During a new interview, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso was asked to address the Fantastic Four cancellation rumors, and while he tonally seemed to deny the reports, fans on social media are generally in agreement that nothing he said sounded like a denial.
To recap the rumors: A report from news and rumor site Bleeding Cool last month (linked below) claimed that Fantastic Four and Ultimate FF would be cancelled, and the visibility of Fantastic Four-related characters and properties would be reduced, with the characters continuing to appear in other titles in the Marvel Universe.
The rumor revolved around the idea that Marvel was unhappy about publishing comics that some thought acted as a support for the Fantastic Four film franchise, to which 20th Century Fox currently holds the rights as a result of a deal made years ago during their bankruptcy years ago.
Fox also holds the film rights to the X-Men, but the logic goes that those titles are far too profitable for Marvel to consider making too many changes to them. The comparably lower-selling Fantastic Four don't have that protection.
Still, some have long maintained that the X-Men and Fantastic Four have been increasingly marginalized in support of the Avengers and other properties Marvel fully controls even prior to these reports emerging.
A later update to that story provided some evidence in the form of comments and a scanned document from an artist at Upper Deck, who had been discouraged from using Fantastic Four-related characters in sketch cards.
Marvel's Executive Editor/SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort mocked the reports but stopped short of actually denying them, asking "does this even seem remotely plausible?" but flat-out refusing to deny the rumors when asked (he said that his denial wouldn't help satisfy the kind of people who worry about such things).
A second, more strongly-worded denial came later, but some conspiracy theorists felt that it, too, had "escape hatches" built in so that if the rumors were true he wouldn't TECHNICALLY be lying.
"We are publishing Fantastic Four. Next month, we will be publishing Fantastic Four. A year from now, assuming that it’s still selling well, we will be publishing Fantastic Four," Brevoort said. Many fans noted that it's less than a year before Fantastic Four is expected to be in theaters and that a cancellation in three to six months, with a relaunch after the movie is already in theaters and can't be "helped" by the comics, would fit into the letter of, if not the spirit of, Brevoort's assurances.
This week, Marvel has been fairly aggressive about promoting upcoming Fantastic Four comics projects, releasing a preview of 100th Anniversary Special: Fantastic Four #1 and the series' upcoming Original Sin tie-in. While Marvel releases a lot of previews in a given week and it could easily mean nothing, some fans and press had suggested that they were playing up the FF this week in order to help assuage fan concerns about the cancellation rumors.
Then, Alonso took to his weekly Axel In Charge column at Comic Book Resources:
There has been a lot of talk in the industry this week about the possible future of "Fantastic Four." Last week, CBR published a report saying the books may be taken off the table stemming from issues with 20th Century Fox, who hold the rights to FF films, following an initial report by Bleeding Cool. What can you can say on the record about the matter?
Alonso: The Fantastic Four -- Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben -- are a vital part of the Marvel Universe, and we have no plans to change that. James Robinson has exciting plans for them in the immediate future -- starting with the "Original Sin" tie-in story -- and we are continually devising plans to use them in new and surprising ways in the vast landscape of the Marvel Universe, like we do with any Marvel character; in fact, we already know that one of [the FF] will be a huge player in a universe-spanning event down the road.
Part of Marvel's success hinges on the fact that we aren't afraid to exercise massive flexibility with our catalog of characters. Sometimes, the way we move the pieces around on the board -- the death and/or replacement of a character, the dissolution and/or reconstitution of a team -- or our choice of characters to spotlight -- Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Inhumans -- causes controversy, but that doesn't inhibit us from taking chances and doing what we think is right for our universe and the characters within it. Wolverine and Spider-Man joining the Avengers was a hugely controversial move that ultimately contributed to the revitalization of that franchise and to the Marvel Universe as a whole. The death of Ultimate Peter Parker got a lot of fans screaming, but it resulted in the birth of the now-beloved Miles Morales. No guts, no glory.
It hardly seems necessary to point out the number of ways Alonso's comments scream "non-denial denial," but here goes:
That the FF "are a vital part of the Marvel Universe, and we have no plans to change that" answers a question nobody asked. In fact, the original rumor that the team would appear in other books around the Marvel Universe more or less exists on the logic of this statement.
"James Robinson has exciting plans for them in the immediate future" isn't exactly news, since there are solicited issues for the next three months and nobody has ever claimed that it would be cancelled sooner than that.
"We are continually devising plans to use them in new and surprising ways in the vast landscape of the Marvel Universe" speaks only to a desire to use the characters in the future, which (again) jives with the assertion that after their book ends they will appear in Avengers-branded titles and the like. Ditto that on one of the FF playing a major role in an upcoming crossover, which would obviously be branded for that crossover, not FF.
And, yes, that whole second paragraph moves away from any semblance of denial and addresses the fact that sometimes, the publisher will do something controversial, which of course some readers are taking as a red flag in and of itself.
More as this develops...