After this past week, I’m looking forward to the Apocalypse. Oh — I mean, the X-Men villain Apocalypse and his very busy 2016. I’m very much not looking forward to any actual apocalypse, because there’s zero chance I would survive such a thing. Thankfully, the high stakes and dire straits approaching in 2016 are all fictional, and they’ll unfold across two different mediums. The newly announced “Apocalypse Wars” event arrives from Marvel in March and is followed by the 20th Century Fox feature film “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which opens in theaters in May. In addition to being stories seemingly crafted to excite me as an X-Men fan, the fact that both of those Apocalypse-themed events are hitting at around the same time actually gives me hope.
That’s right, that tie-in gives me positive feelings about Marvel’s relationship with the X-Men.
I’m someone that really hates being negative, believe it or not, so the fact that I’ve become CBR’s resident doom prophet when it comes to the X-Men bums me out. To catch those that haven’t been training in my Shi’ar-powered Paranoia Room for the past few years, Fox owns the movie rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios owns the rights to, well, pretty much everyone else (they even now share the Spider-Man rights with Sony). Since the box office domination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008 with “Iron Man,” fans have felt that the X-Men and Fantastic Four have taken a slide in prominence as Marvel began to promote characters in the comics and video games that they also have the film rights for. This has led to no new X-Men cartoons, no X-Men characters in “Disney Infinity,” no merchandise for any of the feature films, and the reduction of the admittedly massive X-Men comic line.
How did I earn the unwanted title of Prophet of X-Doom? Well, I wrote about the overall disappearance of the X-Men, criticized the strengthening synergy between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios, tried to accept the X-Men’s fate and did way too much research to figure out if the X-Line was really shrinking. Like I said, I don’t like being negative and I hate being a conspiracy theorist, but when Marvel publishes anti-bullying variant covers — a theme central to the core of what the X-Men are — and leaves all the mutants out? It’s hard not to see a pattern!
OK — gotta calm down, because this time around I’m using my conspiracy theory powers for good. So why am I happy right now? Because the X-Men are getting a movie tie-in event, which is something they haven’t gotten in earnest in 13 years.
Now, I sincerely doubt that Marvel is going to mention Fox’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” in the marketing for “Apocalypse Wars.” And there’s a better chance of Maggott leading the X-Men than there being a Fox movie ad banner on the cover of “Extraordinary X-Men” #8. But still, Marvel is publishing a comic book event named after and featuring the titular villain of Fox’s movie. If you obsess over X-minutiae like I do (I’ve tried to stop, I swear!), this news comes as a big surprise for you too.
I know it seems like a no-brainer, though, right? Of course you want to have the comics tie-in in some way to the movie. You wanna sell comics, and the movies at least raise name recognition and awareness of the comics. Whether or not they actually increase sales is another matter, but I’m not excited about this “Apocalypse” event because I want the X-Men to sell more comics. I’m happy about it because I want to take it as a signal that the alleged cold war between Marvel Comics and Fox is over, or at an end, or at least reaching room temperature — and I see a tie-in as being a big deal.
Pretty much every Marvel Studios movie has had a tie-in to go with it. “Ant-Man” saw the launch of a new series starring Scott Lang; the graphic novel “Avengers: Rage of Ultron” was dropped ahead of the movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron”; the “Legendary Star-Lord” and “Rocket Raccoon” series debuted alongside “Guardians of the Galaxy”; the Winter Soldier got the limited series “The Bitter March” when “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened; Malekith simultaneously menaced Thor on the big screen in “The Dark World” and in the pages of “God of Thunder”; “Avengers Assemble,” a book starring the movie roster, debuted ahead of “Marvel’s The Avengers;” and both Captain America and Thor got brand new #1 issues timed with the release of their 2011 feature films. And, let’s not forget, Marvel just officially confirmed “Civil War II” — which arrives conveniently around the time that “Captain America: Civil War” opens in May 2016.
Marvel digs tie-ins, and I do not fault them for that at all. You look at the things I listed above, a lot of them are great, fan-favorite, acclaimed works. And Marvel also doesn’t adapt the movies into the tie-ins, either; almost all of those are tie-ins in name only, which keeps things fresh and readers guessing. It’s smart and it’s part of the game of publishing comics. No problem there whatsoever. But Marvel’s never done this with the X-Men.
OK, that’s not totally true: back in 2003, the “X-Treme X-Men” arc “God Loves, Man Kills II” hit at the same time as the film “X2: X-Men United.” Both stories featured William Stryker as the villain. Around the same time as the 1960s-set “X-Men: First Class” hit in 2011, the X-books had a very minor storyline called “First to Last” that played with the ’60s versions of the team; an Infinite Comics story titled “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted” hit in summer 2013, around the same time as the Japan-set “The Wolverine.” But that’s it. Most X-Men films have come and gone with no overt comic tie-in of any sort, not even the tangential, in-name-only kind that Marvel pushes for the Marvel Studios films. The bulk of those missed opportunities occurred since 2008, during the current Marvel Studios-era. Considering how big a movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was and how flat-out iconic that story title is in the grand scheme of all things X, it’s a little shocking that Marvel did nothing to go along with that movie besides reprint the original story.
But I’ll reiterate the point that I make when I write things that sound accusatory — Marvel makes more money from the properties that they own the film rights to. They don’t have to make thematic tie-in comics to movies that aren’t theirs, and looking at the track record presented above proves that.
I’m also not positing that Marvel restricted the creators from doing tie-in stories. They might have, I don’t know. But it’s worth comparing the Fox-owned X-Men’s tie-in history with the Sony-owned Spider-Man’s. Prior to Marvel Studios sharing Spidey’s film rights with Sony, writer Dan Slott had his “Amazing Spider-Man” series tie in with everything. He had the Avengers guest star in an arc when “Avengers” opened in 2012 and he incorporated the Lizard and Electro into his books timed to their feature film debuts in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Slott even openly talks about his tie-in preference in interviews, like this one he did with CBR in 2014:
“You’re going to have a major motion picture coming out. There’s going to be ads everywhere, there’s going to be toys in toy stores, and Spider-Man on t-shirts. There’s going to be a general awareness of, ‘Hey, look, Spider-Man!’ So how could you not ride that wave? It would be negligent not to. This is a massive franchise that’s been around for half a century, and you always want to bring in new readers, and try bringing people into comics… [F]or the industry to thrive, we need new readers coming into the mix. A big summer blockbuster is going to be a whole new generation’s introduction to this character and this world. So it’s great that, potentially, there’s going to be an all-new Amazing #1 there for them.”
Slott’s comments really sum up the importance of tie-ins and their place in the modern comic industry. It just makes sense for them to exist and, for the most part, they’re fun. Pretty much every Marvel Studios movie has had them as well as Sony’s “Amazing Spider-Man” films. The X-Men have been let out… until now. “Apocalypse Wars” might just mean, at the bare minimum, that Marvel’s now totally down with loose tie-ins to Fox’s movies — which is still a step forward. As an X-Men fan that’s seen nothing but warning signs for the past few years, I’ll take it. I’ll take it, and I’ll read a lot into it, and I’ll love it.
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