Maybe it was "just a coincidence" — that's what we used to tell ourselves. But no more. Now, Marvel's practically flaunting it.
It all comes down to this: Marvel can't get movie rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four back from 20th Century Fox — so the comic book publisher is doing everything it can to lower the value of those properties.
Marvel is literally scorching Fox's earth.
To understand where we are now, you have to know how we got here. Let's talk context.
Back in 2000, 20th Century Fox released Bryan Singer's X-Men to theaters — the first successful superhero film to be licensed from a Marvel property. (You could argue for Blade, but it didn't have the same broad appeal — or box office returns.)
It's not an overstatement to say that X-Men's success is the reason superheroes now rule the box office. Back in 1997, Warner Bros. released Batman and Robin — an abysmal failure that left a bad taste in the mouths of both Hollywood and the viewing public. No one attempted to launch a major superhero franchise for another three years.
When X-Men became a hit, Hollywood did what it does best: it emulated someone else's success. Sony released Spider-Man in 2002, launching its own superhero franchise. Warner Bros. struggled for ages to relaunch DC's Superman, but it was Superman's co-worker Batman who made his triumphant return to the big screen in 2005 with Batman Begins — which launched yet another franchise.
Somewhere along the way, Marvel got tired of only ever receiving a tiny piece of the movie pie (its licensing deals with Fox and Sony were reportedly extremely small) and decided to create its own movie studio. With the help of investors, Marvel Studios was born with Kevin Feige at the helm. Feige noticed that none of their licensing deals had touched any of the Avengers characters, and saw an opportunity to do something unprecedented.
Marvel's first self-owned movie was Iron Man in 2008 — kicking off a grand, ambitious plan for a connected film continuity that would include the Hulk, Thor, Captain America and others. In 2012, Marvel released The Avengers, the team-up culmination of its multiple big screen properties. The crowd-pleasing blockbuster became one of the highest grossing films of all time.
Every other studio in Hollywood noticed (again), and started snatching up any and every opportunity to create a connected movie universe of its own. Interestingly, Fox was one of the first to jump on the cinematic universe bandwagon, just months after The Avengers' success. But instead of seeking out a new universe to adapt from another medium, Fox decided to just take the two Marvel properties it already had the rights to – X-Men and Fantastic Four – and mash them up in a shared continuity. Comic book superstar Mark Millar was hired by Fox to oversee this initiative.
It should be noted that since this plan was announced, Fox has had a change of heart. The new Fantastic Four movie is set in a separate universe from the X-Men films.
But then something happened. Something huge — something hush-hush. It's a story that hasn't been told in any exposé news reports, and we have no details about it at all.
Maybe Fox's idea to combine the X-Men and Fantastic Four didn't sit well with Marvel. Maybe Marvel's gonzo success with The Avengers emboldened the publisher to flex its Hollywood muscles. Maybe Marvel made Fox an offer to get back the rights to two of its most popular superhero teams, and Fox said no. (Sony, by contrast, agreed to share custody of Spider-Man with Marvel.)
Then again, for all we know, it may not have involved any specific thing that actually occurred.
All we know for sure is that sometime around this point, the relationship between Marvel and Fox disintegrated. Or maybe their partnership was never all that rosy to begin with, and this was when it got worse.
Whatever caused this "Bad Blood," as we'll call it, we believe it happened around late 2012 or early 2013.
Last month, Marvel brought the Fantastic Four comic – one of the longest-running comic books of all time – to a conclusion. The team has disbanded, and its characters have set off in different directions, some of them joining other teams.
No one believes the comic was canceled for story reasons, or because of sales numbers. It was done because of the movie business. Maybe it was a directive from Feige and Marvel Studios. Maybe it was ordered by Disney. But it just feels wrong to think that it had anything to do with the actual comics.
The X-Men are a completely different scenario. Fantastic Four was just one book. The X-Men occupy an entire sector of the Marvel universe, comprising around ten titles a month. Marvel can't very well cancel its X-titles; too much money is made from them. But that doesn't mean Marvel is going to just leave the X-Men be, either.
A sticky quagmire arose recently when both Fox and Marvel realized that they each had a claim to the characters of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. This brother/sister duo were mutants by birth, yet they were longstanding members of the Avengers. Thus, Quicksilver appeared in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron, in two different incarnations.
By this point, the Bad Blood between the two studios was well underway. Just weeks ago, Marvel Comics launched a salvo over Fox's bow by retconning Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's lineage — so it turns out they're not mutants after all. It's not like Marvel is even trying to hide this as a jab at Fox. It's painfully obvious that the Bad Blood is the only reason for rewriting the duo's bloodlines. (It certainly didn't serve the comic's story.)
It was a pointless gesture; in fact, it felt kind of spiteful. Marvel can't revoke Fox's rights to use Quicksilver in next year's X-Men: Apocalypse, so it spat in Fox's face.
But that's just for starters. Marvel has been executing a long-term plan regarding the X-Men for a while now. Since Marvel Studios can't use the X-Men in movies or TV, the publisher is strategically elevating the profile of another, lesser-known team of superpowered not-quite-homo sapiens: the Inhumans.
The rise of the Inhumans could have started from an innocent place. Perhaps Marvel simply wanted to have an alt-human team it could use on film. If so, it's understandable.
But since the Inhumans initiative began, it's grown to the point that Marvel (er, Disney?) is hell-bent on making the public accept the Inhumans as bigger and more important than the X-Men. The Inhumans have been growing their number of monthly comics titles lately — when not that long ago, they didn't even star in one. The Inhumans is coming to the big screen in 2019, and ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has spent two seasons introducing mainstream audiences to them.
In addition to all this, Marvel has just begun its most blatant attack on Fox yet. The publisher is actively trying to alter readers' memories of the X-Men and Fantastic Four's involvement in major comic book milestones. BleedingCool reports that Marvel is making a concerted effort to actually erase the FF and X-Men from historic images, such as the famous cover art from the original Secret Wars series from the 1980s.
We can only speculate on Marvel's future plans for the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But there are already clues in place pointing to what's likely to happen.
As we mentioned earlier, the Fantastic Four are no longer a team, and Marvel is not publishing a monthly Fantastic Four book anymore. Johnny Storm – the Human Torch – is signing on with the Inhumans (hey, what a coincidence!). Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, is working with S.H.I.E.L.D. All four characters, along with Sue and Reed's children, play major roles in Secret Wars.
Do you see what Marvel's up to? It's devious, but ingenious too. Marvel is having its cake and eating it too.
The Fantastic Four characters aren't dead. They live on, and we suspect they'll continue to play integral roles in the new universe Marvel is building in the wake of Secret Wars. The only difference is they're no longer the "Fantastic Four." Marvel has eliminated the team and its name, but not the heroes themselves. Clever, no?
As for the X-Men, no one believes they're going away anytime soon. But the universe-altering nature of Secret Wars gives Marvel carte blanche to do anything it wants with the hundreds of X-characters. Could Marvel have something similar in mind for the X-Men as what it did to the Fantastic Four? In other words, will Marvel keep the X-characters around but take away the "X-Men" name? Or might the publisher be planning something even more daring?
Whatever the X-Men plan is, you can bet it's been engineered to benefit Marvel and harm Fox.