The less-than-fantastic truth has come out. As many suspected, Marvel’s embargo on the ‘Fantastic Four’ did NOT stem from low comic sales, but was basically a pissing contest with 20th Century Fox’s film rights to the team and all related characters and their refusal to turn them over to Marvel Studios.
But first a little backstory.
In 2015, Marvel axed the book entirely. Not only that, but with Marvel’s 75th Anniversary arriving, licensees were specifically told NOT to include any FF or related characters in any projects.
Keep in mind, ‘Fantastic Four’ was the first Marvel Comic book and its soap operatic tone changed the way that ALL superhero comics from every publisher were written. Heroes became actual humans with foibles and issues.
But over the years, books like ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘X-Men’ as well as those from other publishers began outselling ‘FF’, so when Marvel decided to cancel the book in 2015, it was a shocking, but not completely an inexplicable move.
At the time, publisher Tom Brevoort explained:
“‘Fantastic Four’ has been one of those books that, for a number of years, has been effectively taken for granted. It’s been considered stodgy, or old school, or some people see it as a thing that’s there and people are comfortable because it’s there, but they’re not particularly passionate about it. So we’re not going to have that book for a while.”
When Marvel was in bankruptcy, their main source of income wasn’t their comics, but in licensing their characters out to various movie studios, which resulted in New Line Cinema turning obscure character ‘Blade’ into a blockbuster franchise. 20th Century Fox pleased fans with (some of) its ‘X-Men’ films. Other studios snapped up the rights to ‘Ghost Rider’, ‘The Hulk’, ‘The Punisher’, ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Elektra’.
After Fox’s success with the ‘X-Men’, Marvel was glad to let them take on the ‘Fantastic Four’, but those films weren’t met with as much enthusiasm.
With this movie money and heightened interest in its characters, Marvel set up their own film studio, kicking things off with ‘Iron Man’ and the concept of a shared universe in which all their characters dwelt. Since many of the earlier films weren’t very well received, the licensing studios let their rights lapse, allowing characters like Ghost Rider, The Punisher and Daredevil to revert back to Marvel. Marvel even made their own ‘Incredible Hulk’ movie and added the rampaging beast to ‘The Avengers’.
Fox’s ‘X-Men’ movies are hit-or-miss but still do well enough that there is no chance of those rights going back to Marvel. But the ‘Fantastic Four’? No one really loved those. Surely, Fox would let those rights go… right?
Rather than let Marvel Studios obtain the rights, Fox cranked out the sloppy and maligned 2015 ‘FF’ reboot simply to retain the rights, which they now have for an undisclosed number of years, meaning at some point they can try again.
Prolific Marvel writer Jonathan Hickman admitted:
”I think it’s pretty common knowledge at this point that Marvel isn’t publishing Fantastic Four because of their disagreement with Fox. While it bums me out, I completely understand because, well, it isn’t like they’re not acting out of cause. Fox needs to do a better job there.”
Among fans, the perfect solution would be to follow Sony’s example with Spider-Man and cross their properties over– let the FF exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also be free to make their own freestanding films without overt ties. Or maybe just a few ties. At any rate, we could at least get a Doctor Doom or Galactus more in line with the comics, which would please fans far beyond the wan stand-ins Fox has provided.
But at this point, is the stink surrounding ‘Fantastic Four’ too pungent to draw moviegoers, regardless of which studio makes it? Would you turn out for a new ‘FF’ by Marvel Studios or as a cross production between Marvel and Fox? Or is it three strikes out for this brand?