At New York Toy Fair in February, merchandise tied to 2014 Marvel-branded movie releases earned major buzz and plenty of headlines from movie and collector blogs and mainstream press. We saw toy props, Hasbro action figures and LEGO sets – among other goodies – for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. For X-Men: Days of Future Past, there was practically nothing.
The same story holds true for 2011’s X-Men: First Class, the previous franchise team-up installment; First Class and its successful followup in Days of Future Past got some Minimates figures from Diamond Select – and that was it. There are Hasbro Marvel Legends X-Men figures coming later this year, but none tied to the latest film.
Perhaps the tonally darker X-Men movies are simply less appealing to kids and merchandisers compared to their Avengers and Spider-Man counterparts, or perhaps it’s something more. Go to the official Marvel.com website and click the movies tab. Marvel is promoting its own Marvel Studios projects because they don’t own the film rights to the X-Men. Twentieth Century Fox owns that license alongside the Fantastic Four – just like Sony owns Spider-Man.
The odd scattering of properties dates back to the ’90s when, during a time of bankruptcy, Marvel sold off film licenses to most of their library. The company has since reacquired most of their properties, aside from the key aforementioned flagship brands. [See a full breakdown of character ownership HERE.]
The Fantastic Four Conspiracy
Because of the reality that key characters are still outside Marvel’s cinematic grasp, reports this week are painting a potentially dark picture for the comic books behind these movie franchises. Bleeding Cool reveals that Marvel Comics is planning to end (or put on hiatus) Fantastic Four and its Ultimate Fantastic Four counterpart later this year. The characters can still appear in other books and crossover events, but their two series will not be in print – if insider info proves true.
Why would Marvel do such a thing during the 75th anniversary of Marvel Comics, just as the Fantastic Four movie reboot enters production? Well, the answer is in the question, and it’s because Marvel’s high-ups may not want to promote the competition; according to Bleeding Cool’s insiders, Marvel is attempting to spotlight its own properties that are getting eventual film treatment, like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Inhumans. They claim that when it comes to internal promotion, it’s these books getting pushed more than the popular X-titles (which consistently sell well), and as for crossover events, the X-Men will only get some titles if shared with other teams (i.e. AXIS – the upcoming Avengers/X-Men event this fall).
In a followup article, Bleeding Cool added credence to the bigger picture issue this presents. Fantastic Four imagery was apparently taken down at Marvel HQ and an artist claims that they were instructed by Marvel not to use “FF characters or supporting cast such as Dr Doom, Galactus, Surfer, Skrulls etc” when it came to sketches for the 75th anniversary. Another artist backed the claims up, submitting an instruction sheet (check it out here) from Marvel which read, “all Marvel characters related to Fantastic Four are now off limits and will be immediately rejected by Marvel.” It even listed the characters that couldn’t be used. Even Fantastic Four-related assets have been reportedly been taken down by Marvel, so that promotional partners and licensors can’t access them.
So, is Marvel actually attempting to push away the Fantastic Four to minimize promotion of Fox’s in-development FF movie reboot?
Comic Book Resources stepped in and confirmed with their own inside sources that indeed, a “hiatus” was/is being planned for Fantastic Four books – but with all this bad buzz resulting from this revelation, these plans could of course change. The timing of such a hiatus is indeed odd, given the summer 2015 release plans for the Fantastic Four movie.
A third report from Bleeding Cool claims from additional multiple sources that all of this may be down to the decisions of Marvel Comics CEO Isaac Perlmutter, who allegedly has an issue with seeing Marvel Comics give free promotion to Fox’s work, hence the minimizing of new X-Men characters and promotion, and plans to put a stop to the Fantastic Four.
You can pile together hearsay, rumors and reports from recent years which saw Marvel try to get back Galactus and Silver Surfer in exchange for an extension on Daredevil rights – a case where Fox wouldn’t play ball. Some even say that scene-stealer Quicksilver was added to X-Men: Days of Future Past instead of the originally intended Juggernaut character as a shot towards Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, since it’s also attempting to introduce a version of Quicksilver. That’s all circumstance and may not mean anything, but the idea that Marvel isn’t in the business of promoting Fox properties is absolutely true.
Update: Oddly enough, Fantastic Four’s director Josh Trank was just tapped by Disney to helm a standalone Star Wars movie which effectively may remove him from the director’s chair of Fantastic Four 2 which is already scheduled for 2017.
When Disney acquired Marvel, they very much wanted to own Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men. And when it comes to boosting the appeal of characters, the business-savvy end game will always see Marvel’s own interests put first. This is why the Guardians of the Galaxy are huge in the books right now, and why they seemingly have an animated series on the way. The same could be said for Doctor Strange and The Inhumans, who are everywhere in the books these days, with rumors suggesting they could be on Marvel Studios’ slate of 2016-2017 movie releases (Update: Doctor Strange just got a director). In Marvel’s eyes, that makes them more important than the X-Men and Fantastic Four.
Just looking at the 75th anniversary magazine cover (below) would make any fan question why there are no Fox-owned characters on it. Really, how does a piece of art celebrating 75 years of Marvel not have Wolverine or the Fantastic Four?
This is not a coincidence. The Fantastic Four, launched by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1961, represent the beginnings of the Marvel Comics universe as we know it. They are the founding family, in a way. The X-Men have been a top-selling comics brand for decades, with Wolverine being one of the top characters of all time. For them to not be on a milestone poster – but to see all of the Marvel Studios-owned characters there, fronted by Spider-Man – is again, not a coincidence. The message is simple: What you see above is what Marvel wants you to see as “Marvel.”
Marvel issued “no comments” to Bleeding Cool, THR and other media outlets who’ve asked for clarity on the Fantastic Four issue in the last few days, and on his Tumblr, Senior Vice President of Publishing of Marvel Comics Tom Brevoort has been mostly denying the possibility, without actually denying it.
My denying rumors isn’t likely to keep anybody who’s prone to paranoia from panicking.
But really, does this even seem remotely plausible to people? Does it make any sense?
Folks have a very strange idea as to the way a business is run.
After endless questions about Fantastic Four:
We are publishing FANTASTIC FOUR. Next month, we will be publishing FANTASTIC FOUR. A year from now, assuming that it’s still selling well, we will be publishing FANTASTIC FOUR. Given enough time, anything can happen—we went a couple of years, for example, without a THOR series, as well as a year and a half with FF, AVENGERS, CAP and IRON MAN not being a part of the Marvel Universe. So anything can happen. But it probably won’t.
And for the couple of folks who punctuated their complaints by saying that they were dropping all of their Marvel books, and switching over to DC—well, first off, you must think that I’m a very simple man. But you can, as always, do with your time and money as you will. I will point out that if the purpose of your endeavor is to insure the continuation of FANTASTIC FOUR, then perhaps buying MORE FANTASTIC FOUR would be in better service to that goal than buying less. Just a thought.
Oh, and James Robinson sent me notes for the 75th Anniversary Special story that he is doing this morning. And as you’d expect, the Fantastic Four are at the core of it.
So maybe the two Fantastic Four titles are not being put on hiatus, after all. Maybe plans have changed since news of Marvel potentially snubbing Fox has made major headlines. Maybe it doesn’t even matter, because what Marvel Comics does with the characters ultimately has little impact, if any, on Fox’s film plans. Maybe this is all some weird personal grudge or an emotionally-driven plan by Isaac Perlmutter.
The idea of Marvel subtlety hindering the Fantastic Four and X-Men, while somewhat understandable, is very bad news for the comics. It means they won’t get the love when it comes to licensing agreements for merchandise, or plans for animated television programming, or for future major story arcs in the books. The intentional shift in promotion means that some of Marvel’s best characters won’t be seen as the best or most cool or most important to the youth of today – those growing up with these properties through various mediums. It hinders potential of new, great X-Men characters – and right now, it’s potentially hindering the appeal of the Fantastic Four in a time when that movie can use all the help it can get.
What About Spider-Man?
With all this talk of Fantastic Four and X-Men at Fox, you must be asking: why isn’t this affecting Spider-Man? That’s a different beast entirely. Spider-Man is Marvel’s most important solo character, and by all accounts, Marvel is a little tighter with Sony than Fox. Sony also seems to coordinate release dates with Marvel Studios, taking turns hosting the opening weekend in May (like this year).
That’s probably why there were at least talks – however preliminary they may have been, even if it ultimately went nowhere – to include the Oscorp Tower from The Amazing Spider-Man movies in The Avengers.
There are also rumors lately – thanks to The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s lukewarm critical and financial responses, and a tweet from Hollywood screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) – that Spider-Man can still factor into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe in some way.
Those Tweets were immediately deleted.
Comic writer/artist Rob Liefeld, creator of Marvel’s X-Force series and the characters Cable and Deadpool, seems to think something like this will eventually happen, as well. This of course is 100% his own opinion, and he does not currently work for Marvel or Sony.
My un-informed prediction, Sony will split producing/financing w/Marvel on next Spidey film and open door for inclusion in Avengers 3— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) June 1, 2014
While we don’t have details on royalties or licensing agreements behind the merchandising side of the business, Liefeld also opened up his thoughts on the Marvel vs. Fox PR issue as well, even though he believes the Fantastic Four comics will not be canned:
X-Men will match If not exceed ASM2's domestic box office, meaning lots of eyeballs, but there are no toy tie-ins. The Fox shut out is real.— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) June 1, 2014
Cap 2 toys & ASM2 toys everywhere, X-Men - zippo. No promotions from toy aisles. Starve those properties. Makes X-Men comeback impressive!— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) June 1, 2014
X-Men DOFP toys would get in the way of upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy onslaught of toys.— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) June 1, 2014
The Truth About Comics
The Fantastic Four, like most Marvel characters, have had different series ended and/or canceled before. Like the concept of death, it means little in the long-run for comic universes, outside of offering opportunities for new beginnings, new takes on characters, and new talent to takeover a series. In the ’90s, the Fantastic Four was relaunched twice (into volumes 2 and 3) and in the ’70s, the Giant Size series was canned as well. Even earlier this year, the Fantastic Four were relaunched with a new #1 issue as part of Marvel NOW!.
Heck, in 2007 – the year of the release of the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Marvel Comics published the series Fantastic Four: The End. None of this is new, and if the Fantastic Four are going away for a while, they’re going to come back. Would a cancellation later this year be the result of Marvel’s attempt at attacking Fox’s movie plans? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be the first time. And it’s not a surprise to see Marvel promoting Marvel movie ventures over non-Marvel ones. Movies are where the big money is, these days.
If true though, and there’s a growing mound of evidence that Marvel is actively minimizing the Fantastic Four, then it is petty and disappointing because great comics are great comics, and the corporate Hollywood warfare shouldn’t get in the way of that.
“For so it has ever been in the universe. Every ending brings forth a new beginning — Each beginning must have its end”
– Uatu the Watcher
Fantastic Four opens in theaters June 19, 2015.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!