Even though they haven’t enjoyed the public knowledge of some of the other Marvel characters, the simple fact is that the Inhumans are some of the oldest characters in Marvel lore, making their first appearance back in Fantastic Four #45 in 1965. Quite a bit is known about these characters, but the one things we don’t know is how Black Bolt and Medusa came to be the Royal Family. Now, thanks to Christopher Priest, this August we will get a definitive origin to the former rulers of the Inhumans. In an interview with CBR, Priest discussed penning the Inhumans and what fans can expect from the upcoming series, Once and Future Kings.
I’ve never written the Inhumans before outside of, perhaps, a brief cameo or two. I was actually surprised and challenged when Marvel offered me the project. I see this series as part of a bigger and more complex overall history. As I see it, we can either bore people to death by trying to be too much, or we can go the “Rogue One” route and tell a fun story which embellishes key points of their origin. I presume if the audience wants to see more of this era of the Inhumans, Marvel will respond.
One of the unique opportunities authoring a story like this provides is the ability to play out relationships that have been hardened over time, but in a different light because the author is taking the reader back to a place in time when those relationships had yet to go awry. In this particular case, Priest is talking about the relationship between Maximus the Mad and Black Bolt, who are anything but enemies in this story. These Inhumans aren’t the ones we are used to seeing, they will behave and act differently, some of them will be less assured, others not so much.
Neither Black Bolt nor Maximus are much like the characters they ultimately become. For one thing, Maximus is not yet Mad. He is a sane if hardheaded and strong-willed loyal brother, and the two are paired off for this adventure. Now, of course, Max’s unique character flaws give rise to certain rivalries and pettiness which will ultimately divide them but, from the beginning, they are Starsky and Hutch if not quite Quantum and Woody. I’d prefer to avoid providing definitive ages because that sets off debates, but it’s fair to say the characters in this story are about the same age as the original Lee-Kirby X-Men. Most if not all have undergone Terrigenesis.
An extremely candid portion of this interview outlined how Priest’s own prejudices and ignorance led him to a revelation that would not only change how he wrote mute characters, but also how he saw the world. You usually don’t get this kind of maturity and honesty from a question as simple as “how challenging is it to write a character like Black Bolt, who is mute?” So, kudos to Mr. Priest for acknowledging this and using it to make himself and his writing better.
I’ve been writing a mute character, Jericho, for more than a year now [in DC Comics’ “Deathstroke”]. That has partly prepared me for some of the challenges we’ll face with Black Bolt. I also intend to explore the character’s dimensionality a bit more rather than limit him to seeming too flat or one-dimensional.
What I mean is, if you’ve ever had a deaf friend, you know that reading an email from a deaf person is no different from reading an email from any other person. That was a revelation for me and it changed my way of thinking about my deaf friends, many of whom I’d stupidly regarded as either less engaged or even less intelligent. They’re not. They’re informed, perceptive, brilliant. They are funny. My prejudice had been depriving them of much of their humanity. By allowing Jericho to speak mechanically, I’ve been able to explore the character in greater depth and have him emerge as a more rounded character capable of realizing a much greater potential.
I have a different path laid out for our young Black Bolt; not a mechanical device which would allow him to speak (although, frankly, this is not far-fetched technology. You can probably find something like that at The Sharper Image; surely Attilan technology could devise something), but an emerging way of interpreting not merely Black Bolt’s words but the intent behind them in greater depth and clarity. This presents a direct challenge to Medusa and Maximus, whose interpretations of Black Bolt’s hand gestures have traditionally been the most authoritative.
Priest also applied that same line of thinking to fleshing out the character of Medusa, who has always been one of the strongest female characters in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it’s probably a tie between Carol Danvers and Medusa for the most independent, fierce, intelligent, and strategy-minded females in all of Marveldom. But before Medusa can become the Queen of the Inhumans, she must first find her own place within its caste system.
Medusa represents the obvious flaw in a ridged caste system; she was born into a role she is genetically ill-suited to perform. Medusa was never going to host teas or perform ceremonial duties like a royal princess. From birth, she’s wanted to be on the front lines, with her male cousins, engaging the enemy, defending the realm.
At the stage of her life wherein our story is set, Medusa is terribly and completely sick of men falling in love with her. She is weary of all the speculative talk of who she will someday marry or who a prospective love interest might be. She’s a person, dammit, not a farm animal to be groomed and bred.
Our story presents several persistent suitors for Medusa, but she’s interested in none of them — including Black Bolt. She wants to be accepted, in the same way and on the same level as her male Royal cousins. The man who will ultimately win her over must first prove his acceptance of her as an equal partner in defiance of the stricter roles laid out by the Attilan caste system.
For me, the challenge of writing Medusa is to reveal her humanity and vulnerability without compromising her hard candy shell or writing her one-dimensionally “Hulk Smash!”
The ruler of Attilan in Once and Future Kings is the Unspoken, but unlike most coup d’états that feature a lunatic on the throw, the Unspoken will be anything but despotic. In fact, he will be a very good king. It’s a confluence of a events involving everyone involved that ends up defining his, and Black Bolt’s, legacy.
“The Unspoken” was never a despotic king. He was, in fact, The Good King. The theme of “OAFK” is communication, as the plot revolves around a series of miscommunications and wrong impressions in an operatic if not quite Shakespearean comic tragedy construction.
A young Black Bolt challenges the Good King’s thinking as regards to the semi-slavery imposed upon the Alpha Primitives. In so doing, and quite without realizing it, Black Bolt literally infects the Good King’s conscience to the point where The Good King begins to reevaluate his posture toward the Alphas if not the entirety of the Attilan caste system.
This ends up setting off a chain of events that leads to Black Bolt, Medusa and Maximus fleeing Attilan, with the help of a new friend, and taking refuge in the far away mythical land of Manhattan.
If it seems like Priest is shooting for the stars with this story, you’re absolutely right. Priest assured fans that Once and Future Kings will include the full cast of characters we’ve become accustomed to with the Inhumans and the Royal Family and it will have some fun with those roles. If Priest has his way, this is something that fans will be talking about for years to come.
I’m not at all certain I am capable of writing a comic book that doesn’t have humor in it. Your description is spot-on. Rock and roll in two different worlds.
MINOR SPOILER: In the original comics, I found it ironic that The Good King Whose Names Is Unspoken was condemned, primarily, for wanting to destroy a terrible weapon designed to wipe out all of mankind. Yes, there were allusions to the Good King becoming The Mad King, but Black Bolt ultimately challenged his monarch because The King had stolen, with intent to destroy, The Slave Engine.
Now, I’m unclear of how that choice makes Black Bolt a “pure” hero any more than his attempts to destroy an obvious weapon of terrible evil made the King a “Mad” King. In that sense, “Once And Future Kings” is kind of a circular firing squad; a “Game of Thrones”-ish mashup of shifting alliances and changing motives.
If we get this wrong, this will be a confusing mess. If we get it right, “Inhumans: Once And Future Kings” will, hopefully, be a story debated over long after I’ve been drubbed out the business.
The full interview can be found on Comic Book Resources, but I can say that I am very much looking forward to this Inhumans story. Not only does the plot sound like a winner, but the idea of seeing characters we know and love in an infant state is so tantalizing. The Royal Family is Marvel institution, it’s finally time to give them the rich backstory they deserve and Christopher Priest is just the man to lead the charge.