With the release of All-New, All-Different Marvel Previews, Marvel Comics seems to have confirmed Fantastic Four fans' greatest fear: last April's Fantastic Four #645 will remain the final issue of Fantastic Four comic book for the foreseeable future.
A couple of the team's members did appear in the magazine. The Thing appears on the cover of October's Guardians of the Galaxy #1 in full Guardians uniform, and Johnny Storm is featured in Uncanny Inhumans #1 (and possibly Uncanny Avengers #1). Reed and Sue, on the other hand, are completely absent from the covers revealed in the magazine. Considering how intertwined they are with the core plot of Secret Wars, there's a fair chance they may not survive the story.
Many Fantastic Four will cry foul and accuse Marvel of stifling the team that gave birth to the Marvel Universe in order to serve the interests of Marvel Studios. I have no inside information to offer here, but a colleague has already laid out why this is likely not the case (TL;DR Marvel Comics makes comics, and comics don't sell movies).
It should be noted that the Fantastic Four aren't the only characters being drafted onto other teams. The Thing shares the cover of Guardians of the Galaxy with what is almost certainly the X-Men's Kitty Pryde wearing Star-Lord's costume, and the Human Torch shares the cover of Uncanny Inhumans with Beast. In total, X-Men characters appear in five non-X-Men series, including Daredevil, Uncanny Avengers, and New Avengers, and while I'm as protective of mutants as any X-Men fan, it's hard to see where further entangling them with some of Marvel Studios premiere properties serves to squash their significance.
But unlike the Fantastic Four, the X-Men will still have an ongoing team series in October. In fact they'll three: Extraordinary X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and All-New X-Men. The difference is in the numbers. Even if all the conspiracy theories are true (by loaning these characters to other series, Marvel gets to tell stories with them while not feeding Fox any new material to work with, having their cake and eating it too), Marvel likes money and market share more than it hates Fox. If the company were to cancel its X-Men line they'd have a hard time posting sales numbers that compete with DC Comics' in the direct market, no matter how many unasked for Inhumans comics they push out.
Marvel can cancel Fantastic Four with impunity because there's simply no incentive not to. Over the past ten years, Marvel has put top tier creators on the series, including Mark Millar, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, and James Robinson. Some of those runs were met with more critical acclaim than other, but none were able to figure out how to make Marvel's first family sell. With the exception of the issue in which Johnny Storm died, and an odd #1 issue here and there, Fantastic Four regularly failed to have an issue among the 500 bestselling comics of the year. Notably, the most recently relaunched version of the series had a stellar first issue (69,000 units), and then dropped off a cliff in sales terms with issue #2 (39,000 units).
Maybe there's a silver lining here for Fantastic Four fans. Clearly, despite the diehards' enthusiasm, interest in these characters as a unit has waned over the years. Maybe this is an opportunity to introduce these characters to readers who wouldn't have bothered with a comic book titled Fantastic Four. Yes, Reed and Sue are off the board, but a common complaint with Fantastic Four stories of the modern era has been that Reed has overly dominated the narrative, with Ben and Johnny feeling more like his sidekicks than principal characters. Maybe sending Thing off on cosmic adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly what's needed to remind fans why they loved him in the first place. Maybe Johnny hanging out with the Inhumans will spark new interest in the character. Perhaps this is their time to shine in unexpected places.
Will the Fantastic Four ever reunite in their own series? Nothing lasts forever in superhero comics. The cynics will say that the Fantastic Four are gone from comics until Fox stops trying. That may be true, or it's possible that Marvel already has plans to get the gang back together in the near future. But remember, all it took to get DC Comics to reinstate Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and Barry Allen as the Flash was for a talented, up-and-coming writer to show them there were stories still to tell, stories that readers wanted. If this is true for the Fantastic Four, then it should really only be a matter of time before those stories are told.
Do you want the Fantastic Four back in Marvel Comics? Let us know in the comments!