Comics suggest various ways to combine Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

The Mouse has finally eaten the Fox, and most of Marvel’s characters are under one roof. Now what?

As everyone this side of Latveria knows, Disney bought Fox’s entertainment division for about 54 billion simoleons, which includes the film and TV rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four. That gives Disney some much-needed primo villains, like Magneto, Dr. Doom and Galactus.

But probably not right away. Experts predict it’ll take more than a year for Disney to digest Fox movie and TV production, majority control of Hulu, Blue Sky Productions, Fox Animation, the various FX cable networks, and an avalanche of new non-Marvel franchises, including Aliens, Avatar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Predator. Plus, the anti-trust folks have yet to give a thumbs up.

So Marvel content in the Fox pipeline for 2018 will probably arrive on schedule. That would include the second half of Season 1 of The Gifted, a second season of Legion and three movies: X-Men: New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will probably chug along unaltered until the fourth Avengers movie in 2019, which is supposed to bring a finale of sorts to the current status quo of the MCU.

But what then? Nobody knows, of course, but that would be a good place to begin combining the Disney and Fox halves of the Marvel Comics universe. It’s almost as if Marvel Film chief Kevin Feige had it planned this way. Hmmm.

Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) has the power to change reality, and could be used to merge the X-Men universe into the MCU. 

Anyway, how would they do it? Fortunately, the comics themselves give us lots of possibilities. Here are a few:

DO NOTHING: Why fix what ain’t broken? Let the MCU and the X-movies continue on separate paths, like Marvel and DC Comics. Start a third film series for Fantastic Four, or use them as supporting characters in Avengers movies.

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF: Keep the MCU’s history as is, and work in the X-Men and FF – presumably new, younger versions – as convenient after the unnamed Avengers 4.

That would allow for new (cheaper) actors in all the X-roles, especially an all-new Wolverine. (Time out while the Disney money-counter recover from their swoon.) Plus, dead characters like Angel and Havok could return, and all other Fox baggage could be erased with no explanation necessary.

Also, the X-Men could be teenagers again, as they were originally, and this time could be introduced in their proper order, with their relationships and comics history more or less intact. That’s important for a lot of big X-stories, like “Dark Phoenix” and “Days of Future Past,” for them to have the right emotional impact.

Yes, older characters like Magneto (Holocaust survivor) and Wolverine (b. 1880s) would need an explanation for where they’ve been while the Avengers have been heroically gallivanting about, so let’s just say they both remained underground until the arrival of the X-Men gave them an excuse to go public. Perhaps before that the existence of mutants was a rumor, like UFOs or Bigfoot.

PARALLEL WORLDS: Establish that the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four live on parallel Earths existing in parallel universes, and can only meet up when the stars are in alignment.

DC Comics introduced to superhero comics the idea of multiple Earths existing on different vibratory planes way back in 1961. The TV shows based on DC characters have kept up the tradition, with Arrow, Flash, Legends of the DC Universe and Supergirl having done a lot of heavy lifting in explaining to us non-scientists what a multiverse is.

Film Frame © Marvel 2017

Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the characters powerful enough to create an in-story reason for the X-Men and Fantastic Four to join the MCU. 

On The CW shows, Flash and Green Arrow exist on Earth-1, Harrison Welles and Johnny Quick hail from Earth-2, Supergirl lives on Earth-38 and all fours shows just had an adventure on “Earth-X,” where the Nazis won World War II. The Legends, meanwhile, have been demonstrating the concept of multiple timelines for three years. As usual, movement between Earths or timelines is difficult, requiring the presence of certain equipment or super-powers.

These SF concepts are huge parts of comics, and Marvel has had its share of them, from “Age of Apocalypse” to “House of M.” So why not establish that the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four are on three different Earths?

THE RETCON: We pretend the Fantastic Four and X-Men existed before the Avengers, but they didn’t get much publicity, most people think they didn’t exist and they’ve been missing for years. Everybody’s forgotten about them, including the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Here we establish that the Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm were explorers back in the 1950s, but the team fell out of the limelight when one of their number was disfigured in an attempt to reach the Moon in 1961. (So disfigured, in fact, that there are no pictures of him!) The quartet has been away exploring distant vistas like the Negative Zone and the Microverse, where time moves at a slower pace.

Meanwhile, there were rumors of mutants with strange powers right after World War II, and some people vaguely remember a group of mutants with an “X” on their uniform in the 1960s. But most of these sightings are chalked up to overactive imaginations, weather balloons and swamp gas. The “X-Men,” if they ever existed, are gone (as established in Fox’s The Gifted).

Then, sometime after Avengers 4, monsters explode from under the streets of New York, seemingly under the control of a hideous creature who calls himself “The Mole Man.” At the same time, a strange armored figure calling himself “Magneto” takes over Cape Citadel with magnetic powers. With the Avengers in disarray, two different teams answer these challenges. One has a “4” prominently displayed on their uniforms. The other wears an “X.”

Film Frame © Marvel 2016

The Vision (Paul Bettany) has the Mind Stone on his forehead, which could be used as a deus ex machina to bring the X-Men and Fantastic Four to the MCU. 

This is a retcon in comics parlance – a “retroactive continuity” where new information is inserted (or old information is given a different spin) in an existing storyline or hero history.

THE BIG BANG: Just start over. Comics do that periodically, you know, as did the Spider-Man movies.

DC Comics has re-launched their entire superhero line three times. They’ve had “soft” reboots on other occasions, where character histories (called “continuity”) are massaged rather than scrapped.

Marvel prefers the soft reboot, and had one as recently as 2015 that allowed them to scrape barnacles off some characters while re-launching others. And several of Marvel’s biggest and best-received stories have been temporary reboots, where their heroes exist in altered states for the length of the story, before something or someone hits the “Reset” button.

Fortunately for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the mechanics for some of these reboots have already been introduced.

* The Scarlet Witch has the power to alter reality – as she did in “House of M,” where she (temporarily) re-ordered the world so that it was ruled by mutants.

* Legion – yes, the guy with his own TV show on Fox – is capable of re-ordering history, as he did in “Age of Apocalypse” by going back in time and accidentally killing Charles Xavier, which allowed Apocalypse to take over the world.

* The Beyonder is a character with god-like powers who can do whatever he imagines. In the comics, he imagined a 12-issue series called Secret Wars. He doesn’t exist yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a single movie – Avengers: Secret Wars, say – could remedy that.

* Dr. Strange has the Infinity Stone that controls time. This Time Stone could be used, obviously, to re-set the timeline with an all-new set of heroes debuting in the appropriate order.

* The Vision has the Mind Stone on his forehead, which could be used to change what everyone remembers as history – and therefore re-launch the characters as if they had always been in one film series.

* The mad god Thanos has changed reality on more than one occasion by using all six Infinity Stones, which he collects on a glove he whimsically calls the Infinity Gauntlet. Say, what’s the plot of Avengers: Infinity War again?

So the hows of merging the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four should be easy. The when would be after Avengers 4. But only the Time Stone or Kevin Feige could tell us if they will, and they ain’t talking.

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Is Fantastic Four a viable movie concept anymore? While the characters could, can and should return in the comics, can a third reboot/fourth movie get greenlit? Are they box-office poison now?

The lynchpin of the current X-Men franchise beyond Logan is Mystique and Jennifer Lawrence doesn't want to play her again, not even for a solo movie. And Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine for eighteen years so I feel sorry for the guy who has to follow him!

It's weird how, because J Law happened to play Mystique before she was famous, her subsequent fame has propelled that character to the forefront of the movie series. The closest parallel in the comics is Emma Frost, and it's not that close. 

Philip Portelli said:

Is Fantastic Four a viable movie concept anymore? While the characters could, can and should return in the comics, can a third reboot/fourth movie get greenlit? Are they box-office poison now?

Maybe they should drop the idea of using the whole team, and do independent Torch and Thing movies. The Torch has a great visual, and the Thing is a great character.

The first Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) was a purely visual character with few, though poignant, lines while the Jennifer Lawrence version was both "the girl next door" AND "the ugly girl made beautiful" with reconstructed relationships with Xavier and Beast propelling her to become a founder of the X-Men.

Though the character is now ultra-important to the X-Movies, she just doesn't want to wear that makeup again!

Captain Comics said:

It's weird how, because J Law happened to play Mystique before she was famous, her subsequent fame has propelled that character to the forefront of the movie series. The closest parallel in the comics is Emma Frost, and it's not that close. 

Experts predict it’ll take more than a year for Disney to digest Fox movie and TV production, majority control of Hulu, Blue Sky Productions, Fox Animation, the various FX cable networks, and an avalanche of new non-Marvel franchises, including Aliens, Avatar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Predator. Plus, the anti-trust folks have yet to give a thumbs up.

From what I have read, the deal is to include everything except the cable news and sports channels. It would include the cable entertainment channels. It would not include the Fox broadcast (non-cable) network or any of Fox’s company-owned broadcast channels.

THE RETCON: We pretend the Fantastic Four and X-Men existed before the Avengers, but they didn’t get much publicity, most people think they didn’t exist and they’ve been missing for years. Everybody’s forgotten about them, including the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.

This is probably a good way to go, as is the parallel worlds bit. The TV audience has become familiar with parallel worlds and few of them started out as comic book readers.

Time displacement may not be a good idea. A lot of people had trouble with time displacement in the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past and in the later seasons of the TV show Heroes. I think bouncing back and forth in time requires the audience to pay close attention to what they are watching, and attention spans aren’t that long for many people.

You could probably launch X-Men movies the way Fox has, but the FF probably should be integrated as supporting characters until they become more popular.

You read the deal the way I do, Richard. 

And I kinda agree that they should probably soft-pedal Fantastic Four, integrating them them into the MCU as supporting characters and seeing if they become popular enough for a movie. At least they could establish Doom that way, so as to have a decent version of him on film as the MCU heroes' intractable problem.

On the other had, I never would have green-lighted Guardians of the Galaxy, so it's a good thing I'm not in charge!

I would like to see them established as having pre-existed the Avengers in some way, as the founding family that they are. It should be easy enough to do that, by simply allowing that explorations into the Microverse or Negative Zone would not show up in the press. They could have been having grand adventures off the grid all these years, and Tony Stark (and the audience) wouldn't have known. 

Incidentally, some Internet conspiracy theorists are asking if the buyer for Avengers Tower in Spider-Man: Homecoming might be revealed to be Reed Richards.

Captain Comics said:

I would like to see them established as having pre-existed the Avengers in some way, as the founding family that they are. It should be easy enough to do that, by simply allowing that explorations into the Microverse or Negative Zone would not show up in the press. They could have been having grand adventures off the grid all these years, and Tony Stark (and the audience) wouldn't have known. 

The FF could have had their powers all along, but have had under-the-radar adventures like I believe The Challengers of the Unknown used to have.

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