According to CNBC, 20th Century Fox may be selling portions of their entertainment division to Disney. Allegedly, Fox seems to be interested in selling its (more liberal) entertainment assets to focus on news and sports. A follow-up report from Bloomberg has suggested that the talks have stalled, but who knows what the current internet uproar over this possibility could incite: Fan fervor over Ryan Reynolds intentionally leaking Deadpool test footage in 2014 was responsible for Fox Studios greenlighting the film.
And for fans of superhero movies, this is a big deal. Marvel Entertainment (owned by Disney) currently produces the films based on the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and now Spider-Man, thanks to a 2015 agreement with rights-holder Sony. But Fox still retains the film rights to the X-Men (Marvel sold it to them in 1994 due to financial difficulties) and the Fantastic Four (a 1998 deal), which are two Marvel cornerstones. For much of the ’90s Marvel focused much of their efforts on developing the X-Men universe, with other more traditional properties falling out of focus. It’s odd to see more inherently corporate characters like rich boy Iron Man now standing on the bow of the publisher’s flagship—the 1961 first issue of the Fantastic Four book is considered the beginning of the modern Marvel universe, and the first issue of X-Men from 1991 is still the highest selling comic of all time.
While one could argue about the often middling quality of Marvel films, it’s hard not to be impressed by a shared universe that spans 17 movies and ten TV shows; that’s if you include this month’s release of the Hulu series Runaways, based on the 2000s proto-Young Adult comic written by Brian K. Vaughan. Adding the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in the Marvel universe roster would close a substantial gap. The source comics that inspired Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War both featured Fox-owned characters, and for longtime fans, the omissions feel noticeable. When The Invisible Woman (of the Fantastic Four) left her husband to side with Captain America’s resistance it was a standout moment of the original Civil War saga. But alas that story could not be told in the film.
So what about the comics themselves, would they be affected at all by this merger? The answer, surprisingly, is probably. While Marvel still retains the rights to develop comics for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, business relationships between Marvel and Fox have led to some mistreatment of the Fox-owned characters in recent years. According to master X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, writers in the X department at Marvel are currently banned from creating new mutant characters, because the film rights to those characters would go to Fox. This inability to create new characters, along with never-ending reboots, has led to some somewhat unsatisfying X-Men comic releases, with Marvel seemingly opting instead to focus on their Inhumans properties. The Inhumans, a secretive race who gain superpowers after exposure to vapors from crystals, in many ways resemble mutants. But at times it feels like Marvel is leaning too hard into that resemblance—unlike other Inhumans, the current Ms. Marvel did not grow up in the fictional inhuman kingdom of Attilan or the dark side of the moon. She could have just as quickly been a mutant or received her powers in an accident, but like mutants, Inhumans can now pop up anywhere. And while Inhuman books like Ms. Marvel and Blackbolt rank at the top of Marvel’s recent paper offerings, Inhumans can’t compete over-all with the rich cannon of the X-Men. If the merry mutants were back in Marvel’s film tableau, that could lead to an increase in creative freedom for writers and return to form for the X-Men books.
Similarly, while both Disney and Fox have publicly claimed that the 2015 cancellation of the Fantastic Four comic has nothing to do with film rights, it’s hard to imagine that Fox’s abysmal Fantastic Four films did much to help the classic book’s longevity. After three failed attempts at bringing the foursome to the silver screen, it’s probably time for Hollywood to give up the ghost. We’ve already suggested the over-the-op adventure title would be better suited for an animated film, and it’s possible that if Marvel were to make one that actually drew crowds, a comic revitalization could soon follow.
Media guru Johnnie Martin discusses all the KaPOW that’s fit to print in the weekly comics column Near Mint. You can find him on Twitter @TopNotchGaymer.