Early on during summer 2014, we covered a story asserting that Marvel Entertainment was sabotaging its Fantastic Four comic book. The short version explanation is that the F4 comic book has been a low earner for the publisher for some time, but that rival movie studio 20th Century Fox could still reap the benefits of the F4 brand to further promote their upcoming movie reboot - which would stand to make a helluva lot more money than the comic book. Marvel execs - now knowing how lucrative these franchise can be - were reportedly refraining from promoting the competition by not including The Fantastic Four in their comic book events - even going so far as to leave Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past characters out of Marvel toy lines.
Of course, Marvel immediately towed the company line, claiming all was well under their roof and online reports were false, But now Bleeding Cool, the originator of this report, is striking back with evidence that further suggests Marvel is indeed planning suppressive measures for the company's superhero family.
Aside from pointing out how third party distributors like Mondo Posters and Diamond Select Toys have been not-so-curiously prohibited from using any Fantastic Four characters in their merchandising, Bleeding Cool practically cements the claim of in-house sabotage with this preview from a book distributor, which seems to announce that the end of The Fantastic Four comic (at least as we know it), is indeed coming in 2015, via a storyline called "Fantastic Four: The End Is Fourever" by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk:
THE END IS FOUREVER! Witness the closing act on the First Family of the Marvel Universe! THE INVADERS meet the FANTASTIC FOUR as the hunt for REED RICHARDS and the missing kids of the FUTURE FOUNDATION continues. Meanwhile the mastermind behind everything unveils his ultimate plan. But how does FRANKLIN RICHARDS factor in? And how does this all lead to…The END?! Collecting FANTASTIC FOUR #642-644 and the Triple Sized Final Issue 645!
Bleeding Cool speculates that - through some tricky comic book issue numbering - that "The End Is Fourever" (nothing ominous about THAT title) could begin in January 2015 and run through April 2015 - right into a comic book event started in the Avengers and New Avengers books called "Time Runs Out".
Essentially, in September 2014, the Avengers and New Avengers books jumped eight months into the future (April 2015) and offered readers a much changed picture of the teams; when the actual April 2015 date approaches, we'll learn more about how we got to those changes (some kind of cosmic thingy) - and what they mean for the future of the Marvel U as a whole.
Part of "Time Runs Out" features Sue Storm hunting for her husband Reed Richards, who is in hiding as part of Marvel's illuminati cabal. It's only speculation, but the events of "Fourever" could help explain what led to the new splintered version of the F4 seen in "Time Runs Out."
On a larger scale, what we're seeing here is the first serious conflict of Marvel interests when it comes to promoting their brand within this tricky film rights tangle. Marvel infamously sold off the movie rights to major properties and characters during its broke days of the 1990s, and has been acquiring them back ever since (Punisher, Blade, Ghost Rider and Daredevil have all come home to Marvel Studios after being owned by others).
With no signs that Fox is letting go of either X-Men or Fantastic Four, Marvel is indeed in a difficult position of having their merchandise (comics, toys, etc.) help people become more aware of a competitor's movie. Hardcore fans know the issues of studios owning various Marvel characters - but to the casual viewer, they're all just Marvel (see Page 1 : a GMA reporter asking Michael B. Jordan if the F4 and Avengers will have a crossover movie. Yeah, that's how little the general public understands all this...).
But as Marvel is acutely aware: even though it all may look like one Marvel universe, those big profits don't land in your pocket if it isn't your studio getting that production credit.
How do you feel about this? Are you a hardcore Fantastic Four and/or Marvel fan? Do you think there's something broken when the company starts trying to hold down its own characters? Or is this just the natural evolution of the business, now that movie money is involved?
The Fantastic Four will be in theaters on August 7, 2015
Future Foundation artwork (coloring) by RyemSalim @ DeviantART