Today, Marvel Comics announced that they would be publishing a new Fantastic Four monthly series beginning in August — the first of the sort in three years. Here's a history of how Bleeding Cool broke the story on why there wasn't one — and found all sorts of implications.
In 2014, Bleeding Cool reported that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men were notably absent on the Marvel 75th Anniversary magazines. At the time, Marvel SVP Tom Brevoort replied to concerns that this was to do with Fox having Fantastic Four and X-Men film rights, saying:
Ay-Yi-Yi, you guys with your magic mind reading helmets.
Sometimes a cover is just a cover, you know?
Note that he didn't deny it, but tried to distract. Fox had bought film and live-action TV rights to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and X-Men as part of Marvel's emergence from bankruptcy, and they were able to renew them in perpetuity if they kept using them.
On the back of that, we were told that Marvel was going to cancel its Fantastic Four comics — it was at the time publishing two of them. We were told:
The characters will still appear, but in other folks' books such as Inhumans and Avengers. And that artwork featuring the Fantastic Four is even being taken down in the company offices.
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. Which is why the Inhumans are being pushed as mutant replacements in the Marvel Universe. And Marvel have been pushing Avengers, Guardians Of The Galaxy and other comics over the X-Men. And while X-Men comics remain solid sellers, they are no longer the focus of internal promotion unless, as with the upcoming AXIS event, the Avengers get equal billing.
The game was on, and more details came flooding in — specifically that this was a direct order by Marvel chair Ike Perlmutter after a particularly fruitless meeting with Fox executives over the future of Fantastic Four rights. And that they didn't want to give any publicity, however small, to Fox over X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Cancelling the X-Men comics would be too much, but they were to be sidelined and all licensing and publicity was to be cancelled. And for the Fantastic Four, the comics would be cancelled as well.
Tom Brevoort said:
It is amazing how many of you guys asked some version of this question this morning.
And I can hear Rich counting the nickels from your page clicks.
Again, not denying it. And then we started to get the physical evidence that something was up. A sketch card artist who works with Marvel characters told us:
I do a number of sketch card projects for Upper Deck and Rittenhouse using Marvel characters. The most recent projects from both companies, one billed as Marvel 75th Anniversary, gave specific guidelines to NOT use any FF characters or supporting cast such as Dr Doom, Galactus, Surfer, Skrulls etc…
And we had the letter to run, with further details to come.
And in a rare spirit of unanimity, CBR also confirmed that the Fantastic Four comics were to go on "hiatus".
Mondo Posters confirmed they were unable to make Fantastic Four posters anymore.
Gazillion execs say they got in trouble for including the Fantastic Four in Marvel Heroes game update.
The Marvel Heroes ID posters lost the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
Statue lines featuring the Fantastic Four or the X-Men were cancelled in mid-sculpt.
Trading cards could no longer be reprinted.
Fantastic Four was snubbed in 'Marvel's Greatest Collections'.
Marvel pulled permission for an art show — but only for the Fantastic Four characters.
Foreign comics saw Fantastic Four characters removed from strips, and it was confirmed to me that Panini was not allowed to publish translated Fantastic Four comics.
Tom Brevoort still wasn't denying what was happening, but he came as close as he could:
"My denying rumors isn't likely to keep anybody who's prone to paranoia from panicking. But really, does this even seem remotely plausible to people? Does it make any sense? Folks have a very strange idea as to the way a business is run."
We had the right idea as to the way this business was being run. He gave a direct lie.
"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."
Technically, if you cancel a comic book, it is no longer selling well — not selling at all. But at that point he knew that in a year's time, the Fantastic Four would be cancelled.
And that's what happened. The Fantastic Four comics were cancelled, first Ultimate Fantastic Four and then Fantastic Four, with a 12-issue mini-series leading up to Secret Wars — which also featured these panels.
Ike Perlmutter? Lots of series went offline for that event. But the Fantastic Four did not come out with a title.
Secret Wars had strong appearances of the Four and ended with Reed Richards and Franklin remaking the multiverse, with Sue Storm and Valeria helping out. The Thing joined the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Human Torch joined the Inhumans.
Tom Brevoort told retailers at ComicsPRO last year that Marvel didn't publish Fantastic Four because it didn't sell. Again, technically, you could verify this by saying the X-Men were saved from the cancelling of their comics (if not licensing) because they sold more, but Fantastic Four outsold other safe Marvel titles such as Wolverine and Daredevil.
And then last year, Jonathan Hickman, previous Fantastic Four writer and writer of the Secret Wars series, confirmed what we'd all known to be true, contradicting Brevoort's statements.
"I think it's pretty common knowledge at this point that Marvel isn't publishing Fantastic Four because of their disagreement with Fox… […] We knew a year or so out that the Fantastic Four as a property wasn't going to be published at Marvel past 2015."
And other creators started hiding digs over what was happening in the comics.
But then, slowly things started to change. There were baby steps back. The X-Men slowly started to get some licensing deals. Illyana got an action figure. There were no licensing of publicity restrictions on Deadpool, or the TV shows Legion and The Gifted. Clothing and foreign publishing licensing started to return, and Panini UK told me that while they still couldn't use Fantastic Four, they could publish X-Men again. And for the Fanastic Four, Hasbro got the right to make a limited con exclusive Susan Storm figure — which then got less limited. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur did a Fangtastic Three story. And Marvel Two-in-One, redubbed Marvel 2-in-One, starred the Thing and the Human Torch, with a (fake) mission to find Reed, Sue, Franklin, and Valeria. And now Human Torch and the Thing have new Fantastic Four suits.
And these sketches from Alex Ross suggest similar.
We then noticed a lot of Fantastic Four collections being lined up for the summer/autumn, after Marvel not publishing any for years. We wondered if the Fantastic Four comic would return as well.
And today, it was announced that it was. For August from Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli.
So… was it worth it, Ike? Is this still a strange way for a company to do business, Tom?
One day, when someone gets access to what was going down, when and how, we'll get the whole truth. But at least you have an inkling or what went on, even as Marvel publicly denied it.
The New York Times, which also reported the news, added:
Though there was an in-story reason the Fantastic Four were no longer together, there was a lot of speculation as to real-world reasons for the series' end. The comics news and rumor site Bleeding Cool endlessly chronicled the belief that it was canceled over film rights. The question: Why would Marvel support and promote characters in its comics that would only benefit another film studio? (The rights to the Fantastic Four in film belong to Fox Studios.)
So, Tom, now it's in the New York Times… is now the time to come clean?