Well, that was fast. When we wrote that Disney would inevitably reacquire the rights to the Fantastic Four sooner rather than later, we didn’t really anticipate it would be this quick, or this large in scope. Nonetheless, while the move faces inevitable regulatory scrutiny and likely means we’ll see more and more stories about the negative effects of Disney’s growing control over all the juicy IP, for a comic book fan, there’s plenty to be excited about in Marvel Studios’ recapture of its errant characters and content.
So let’s ignore the looming specter of monopoly (while acknowledging that horse left the barn a while ago) and ponder some of the good things that could happen with a Marvel made mostly whole.
Between Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel Studios has certainly done a decent job of presenting the cosmic side of things. We’ve seen Xandar and the Nova Corps, a few buckets of Kree and those relative latecomers (introduced in 2002), the Chitauri but ultimately, they MCU has been functioning with an arm (or two or three) tied behind its back. In the comics, the Kree share the cosmic stage with the shape-shifting Skrulls and the imperialistic Shi’ar. Though Skrulls are rumored to be an antagonist race in the forthcoming Captain Marvel movie, they’ve been conspicuously absent up until now. This has in part because the race was introduced in the Fantastic Four and many of their storylines revolve around Marvel’s First Family, including the most well-known, the Super Skrull, whose shapeshifting powers included being able to replicate the powers of each member of the Fantastic Four. The Shi’ar belong to the universe of the X-Men, playing important roles in the Dark Phoenix saga. Together with the Kree, the Skrulls and Shi’ar allow for a rich panoply of stories that potentially surpass the Vulcan-Romulan-Klingon trifecta in complexity. (With the X-Men property, you also bring into play the Brood, an Alien-“inspired” race, and the Phalanx, a Borg-esque cybernetic hivemind. With the Shi’ar in particular, you also get the Imperial Guard, the closest thing Marvel has to a version of the Legion of Superheroes.)
Any fan of the Fantastic Four can probably tell you their favorite story involving the Negative Zone, an antimatter universe from which several FF foes hail. Foremost among these inhabitants is the insectoid conqueror, Annihilus, who also figures in a regular universe cosmic storyline—the Annihilation Wave. (There’s also Blastaar—he’s fun!) The Negative Zone has also figured in multiple storylines with the rest of the Marvel roster, including its stint as the location of Project 42, a space prison. Besides providing a few important new villains, the Negative Zone provides an entire new locale for storybuilding. This might not seem so important with movies, but if Disney and Marvel Studios decides to try and create and maintain a somewhat stable universe well beyond this initial Golden Age, it will need a robust selection of environments. The Negative Zone can join the Nine Realms, the microverse and a host of other settings for moviegoers to become familiar with even as critics bemoan the continued deluge of the genre.
We’ve discussed the importance of Dr. Doom, arguably the most crucial antagonist in all the Marvel villain-scape. But now in addition to the Latverian monarch, there’s Annihilus. There’s Kang the Conqueror. There’s Galactus. Hell, there’s Arcade, the Mole Man, the Frightful Four and Spiral. This is especially important because even as the Kevin Feige and company celebrate Phases 1-3 with a Black Panther/Infinity War-powered flourish, it’s become established wisdom that the MCU has a villain problem (so much so that variations of this very phrase have become a common cliché/refrain). With the Fox acquisition, the available pool of baddies gets much larger, allowing some cross-pollination of a certain mutant master of magnetism along with the new faces.
Michael Burgin is the Movies Editor of Paste. He, for one, welcomes our new mouse overlords.