Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fantastic Four will be canceled next year

Fantastic Four, my favorite comic book of all time, is going to be canceled next year.

I feel...curiously calm. I should be more disappointed. After all, FF is the only book I had a subscription to for years. If anything lasts 50+ years, there are going to be highs and lows, but FF's worst ages are still readable and had interesting things going on. Contrast that to how there are years and years of Spider-Man that are just unreadable. 

With Fantastic Four, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby discovered the formula for coca-cola. It's full of far-out outer space adventure, but it's characters are four wisecracking, normal, relatable people with a family bond, so we're drawn in and invested. It's cold and hot at the same time. FF has such a great core concept that I don't think it's possible to tell a bad Fantastic Four story, which is why it's earned my loyalty as a regular reader even when no-names were on the art and story chores. You can't screw up Fantastic Four.

It's tempting to cynically say that they'll be back soon. Heck, this reminds me of a joke: how many comic book writers does it take to change a lightbulb? 2. One to change it, and one to change it back six months later. But here's the truth: FF was once Marvel's flagship comic but it's not what it once was. The same inertia that makes it always readable also makes it undynamic, like relish or the Pittsburgh Pirates. FF does not have the same centrality to Marvel it once did.

Maybe my muted reaction is a sign I'm in the denial stage of grief, but here's the thing: Marvel will probably still have to publish Fantastic Four periodically. Trademark, unlike copyright, is "use it or lose it." And, moving onto the bargaining stage here, cancellation was the best thing to ever happen to Mighty Thor, who went from an also-there Avenger to being a central part of the MU, just because we didn't take him for granted.

No idle boast - Fantastic Four really was the World's Greatest Comics Magazine.


David Morefield said...

The Lee/Kirby run on FF remains one of, if not the greatest run on any comic, ever, and I love it for a lot of the same reasons I loved the Weisinger era Superman run that immediately preceded and slightly overlapped it: the seemingly endless cascade of new concepts and characters and sense of world-building.

Those early years were the "Big Bang" of the Marvel Age, an explosion of creativity that just keeps on giving, expanding ever outwards in the form of a whole universe of characters, alien races, technologies and story ideas creators have built on for decades, not just in the parent title, but all the titles in the MU. Those issues are like Beatle music for me; no matter how many times I've revisited them, I'm still guaranteed to buy them again in whatever new form they're released (I just got the "Epic" TPB). There's just such a gleeful feeling of "what the heck, let's try this idea now" that even the occasional misfires are at least fascinating to watch.

That said, the FF was also like Superman in that after that initial (if lengthy) period of world-building, we got into a much longer period of just playing with the toys Stan and Jack left us. This month, another trip to the Negative Zone, next month, another visit from the Inhumans, then maybe if we're lucky another showdown with Galactus. Yes, it's all cool stuff, but how many times can you tell the same story? Even the lauded Byrne era is basically notable for being just better than the others at making use of established concepts (whether you "shake things up" or "get back to basics" you're still just playing with what you've been given).

I agree, then, that inertia can only carry a book so far, and in terms of being the "center of action," the FF ran out of steam a long time ago. But I also think, to continue the Superman comparison, they're the most "dated" and anachronous characters in the Marvel stable in that they are, for all their whining and heartaches now and then, probably the most well-adjusted and mentally healthy. Their bickering might have been edgy in 1961, but compared to modern "heroes" they're about as edgy as the Partridge Family. Can you imagine a modern writer having a character like Ben -- so short-changed by fate -- end up so noble, decent and humorous?

Maybe, as you say, the FF's absence will make them more appreciated. Maybe a sucky movie will make us miss the real deal even more. And certainly, whether anyone's clamoring for them or not, they will be back at some point. By then, I'll probably be up to 1979, so I won't even have missed them.

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