I've known Tom Brevoort online since before a number of you were born, courtesy of the rec.arts.comics message boards that existed before there were websites to host them. He's the only person still working in Marvel editorial to this day, now as Senior Vice President of Publishing. And at no point, during that time, has he ever actually ordered a hit on me, which I really appreciate. And as much as I like the man, and admire him, I sometimes find myself having a go at something he said. Usually around his expertly crafted public statements that on occasion are intended to be read in one fashion, but if you burrow down, they don't actually say that at all. I mean they are to be admired, but sometimes are worth a little unpicking such as his "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" from 2014.
Because, yes, with Bleeding Cool, the classic example would be over Marvel's cancellation of the Fantastic Four comics and all licensing – games, trading cards, toys, statues, posters, calendars – from Marvel Comics. When the order came down from Marvel chairman Ike Perlmutter after a particularly fruitless meeting with Fox Studios over the Fantastic Four movie, not only were the comics to be cancelled (in a manner of Marvel editorial's choosing), put not a sign of the FF could be seen in the offices as Perlmutter walked through. Marvel's first family were sent to Coventry and, aside from a couple of day trips, have remained there since.
At the time I received messages from a number of Marvel employees – some who have never spoken to me before or since, outraged at the decision. And hoping Bleeding Cool causing a fuss might reverse policy. There was a fuss, but nothing more. At the time, when we ran the stories that the FF was to be cancelled, Tom Brevoort was quoted as saying "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."
Which Bleeding Cool doesn't argue with at all. It didn't seem plausible, right from our original report. But truth is always stranger that fiction, and other eccentric examples of Ike Perlmutter in action have emerged since that make it seem a lot more plausible.
At the time, we were told that the Fox-licensed X-Men books weren't to be cancelled as they made too much money for the publisher, but the FF as a middling sales solo title could be missed without hurting the bottom line. Indeed, I was later told by some editorial folk at Marvel that over the years, there had been moves to cancel the book over poor sales, especially in the Jemas years, but it was seen as too important to the company to keep its first comic still in publication. And while the Fraction/Allred run had not been well received in sales, the previous Jonathan Hickman run had, and the James Robinson run also put on sales. When the comic went, it was outselling many other Marvel titles that weren't cancelled – and remain uncancelled. Indeed the FF sales then outsell most other Marvel sales now.
I mention all this because in the ComicsPRO Marvel retailer conference all last night, Tom Brevoort made the argument to retailers that the only reason there's no Fantastic Four book is because it doesn't sell. And here's the thing – technically it could be true. If the FF was a multi-book publishing line that sold well, like the X-Men books, it may have survived Perlmutter's cull. However it did most definitely sell enough not to be cancelled by Marvel Comics on the terms they publish other titles.
And that doesn't explain why Marvel cancelled all Fantastic Four licensing the way they did (and still are). Brevoort knows why there is no Fantastic Four book, and plenty of their creators and editorial staff would like it back. Do they really think a Marvel Two-In-One featuring the Thing and Human Torch is really likely to outsell a new Fantastic Four comic? Well, according to Marvel reps on the call last night, it will be the test. If Marvel Two-In-One does sell well (and it has been pointed out to me that rather than a likely Brian Bendis book, this is a series that previous-Thing writer Dan Slott has a lot of specific love for) then a case could be made to bring back the Fantastic Four comic book.
Here are a few sales charts picked at random. I do not believe they show a Fantastic Four that doesn't sell. From August 2012, it is a mid-level title and, as well as FF, outsold Wolverine and Daredevil.
The relaunch of Fantastic Four in 2014 saw it outsell Walking Dead and the X-Men. First issues are often bumped by promotional measures, but even so that's a good start, before it settles down into its regular spot.
Which was a little further down the chart, a mid-level spot, outselling many other Marvel mainstays in August 2014, including Wolverine And The X-Men.
Even after the book was officially cancelled, which often kills retailer orders of the remaining issues (one of the reasons Marvel doesn't like to officially announce cancellations until after orders are in) it still outsold comics such as Captain Marvel, She-Hulk and X-Force.
A three-year absence of the title cannot be explained solely by low sales, let alone Marvel's decision to cancel so much Fantastic Four licensing, which should have been, basically, free money. And Marvel Two-In-One would have to sell a hell of a lot for Marvel to somehow make the case for the title's return.
Doesn't mean it won't, mind.