Here on What Were They Thinking we look at all of the stupidest and most ill-advised things in all of comic book history. However, this week we're going to be looking at something that, in all fairness, actually does make a decent amount of sense, if only purely from a business perspective. But the fact that it makes business sense does not exclude it from being a WWTT target, simply because the spitefulness and meanspiritedness of the descision means that, as always, the only people who lose out are the fans. And of course, when we're talking spiteful and meanspirited, you know we're talking about these guys right?
Now to kick things of I want to show you a picture. This is the 2007 edition of Marvel's "Character Line-Up" poster.
Looks about right. All of the big names are there, you have Spidey front and centre flanked by Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, Captain America and the Hulk, with other notable characters (like Daredevil, Venom, Mystique, Doctor Doom, Juggernaught and Iron Man) being in prominant positions. It's what you'd expect a best of Marvel poster to look like.
Now let's take a look at the 2015 poster:
Let's play spot the difference. Well, Guardians Of The Galaxy are in this one, but then they weren't a thing in 2007 so kinda understandable that they'd feature this time but not previously. Ditto Miles Morales. Spidey isn't front and centre anymore, that's Iron Man, and Thor features much more prominantly, as do Black Widow, Ant-Man, Black Panther and The Defenders. Oh and all the X-Men and Fantastic Four are gone. Wolverine is no-where to be seen, same for The Human Torch, Cyclops, Beast, Nightcrawler, Storm and Thing. Some of Marvel's most iconic characters, left off of the "Marvel Character Line-Up". That doesn't make sense does it?
So why? Well, as I'm sure everyone is aware Marvel make movies about their characters. You might have heard of a few of them. Problem is, a lot of other people make movies about Marvel characters as well. And there's really nothing Marvel can do to stop them doing so, which Disney (who own Marvel) and Isaac Perlmutter (the Chairman of Marvel Entertainment and all round nasty piece of work) don't like.
You see the whole issue arrose from the late 90's, when Marvel managed to bankrupt themselves (which is something we've briefly covered on WWTT before and will probably cover in more detail at a later date). To become solvent again Marvel had to sell of the movie rights for a lot of their properties to big movie studios. New Line got Blade, Sony got Spider-Man and Ghost Rider, Universal got Hulk and 20th Century Fox got X-Men, Daredevil and, later, the Fantastic Four. These films all met with varrying degrees of success, but since 2008, many of the rights for these characters have either reverted back to Marvel/ Disney (Blade, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Daredevil) or the film rights holders have made collaborative deals with Marvel to work on films together (Sony with Spider-Man). However, there are two that got away, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
Now, X-Men makes sense. Fox would never give that cash cow up, it's one of the most lucrative film franchises in history, placing 7th on the all time list for highest earning film series. In fact, if you type X-Men into google the wikipedia page for the film series is the first result, then the wikipedia page for the first X-Men film and THEN the wikipedia page for the comics series comes up third. There have been some missteps in the series, but they have never not made money. And Fox has even come to a deal with Marvel on working together on a X-Men based TV show, so that's all fine and dandy. Although it does have to be pointed out that Marvel do seem to be downplaying the X-Men in favour of the Inhumans in their comics at the moment (especially when you consider that the X-Men are the second most profitable titles in Marvels history behind Spider-Man), which does make sense, because Marvel have a Cinematic Universe to plug and the Inhumans are the newest additions to that. Oh and there's the fact that Marvel have banned writers from making new X-Men characters so Fox can't use them in future films. But hey, at least Marvel managed to get Quicksilver into the Age Of Ultron movie (though they couldn't call him Quicksilver) and Fox also got to use him in the X-Men series.
But what about the Fantastic Four? Fox never managed to make a good F4 movie and certainly none of them have been anywhere near as successful at the box office as any X-Men film? So why haven't Fox returned the rights? Well, after the Avengers film became a huge success, Fox thought it would be a good idea if they could capitalise on the fact that they owned the movie rights two of Marvel's most famous assets and had a pre-existing movie universe. Their original plan was to relaunch the Fantastic Four in such a way that they could eventually cross-over with the established X-Men series. But, as anyone who saw the last F4 film can tell you, that didn't go well. And because Fox made the film right on the cusp of the rights deal expiring, it means that Fox own the rights for the team until at least the 2020's, maybe longer. There have also been muttering that the film was only made so Fox could retain the rights, but that is just speculation. Now it would seem as though they're just holding onto the rights for the sake of it, to get the best price out of Marvel when the deal expires.
Problem there is, Marvel are going out of their way to devalue the Fantastic Four brand. In response to Fox making the 2015 F4 film, Marvel cancelled the teams comic. People working for Marvel, such as former F4 writer Jonathan Hickman, have even said as much, despite publisher Tom Breevort saying that people where taking the comic "for granted" and that they were "not going to have that book for a while" to renew interest in the team. And hey, it does look like we're going to be getting the Fantastic Four back in Marvel Legacy, at least in piecemeal fashion, with Human Torch and Thing appearing together on a teaser cover for one of the new series and the possibility of the Invisible Woman making her return in a solo series. But no F4 title yet as far as I'm aware.
But there are other problems here too, namely royalties. Now this is a situation that I don't fully get because we don't know all of the details of what goes on behind the scenes here or everything that was in the Fox-Marvel deal in the first place, but Marvel are also not merchandising any characters that Fox own the movie rights to. Nothing X-Men and nothing Fantastic Four, not even if they're also included with characters that Marvel do own the rights to. For example, on one T-shirt, Marvel replaced Wolverine and Storm with Black Panther and Captain America, even though the shirt was based on a comic cover and included characters that Marvel had the rights to, like Iron Man and Hulk. Then you had the situation with XM Studios, the place that makes all of Marvel's premium collectable statuettes and busts (you know, the stuff that you see in shops for between $500- $1000, that stuff). They had to announce that they were stopping production of all X-Men characters, including a high price diorama of the X-Men battling a Sentinal which was already near completion, because Marvel told them to stop. When later asked about a simular Avengers vs. Galactus piece, XM confirmed that it too, along with any other Fantastic Four based pieces, was no longer in production for the same reason. No explaination was ever given as to why Marvel halted production, and XM have got some X-Men stuff up on their website (though it is all sold out), but I think everyone can put the pieces together.
Now, the one fact I do have as to what is in the Fox-Marvel deal is that Marvel only get 5% of any of the property gross from the deal. Which explains why Marvel focused on pushing Guardians of the Galaxy toys over producing any Days Of Future Past toys when the two films were released in 2014. As Tom Brevoort put it: "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?"
However, what isn't clear is, if that is only from any movie tie-ins, which is what you'd naturally assume, but the way Marvel is acting says otherwise. If Marvel only get 5% from ANYTHING involving the X-Men and Fantastic Four then a) their reaction is reasonable and b) take whoever made that deal out behind the shed and do what needs to be done. But if it is only from film tie-ins then Marvel pulling the plug on any and all merchandise involving their two longest running superteams in an amazingly petty over-reaction. If you add in cancelling the Fantastic Four comic and then the fact that Marvel and Fox are working together on the X-Men tv show, you can't help but reach the conclusion that Marvel are trying to scratch Fox's back whilst also stabbing them in the gut from the front.
And, let's be honest, Fox may well care about the merchanidse thing, they're a big corperate greed monster, all they care about is money. But it's obvious that they don't care enough, otherwise the Fantastic Four would be back in Marvel's hands by now (as I said at the top, I don't expect X-Men to revert, not unless Disney literally pulls a good couple of tens of billions out of its own arse to buy the rights back off Fox). And it obviously doesn't hurt Marvel that much, they've got a movie franchise of their own to shill (and let's be honest, it's getting to the point where it kinda feels like Marvel Comics only exists to sell Marvel Studios anymore doesn't it?). The only people this really hurts are the fans, the people who enjoyed the Fantastic Four comics, the people who want a t-shirt with their favourite character on it, the people who are willing to give Marvel stupid money for a statuette they have no room for (myself included, though probably not that expensive). But, hey, as long as you're still giving them both money by buying cinema tickets, dvd's and blu-rays, why should Fox or Marvel/ Disney care.
But hey, look on the brightside, at least Marvel aren't owned by Warner Bros. Making a tribute to a video game developer who died of cancer paid DLC for Shadow Of War? Really? Atop making it a pay-to-win game by having actual characters purchasable through random paid lootboxes? Next you're going to be telling me that Catwoman and Batgirl are paid DLC for Batman games...
Oh wait, they did that already. And they wouldn't fix the damn things when they were broken to the point of not being playable on PC because they were concentrating on the DLC. Warner Bros. you are the worst and I'm sad and angry that you own the rights to DC and Tolkien.
Sorry, where was I?
Oh yeah, both Fox and Marvel hate you and want your money but don't want you paying the other company so screw the Fantastic Four.
And with that
P.S. Screw Warner Bros.
P.S.S. Screw Isaac Perlmutter too. But that's another story for another time.