Yesterday, we half-joking reported on a rumor from our good pal Uncle Rich that we thought was probably too ridiculous to be true, even in the comic book industry, where every day is like living in a Dilbert cartoon. But it seems that we gave Marvel too much credit, because even the corporate lapdogs (actually, they've been pretty bold lately, for what it's worth) at Comic Book Resources are reporting on the rumor now, along with Screencrush. Here's a rundown:
According to Rich Johnston, Marvel, butthurt over the fact that they almost ran their publishing business into the ground in the nineties, using the exact same business practices they (and DC) rampantly indulge in today, and had to sell off all their good movie rights, is cancelling the publication of all Fantastic Four comics and the promotion of any characters tied to the property, including Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and Doctor Doom. That's right, because Marvel couldn't stop pumping out chromium plated hologram variant covers and Clone Sagas and gave Fox the rights to lucrative franchises in unfavorable deals, they're going to punish fans by making beloved characters off limits as part of a petty corporate vendetta. The Fantastic Four, regarded as the "first family" of Marvel, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, cornerstones of the Marvel Universe, will be put on the shelf for an indefinite period of time just to spite Fox, who holds their movie rights along with the X-Men.
Marvel isn't cancelling X-Men though, probably because they currently publish like fifteen ongoing monthly titles about them and several of their high profile writers have major man crushes on Wolverine. However, there have been rumors that Marvel is positioning the Inhumans to take the functional place of the X-Men so they can promote them instead. Supposedly, Marvel's executive logic is that all of this will somehow damage Fox's box office success, which will benefit Marvel Studios in some way. It's spurious reasoning, because the movie going audience dwarfs the comic reading one, and the comic reading audience is not suddenly going to forget the Fantastic Four exists and skip the movie just because Marvel hasn't published their book in a few months - they'll watch it no matter what happens, if for no other reason than to bitch about it endlessly online.
While this sounds ridiculous, CBR has confirmed that "a hiatus for the property is planned" based on reports from "multiple industry sources speaking on the condition of anonymity," though they stop short of confirming Johnston's reasoning. And while cancelling a book to give fans a chance to recharge their desire to buy it wouldn't be so outrageous, Rich Johnston got his hands on a memo, allegedly sent by Marvel to artists working on Marvel 75th Anniversary promotional material:
So the hiatus is looking very likely, and, if Johnston is to be believed, it extends to more than just the books. It prohibits promotion of the Fantastic Four and their related characters in any way whatsoever. If Marvel just wanted to give fans a break from the Fantastic Four so they could reboot it, why also ban Skrulls and the Silver Surfer from appearing on trading cards? No, if true, there has to be something more at play here.
Johnston also claims that the orders are coming directly from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, Disney's largest shareholder. A billionaire like Permutter wouldn't think twice about using Marvel and its audience as pawns in a game of spite with other 1%ers. The thought processes of the obscenely rich are bizarre and alien. Just ask Donald Sterling. Hell, Perlmutter is no stranger to nasty scandals over his management style that include alleged racist remarks and a perceived threat of gun violence. Back when Rich Johnston was telling the world that he had a secret that would bring down the comic book industry if revealed, many in the circles I frequent suspected the secret had to do with Perlmutter (now it's a rumor about a rumor about a rumor).
Of course, there could be another reason for all of this. But coming up with one that explains why Marvel would prevent any characters related to the Fantastic Four from appearing on promotional material for their own 75th anniversary would take some mental gymnastics. Unless the memo is fake, which is, of course, always a possibility. It bears no letterhead or signature, and Johnston didn't give any details on the artist who gave it to him.
Marvel, for their part, has responded to the rumors with their usual class and good manners. Tom Brevoort, a senior editor at Marvel and a forty-or-fifty-something year old business professional represented the company by taking to Tumblr and calling fans paranoid:
My denying rumors isn’t likely to keep anybody who’s prone to paranoia from panicking.
But really, does this even seem remotely plausible to people? Does it make any sense?
Folks have a very strange idea as to the way a business is run.
Only in comics, folks. Okay, maybe in pro wrestling. Brevoort also accused Rich of making up the whole thing to line his own pockets. Come on - Uncle Rich would never do that. If anything, he'd do it for the attention. You may notice though, Brevoort hasn't outright denied anything.
So it looks like we're still left with more questions than answers, but either way, it should all be made clear in the months leading up to the Fantastic Four movie, which comes out on June 19, 2015.