If you ever wondered why Days of Future Past‘s timeline fails to sync up with the Avengers movies or why none of the Fantastic Four showed up for Age of Ultron, it’s basically because film rights are funny things. You see, before Marvel started making movies themselves, they were content to lease out the movie rights to their comics to other production companies. They didn’t have any plans for them at the time and sitting on those rights was just leaving money on the table. Why not make a few bucks off of them?
The enduring successes of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies proved that there was a surprising demand for big-screen superheroes, and abject failures like Hulk, Daredevil and Ghost Rider ultimately resulted in the rights to those properties reverting back to Marvel. So Marvel took stock of what properties they had to work with and went ahead with their own cinematic universe, picking up whatever strays they could along the way. And now that Spider-Man is officially back in Marvel’s possession, the only two franchises left to reacquire are Fantastic Four and X-Men.
The problem is that unlike Sony, Fox isn’t willing to play ball. The Fantastic Fours might have been modest successes, but they did make money, and X-Men is a box office powerhouse all on its own. Left to their own devices, Fox’s CEOs would contentedly churn out new movies every year and rebuff any offer Marvel made to buy the rights back.
That’s why the now Disney-backed Marvel started to play dirty. Last year, at the height of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary celebrations, the company cancelled the Fantastic Four comic. Although the team has been a historically big player in the Marvel universe – kicking off a new Age of Heroes back in 1961 – they haven’t proven to be the best sellers. Marvel had very little to lose by swapping their comic out with one that would invariably sell better, but Fox had a lot to lose by the way of free advertising for their upcoming movie.
The cancellation further drew a line in the sand for kids that were getting into the comics because of the movies. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America – these are the important guys. The Avengers matter. The Fantastic Four do not.
While Marvel could not in good conscience cancel the various X-Men comics – they make far too much money to justify shutting down – they had another strategy entirely for dealing with them. Rather than cancelling the comics, they simply refused to lease Fox the merchandising rights for last summer’s Days of Future Past. That’s why you didn’t see Wolverine, Magneto and Sentinel action figures in your local toy aisle: Marvel was willing to give up on a little bit of profit to starve Fox out of a boat-load of money.
There’s also the matter of the twins: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. If Fox owned the film rights to X-Men – and by extension all of its characters – how did Marvel get away with including the supersonic son of Magneto in Age of Ultron? As it turned out, the company’s technically share the rights to those, and other, characters. Sure, Fox still owned the rights to mutants, Magneto and the rest of it, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch had actually been Avengers at one point, meaning that they fell under the umbrella of Marvel’s Avengers film rights too.
They had to seriously shake up the character’s back story to do it, but they got them into the movie just fine. And, when you really stop to think about it, this opens up a lot of characters to the same treatment. For one, every member of the Fantastic Four would fall under the same legal technicality. So would most of the key players of the X-Men franchise, potentially including Beast, Wolverine, Rogue and Storm.
But those would only work in the context of Avengers, and only after seriously rewriting the characters so as to never mention mutants, the X-Men, the Brotherhood or anything else that Fox would exclusively own. Marvel, understandably, wants to make solo-movies and non-Avengers team0ups of their own. And – surprise, surprise – they actually found a way around that too.
Anybody who looked carefully at Marvel’s phase three lineup were probably asking themselves who the Hell The Inhumans were. The Inhumans are virtually identical to – yet legally distinct from – the X-Men: the result of ancient alien experimentation on Humans that gave them extraordinary powers that are indistinguishable from those of Mutants.
Their leader, Black Bolt, has a supersonic voice that can bring entire cities down around him. Medusa, his wife, has prehensile, inhumanly strong hair (collectively able to lift about 1.6 tons). Others have control over the elements, telepathy or can empathically control the emotions of others. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Skye was recently shown to be an Inhuman and can create earthquakes. They’re Marvel’s way of tapping into the fun of the X-Men while not being able to include them in the MCU.
The latest chapter in this ongoing feud was reported yesterday by Bleedingcool.com. According to their sources, the conclusion of the comics’ Secret Wars will involve mutantkind as a whole leaving the Earth for a planet all their own. The Terragen Mists – exposure to which causes Inhumans to gain their mutant-like powers – evidently kills mutants outright. And with it circling the globe, they’ve finally decided to cut their losses on Earth.
According to Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso,
The X-Men office is taking the opportunity of “Secret Wars” to build an entire new world for the characters — to create a shared universe within the X-books that’s set off by a huge event/incident/surprise. At that point, they’re going to introduce a new team that feels unlike anything you’ve seen before. It’ll be… “extraordinary.”
This means that there’s now no chance of any character that Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to interacting with characters that they do own the rights to. It’s the ultimate statement about which characters matter and which ones you can expect to see in future movies. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if exposure to the Terragen Mists don’t seriously up the number of superpowered individuals running around the Marvel universe, waiting for their chance to shine on the big screen.