The Fantastic Four was a longtime staple of comic book stores across America since the series debuted issue #1 in 1961. But Jonathan Hickman, a former writer of the first superhero family’s adventures, says the ongoing dispute between Marvel and 20th Century Fox led to the book’s cancelation in 2015.
If you’re not a comic book nerd, the Fantastic Four is a superhero team that at its core consists of Mister Fantastic, a brilliant scientist who can stretch his body to inhuman limits, Invisible Woman, wife of Mr. Fantastic, with the ability to bend light to become invisible, The Human Torch, the Invisible Woman’s younger brother known for controlling fire and the ability to fly, and my personal favorite, The Thing, a friend of the family with incredible strength and a rocky orange exterior. The team is known for their science and exploration themed adventures, as well as their efforts to foil a wildly varied cast of villains including Dr. Doom, Klaw, Mole Man, Annihilus, Dragon Man, the Red Ghost, and his Super Apes.
You know how Marvel Studios has been knocking it out of the park with “The Avengers,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain America,” and other hit movies? I’m sure they’d have jumped at the chance to add The Thing to the Avengers cast as he was in the comics, but 20th Century Fox owns the rights to adapting the Fantastic Four to film. The latest attempt to make the Fantastic Four into a summer blockbuster was in 2015, but it was a financial bust and was savaged by the critics. When Marvel pulled the plug in 2015 on the iconic comic book that has entertained fans for over 50 years, the rumor was that it was because of how Fox was handling the Fantastic Four on their end, even though they claimed that the comic was canceled due to low sales and waning interest.
Jonathan Hickman, the comic writer of the former Fantastic Four series, as well as Avengers and Secret Wars, came forward in an interview with Newsarama to set the record straight about the state of the Fantastic Four in the Marvel Universe:
I think it’s pretty common knowledge at this point that Marvel isn’t publishing Fantastic Four because of their disagreement with Fox, while it bums me out, I completely understand because, well, it isn’t like they’re not acting out of cause. Fox needs to do a better job there.
Former Marvel editor John Barber went on to note that this specific comic book was a key component for creating the larger Marvel Universe that we all know and love today:
Fantastic Four is the birth of the Marvel Universe, it’s the first comic published under the Marvel banner; it really started the set-up of heroes that don’t always see things the same way. When Namor returned in Fantastic Four #4, it established the idea that the Marvel Universe was expansive and persistent – the stories from the 1940s still happened!
That was a wild notion. Plus, via the Skrulls and Galactus and Mole Man and Wakanda and the Microverse and Latveria the series created the foundation what the Marvel Universe was like, on Earth, below, and above. And in a literal sense of creating characters – so much came out of those Stan Lee/Jack Kirby issues, from Black Panther to the Kree to Doctor Doom to the Inhumans. It’s an incredible bout of world-building and unfettered imagination.
As long as 20th Century Fox continues to hold the film rights to the Fantastic Four in their steely Dr. Doom-like grip, it doesn’t look as though as Marvel will shove the quartet of heroes back into the limelight with their own comic for a while. At least Hickman believes that there is a spark of hope for the FF’s future:
“We knew a year or so out that the Fantastic Four as a property wasn’t going to be published at Marvel past 2015,” Hickman explained of their last appearance in Secret Wars. “When this became a foregone conclusion, then Secret Wars moved about six inches to the left to read as ‘the last Fantastic Four story.’ I mean, it’s not, as it’ll be back someday, and it’s not, as it’s only the Doom-Reed axis and not the entire family, but it’s the best we could do because of how pregnant we were.”
While the Fantastic Four wasn’t my favorite comic book of all-time — that’s still reserved for Marvel’s Thunderbolts series — I was always happy whenever “The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing” appeared to clobber his way through the bad guys, or if the FF decided to help save the world alongside the Avengers once in a while. I can personally attest that Fox’s “Fantastic Four” (2005) and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007) didn’t come close to capturing the campy, silly sci-fi fun of the comics, and it’s a dirty, rotten shame that Marvel felt the need to can the comics in the meantime.
My dream scenario? Marvel and Fox team up to produce a movie starring The Thing, as Sony and Marvel collaborated for the recently released film, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Hey — stranger things have happened!