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Friday, May 08, 2015 

The Fantastic Four ends with no telling if it'll return

Paste magazine wrote about the current end to Marvel's first Silver Age breakthrough, whose return isn't guaranteed in the forseeable future:
This week’s Fantastic Four #645—written by James Robinson and illustrated by Leonard Kirk—is a monumental issue. It’s not only one of the highest number any Marvel comic has reached, but this comic book has also been informally acknowledged as the final chapter of the Fantastic Four—and when we say final, we don’t just mean “for now,” which would apply to most series conclusions; it appears that Marvel has no plans for any Fantastic Four comics in the near future. And while members of the Fantastic Four—or at least iterations of Reed Richards and Doctor Doom—will appear in the epic parallel universe crossover Secret Wars this summer, it seems that Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing and Human Torch are otherwise missing from foreseeable schedules.
Supposedly, it's vengeance against Fox Studios for not giving them back the official movie rights, but they're making a joke of themselves regardless. Moviegoers won't judge by whether the comics are still in print, they'll judge by the movie's own merits, as has been the case ever since many of Marvel's adaptations took off.
As such, this release is a sad occasion for many Fantastic Four fans. In our modern economy, a comic book series ceasing publication is a standard expectation. Sometimes publishers cancel titles due to low sales, and sometimes we don’t see or hear from our favorite characters for years—and when we do see them again, they’re sometimes unrecognizable, especially with the relaunches, reboots and re-whatevers. (Remember how Daredevil went from brooding, self-destructive ninja to happy-go-lucky swashbuckler between Andy Diggle and Mark Waid’s respective tenures?)
There's just one thing: Daredevil may have been relaunched multiple times, but there haven't been so many gaps of years in between the superfluous volumes as there might've once been with some of their other various series a few decades back. Today, they seem to think nearly every character they consider significant must have an ongoing series no matter the sales levels.
But while comic fans tend to be flippant toward the idea of books ending, the void in Marvel’s Fantastic Four schedule should cause concern for franchise fans. The publisher’s current silence on Fantastic Four’s future likely stems from reported disputes between Marvel and 20th Century Fox, which legally licensed the film rights to the FF. Marvel isn’t likely to throw resources behind books that support or help publicize film projects under other studios. With Fox releasing a new Fantastic Four film in late July, this cancellation’s timing plays well into this theory, as do statements by Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort regarding this general scenario, which also effects the X-Men family.
As I said before, this is ridiculous and won't make much difference for the movies. And given how bad the writing's become, saddled primarily with editorial mandates, that's why fans have nothing to be concerned about; Marvel drained the appeal and excitement long ago through all their selfish ideas of what superhero comics should be like. The cancellation of FF now is more like a relief, and we fans should be turning more to the older material for entertainment, not the new "products" that have taken over since the early 2000s.
All of this brings us to the latest Fantastic Four run, written by James Robinson and primarily illustrated by Leonard Kirk. These creators had their work cut out for them. Not only did their book segue the disparity of voices between former series writers Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction into something more cohesive, but it also had to revitalize the franchise from sagging sales. While it’s debatable that the latter was accomplished, the former was done with great aplomb, and together the Robinson/Kirk duo created something truly worthy of the Fantastic Four legacy: a book built on the foundations of imagination, legacy and family.

These three elements defined the core of what Robinson and Kirk accomplished. Creative teams that steward Fantastic Four tend to return to elements pulled from Kirby and Lee’s classic run; an appearance by cosmic beings like Galactus or Annihilus here, old rivalries with hot-headed maritime king Namor flaring up there, with Dr. Doom always turning out to be the Big Bad by the end. Yet, not only did half of the aforementioned characters remain in the toy box, but Robinson and Kirk introduced a new villain to rival that of Dr. Doom with the Quiet Man, a shapeshifter who hid in the background of the series until the last few issues. When Dr. Doom finally emerged, he did so as a hero, as Valeria Richards taught him how to be “good.” And while Robinson and Kirk did use classic Fantastic Four tropes like the Frightful Four (an assembly of villains acting in direct opposite to the titular heroes), they subverted the tropes, in this instance by making the Frightful Four benevolent.

And at the center of it, Robinson and Kirk created the same magic that’s been at the center of every great Fantastic Four run: they accentuated the team as a family unit. Their run accomplished this in a slightly unconventional way, breaking the team apart and forcing the characters to spar with one another: Johnny Storm lost his powers, The Thing was convicted of murder, Sue and Reed lost custody of their children and the Fantastic Four was forcibly removed from their home, the Baxter Building. The creators took a huge risk isolating characters that historically work better together than apart, and these characters were left to fend for themselves, slowly realizing that they could not do alone what they did so well together.
A risk that wasn't worth it, and breakups were done before by much better writers. Besides, Robinson's been very curiously comfy with the crossovers that affected the FF too, so I don't see why they're fawning over this. The claim the FF only work well together is a little exaggerated. The Human Torch and the Thing had stories where they were depicted working pretty well without their two other, more serious partners. The Thing enjoyed a special kind of stardom with Marvel Two-In-One in 1974-83 and a solo title continuing from that point during 1983-86. And in those particular stories, whether serious or comedic, Ben Grimm was seen managing pretty well, whether with guests who weren't part of the FF, or on his own. Plus, Reed and Sue worked with the Avengers at least once, and were depicted pretty effectively apart from their other two partners as well, even if they were still teamed up with another group.

I also notice how Robinson took a route that's become overused lately, turning an established villain into more of a hero when it makes no real sense, especially after all the harm Doom was seen causing in the past. As far as I'm concerned, Robinson has otherwise been one of the worst contributors to superhero comics, and I can't feel sorry he'll be minus a title to write. I just think it's a shame that the FF have to end on some sour notes, as the rest of the MCU is bound to do with the awful editors and publishers still running the show.

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Different decades, different attitudes.

Oh no, a long-running Marvel series was 'cancelled.' I'm so shocked that this could happen.

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