I’m not sure if “conspiracy” is the best term for it, but it’s catchy, right? The question has been bouncing around, and I really got to reading about it after a link from Cirsova. The question is whether Marvel comics has been suppressing the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, in terms of merchandising and in the comics. The thought on the motivation is mixed, from basic business sense (Marvel isn’t making much on the X-Men and Fantastic Four movies developed by Fox) to far more sinister decisions to undermine these movies and make them fail.
I’m not sure I have the answers, either. Certainly I’m not holding the smoking gun. But for your comics Wednesday enjoyment, I can consider several of the recent series, and what they might mean in terms of the idea of a conspiracy. Sinister motives? Or writing themselves into a corner? The questions I have for you as we consider the X-Men Conspiracy!
The Conspiracy: Merch
I guess I’m not sure which merchandise people are considering, when they talk about there not being any merchandise for non-Marvel-rights-owned characters. Potentially action figures, and I’ve been out of that market a while – though I did see an action figure of Hyperion recently, and that’s one heck of an obscure character, who’s currently an Avenger in the comics.
The merchandise we have gotten recently has been Lego: Marvel Superheroes, which was full of characters from throughout Marvel (and the very most powerful ones were Super Skrull, a definite Fantastic Four character, and Phoenix, very much so of the X-Men). That, and we’ve been looking down the dangerous road which is Funko Pop bobble heads, which include a number of Marvel characters (I got Ghost Rider!).
Then again, thinking of the advertising we’ve seen… there’s Disney Infinity, with the Marvel heroes. The only character I have seen for that outside of Marvel Studios movies is Iron Fist. Well, and kind of Nova. But both of those are Marvel Studios-owned as well, I’m pretty sure.
So, what do I think? The merchandising is almost pure money-making business, and you make decisions for that based on where you make the most money. That’s why Disney Infinity (and Skylanders before that) exist in the first place! So are they focusing on their own properties with that. Conspiracy? Or just really obvious business decision-making, being made by sales sorts of people who make business decisions? I say the latter.
The Conspiracy: The Comics
Here’s where it gets much harder. Who knows what’s happening in the writer’s room at Marvel? Well, we all kind of do – well after the fact, when we see the story arcs in their fullness. But the comics about the different teams of heroes, or even about many of the specific heroes, are written by a number of different writers at one time, much less over the course of time!
Here’s some of my thought on this question, from reading the comics. Especially last year’s 50-year anniversary of the X-Men crossover event: “Battle of the Atom.” This crossover included the past – in the form of the All New X-Men, which I’ll get to in a minute – the present X-Men, fractured into two camps, and the future. The future they worked in reminiscent to Days of Future Past, which made sense to me also with the movie on the way…
In this future, there’s some advance for mutant rights. A mutant president is elected! And, at the inauguration, is killed by sentinels.
And really, all I got out of the whole crossover was the thought that, after fifty years of writing, after struggling all that time with rights issues and building the battle between mutants and humans – they never get anywhere. They are still envisioning a future where the mutants are losing.
I guess you look at the news today, and it makes sense for the battle for civil rights to be never ending. It’s hard to pick the day where you look up and say, “it’s over! We’re all equal now!” Still, I would understand how, as a writer, you’d kind of want to go back to the drawing board at that point. Think harder. Approach the issues from new angles.
The event was, overall, depressing and not that great. I wrote more of a review of it here. But even thinking about it through the lens of the conspiracy, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s 50-year writer’s block.
Alright, that was my focus, let’s do a lightning round of other series and crossover events of the last few years! Then you decide.
- All New X-Men: This series is all about the original X-Men, brought forward through time travel to the present. It feels, to me, like the way to do a reboot without doing a reboot. It’s also a great way to bring in new readers, which is the point of a reboot, right? Point against conspiracy.
- The Trial of Jean Grey: This was a recent crossover event, based out of All New X-Men. I haven’t read it, but the idea? Young Jean Grey has been brought forward from the past, and can stand trial for the crimes she will have committed, in lieu of her older self. Logical to me, and a good way to re-hash the Dark Phoenix Saga in a new way. That part still sounds like writer’s block to me. But the crossover? It’s with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure, logical, they’re in space. However, they also had a movie coming out later in the year. So was it all just a way to get all the X-Men fans to become Guardians fans and go see the movie? Point for the conspiracy.
- Uncanny Avengers: This team came out of 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, itself I suppose a possible candidate for this list. The plot? The X-Men and Avengers just duked it out across the globe, and to get people on their side again and put their differences aside, they form a “Unity Squad” of Avengers and X-Men, to fight super foes. Super foes who of course end up as the perfect ones for their combined efforts. Their first opponent? The Red Skull, or rather a clone of the Skull, straight from 1945. Last thing he remembers, he was a Nazi and hated Jews. Now he wakes up in the present, and the right sort of folks for a Nazi to hate is mutants. So he does that. I follow. The comic went on to deal with issues from Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, which makes sense as Remender is the writer. And then they had a bunch of dead X-Men and Avengers characters show up. Were they drawing in fans? Or was this a logical continuation of long-term plots for the comics faithful? I think it’s just comics for comics, point against the conspiracy!
- Axis: Right now, there’s a big crossover event happening rolling out of the pages of Uncanny Avengers. I’m not reading it right now, but it’s involving apparently huge reversals, with the good guys becoming bad, and the bad good, so of course lots of Loki. Conspiracy? I guess I’ll have to read it to know; is this the logical result coming from the very first issues of Uncanny Avengers?
- New Avengers: I love Jonathan Hickman and his current run on Avengers and New Avengers, but I don’t know if I smell conspiracy just because he’s now writing these titles (he wrote a lot of Fantastic Four and FF) and he’s good. You can tell he used to write FF: the New Avengers prominently feature Mr. Fantastic, and some other characters who have featured prominently in the pages of Fantastic Four over the years, like Namor and the Inhumans. Wait, the Inhumans are getting a movie! Conspiracy? Or the characters Hickman knew and wanted to be working with? I go story with this one.
- Inhumanity: Spinning out of Hickman’s plot, however, was the event Inhumanity. This event created a whole bunch of new Inhumans (including fan favorite Ms. Marvel so who’s complaining?), and people argue that this is Marvel’s way of creating new super-powered people who aren’t mutants. Yeah… that sounds about right. Before Inhumanity, Kamala would have just been a mutant. She even has a Wolverine team-up. Conspiracy? Maybe. But they’re always trying new angles to create new characters; not so easy to do!
- The Death of Wolverine: And finally, the Death of Wolverine. Did they maybe really do it? For a while, at least? Did they kill the unkillable man? Yeah, maybe. It let them sell a whole bunch of comics, all sorts of aftermath comics, as every adamantium-laced character got to spend some time musing over Wolverine’s passing. But they’ve been building towards it for years, with Wolverine first having to lose his powers, and having to kind of reference this fact in the fifty or so titles he appears in. So maybe it has to do with the fact that he was a character in half their titles: cut him, and you have to think about things differently. So story, or conspiracy, killing the most popular X-Man? I could go either way on this one.
You can see why I don’t feel like I have the answers: lots of the plots lately make some story sense beyond the idea of locking-out the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Who’s to say? Feel free to weigh in in the comments below!
As a final thought, I find it hard to even see the figures on comics sales. But we know the movies are all making bank, and there’s a lot more planned where these came from! Have the comics become the gold mine for producing future movie plots? That one I find it much harder to answer, and that one is a really big, long-term business decision that deserves a reminder that Disney bought Marvel.
No. Next year the X-Men books will tie-into the Guardians of the Galaxy books in an event called The Black Vortex. A comic bringing together the stars of the biggest film of the year with the X-Men does not ring “conspiracy”. It’s easy to ignore certain facts to push an already established idea…it’s the bread & butter of conspiracy theory.
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I didn’t mention above, but the same writer (Brian Michael Bendis) is writing both Guardians of the Galaxy and several X-Men titles (All New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men). So of course there are crossovers between these titles! Makes sense to me. And, it also says that the same caliber of writer is working on Guardians as on X-Men comics… as it’s the same guy! Point against the conspiracy!
And like I said at the top… conspiracy seems a bit much. Business decisions? Maybe. But I think it’s even moreso just writer decisions, things that make sense for the plots these writers are building.
Thanks for weighing in; I didn’t know there would be another crossover for these titles next year!
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I’ve read a bunch of these articles suggesting a conspiracy, and one thing I take from them is that they are all written by passionate comic book fans. As a passionate comic book fan myself, I get it, but as a media writer myself, I see one glaring problem with all of this: Comics just aren’t that popular. Star Wars #1 is making news for being a million copy seller, and most books don’t hit anywhere near half of that.
Comic simply do not have the clout in the consumer market to force ANY sort of change in any other form of media.
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I think you hit the nail on the head. I think underlying all of these fears about a “conspiracy” is the very rational fear that comics are going to become subservient to movies. If The Avengers can make over a billion dollars, and any given comic is lucky to move a million units… this fear is founded. The movies matter. They make more money, which more importantly means they have much more of an audience.
And when it’s a positive thing, people seem excited by the idea that the comics are changing so that things can happen in the movies… people seemed excited by the thought we might see Anthony Mackie as Captain America, or a female Thor, onscreen. Is that why those decisions were made? I don’t know that either. Time will tell!
Comics, and especially Marvel Comics, changed all the time well before the current run of Marvel films. Again, the relatively small sales of comics today has absolutely no impact on ANY other media.
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Which is reflective of the struggle for equality for African-Americans. Slavery was legal in this country for most of its existence. Then there were Jim Crowe laws and legal segregation. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act in the 60’s that black people were-on paper-treated as human beings equal to white people. Every aspect of the United States prior to that point-our culture, our entertainment, our government, our infrastructure-everything-was set up for, and benefited white people, at the expense of African-Americans (and other People of Color). It’s only been 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act. And as we’ve seen in our local, state, and federal legislators, our police forces, firefighters, Hollywood and more still-the structure of our country, from our laws and policies that govern society, to the way those laws and policies are implemented, to the criminal justice system, to the housing market to the labor market–there are still massive racial disparities. These disparities have a disproportionate impact on People of Color, which makes those policies racist in effect, though often not intent (intent is not necessary for an act or policy to be racist).
I’m not sure if the creators involved in Battle of the Atom knew this, but it makes complete sense that even 50 years in the future, mutants still would be hated and feared. That reflects reality. I suspect lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are still going to experience bigotry and hate in five decades as well.
We humans like to think big. To hope and dream. And to think things will work out for the best. But we really don’t have much reason to think that. Reality does not bear that out.
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Well said! I guess from a creative and writing standpoint, that reality doesn’t help you write something “new” if you’re writing these comics. And maybe that’s okay – a realistic struggle is better than an easy fix that’s not realistic.
This series came out before race issues really flared back to the forefront of the national discussion again – so maybe they really did know what they were doing when they wrote it!
Thanks for commenting!
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