The latest rumour to come out of Marvel, now owned by Disney, is that they're planning to cancel all their Fantastic Four titles, including Ultimate FF, to try and hamper the chances of the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. The reason? There's apparently bad blood between Marvel and Fox, to whom Marvel sold the film rights in the late '90s when on the verge of bankruptcy.
Marvel CEO, Ike Perlmutter, is certainly in a position to enforce a decree like this. And, given the colossal multimedia success of the Avengers, it's understandable that Marvel would want to focus on them in its publications, since they're as popular now as the X-Men were in the '80s and '90s. But, leaving aside the fact that it's clearly an absurd idea to think that cancelling a handful of comics could impact a major movie's chances (given it's pretty clear that films boost the sales of the comics, and not the other way around) it would still be petty and short-sighted.
After all, Fox also owns the rights to the X-Men film franchise, and there's been no hint of Marvel slowing down the publishing of these comics. Sure, Wolverine's slated to die in the near future, but nobody believes for a moment that he'll stay dead more than a year. With that in mind, if the rumours of the cancellation of the Fantastic Four are true, it's more likely down to the fact that the characters just don't have the star power they used to, especially not when compared to powerhouses like the Avengers or the X-Men.
Having said that, it still rankles when promotional images for Marvel's 75th anniversary and their various Marvel NOW initiatives completely neglect the Fantastic Four. No, they aren't as big a name as they were when they launched in the 1960s, but there's a reason they're called Marvel's First Family. Without them, Marvel Comics, and indeed modern superhero comics as we know them, would not exist. The Fantastic Four hold a hugely important place in the development of the genre and the medium, and the fact that Marvel is seemingly trying to minimise that importance is extremely disappointing.
The ideas introduced in these comics tend to be the norm of the genre now, but it can't be stressed enough how revolutionary Fantastic Four #1 was when it was first published. These were characters who actually had lives when they took off their costumes, and were a dysfunctional family with problems readers could actually relate to. Spider-Man may be the definitive Marvel hero, but The Thing was the prototype: where cosmic rays granted his friends extraordinary powers, they turned him into an ugly orange rock monster. It's the first time the 'powers as a curse' trope, which would come to define Marvel's comics in contrast to DC's, made an appearance, and the company should not be ignoring such an important part of its history and identity.
The rumours swirling around even suggest that pictures and posters of the Fantastic Four have been taken down at Marvel's HQ, and that artists have been specifically prohibited from using them in 75th anniversary drawings. That latter certainly seems plausible, given their almost total absence from the campaign, especially as the X-Men still appear in force. Even now that he's dying, we can apparently never get away from Wolverine for too long.
But given the nature of the superhero genre, which generally has a relationship with its own past that verges on the fetishistic, it seems even more bizarre. Of course, it's always possible that there's a better reason for all this. It wouldn't make it any less unfortunate that Marvel have decided not to invite their First Family to the company's birthday celebrations, but it would still be better than ignoring them just to spite Fox. That’s especially true given it's not going to hurt Fox in the slightest - the only one who stands to lose something from this is Marvel itself.
Whatever the reason, it's disappointing and depressing that Marvel seem to have decided to give the Fantastic Four the shaft. Marvel Comics would not exist without the Fantastic Four, and neither would pretty much any of the great superhero comics published in the last 50 years. They ought to be a central part of the company's anniversary celebrations, not cast aside like they don't matter. For once, having a bit more respect for the past would be a very beneficial thing.