'Fantastic Four' Comics Were Really Canceled Over The Film Rights, Says Marvel Writer

With a box office bomb and a canceled comic book series, Fantastic Four has a less-than-fantastic future ahead of it. But the only thing that could have sabotaged the fate of Marvel's first family is a lack of audience interest, according to Marvel. Right?

Wrong, says Fantastic Four comic book writer Jonathan Hickman. Hickman is lauded comic book writer whose work at Marvel includes titles such as S.H.I.E.L.D., Avengers, and Secret Wars, but he is probably most known by superhero fans for bringing the Fantastic Four into the modern era with his 2009 run. But the Fantastic Four comics were suddenly canceled in 2014, leading to a wave of rumors that Marvel Studio's inability to reclaim film rights from 20th Century Fox led to the comic book's demise. And Hickman says those rumors were correct.

The brief period of bankruptcy that Marvel suffered in the '90s has continued to haunt the studio to this day. With profits falling, Marvel was forced to sell the film rights of its most popular characters — Spider-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and more — to different film studios. Sony still has Spider-Man (though in their own Hail Mary deal, partnered with Marvel to bring the friendly neighborhood superhero back into audience's good graces with Spider-Man: Homecoming) while 20th Century Fox has a firm hold on X-Men and Fantastic Four.

Once Marvel surged to success in 2008 with Iron Man and the launch of its famous Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company sought to regain its most popular characters once again — to no avail. It did successfully get back rights to popular superheroes like Daredevil and Ghost Rider, but they're certainly not Fantastic Four or X-Men when it comes to being recognizable.

Without that cinematic sway over the characters they created, we started to see a shift in the in-comics universe. The X-Men started to lose prominence in favor of Inhumans, which were being built up to be a pseudo-replacement for the X-Men in Marvel TV shows like  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the upcoming Inhumans. And what of Marvel's First Family? Their comic was unceremoniously canceled in 2014.

Marvel Comics cited poor comic book sales for the cancellation of Fantastic Four. Hickman told Newsarama that's not the case:

"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."

Unfortunately, Fantastic Four isn't doing too well cinematically either. Its last big screen adaptation, 2015's Fantastic Four directed by Josh Trank, was critically panned and rejected by audiences as well. The first two adaptations in 2005 and 2007 were just as critically thrashed, though they didn't fail as spectacularly at the box office.

It seems like Marvel truly left the Fantastic Four, once one of its most beloved properties and its first series dedicated to a team of superheroes, out to dry. And Hickman was vocal in his disapproval of that:

"That kind of thinking runs contrary to everything I believe in as a professional storyteller.  It comes from a place of manipulation where an attempt is made to make the reader desire something through denial. It's hacky. It's suboptimal. It's the central tenet of all sh—y dating advice. If you want someone to care about a book, write a story they care about."

It's a sad way for the Fantastic Four to go, though it's only a temporary end while Marvel and Fox figure out its film rights feud. Meanwhile, the closest thing we'll probably get to a Fantastic Four movie will be Pixar's upcoming Incredibles 2. So at least we'll have that to look forward to.

Who do you think is in the right about the Fantastic Four cancellation?