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The announcement at this weekend’s New York Comic Con that Marvel Entertainment’s long-running Fantastic Four series will be ending at some point in 2015 brought to a temporary end one of the stranger sagas that Marvel has been involved with in recent years — and one that played out entirely outside of the pages of its comic books.
The rumor first broke back in May, with Bleeding Cool reporting that Marvel was planning to cancel Fantastic Four as a result of Fox’s ownership of the movie rights to the characters. “The belief inside the higher echelons of Marvel is that promoting these properties in comics only benefits Fox’s movies at the expense of those from Marvel Studios,” the report read.
A day after that initial report, the site ran a second story quoting an anonymous Marvel licensee who claimed to have been given specific guidelines to avoid using any Fantastic Four characters in relation to its Marvel 75th Anniversary product. A second source provided a copy of the guidelines in question, which clearly stated “All Marvel characters related to Fantastic Four are now off limits and will be immediately rejected by Marvel… If in doubt, please draw something else.”
Following Comic Book Resources running its own, independently-sourced, confirmation of Marvel’s plans, Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort took to social media to push back against the stories. “Does this even seem remotely plausible to people? Does it make any sense?” he wrote. “Folks have a very strange idea as to the way a business is run.”
Days later, Brevoort offered another response, writing “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.” Officially, Marvel declined to comment.
For months, that was where everything remained: Marvel denied that anything was happening in relation to the Fantastic Four, even though other Marvel licensees revealed that they, too, had been told that anything related to the FF franchise was off the table. And then, last week, a catalog of future releases from Marvel bookstore distributor Hatchette apparently revealed that the series would end this Spring.
Following the Hatchette catalog’s release, Marvel said nothing — at least, until Sunday’s “Axel-in-Charge” panel at New York Comic Con, when current Fantastic Four writer James Robinson finally confirmed that “the book is going away for awhile.”
No official reason for the cancellation has been given as yet (Marvel again declined to comment when contacted by THR). It’s worth noting that this will be the fourth “last issue” of a Fantastic Four series in the last five years, although each of the previous three endings was immediately followed by a relaunch of the property, something that Robinson’s comments would suggest isn’t going to be the case this time. Historically a mid-level seller, the current Fantastic Four series is estimated to be selling at a level consistent with the end of the previous series, and above such other Marvel titles as Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and Nova, all of which are seemingly continuing for the foreseeable future.
Adding fuel to conspiracy theorists’ fires is the fact that writer Chris Claremont recently told the audience at a comic convention that Marvel has “forbidden” the creation of new X-Men characters because they also become fodder for future Fox movies, although current All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis disagreed with that suggestion at New York Comic Con this weekend.
It is possible, if not likely, that the plan is simply to “rest” the property for some time before reintroducing them to an audience which has had time to allow absence to make the heart grow fonder — Marvel pursued a similar policy with Thor, after all, benching the character for almost three years between late 2004 and mid-2007 before relaunching the series with a high-profile creative team with some success. However, the timing of this cancellation is interesting.
It’s not merely that Fantastic Four the comic is ending months before Fox’s Fantastic Four movie is released (The movie, directed by Josh Trank, will hit theaters Aug. 1). If the series ends in April 2015 as has been suggested, then it’s possible that the team’s absence plays into the Spring 2015-launching Secret Wars event announced at New York Comic Con, with whatever happens in that storyline potentially setting up a revitalized take on the concept and characters — perhaps something more in line with the Fox movie, should that prove to be successful. (It’s worth noting that no Fantastic Four characters are visible in the preview image, however.)
For now, all that’s definite is that the Fantastic Four — the series in which Jack Kirby and Stan Lee launched the fictional Marvel Universe that would later go on to become home to the Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, to name just a few — is being put back in the toy box at the same time that the company celebrates its 75th anniversary. If it is, as unlikely as it seems, the end of the series’ comic book career, it’s a sad one undeserved by a comic that once boasted, with some justification, to be “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”
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