It’s the end of an era, at least that’s how I see it, and I’m forced to wonder just how many other people will see it that way too. With Fantastic Four #645, it all comes to an end for the comic series that truly kicked both the Silver Age and modern superheroes into high gear. The debut of the Fantastic Four back in November 1961 brought us a new way of telling superhero stories, and comic book stories for that matter. Now I could go on about how important the Fantastic Four have been to the industry, but in the end, those out in comic fandom who care about it already know, and those who don’t know already probably don’t care.
Sometimes I feel like the old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, reminiscing about the good old days, and how the comics you kids read now are never as good as the ones that we had as kids. Of course that’s complete poppycock, there are more great stories being turned out today than at any other time, except maybe the Golden Age, but that was a completely different time and place, not to mention one full of a different kind of stories. What you find in today’s comics is a much wider variety of stories, many of which would never have made it to print or found a receptive audience in decades past.
I haven’t been following the Fantastic Four for many years–or much Marvel, for that matter. So I can’t tell you how good the final issue from the creative team of James Robinson and James Kirk is. It could be the best book put out this year, but I’ll never know, because I’m not supporting the business strategies that seem to be dominating Marvel these days. And when I say that Marvel was better back when I was first getting into comics, I don’t mean the stories, the art, or anything related to the final product; I mean the company. With the end of the Fantastic Four, I see the last scraps of what used to be a company dedicated to bringing you great stories first finally cease to exist.
To be fair, this is a trend with its roots in the 90’s, and it has only accelerated since then. Not just at Marvel, either, but at DC as well. DC started their own slippery slope after the 1987 merger between Warner Communications and Time Inc. For Marvel it started when the company was bought up by Ronald Perelman in 1991. Now this might be just a coincidence in timing, but I don’t think so. It becomes clear that as big business has gotten involved more, Marvel and DC have both become less interested in putting out quality products, and more interested in variant covers, crossovers, and any other gimmick to squeeze a nickel out of the comic book reader. Which brings me to the grand point of this whole article. While the people up top deny this has anything to do with the publishing decisions of their books, It’s pretty hard not to see the direct correlation between the wrath of the Mouse on characters they don’t have the movie rights to. With the new Fantastic Four movie coming out from Sony, it seems that the Founding Family of modern comics is not immune to it either. The rights to the X-Men film franchise remain firmly locked at 20th Century Fox, and there are no X-gene-sporting mutants to speak of in the MCU. Deadpool, also the star of a forthcoming adaptation at Fox, just got canceled, and now it’s the FF’s turn.
In the canceling of the Fantastic Four I see the complete transformation of Marvel from a company interested in bringing you quality stories in the comic format, to a company more concerned with the making of a buck through whatever media is closest at hand. It would be unfair to say that a company shouldn’t be worried about being profitable–they should be. You can’t keep the lights on with good intentions, but when your company is based around storytelling, then you should really consider these moves and cancellations a bit on the petty side. The movies and the comics have a shared fan base, but not an exclusive one. While many of the moviegoing fans are comic readers, a huge portion of cinematic devotees are not regular readers. Feeling the need to punish the companies that own the rights to the movies by not publishing those characters just punishes the readers, who I might point out are fans of the characters, and not the companies putting out the movies.