It's been one of the longest brewing controversies in comic-book-dom, but it seems that the largely unspoken conflict between Marvel and Fox may finally be coming to a head.
The two companies - divided by their parallel yet competing interests - have seemingly been engaging in a sort of comic-book cold war for years now, with Fox's ownership of the movie rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four apparently the primary cause.
From the looks of a recently released poster from Marvel, though - as well as a few shocking rumors going round - it seems as though that cold war could be growing hotter by the day.
Y'see, it seems as though:
Marvel Just Cut the X-Men and Fantastic Four Out of the Marvel Universe
See that image there? That's 2007's officially licensed Marvel Universe poster - in which the Fantastic Four are front and center, right next to Iron Man, Wolverine and Spidey, with the X-Men just behind them.
Similarly, in 2013's version, the FF and X-Men - though not exactly dead center - are very much on the front row, only moderately pushed aside by the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Hit 2015, though, and the newly revealed Marvel poster for this year?
There's not a single X-Men or Fantastic Four member to be seen...
Why Does That Matter, Though?
After all, Marvel making a poster with just a select group of heroes is arguably a perfectly reasonable thing to do - with their concentrating on the established heroes of the MCU simply a response to those heroes' popularity.
The thing is, though - that's not the only way in which Marvel is eliminating those heroes whose movie rights are held by Fox from the Marvel comic-book Universe:
First, We Lost the Fantastic Four
Or, at least, their regular monthly title - the one that arguably started the entire Marvel Renaissance back in the early 60's - was cancelled, seemingly just in time to provide as little benefit to this summer's Josh Trank-directed reboot of the franchise as humanly possible.
The comic had been struggling, sales-wise, though - and the parallel pulling back from (relatively unpopular) Fantastic Four merchandising could similarly be explained away in financial terms.
What about the X-Men, though - who consistently remain one of Marvel's biggest hitters in terms of comic-book sales and merchandising.
The X-Men are on the Outs Too
Yup, that's right - Marvel's Merry Mutants are also seemingly being pushed as far away from the center of the Marvel comic-book universe as possible. Not only has the team been largely eliminated from merchandising plans - despite the potentially lucrative release last year of X-Men: Days of Future Past - but from the sounds of the latest rumors coming out of the current Secret Wars crossover, Marvel's entire mutant contingent may soon find themselves (semi)-permanently exiled to space.
Why is All of This Happening, Though?
Well, on the face of things, it seems that there's on simple answer: Money.
As far as Marvel are concerned, any X-Men or Fantastic Four merchandising is worth substantially less to them than those connected to the properties that they own the movie rights to.
As Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort pointed out last July:
"If you had two things, and on one you earned 100% of the revenues from the efforts that you put into making it, and the other you earned a much smaller percentage for the same amount of time and effort, you’d be more likely to concentrate more heavily on the first, wouldn’t you?"
The thing is, though:
It's Not Actually That Simple
Y'see, while Marvel dropping their support for X-Men and Fantastic Four merchandising can certainly be viewed through the lens of pragmatic capitalism, that's not actually all there is to the story.
Instead, there's a much bigger war going on - one that the Disney-backed Marvel is seemingly willing to fight on multiple fronts, in whatever way necessary, for as long as it takes to win.
Marvel Wants the Rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four Back
Y'see, those film rights weren't originally sold off because Marvel didn't want them - they were jettisoned back in an era where a) Marvel was broke, and b) they weren't making their own movies anyway.
And so, as the newly enthroned Market Leaders in Superhero Movie-Making, Marvel want their properties back - and the only way for that to happen (short of writing a ridiculously large check) is to make those characters' movie adaptations not worth making. Which is where the elimination of the Fantastic Four comic, the (potential) removal of the X-Men to outer space and the general lack of merchandising come in...
The logic runs like this: Without the support of major comic-book releases - with plots that support the developments in the movies, as was seen recently with the revival of the (briefly sort-of dead) Spider-Man in time for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - and merchandising, the potential earnings of a superhero movie are inherently constrained. After all, the thinking goes, it's the purchasing of action figures, lunch boxes and bedside lamps that encourages kids to want to see a movie over and over and over again, thus helping it to hit that much-coveted billion-dollar mark.
X-Men: Days of Future Past, for instance, made an enormous $748 million worldwide, on a $200 million budget - which is, of course, a whole lot of profit.
Compare it to The Avengers, though - which made more than double that ($1.51 billion) worldwide, and, crucially, close to treble the amount of money in the comic-book and merchandising-friendly domestic market - and that total seems like a missed opportunity. One which, so the logic that Marvel appears to be employing goes, would be carefully grasped were the rights to revert to Marvel Studios.
What's the Endgame, Though?
Well, essentially, it seems that Marvel is willing to lose out on a few hundred million dollars-worth of merchandising and comic-book sales in order to - eventually - persuade Fox that there's no point in making Fantastic Four or X-Men movies, and that they should either sell the rights back to Marvel, or do some sort of deal along the lines of the one Sony recently agreed for Spider-Man.
That, though, is the war. The short-term battle, it seems, is actually a whole lot more simple - and far less dastardly-seeming.
In the Short Term, Marvel are Just Sticking With What They Know
Check out that new poster again...
Now, sure, the most obvious thing about it is that there's a complete lack of the X-Men and Fantastic Four - but there're actually a whole lot of other heroes notable by their absence.
In fact, when you look closely - and it definitely pays to - you'll probably notice that almost every character on there has either already appeared, or been announced to soon be appearing, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Which, on the one hand, does indeed make it seem as though Marvel are cutting out everyone who isn't a part of the MCU. On the other hand, though, it's worth noting that there are a whole lot of popular comic-book characters that Marvel do have the film rights to who aren't on there either. Instead of simply a cynical part of a larger war, then, that image could also be seen as something pretty simple: a celebration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's comic-book origins.
Which would certainly explain why Captain America isn't being played by The Falcon, and Thor's a dude - despite that not being the comic-book reality as things stand.