In between the east coast and the west coast viewings of Marvel’s Inhumans, the internet is tepidly prodding the thing that emerged from the terragenesis cocoons and chambers at Marvel HQ. Inhumans, the brainchild of Scott Buck and Marvel Television, focuses on the Inhuman royal family, the progenitors of the same superheroic people such as Daisy Johnson, Elena Rodriguez, and the villainous hive from Agents of SHIELD. Unlike Jiaying, Daisy, and the inhumans or nuhumans of the afterlife, these are the people who managed to flee to the moon – although what or how remains to be seen. So far the inhumans live in a collection of houses on the moon that looks like Alcatraz. They spend their time living in a xenophobic, eugenic society that rewards those who come out with powers looking different, and punishes those who come out human.
The first 2 episodes of the show were screened in IMAX and featured broad sweeping visuals, Hawaiian landscapes, and a cast of characters fumbling around in a strange new setting with no idea what to do with themselves. From Black Bolt, the erstwhile king of a broken kingdom, to Maximus the revolutionary and Medusa, Black Bolt’s vengeful firey queen, the royal family were literally poor players strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage. To many is has been a tale of sound and fury seemingly signifying nothing, but now it’s for the audience to judge them. After all, as every Agent of SHIELD fan unfortunately knows, not every day can be taco Tuesday.
Behold…The Inhumans! and Those who would destroy us run together as if they were one movie. It’s how it was introduced in theaters and it’s what fans are shown. This recap will treat it like one long story from a group of stumbling players, explaining the essence of who the inhumans are, just what they’re doing in the MCU, and where we’ll go from here.
START SINGING SOME PINK FLOYD TO YOURSELF.
Behold…The inhumans! opens in the center of the conflict. We’re introduced to a young inhuman with cat-like eyes who is on the run from a collection of soldiers or mercenaries. Triton (Mike Moh), the surfing aquatic operative, tries to save her but ultimately fails. She falls into an ocean that we find out later is teeming with Terragenesis-affected fish and wildlife which he was there to investigate. Then we fly to the moon and the story takes us right into the microcosm of the universe – specifically the royal family. We’re introduced to Black Bolt and Medusa, king and queen of Attilan, before the two of them punch the clock and start their day. One by one, members of the royal family are introduced: starting with Karnak, whose ability is apparently to “see the flaw in everything.” That’s a major change from the comics, where Karnak had no abilities. His parents, so frightened by the extreme transformations of his brother Triton, sent him away to become a warrior monk. All of his mad skill was earned.
The change is jarring. Karnak is a powerful character and making him inhuman could be a disservice to the royal family. The Royal Family, after all, have to rule Attilan and oversee the Terragenesis procedure that is the “birthright” of every inhuman on the moon. After finally meeting Lockjaw (the best character by far), we’re introduced to the bigger and far older conflict. The inhumans live in a society where if you’re powered or capable of some crazy mechanics (or get some nifty body modifications) you get a “place” in society. If you come out looking human, however, you end up going to the mines.
It’s a nice twist on a concept that we haven’t seen in awhile. Previous inhumans like Raina, Lash, and even Hive who were extremely different looking haven’t lasted long on Agents of SHIELD. Seeing people being celebrated for being different is a very nice change, but is it worth it when a large chunk of the population is suffering? Of course not. The comics take it one step further and insist that whatever power you have dictates your place in Attilan society. You could love painting, but if your Terragenesis grows machine guns in place of your hands you’re suddenly a soldier. Here, those who have no extraneous abilities are sent to work in the mines while even those abilities that make life difficult, like Black Bolt’s voice, are revered.
Maximus has had enough of that as the only human member of the royal family, and he’s not the alone. After a Terragenesis ritual leaves one girl with butterfly wings and her brother with a Clairvoyant ability that can’t be controlled, Maximus decides to take things to the next level. He apparently has been planning a coup for a while, and begins by confronting Medusa. If an inhuman’s power is “who they truly are,” then what happened to Medusa is the equivalent of Daisy Johnson having her hands broken or Yo-Yo having her legs amputated. It’s not pretty. The Royals are chased out of their own capital city by the royal guard, and make their way to earth thanks to Lockjaw. Just as Crystal is about to leave, she’s captured by Maximus while the Royal Guard is sent to earth to stop the royal family by any means.
Hooves On Sand, Knives on a Bus, and Thievery
Some people say that the second half of Inhumans is stronger than the first. The truth of the matter is that the first half doesn’t deliver nearly enough exposition about Maximus’s coup and just takes us to Earth. Just what was it like in the mines? How can Black Bolt actively support slavery, unlike the comics? Meanwhile, on the moon, Maximus is ….trying to collect his minions? Trying to cement his rule? A new day has dawned for the working class of Attilan, but they don’t seem to know what to do.
There are a few genuinely touching moments between Medusa and Black Bolt, Triton remains gone, Gorgon finds some surfers who don’t really care that he’s got hooves for feet and we’re left not only wondering where we are but when we are since no matter how many stereotypes portray Hawaiians as “chill and relaxed,” there’s no way that a man with goat feet would go unnoticed. Karnak has a fall that injures his powers and Medusa is left to sneak into the city to find her husband who in traditional kingly fashion, is lording himself over the rest of the citizenry.
The standout performers in this are Karnak, who fundamentally sees that they place too much trust in Lockjaw, Gorgon and his perils walking on sand, and Black Bolt who literally cannot speak but still manages to walk into a clothing store with some brilliant “I’m the King” moments. So far the only King we’ve known in the MCU is T’Challa, and I would welcome the opportunity for the Black Panther to take the inhuman king down a few pegs, or at least teach him what it means to truly be kingly. There’s a very powerful scene where Crystal, who is pretty powerful in the comics, calls Maximus a human. It’s intercut with scenes of Black Bolt getting beaten into submission by the police. A clumsy if important similarity that shows us some moral lines about the royal family and where they stand.
The premise is clear. One by one the members of the royal family are stripped of their “powers” unintentionally or intentionally and forced to face discrimination and life as a human. There are millions of places that this could go, from a tone that matches Medusa’s anger at her assault to Karnak realizing he has no idea what he has to do, while Black Bolt is either so far removed from reality he believes he’s still kingly or he’s kind of slow.
The audience is treated to seeing what a burden these powers can be, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have more impact to linger on how a person’s abilities can become a handicap. Medusa can’t go places with her hair the way it was; Black Bolt can’t ask for a glass of water or even a phone call when the end of the episode finds him in jail.
Inhumans is probably the closest the MCU will get to telling a medieval story similar to Game of Thrones. Marvel Television thought they were Alexander the Great slicing the Gordian Knot in half to make a point. Much like Alexander, they did more harm than good.
THERE’S A LOT OF STRANDS THAT HAVE COME UNDONE BUT THE RIGHT PERSON COULD PICK UP THE PIECES.
The Gordian Knot is at the heart of Inhumans. Adapting these larger than life Kirby characters is probably as impossible as adapting the Fantastic Four. Television, even with the scope of IMAX, leaves people who should be truly terrifying royals in the dust. Is that worth abandoning them to the pages of history? Many say yes. We’ve learned a hard lesson with the Fantastic Four.
Let’s say that there’s a lot to potentially love. That perhaps in another timeline this is a show that fans are hyped for with different writers and a different makeup person whose production wasn’t rushed. That’s at the core of Inhumans. It feels rushed. You should not have to work to love these characters, and fans that do feel extremely disappointed.
The perils of a Xenophobic society based in Eugenics should not feel rushed. Not in today’s political climate. It should not feel rushed when dealing with the first marriage in the MCU (congratulations Black Bolt and Medusa), out of respect to the characters that Kirby created. It should especially not feel rushed when focusing on the abilities of people who look considerably different than the status quo. Sure they’re model gorgeous, but if their powers had really been showcased, the MCU could say a lot about embracing something that’s a part of you. Something that sticks around and you can’t just hide away.
Strange-looking inhumans fill just as much of a hole as inhumans like Daisy Johnson. There’s a lot of potential to be had from the strands that the first 2 episodes of Inhumans give us. The problem is that in a world where you’re competing against not only other superhero shows and the return of Marvel’s mutants with The Gifted, it may get lost in the shuffle. Here’s the honest truth. Inhumans was no Taco Tuesday. It was “Chef’s Surprise Friday” – and though the surprise might have nutritional value, it looks and tastes atrocious to a lot of people. To some people, it’s just food and they’ll eat what’s put out no matter what because they either can’t get better or don’t know what better tastes like. It’s an intriguing conundrum.
If you’re looking to see some of that potential, I’ve enclosed a list of some of the Inhuman books we’re reading at The Marvel Report that focus on the royal family and their exploits. You can also follow Attilan Rising, a podcast about inhumans for more updates about the character if you’re intrigued by the mythology. In the meantime, the chef brought out a surprise dish. Let’s see what else he’s got cooking before the kitchen gets closed.
Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed: this series takes us through the inhumans post their battle against the mutants and finds the royal family splintered. While Medusa is dealing with an impending demise from the lack of terrigen in the galaxy, Black Bolt is facing up to his actions as King, and just how many he’s hurt because of it. The king, paired with Carl “Crusher” Creel, learns about humility and what true heroism might mean. Along with some gorgeous visuals and a look at Black Bolt and Lockjaw’s past, it’s a can’t miss series.
Inhumans: Once and Future Kings: By Christopher Priest and Phil Noto, this series takes us back to the childhood of Blackbolt, Medusa, and Maximus. This series provides a lot of hope but also showcases the left turns taken in the show. Black Bolt, while proud and imperious, is against the use of the mysterious “slave engine” that turns humans into a mindless enslaved workforce. Only on issue 2, this series features puppy lockjaw! Also known as THE BEST THING IN MARVEL COMICS EVER.
Charles Soule’s entire run on the Inhumans: Soule’s work is considered the defining run for the inhumans. He introduces us to the nuhumans (including Eldrac who you met in the show) and is responsible for creating several Nuhumans who we hope will appear in later episodes. You can’t go wrong with starting with his work.
I’m heading back to the cafeteria and while I might not get Taco Tuesday, hopefully it’ll be better then Chef’s surprise.
- Medusa and Black Bolt are OTP status, and no matter what happens I want to explore their relationship.
- Lockjaw Lockjaw LOCKJAW LOCKJAW LOCKJAW LOCKJAW LOC
- Auran is in my “baddies who could become good guys” pile. I want to see more of her backstory and hear about her history and why she joined Maximus.
- Crystal needs to start getting environmentally-friendly.
- Anybody else wonder how hard it is to walk with hooves?
Marvel’s the Inhumans airs Fridays at 9 PM ET.