War could be heading to the Marvel universe - and not in the epic comic-book crossover sort of way where everything is more-or-less resolved by the end of the story. Marvel has set themselves on a head-on collision with Fox - and from the sounds of some recent revelations, the conflict could be about to see its first fatalities: The Fantastic Four.
It was just over a week ago that Rob Liefeld, one of comic-dom's most controversial creative figures, suggested that Marvel is intent on destroying Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four movie franchises, presumably in a bid to take their market share for themselves. There's more on that right here, but the all important take-away is this: whatever their ultimate intentions, Marvel is pulling away commercially from the properties that they don't directly control the film rights to, and putting their eggs into baskets that they themselves own every inch of.
How does this directly effect The Fantastic Four, though? Enter stage left that most nefarious of plot devices: The leaked memo.
The Plot Thickens:
After a series of seemingly innocuous snubs - being dropped from Marvel's 75th anniversary special's cover, for instance, and images of the team being taken down at Marvel's offices - the FF found themselves in the middle of an altogether more nefarious-seeming scenario: artists working on Marvel projects have - according to a memo regarding sketch card artwork deadlines - been banned from using any element of The Fantastic Four or their related villains. All of which is reportedly at the urging of Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter.
That could just be a misunderstanding, though, right? Or, at worst, part of a temporary plan to temporarily lower the profile of the foursome so that a media blitz to accompany the forthcoming film reboot would be more effective. It certainly wouldn't lend credence to rumors that had begun to float about suggesting that Marvel was planning on cancelling the comic series altogether, surely?
Well, yes and no.
The Heavyweights Weigh In:
Some of Marvel's leading lights stepped up to deny the rumors - and to inadvertently fan the flames of concern:
Cue Marvel Senior Editor Tom Breevort:
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 he then followed up with:
"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. Given enough time, anything can happen—we went a couple of years, for example, without a THOR series, as well as a year and a half with FF, AVENGERS, CAP and IRON MAN not being a part of the Marvel Universe. So anything can happen. But it probably won’t."
Which is, somewhat unhelpfully, a long way from an actual denial. It is also, though, something close to one - muddying the waters completely.
Marvel Comics Editor-in-chief Axel Alonso was a little more clear cut:
The Fantastic Four -- Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben -- are a vital part of the Marvel Universe, and we have no plans to change that...Part of Marvel's success hinges on the fact that we aren't afraid to exercise massive flexibility with our catalog of characters. Sometimes, the way we move the pieces around on the board -- the death and/or replacement of a character, the dissolution and/or reconstitution of a team -- or our choice of characters to spotlight -- Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Inhumans -- causes controversy, but that doesn't inhibit us from taking chances and doing what we think is right for our universe and the characters within it.
It remains, though, very much open to interpretation - which makes it difficult to be taken as the sort of strong denial Alonso clearly wants it to be seen as.
The Ultimate Question:
The core question, then, isn't whether Marvel is planning on removing The Fantastic Four from the comic-book universe entirely. They've directly refuted that - on top of which, it would make absolutely no commercial sense. The likelihood of them cutting off their Thing-shaped nose to spite a Fox-like face seems absurd.
However, what neither Alonso nor Breevort has denied - and indeed, what both have hinted at - is that the main Fantastic Four titles could be placed on hold for an extended, and possibly indefinite, period of time.
Say, just long enough to provide Fox with as little free marketing as possible for their upcoming FF movie, before returning to benefit from any potential upsurge in Fantastic Four-related interest that followed it.
The problem with all of this is that there's been no actual confirmation one way or another. Marvel may very well be planning on temporarily cutting the Fantastic Four's titles - or they may not, which after the recent outcry is certainly possible. Either way, we have absolutely no way of knowing what their ultimate plan is.
Rob Liefeld suggested that this was all building towards a point where we would see Spider-Man in the Avengers - towards a time where the whole Marvel film universe would be re-united under a Marvel Studios umbrella. If that's indeed Marvel's aim, then this whole situation with The Fantastic Four can be seen as just the beginning of what looks set to be a bloody and complicated war.
On the flip side, it might just as easily be the case that the Marvel editorial team are a little tired of The Fantastic Four as they are - which does seem to happen every five years or so anyway, considering how many times they've each been killed off in the comics - and are thinking of ways to make them more relevant to a modern day audience. Taking them away from the mainstream comic-book consciousness for a few months, before the characters are pretty substantially rebooted in a film adaptation, could be just the way to introduce a new reality to the comics - one closer to the Ultimate universe that lines up with, rather than directly opposes, Fox's film version.
Either that, or Doctor Doom has finally found a way to defeat his mortal enemies, in the most literal way possible.
[The Fantastic Four](movie:34667) film reboot is set to be released on March 5, 2015.
What do you guys think? Are Marvel about to begin a war - and place The Fantastic Four right in the firing line?