WTF-Tastic 2015: Worst Year Ever for the Fantastic Four?

by Michael Brown

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Firmly planted in the New Year of 2016, it’s up to Yours Truly to provide one more piece of pointless backward-gazing nonsense to the pile of year-end pseudo-intellectuality. One thing that I noticed in all the rehashing of last year was that the First Family of Marvel, the Fantastic Four, was most conspicuous largely by its absence. When I say that, I am of course discounting most “Top [Insert #] Worst Movies of the Year” lists but I’m not really counting those for reasons I’ll state soon enough. Really though, 2015 was one of the biggest years on record for the good ol' FF…for all the worst reasons.

Being a massive fan of the Fantastic Four, I can state categorically that 2015 was as though I’d signed up for a “Nutshots of the Month” club and deliveries were made promptly, regularly, and with excessive force. In all the time I’ve been alive and following the FF, I cannot remember a single year that was worse for this superlative superteam. As no one else seems to care, it is left up to me to explain to you why 2015 was the absolute nadir of the Fantastic Four and their faithful fans.

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That Execrable Excuse for a Movie

As I mentioned in my introduction, the  has been most prominent this year as a big-screen presence. Sadly though, their feature film was a tragic mess that tried to jumpstart a franchise but instead got out of bed that morning to find itself hungover, its coffee laced with laxative, cyanide in its cornflakes, and the brake fluid drained from its Fantasticar. To call this flick an abortive mess is almost to give it too much credit. You know the lyrics from that popular Grinch-based Christmas song that most of us probably heard at least a few times in the last few weeks? If you apply most of them to this movie, you’d come close to describing its awfulness.

Just the lead up to this film was painful as it took an astronomical amount of effort to try and maintain some hope that this flick might be good on its own terms despite everyone involved putting their collective foot in their mouths at every turn, set pictures that looked awful, and a Ben Grimm who shared one startling trait with Ghostbusters’ Walter Peck.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe slightly. As a film, it wasn’t THAT terrible. No, the real travesty comes when you try to compare the final product to the colorful, energetic fun that is the source material. 2015 proved that for at least the foreseeable future, The Incredibles will remain the best Fantastic Four film in existence. Fox and Josh Trank, you should all be ashamed of yourselves. 

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The Comic Series Ended

Whether or not Fox’s efforts to craft a money-making franchise from the FF had anything to do with the series’ cancellation is barely worth speculating about. What is true, concrete, factual, and apparent is that for whatever reason, The Fantastic Four is no longer being published on a monthly basis. That’s right, long billed as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ in Stan Lee’s bombastic style, this series is currently nowhere to be seen on any Wednesday in the New Releases rack at your local comic shop.

Softening the blow somewhat was a final arc from writer James Robinson, artist Leonard Kirk, fill-in artist Marc Laming, inkers Karl Kesel and Scott Hanna, and colorist Jesus Aburtov that actually felt like a fitting end for the series. It had action, wonderful character beats, callbacks to important moments in FF history, an intriguing villain whose reappearance I’d personally love to see, and those wonderful grand moments of sci-fi spectacle that help to define the series. It was a great, if too short, run and it felt like the creative and editorial team knew that they had to give readers a good sendoff. The final issue in particular was an oversized wonder with commentary from past creators, excellent backup stories, and a sense that all involved felt motivated to go that extra mile.

What all of that doesn’t change is the fact that the series is still over and done, and none but a vocal minority (myself included) seem to really care. Of course, this is comic books we’re talking about where death is temporary, relaunches king, and as soon as something looks like it will make a buck, it will be back. While I get that, all through my life a new issue of Fantastic Four each month has been a constant just as much as the sun rising in the East, death, and taxes. Maybe it’d soften the blow a little bit if more people seemed to care as deeply as hardcore FF fans.

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Secret Wars… Oh God No!!!

Let’s get this out of the way, Secret Wars is great. It’s the event comic that gave me faith that event comics could be great again. Ignore some truly nauseating tie-in material that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on and the core tale is wonderfully realized, beautifully drawn, and has me looking forward to each issue. It’s hard to imagine how Marvel could have let this thing run on so long and so late but I know that I’m still invested to the end. Prior to this, the last event comic I read was Age of Ultron which was so pointless and messed around with the rules of time travel in the Marvel Universe so much that I swore off events at that point. For Secret Wars to overcome the bad taste in my mouth left by that mess is a credit to the comic.

While I’m pleased to see Reed Richards, Doctor Doom, and the rest of the FF (of sorts) being so important to the story, that first issue was…well, it was pretty hard to stomach. Coming on the heels of Fantastic Four’s cancellation, it felt like I was being kicked when I was already down on the floor sobbing to witness Reed fail spectacularly to save his family and the Future Foundation. To see that all everyone made it into the life raft and to be so close to surviving reality’s destruction only to be lost made me feel every emotion on Reed’s face as the section of life raft containing everyone dear to him exploded.

I certainly can’t deny that this was a wonderfully executed and effective scene, but it still feels like one more kick to my FF fanboy goulies in a year that made me feel like someone had gone to town on them with a steak tenderizer.

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This Bit of Bullcrap

In what reality does it make sense for Ben “The Thing” Grimm to dismiss the Fantastic Four as a ‘detour?’ Like seriously, what the actual f**k is up with that?! I could see certain members of the X-Men making that remark about the X-Men because they’re actually teammates and classmates. The Fantastic Four is a FAMILY. That series is and has always been about family. Other teams (including the X-Men to a degree obviously) have elements of that but it’s the CORE of the Fantastic Four. You don’t just dismiss your monkey-biting family as a melon-farming DETOUR!!!

In general, I’m kinda happy that Ben and Johnny Storm are getting some attention post-Secret Wars. I would have preferred it though if Johnny wasn’t macking on the sister of the woman he once thought was the love of his life, like that isn’t awkward. Also, while I’m sure Brian Michael Bendis could blow his nose on a page and it would sell, I’m not thrilled with his writing of Ben Grimm and I frankly haven’t been since he found a spot on the roster of the New Avengers. In particular and while he may in fact be getting better at it, I’ve never found Bendis to be great at capturing Ben’s idiosyncratic speech patterns.

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Marvel’s Mixed Messaging

Regardless of the truth of the matter, rumors flew everywhere this year about the Fantastic Four (and the X-Men for that matter) getting short shrift in terms of story, promotional, and licensed product prominence due to a fractious relationship between Marvel Studios and Fox. In this environment, Marvel didn’t exactly bend over backwards to avoid giving the impression that these rumors might have some basis in fact. The cancellation of Fantastic Four and the lack of a relaunch post-Secret Wars is just one element of this. Perhaps that was simply a strategic choice that had nothing to do with the film situation. It’s hard to deny that Fantastic Four hasn’t been a great seller in a while. Still, you can’t really imagine DC abandoning Superman if sales fall.

At the same time, reports started surfacing of various artists and companies wanting to use Fantastic Four and related characters in licensed products and that request being refused by Marvel. It’s hard to believe that a for-profit company would turn down an opportunity to make money from some of its properties unless something larger and more strategic was motivating that decision.

Do I personally believe all the rumors? Nope. I’ve seen enough analyses, explanations, and justifications to the point that I really just think that Marvel has been pretty inept at putting out a consistent message about how it’s treating the Fantastic Four that makes any kind of sense and actually defuses the rumor-mongering segments of comics journalism.

Oh, and while I’m on this subject, I’ve grown accustomed over the years to seeing my favorite FF characters left off of licensed products but it is still frustrating that you rarely see a Ben Grimm lollipop amongst the Wolverines, Spider-Mans, Captain Americas, Hulks, and Iron Mans. 

Insert Your Observation Here!

Fans of the Fantastic Four unite! Did I miss anything that made 2015 a truly revoltin’ development? Or were there some more bright spots that I didn’t cover? Let us know!