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Wednesday, October 22, 2014 

More commentaries on Fantastic Four's cancellation

There's been some reactions by a few mainstream sources to the news FF will be put to rest. For example, a writer for IGN thinks it's good Marvel's canceling it, but his reasoning is awfully weak since he avoids the hard questions why it's come down to this:
It's been a persistent rumor all year that Marvel is planning to cancel their Fantastic Four comic as part of an ongoing feud with 20th Century Fox over the franchise's film rights. Sure enough, Marvel confirmed the series' cancellation at NYCC last week. While we can only speculate as to the motivations behind the decision, clearly things aren't looking up for the World's Greatest Comics Magazine.
And they haven't been for over a decade now. Somebody needs to wake up and smell the coffee.
I like the Fantastic Four as much as anyone. They were the first big franchise to come out of Marvel's 1960's renaissance. So many vital pieces of the Marvel Universe sprung out of that original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run. The FF have emphasized family and exploration and the thrill of adventure even at times when the rest of the superhero genre was mired in darkness and bloodshed. It's not that their comic wouldn't be missed, but right now, a hiatus might be just what the Fantastic Four franchise needs.
I can agree with that last part for as long as Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso and Dan Buckley are running the show behind the scenes. But I think it's absurd to assume the FF never fell victim to darkness. In fact, during Mark Waid's run, he sure came pretty close. And darkness itself isn't the only problem that could hurt the FF: there's also bad leftist politics forced in by out-of-control writers (I vaguely recall Waid may have gone that route in 2004), and the aggravation caused by crossovers, which the FF are not immune to - even they were involved with Civil War. Of course there's people who'll be missing the FF when it ends, but at this point, I don't think all of Marvel fandom sees this end as such a bad thing, meaning they won't miss it when there's a lot of better tales from past decades they can read if they hadn't yet, and get to know what real adventure is like coming from Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, and several others.
That's not to say I support the idea of cancelling the series to spite Fox, assuming that's actually what Marvel is doing. Yes, Marvel made some bad movie deals in the 1990's that have prevented them from being able to bring the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man franchises back under one umbrella. Thanks to those deals, there's no telling when or if we'll ever get to see Wolverine standing alongside the Avengers on screen and helping them battle Doctor Doom. But those movie deals are pretty much the only thing that saved Marvel from bankruptcy. Who knows what state Marvel or its films would be in now if that hadn't happened? I wish the current Marvel leadership would just accept the decisions made by past regimes and stop stonewalling licensees every time they want to put Galactus' face on a T-shirt. But that's their call.
Is the guy who wrote this aware Marvel's increasingly bad storytelling during the 1990s, coupled with their departure from bookstores and the speculator implosion, precipitated the verge of bankruptcy? We could also add their failure to reformat and make themselves more accessible to bookstore preferences, taking the next plausible step for comicdom, to move away from monthly pamphlets to something more easily managed by newer readers. But that wouldn't jibe well with the insular PC advocates now running the show, who want to keep things as is so they can foist their brand of politics and insular storytelling laced with bad fanfictions onto an audience that lacks common sense or ability to make distinctions between the good and bad.
Ignoring all that corporate squabbling, the Fantastic Four comics need some sort of overhaul. Looking strictly at the sales figures of Fantastic Four and its former sister series, FF, it's clear the reader interest isn't where it needs to be. Fantastic Four is hardly Marvel's worst-selling book, but it also doesn't sell nearly enough copies every month considering the pedigree of the franchise and the caliber of talent Marvel brings on board. It's been a steady stream of A-List writers over the last decade, from Mark Waid to J. Michael Straczynski to Mark Millar to Jonathan Hickman to Matt Fraction to James Robinson. Waid and Hickman are responsible for the greatest FF runs of the modern era. And yet, the FF books always lag well behind the X-Men, Avengers, and Spider-Man franchises in sales. Even Marvel's cosmic books are pulling ahead thanks to their newfound Hollywood momentum.
Or are they? I've looked at their receipts and any boost they get from the movies is pretty short, so I can't see what his point is. And those writers? I must very seriously disagree. Straczynski proved himself just as pretentious on FF as he was on Spider-Man, and Millar went around the bend long ago. Robinson is one of the most overrated, and he's done nothing to prove himself a masterpiece scriptwriter these phonies want him to be. He comes onto the FF, and one of his first steps was breaking up the FF, even if it's only for a short time. If that has to be done, it shouldn't be all at once. He missed a chance to try more for serious character drama involving guest performers.
It certainly doesn't help that the FF haven't had a decent movie to piggyback from. But the more fundamental problem is that the franchise has struggled to evolve and grow with the times. The main quartet have become awfully stagnant over time. Mister Fantastic is always struggling to reconcile his scientific obsession with the need to devote time to his family. Human Torch is always the cocky youngster who needs to learn to grow up. The Thing is always the brooding loner. Invisible Woman is always caught in the middle as the frazzled den mother of the team. This has always made for a solid family dynamic, but at some point every family needs to grow and change. This family is stagnant.
And he knows whose fault that is, doesn't he? It's the writers, right down to those he cited. Well, doesn't he know the writers are responsible for stagnant feelings in the tale? I also disagree Human Torch is always a guy who doesn't mature; he faced Doctor Doom and several other supervillains more than enough times in the past to know why it pays to be awake.
The FF comics have been trapped in a cycle where our heroes are torn apart by some tragedy (be it The Thing's death or Civil War or Human Torch's death) and reunited again (be it The Thing's resurrection or a post-Civil War reconciliation or Human Torch's resurrection). Even now, the current series is exploring what happens as the Richards clan is torn apart and then brought back together again. Reading the comics in recent years has been like watching a pendulum bounce back and forth. Even if the individual stories are great, the larger tapestry is growing increasingly repetitive.
Wait a moment, didn't he say he thought Waid, Straczynski, Hickman and Robinson's efforts were stellar? Now, all of a sudden, he's acknowledging just what's wrong with today's efforts, especially the crossover connections. The individual stories have become awfully pretentious for many years now, as Marvel no longer feels like Marvel anymore, but even "individual" stories don't last particularly long, when crossovers come driving around the corner pretty quickly afterwards.

Another site commenting on FF's end is NY's Vulture section. They have some interesting notes to make, but ultimately get caught up in PC lunacy too:
Marvel Entertainment has done what Dr. Doom, the Skrulls, and even the world-devouring might of Galactus couldn't do: killed the Fantastic Four.
More specifically, a gaggle of modern charlatans calling themselves writers, artists, editors and publishers have done what the FF's rogues gallery couldn't accomplish.
During a Sunday-afternoon panel at New York Comic-Con, Marvel editor in chief Axel Alonso and current Fantastic Four writer James Robinson confirmed what observers had suspected for months: the company is closing up shop on its longest-running series after a world-changing 53-year run. The news has been met with a collective shrug of resignation among the comics community, but attention should be paid. This is no small event in the history of superheroes. It's a premature ending, and it was most likely borne of the comics economy's worst tendencies in the age of blockbuster superhero flicks.
Well that's saying something. Yes, I'm sure sales are so bad for everything, they decided FF would make the perfect sacrificial lamb. But there's a lot of other titles out there selling as badly or even worse, well below 50,000 copies, so it doesn't make much sense they should abandon Marvel's breakthrough of the Silver Age when there's other stuff that could be dropped too for the same reasons.
A rep for Marvel said the company has no comment on the reasoning for Fantastic Four's cancellation. But a glance at the Fantastic Four's licensing situation starts to tell a very plausible (and disappointing) story leading to the end of the series. Before the superhero-movie renaissance, a struggling Marvel sold the FF's film rights (along with those of the X-Men) to 20th Century Fox at terms very favorable to Fox. Fast-forward to now: Fox is rebooting the Fantastic Four film franchise and Marvel gets hardly any money out of the movie, unlike the insane cash it makes on flicks made by its own studio (Avengers, Captain America, and the other titles in that universe) and the Spider-Man franchise (owned by Sony, who cut a good bargain with Marvel a while back). Reports have long circulated that Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter despises Fox for not playing ball, much less returning its various properties to Marvel.
Perlmutter certainly isn't going the right way if he arranged to have the FF cancelled just because he resents Fox not returning the movie rights to them. Besides, if I were in charge of Marvel's publishing arm, I wouldn't have a problem with that. What matters to me is the core comics and if I could have enjoyable tales written, which the current staff certainly aren't. It's not so much the licensing that's a problem, but the state of Marvel's overall scriptwriting that is. No wonder a lot of fans aren't very bothered it's ending. There's nothing to be excited about anymore.
The X-Men have become so essential to the Marvel Comics universe that Marvel would never do mass cancellations of its various X-titles (although there's periodic speculation that Marvel is trying to somehow minimize X-Men characters). But the Fantastic Four only star in one monthly series, ever since their second series got canceled a few months ago. Sales of the book have been decent, but not spectacular. They're an easy target in the war between Fox and Marvel. With the new Fantastic Four movie on the way in the next few months, Marvel has very noticeably taken FF characters out of its promotional materials.
But how does that keep the movie from being successful? It doesn't, if the moviegoers judge the film on its own terms. Whether it winds up as a dud, that doesn't justify cancellation. All they're doing is making it look like they're blaming the source material when it's the filmmakers who'll have to take the blame if the movie flops.

By the way, they already decided to minimize the X-Men cast, more than a decade ago, first in Grant Morrison's stories that saw Genosha massacred by Sentinels, and later Brian Bendis depowered some others. I believe Dani Moonstar was among the latter group who underwent this depowering. But honestly, what's the point? All they have to do is put some of the mutants they think are excessive in limbo, not kill them like they're doing now with Wolverine (and it's not even the first time). As a recurring civilian cast member, Moira MacTaggart was another victim of the same mentality.
And now, with little fanfare, the series is on the chopping block. We don't know the specifics of how the so-called first family of the Marvel Universe will disappear, and it seems likely that at least some of the characters might remain in published Marvel series. For all we know, the series could be back sometime in the near future. But everything we know about the wrap-up of the series indicates a near-total end to the FF's adventures. Robinson said the team is "going away for a while" and alluded to killing off characters in an interview. Marvel made no effort to assure fans that the FF will still show up in other titles. The final story line will be called "The End Is Fourever." A solicitation for the collected edition of the story line describes it as "the closing act on the First Family of the Marvel Universe." Combine all of that with the business disputes, and it all adds up to a pretty stark picture.
A cancellation isn't something you'd want to build fanfare over. Rather, it's the release of a new book you hope everybody likes where you want to do something like that.

That link above is only to a brief telling they have a longer interview with Robinson in store. If I ever find it, I'll try to comment on it, because I'm sure he's got quite a snoozer of a story to tell them.

As terrible as writing's become today, it is sad the FF have to meet such a bitter end, with no guarantee there'll even be any miniseries or prestige format specials turning up in the future. But those who love the FF know Quesada and his flunkies are the guilty part here.
...perhaps most important, the FF haven't lost their relevance. To put it bluntly: This is an execution, not a mercy killing. I've been talking about the historical importance of the early Fantastic Four issues, but that's only the beginning of the team's significance. It has a core idea that never gets old: the struggles, compromises, joys, and agonies of being in a family. Over the ensuing five decades of the team's history, their adventures and tribulations have produced some of superhero comics' greatest story lines and characters. There was the Galactus Saga of 1966, in which a massive alien visitor almost devoured the Earth, giving us the highest-stakes comics story ever told to that point (and giving us Galactus, who's been used to great effect dozens and dozens of times ever since). Or writer/artist John Byrne's incredible run in the early 1980s, which fleshed out Sue Storm and introduced heartbreaking conflicts between her and Reed over work-life balance and gender roles in a marriage. Or Mark Millar's gripping and horrifying Ultimate Fantastic Four, an alternate-reality tale from the 2000s about a younger FF facing truly horrifying threats. Or Jonathan Hickman's run from the early 2010s, or Matt Fraction's run on Fantastic Four and its short-lived spinoff series FF just two years ago. The list goes on and on.
More precisely, the older stories pre-2000, IMO, haven't lost relevance. But the newer ones by Millar, Strazcynski, Hickman and Fraction have none to speak of, so I believe the guy writing this piece should've woken up and smelled the coffee. Depending on your view, this is a mercy killing, in a way, as it all but saves the FF from falling victim to more writers with nothing but contempt for the famous Foursome, not the least being Robinson. Yet it's still an execution simultaneously, except it already happened, a long time ago, thanks to political correctness by the editors and complacency by the audience, many who failed to understand why boycotting the books is the best way to send a message.

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The funny thing is that with the release of Nolan's Interstellar and the flights by SpaceX and other companies, it may be the best time in the past 3 decades to go back to the space exploration angle for the FF.

But I guess Heinleinian dreams of bold exploration and frontier freedom run counter to what some ideologies want these days...

So when does Fantastic Four #1 come out?

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