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Is Marvel Throwing A Temper Tantrum?

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The Fantastic Four comic book series has been a fan favorite since its original run, dating back to 1961.  All good things, as they say, must come to an end and Fantastic Four’s days are numbered.  It has been announced that FF will be concluding its run in June of 2015, much to its fans’ displeasure.  Cynical fans have been quick to point out that the cancellation date coincides quite nicely with the release of the Josh Tank helmed Fantastic Four big screen reboot, which is leading many to speculate that the cancellation of the comic series is due to Marvel’s attempt to sabotage the new movie.  While it may appear to be a valid conspiracy theory, and everyone adores a good conspiracy theory, this one is made entirely of whole cloth. 

So, let’s talk about Marvel’s gradual eradication of FF.  A while back, artwork featuring the superhero quartet began disappearing from Marvel HQ.  No, this wasn’t the work of thieves – it was Marvel itself who had decided to take the pieces down.  Further to this, in May of this year, artists who work with Marvel were given specific instructions that all characters related to FF, including villains, were not to be used in any future work.

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There are a couple of ways to look at this situation: either you accept it as a part of business or you assume that there are some deep, dark, ulterior motives at play.  The internet being the internet decided to (of course) adopt the more sinister of the motives.  Does this mean that this is right, though?  Short answer – not likely.

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Sure, it is a bit of a coincidence that the final issue of FF hits shelves just weeks before the movie premieres but the truth is that both Fantastic Four and Ultimate Fantastic Four suffered from poor sales.  Considering the fact that superheroes are all the rage right now this seems tough to believe, but the fact is that the less-than-wonderful FF movies that hit the big screen over the past decade may have actually had a negative effect on comic book sales.  Sales of both of the FF series’ have been sliding for years and it seems that the movies have to be at least partially to blame.  The writing and art talent behind both comics have been a bit uneven as Marvel tried to find a winning combination that would take the taste of the movies out of fans’ mouths but have been unsuccessful.  Even the game changing issue in which The Human Torch dies sold less than Marvel had hoped, which led them to taking the next step.  Considering Marvel comics now come with a cover price of about $3.99 per issue, it is easy to see how readers have to make tough choices when it comes to the books that they are collecting and if the characters aren’t as popular as, say, The Avengers, it is tough to make the sale.  When it comes to less popular characters or series’, many people choose to wait until the entire story arcs are collected in a trade paperback in an attempt to support comics and creators while still saving a buck or ten.  If you were one of the fans who was still reading the FF stories but waited for the trade paperbacks to collect the issues before spending the money, unfortunately, you may be part of the problem.

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Writer Peter David clued fans in to the inner workings of the comic book world last week when he confirmed that the highly likeable All New X-Factor, which he wrote, would be ending with its 20th issue.  X-Factor is an ongoing comic book series that features the characters Polaris, Quicksilver, Gambit, Danger, Warlock and Cypher.  In case you missed it, at least two of those characters have already shown up in X-Men movies (the jury is still out on whether Polaris was actually featured in Days of Future Past), and are likely to show up in the new X-Men movie, X-Men: Apocalypse.  Even beyond that, Gambit is heading toward his stand alone film starring Channing Tatum.  In other words, it would be very easy to blame the cancellation of the series on Marvel’s attempt to sabotage 20th Century Fox, who owns the screen rights to the X-Men and the arsenal of characters that come along with them.  It’s important to note that Fox also owns the screen rights to Fantastic Four.  Mr. David doesn’t feel that there is some sort of secret conspiracy to hurt 20th Century Fox and, honestly, his reasoning is so much more logical than the idea that Marvel is just throwing a temper tantrum.

All I did was write a book that got tons of positive write-ups. Which I guess is enough to encourage people to buy it when it comes out in trades, oblivious to the fact that books get cancelled when you do that.

This, of course, led to a bit of internet ire, so Mr. David explained a bit further.

There are some titles that are considered must-buys on a monthly basis and the rest are “I can wait for the trade” and that latter attitude leads to books being canceled. That is simple fact.

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Seems pretty simple to me!  If readers aren’t buying titles on a issue-by-issue basis, Marvel doesn’t make as much money and if the title doesn’t make enough money, Marvel would be silly to keep the series going.  I mean, when was the last time you had Crystal Pepsi?

Marvel is the undisputed king of the comic book movie ring.  Their biggest risk to date, this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, is still paying off.  Hell, the movie was released over two months ago, hits home video in less than two months, and it is still hitting the top ten at the box office.  Marvel knows how to make a movie, how to market that movie to perfection, and how to ignore other studios as they count their stacks of cash.  You know what would be a great way to bring in even more cash to count?  Capitalizing on another studio’s successful movie.  Quite honestly, the general public is buying the Marvel brand when it comes to these movies, even if the films aren’t released by Marvel Studios, so legally profiting off of another studio’s work would be easy! If Marvel really wanted to stick it to Fox, they would release tie-in comics that would coincide with the release of the movie so that they were earning money without having to invest $100mil in the film.  I know that if I were head of marketing over at Marvel, I would be dreaming up a FF product line that completely made Fox rethink their plans to continue to make Marvel movies.  As a matter of fact, hey Marvel, if you’re reading, give me a call.

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The internet is a strange, ugly creature that breeds the most unfounded rumors known to man.  In this case, Marvel was made to look like the bad guy when the simple truth is that people just aren’t spending their money on the exploits of Mr. Fantastic and Co.  Consider the farewell to FF, and the X-Factor cancellation, a lesson in comic book economics.  If you enjoy a comic book or a writer or an artist, support their work! It’s really as simple as that.  You will never single-handedly save a title, unless you have billions in screw-you cash that you can use to buy up whole runs of your favorite series.  Instead, supporting your favorite creators involves being part of a group of fans that share a passion for the product and is willing to spend $4 a pop to keep their favorite stories on the shelf.  This is the obligation that comic book fans take on and we have no one to blame but ourselves when our favorite titles begin to disappear.

If you are a fan of the FF series’ or the X-Factor series, let’s give them a proper send off.  Go to your local comic book shop or get online and order the final issues of these series’.  It is unlikely that any of us can do anything to save them but we can pay respect to the creators behind the issues and send the books off with a hell of a good-bye.

Do you think that there is something more sinister at play than economics here?  Do you have a favorite issue of Fantastic Four or All New X-Factor?  Please share so we can all remember some of our favorite stories fondly with other fans.

Category: Comics, Film, Nerd Culture

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