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This summer, Marvel celebrates their 75th anniversary, having opened up shop in 1939 when the comics introduced Namor, The Sub-Mariner. Oodles of culturally-significant characters later, and Marvel has risen not only to the top of the comic book world, but also Hollywood. Marvel's got several 75th anniversary plans, including the release of a new 75th anniversary magazine. You can see the cover below. But why don't you stop and think which characters are missing?
Hm. Where are the X-Men, the children of the atom who have starred in a spectacular seven hit movies? And where are the Fantastic Four, the team that debuted in the early sixties and laid the groundwork for the modern Marvel superhero, becoming one of the industry's first-ever teams? It makes sense that, in lieu of these characters, you'd have Spider-Man, Thor and Captain America. But Nova? Iron Fist? Rocket Raccoon??
Fans understand that, while Marvel makes their own movies, the rights to Spider-Man belong at Sony, and the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four belong to Fox. While it's in their best interests to support the characters they've leased to another studio, their biggest priority in Hollywood comes from launching Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Avengers. And yet, there's Spidey on the front page, even though his movie rights belong to Sony.
It sounds as if there's something brewing between Marvel and Fox. News leaked this weekend that in the next couple of months, Marvel is putting both Fantastic Four and Ultimate Fantastic Four on a hiatus. It makes sense to lose one of them, as the team isn't necessarily one of Marvel's highest sellers, but both? Furthermore, Marvel artists reportedly have been told (according to this report) to avoid using Fantastic Four characters in company artwork. This includes characters like Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom, both of whom have rich, colorful histories away from the Fantastic Four but are nonetheless under the Fox umbrella.
Canceling the comic doesn't make a ton of sense on the surface, because the movies should promote the comics; the comics' fanbase is not nearly big enough to represent a solid chunk of the moviegoing audience. But if it's true that Marvel is actively taking down Fantastic Four artwork around their own offices, then it sounds like Marvel wants to loudly declare they're not behind 2015's The Fantastic Four. Doing their part to pretend the movie doesn't exist not only frees up resources to promote more in-house Marvel films (Ant-Man supposedly arrives about a month after The Fantastic Four next summer) but it adds to the general negativity surrounding the film. It's not enough for Fox to have an underperforming movie: the logic behind these moves could be that if Marvel stays silent, the Marvel fans that guide the word-of-mouth will keep Josh Trank's upcoming The Fantastic Four from being profitable, leading to Fox surrendering the rights to Marvel.
The situation is similar with X-Men. Marvel couldn't cancel the X-books, because there are so many, and they are some of the industry's top sellers. But one of the unusual nuggets that Marvel keeps from Fox and Sony are the merchandising rights. If any other studio owned the merchandising rights to someone else's blockbuster, they'd start churning out toys immediately. Instead, you can't go to the store to find a single toy or gizmo tied to X-Men: Days Of Future Past because Marvel flat-out didn't make them.
In their eyes, they are powerful enough that their smaller endeavors (like comics that move 60,000 copies a month) serve as free promotion to these big screen adventures. And if there's no merchandise that convinces people to sample Days Of Future Past a second time, then X-Men becomes a property too costly to maintain. It used to be that a big movie necessitated a major, audience-friendly change of the status-quo in the comics, like recently when Spider-Man "rose from the dead" in time for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But while we tried our best to make this simple, a fan who enjoyed Days Of Future Past would step into a comic shop right now and find X-Men comics that have NOTHING in common with what they just saw on the big screen.
Meanwhile, you will be able to find the above, and more, in toy shops when Guardians Of The Galaxy when it arrives this August. You'll also be able to walk into a comic shop and find a Guardians comic that, as of now, accurately represents the roster of the team from the movies. And there's that 75th anniversary magazine cover, which somehow finds space for THREE Guardians, but no X-Men.
If the rumors about the cancellation of Fantastic Four comics are true, this would represent a spectacularly bitter freezeout from one studio to the next. Oh, and in case you were wondering? Namor, Marvel's first hero and a character still in rotation in the comics, is also not on this cover. His film rights are owned by Universal. It's looking more and more like Marvel is being seduced by the movies, and surrendering their legacy as a result, one issue at a time.