Thinking about Avengers vs. X-Men the other day, I found myself stuck on the fact that the Fantastic Four wouldn’t be taking part in the event. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense, because (a) adding another super team to the event seems ridiculous given the number of characters already involved given the size of the Avengers and X-Men franchises these days, and (b) it’s called Avengers vs. X-Men, not Avengers And Their Friends vs. X-Men And Their Friends. But on the other hand, “limiting” the event to these two teams feels artificial given the way that the Marvel Universe has always historically worked, with books crossing over and guest stars appearing when you least expect it, and especially so when you consider that the Thing is an Avenger now, or that it’s very likely that Reed Richards would have something to say about the Phoenix Force coming to Earth (Wouldn’t Nova go to the FF before he’d go to the Avengers or the X-Men, considering past adventures, after all…?).
The real reason there’s no Fantastic Four in the title of Avengers Vs. X-Men, of course, is that the F4 isn’t one of Marvel’s core franchises, and so hasn’t earned its way onto that banner. A harsh truth, perhaps, but a truth nonetheless; whereas the Avengers books (top-sellers for Marvel since Disassembled) have led the linewide events since 2006, and the X-Books have been so numerous that they’ve had their own family to have linewide events of suitable size and success for even longer, the Fantastic Four has always seemed to be on the periphery of storylines that affected the direction of the Marvel Universe: They had tie-in issues to Civil War, but Reed’s involvement in the Negative Zone prison aside, they were pretty much removed from the main action; they pretty much skipped World War Hulk in all but cameo appearances, and had a minor Secret Invasion tie-in mini to show for their troubles, with even less involvement in Fear Itself (the Thing aside, but as I’ve already pointed out, he’s an Avenger now).
Maybe it’s me being old-fashioned and sentimental, but this seems sad, considering the importance of the Fantastic Four to the Marvel Universe both internally and externally; this was the book that started it all, after all, and even within the fictional universe, this is the team that saved the world from Galactus, the ones who discovered the Negative Zone (and Unstable Molecules, which have saved many a Marvel hero from unfortunate accidental nudity at times) and the Microverse, the greatest scientific adventurers around, and so on… These characters should be at the center of every big Marvel event, surely.
And all of this got me to thinking: What’s wrong with the Fantastic Four? Historically, it’s not been a massive seller since… what, John Byrne’s era (although it seems to be holding its own quite well right now, thanks to Jonathan Hickman’s efforts)… but why? Is there something inherently less interesting to readers about the Fantastic Four than there is the Avengers or the X-Men, and if so, what?
Certainly, as a long-running series, it’s arguably the longest-running Marvel title with the least amount of creative peaks (Lee/Kirby, obviously, but then it’s a fallow period until Byrne, and then relatively dull until Walter Simonson’s short-but-still-underrated run, and afterwards a number of well-meaning-but-again-dull efforts until Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, and then… Hickman? Have I missed anyone truly exceptional out in there? Over 50+ years, that feels low, especially compared to the X-Books or Avengers… Am I misremembering?), so is that the problem: That getting the F4 “right” is just harder than it is for other books, and the failed attempts put people off…? Or is it just that the core appeal of the Fantastic Four – A family who love each other who have dedicated their lives to discovering the unknown – doesn’t have the same appeal as existing in a world in which you’re feared and hated, or being the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
I have no answers; I’m not even sure if I’m asking the right questions. But there’s something about the Fantastic Four that, in my mind, makes them the core of the entire Marvel Universe, and seeing them treated as something out on the outliers because the market doesn’t seem to want that much more from them, seems like a far, far sadder fate than they deserve.