Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Fantastic 4 is Cancelled: What That Means (To Me Mostly)
I kind of can't stop thinking about the Fantastic Four.
A few months ago, a nasty rumor emerged on the Internet that Marvel Comics was going to cancel "The Fantastic Four" comic. The rumor went that since Marvel wanted the film rights to FF back (which they sold to 20th Century Fox back when Marvel was bankrupt and not owned by Disney) they were no longer going to produce creative material that supported Fox's "Fantastic Four" film franchise. When asked about this rumor, Marvel-types said stuff like "That's just an internet rumor. You should ignore it. The FF are a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe and will continue to be a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe." But then people started to notice that Marvel wasn't using the FF in any of their promotional materials and that was weird. Fantastic Four is, in many ways, the signature Marvel Book. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben are Marvel's first family. Their book had decent sales. So why weren't they in any of Marvel's posters, flyers or ads?
Well, over the weekend, Marvel announced that "Fantastic Four" was ending early next year and that the characters were going away for a little while. I obviously don't know the specifics of the story. I don't know if Marvel is planning an FF relaunch for late 2015. I don't know if all of the characters are joining the Avengers. I don't know if Marvel is just putting them on the shelf for awhile. I'd actually like to assume the best (relaunch) before I assume the worst (cancelled to spite Fox and to gain leverage in any rights battle.) I do assume the best, actually.
But, this kind of emphasizes, to me, the downside of the current nerd/geek renaissance.
Here we go:
As I've mentioned in previous posts, there has really never been a better time to be a nerd. Google is the most admired company in America. The President collects Conan comics. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the top-grossing film on the planet (I mean, right!?!?) We are all nerds now. Viva la geek. Pax Dorkana.
I actually don't think things are that simple and I think being a nerd is complicated now and I can (and will) write a million blogs about geek identity but something that I think we need to note is that the traditional nerd things don't belong just to nerds anymore.
Which brings me back to "Fantastic Four." The Fantastic Four have been around since the early 60's and are beloved by nerds the world over. We can, and will talk your ear off about whether She-Hulk was a good addition to the team in the eighties, and how much we cried when Mr. Fantastic met God, and how the Ultimate Nullifier was kind of a BS way to beat Galactus. While the FF have been a multimedia property nearly as long as they've existed, their primary means of distribution was comics, good old ink-and-paper monthly comics. Nerds love comics. Comics are one of the pillars of our community. They are how we pass down our stories from one nerd-generation to the next. They communicate our values and help us understand the world around us.
Now, nerd properties have become viable film franchises, and you know what? Movies make more money than comics. Here's a fun stat:
In 2013, the market for comic books was $365 million. Like, all comic books combined (monthly print comics) made $365 million in the United States. Guess what the combined box office for both "Fantastic Four" was, including the "flop" "Rise of the Silver Surfer?" $619 million.
$619 Million! For two movies! That's just the tip of the nerd-film iceberg. There are like a dozen superhero movies coming out every year!
While these films are based on comics, we are very rapidly moving into a world where the comics become... subservient to the films. Comics seem to serve two purposes now:
1. They offer a low-risk sandbox for big media companies to try out new ideas. The most successful ideas will some day become films. Marvel is literally Disney's House of Ideas (for films).
2. They act as marketing collateral for those films. Thor movie coming out using Malekith as a villain? You better believe Malekith is going to be ALL OVER the comics leading up to that film's release.
If you're Marvel Comics and your Fantastic Four comics are making maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars a year (MAYBE) and you're not getting a ton of money from box office sales (because rights) and every new Fantastic Four comic character you create belongs to Fox for film-making purposes, why would you keep putting time and capital into producing that comic? It's sad but it doesn't make any sense from a business perspective.
I get it. I hate it, but I get it. The shitty thing is that means the film version of the Fantastic Four becomes, in some ways, the de facto Fantastic Four. Those comic characters nerds loved aren't gone, really, and again, I'm still hoping we see a relaunch of the comic soon, but the... popular public movie version of the FF will now be the only FF for most people.
And the film version are for most people. Because they don't make the movies for us. They don't make these movies for nerds. They make them for everybody. These are big tent-pole pictures and so they need to... smooth them out around the edges to appeal to as many people as possible. For instance, we get a young, sexy Reed Richards instead of the older, professorial Reed. You'll get less technobabble. Jessica Alba plays the Invisible Woman. Galactus is a cloud instead of an impossibly huge person. You need to make the films as appealing to as many people as possible because there is a lot of money riding on each one.
The cool thing is we now get a ton of new nerds. We get tons of people who would never have picked up a comic who know who the Thing and Doctor Doom are. Many of these people will catch the bug and become part of the nerd/geek community. The community gains a ton from these new, diverse members.
But we do lose a little something. In this case, at least for a little bit, we're losing the World's Greatest Comic Magazine. I am very, very happy for what successful superhero movies are doing for geeks, but I do hate to see that sometimes, we lose things that are valuable to us. I'm going to miss the FF, and I hope I get to see them (in print) some time soon.