Monday, October 20, 2014

Toaster's Ramblings - Marvel Cancels the Fantastic Four Edition

By now, those of us in the geek world are well aware that Marvel Comics has cancelled their Fantastic Four book. The reasoning for this seems to be causing a bit of a stir. While the book sales have been low, they weren't as low as some other books in Marvel's line-up. This has lead many to speculate that Marvel, under the command of their mouse-eared overlords, are trying to stick it to Fox, which owns the movies rights to the Fantastic Four.

For those unclear of this whole situation, back in the 90's, Marvel Comics was in a bad way. Staring down the barrel of bankruptcy, those in charge began selling the movie rights to some of it's bigger properties such as Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, and the X-men. Why the Avengers were not a part of that sell-off I don't know; perhaps Marvel wanted to keep a piece of the puzzle for themselves or maybe the Avengers were just not that popular in the 90's... which they weren't. Seriously, the 90's were all about the X-men. Granted, if popularity was an issue, then I have no idea why Namor the Submariner was sold... that guy hasn't been popular since the 40's!

So fast forward to the present and Marvel is owned by Disney and making a butt-load of money off of what properties they do possess. While they have gotten back some of their character's movie rights, there are three major successful holdouts. Sony still possesses Spider-man (though there have been rumors that they have been negotiating with Disney to have the Webslinger cross over into the Marvel film universe... I hope that's true) and Fox still owns the rights to both the X-men and the Fantastic Four. Thanks to the success of the sort-of reboot Days of Future Past film from this past summer, the X-men don't seem to be leaving Fox anytime soon. However, the Fantastic Four is another story entirely.

Fox has been down the Fantastic Four movie road before, making two movies in the past decade that... well... sucked. They weren't without their plusses (as I have mentioned before, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans were great as Thing and Human Torch), but compared to other comic book movies of the time (X-men 2, Batman Begins, Spider-man 2) they were definitely subpar. Now Fox is trying again for a reboot, this time creating the assumption that failure will bring with it their surrender of the film rights back to Marvel. Marvel of course wants this as the Fantastic Four are one of their biggest franchises, having driven their success by bridging the gap between the sci-fi popularity of the 50's and the superhero boom of the 60's. Plus, the Fantastic Four movie rights bring with it characters such as Silver Surfer, Galactus and Doctor Doom (and maybe the Skrull alien race, Annihilus and everything Negative Zone related... not sure about those though).

So getting back to my original point, the big rumor is that Marvel Comics has cancelled their Fantastic Four book to try to stick it to Fox, as not to advertise for them I guess. However, I have a problem with this rumor. It doesn't really make sense when you think about it. Comic book movies tend to bring attention to the comic. Proof of that can be seen in the resurgence of Iron Man's popularity after the 2008 film, the huge influx of Avengers books after the movie did phenomenally and the skyrocketed price of the original Days of Future Past issues from the Uncanny X-Men.

In general, comic books have far less readers than those who go to the theaters to see their film adaptations. From what I've heard, the Fantastic Four was recently only selling around 30,000 books a month, not great numbers. However, unless the rebooted Fantastic Four is a colossal, legendary flop, they are bound to get more than 30,000 people to buy tickets to see it. Frankly, I doubt it could flop on that level considering that the 're-imagined' origins and all around mystery surrounding the film is bound to create some curiosity from the masses. (That said, I wonder if the curious moviegoers would largely be comic book fans themselves as the casual viewer, those that really make or break the success of a subsequent film adaptation, would likely not care about revamped origins and such.) While the film may be at serious risk of not making enough of a profit after budget expenses, the movie is more than likely going to get more viewers than the comic book had buyers. Therefore, cancelling the Fantastic Four comic book would only really be hurting Marvel. I mean, they already don't advertise their character movies produced by Sony or Fox.

Now I am inclined to boycott the new Fantastic Four movie as I would rather the rights revert to Marvel... a company that I think could actually make a good adaptation of the franchise. Plus, it seems weird to have their movie space universe without Silver Surfer or Galactus. However, I do like the actors Fox and director Josh Trank have chosen for their reboot. I don't know if I like them as the Fantastic Four characters, but I think Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell are all great actors in their own right. I also thought Trank did a good job directing Chronicle. I don't want them to fail, but at the same time the reboot sounds dumb (the Fantastic Four aren't explorers but government weapons?) and I think those involved will be just fine even if it does flop.

Is there truth to the rumor that Marvel has cancelled the Fantastic Four as a protest of Fox rebooting the on-screen franchise? Maybe. It was recently revealed in an interview with Chris Claremont that those writing the X-Men books are banned from creating new characters as it will give Fox film rights to those new characters. But Marvel knows better than to cancel their mutant books as it makes up a large sum of their sales. Perhaps one of Marvel's higher ups wanted to feel like the company had some power against Fox and that cancelling the Fantastic Four book might, however small, do some damage to the reboot and therefore be worth it.

Personally, I think Marvel cancelled the book because of poor sales and the hope that by creating a buzz around the cancellation, maybe interest can be rekindled in a property that in recent decades has struggled to maintain an audience. It worked when they "killed" Johnny Storm a few years back, so maybe by eliminating the entire team (not killing the characters mind you, just disbanding the team) they can do their own reboot of the book and gain a new following. That makes a lot more sense to me than Marvel cutting off it's nose to spite it's face. 

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