No burying the lede today – Marvel Comics, you should bring back the Fantastic Four… and bring them back as soon as you possibly can.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with the Fantastic Four on the big screen moving forward. That’s a weighted topic for another day (but as a preview, don’t expect to see the radioactive FF again in a movie – any FF … from any studio – for a long, long time). Today’s discussion is strictly about the comic book version.
The even more-epic-than-expected-tranking (get it?) of 20th Century Fox’s reboot has cracked open a door for Marvel Comics that might not been open at all if Josh Trank’s film was even a limited success. But that now-open door has an expiration date and may close again in short order, leaving Marvel with what it has before this debacle started – a franchise of an elevated stature that it holds perhaps due more to historical relevance than commercial success … or in other words, a title more beloved than actually read.
The latter is a problem Marvel’s first family has been facing for some time. Despite being put in arguably top-notch creative hands – Jonathan Hickman, James Robinson to name a recent couple – the title really hasn’t been near the top of Marvel’s depth chart since the John Byrne days of the early 1980s, and there are reasonable questions to asked about how viable the nuclear family superhero concept is – again commercially – in 2015.
The vocal, seemingly hardcore fanbase the franchise holds seems far more interested in a faithful movie adaption (and criticizing anything that isn’t that) than a monthly comic book series. And for a time, some of the comic book readers that were interested viewed Marvel Comics as a co-conspirator with Fox in keeping a “true” FF from them.
Rumors Marvel vehemently have denied ran amuck for months that Fox holding the film rights to the FF was the motivation behind Marvel essentially shelving the comic book franchise post-Secret Wars. And while those rumors always had a significant logic problem (after all, Marvel has done no such thing to the X-Men titles, which Fox also holds the film rights to), the post-Secret Wars shelving seems at least to be coming true.
Despite a plethora of multiple X-, Avengers, Guardians, Spider- and even Inhumans titles, the FF have as far as readers know at the moment been relegated to supporting players in those other families of titles, with conspicuously no sign of the team as a unit, and half the team M.I.A. all together.
Hell, even their long-time (on multiple occasions) home, the Baxter Building, is being subletted by Parker Industries.
At least, that’s the hand Marvel is showing right now. Of course, nothing in comic books stays dead or missing forever, and while it’s probably only a matter of time (years?) before the “All-New” Fantastic Four make their quadumphant return, with the idea that time away will help build anticipation for a comeback, now might be as hot as the iron will get for Marvel.
The FF’s catastrophic movie failure has provided Marvel an opportunity – as opposed to being part of a problem, they can be the solution. They can be the party that gives fans back a true, faithful, high-profile Fantastic Four, at a time when the appetite while perhaps artificially inflated, might be as strong as it’ll get for some time.
Time the announcement about the FF’s comic book return to Fox’s sure-to-be quick and somewhat unceremonious dumping of the film onto the home video market and the publisher may be able to tap into a dynamic that may have a short-half-life, not to mention generate some free mainstream media that also might expire as the movie fades into anything but infamous obscurity.
In other, shorter words, sooner might be better than later in terms of the inevitable Fantastic Four relaunch. As to how to keep it from slipping back into market malaise … that too is a subject for another day.