claimed in the Bleeding Cool interview that, following the 9/11 tweet uproar, he was forbidden by IDW to promote the book (a direction that potentially could have come from Hasbro, which licenses G.I. Joe and many of its other popular franchises to IDW). Ryall disputed the claim that Scarlett’s Strike Force received any less of a promotional push than other new series, telling CBR that the notion is “easily disproven by a look at various IDW social media accounts, including IDW staff.”

Scarlett’s Strike Force #2 variant cover by Nelson Daniel.

A quick look at the last two months of IDW’s main Twitter account shows two tweets promoting Scarlett’s Strike Force (including a retweet from editor David Mariotte). That alone doesn’t say much towards whether it’s received more or less promotion than a typical book — since December 2017 solicitations were released in September, there have been four tweets on IDW’s account on Transformers Vs. The Visionaries #1 (another Hasbro series launching in December), but zero on the December-debuting Rom & The Micronauts #1. Scarlett’s Strike Force was announced on Sept. 9, via an interview with Sitterson on Paste.

“Cancelling a book for any reason other than numbers would be the height of irresponsibility,” Ryall said. “We just launched a new series with Aubrey because we like his work. Nelson Daniel, the artist on Scarlett’s Strike Force, is a beloved part of the IDW team, and has been for years. Cancelling the series early affects Nelson, it affects the coloring and the lettering and other people as well. So it’s never something we enter into lightly and if we thought a bump at FOC had any chance of saving a book, we would wait it out.”

Of course, it’s just about impossible to determine how the initial orders on Scarlett’s Strike Force #1 may have been affected by Sitterson’s controversial tweet or the reception he’s received from some corners of the G.I. Joe fanbase. Sitterson commented via Twitter as recently as Dec. 4 on the reaction his G.I. Joe work has received, writing, “Instead of ‘THE BEST ACTION COMIC EVER’ on the cover of Scarlett’s Strike Force, I wish we’d gone with ‘THE BOOK THE ALT RIGHT DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ.’ Both are accurate.”

As of now, Sitterson does not have anything in the works at IDW after Scarlett’s Strike Force #3, and the future of the publisher’s G.I. Joe comics is uncertain beyond the ongoing G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series, which continues writer Larry Hama’s run from the 1980s Marvel series, and the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vs. the Six Million Dollar Man miniseries set to debut in February.

The final issue of Scarlett’s Strike Force is scheduled for release in February, with the solicitation text including the now-ironic words “the fun’s just getting started.”

[Full disclosure: The author of this article has appeared multiple times on Aubrey Sitterson’s “Straight Shoot” podcast.]