Why are the Inhumans so hated? Is it because Marvel has forced them on us because Fox keeps the mutants out of their film and television hands? Is it because we’re getting them instead of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Is it because their big screen debut had such lousy distribution? Who are Jack Kirby’s least-loved creations, and why are they so hated? The answers, and a review of the first two episodes, after the jump.
My First Inhumans
My first encounter with the Inhumans was before I started buying comics or even reading comics. My big sister, who taught me to read and was kinda the culprit in getting me into comics, was a saint. She bought me the stuff I wanted like Batman and The Flash and Justice League of America, but she also infected me with her tastes – Supergirl, Teen Titans, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. It was in that last one that I discovered the Inhumans.
I first saw the elemental Crystal, who was actually a replacement member of the team, and her family, hidden away in a lost city in the Himalayas (Attilan, which had surprisingly been first mentioned in a Marvel comic back in 1940), were the Inhumans. They all had superpowers and not your normal style powers either, and their look – wow, there’s just no mistaking that distinctive Jack Kirby design. I instantly loved them.
There was the silent king, Black Bolt, whose mere utterances could level city blocks; Medusa of the prehensile hair (a phrase that made gamers worldwide grin when they played TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG); the merman Triton; my favorite, Karnak, the martial artist who could find the flaw or fault in any object or person; the hoofed Gorgon who can create shockwaves with his stomp; and their sentient bulldog Lockjaw, a teleporter. Amazing characters all, and created by Kirby, so even cooler.
Despite my sister’s best efforts, I never really became much of a Fantastic Four fan (except during the John Byrne years, and there I praise his talent, and little else), so my further exposure to the Royal Family of Attilan came from other places. Crystal finally shrugged off her crush on Johnny Storm and married the Avenger Quicksilver, and much later she herself became an Avenger with Lockjaw in tow.
The Inhumans themselves have had features and titles of their own over the decades since their first appearance in 1965’s Fantastic Four #45 by Lee and Kirby. In the last decade, they were swept up into Marvel’s cosmic sagas as they participated in War of Kings. Writer Jonathan Hickman also devoted quite a bit of his recent Fantastic Four run to these often overlooked super beings. And then, Hickman swept them into his mega-event with the Avengers – Infinity, and more recently in their own series and during Civil War II.
You might be better off going and checking out my issue-by-issue reviews of Infinity, but I’ll try to simplify the plot here for you, and the Inhumans’ part in it. While the Avengers had gone off to deep space to join with many of Marvel’s space-faring races to battle a dangerous new threat called The Builders, the mad Titan Thanos saw that Earth was unprotected and chose that moment to strike, but he had a darker more personal motivation, other than conquest or revenge.
Somewhere on Earth, he had a son, one that he sought to destroy. Don’t ask why. I stopped doing that with old Thanos decades ago, but there you go, he wanted to kill his son. The bottom line was that a terrigen bomb was detonated over Earth, and Inhumans began to pop up everywhere. Similar circumstances occurred in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the same began to happen the in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, television division, opening the door for an Inhumans TV series.
Cold Dead Hands
For some it may seem we have been getting the Inhumans shoved down our throats of late. A quick search on this very website will show how many dozens of times I’ve written about these characters myself. They are everywhere – in the comics, the animated shows, and in television, and there’s a reason. Marvel Studios doesn’t own the X-Men, and specifically the word ‘mutant,’ Fox does, and Fox won’t give up the X-Men until they are pried from Fox’s cold dead hands. And unlike Sony with Spider-Man, Fox will not negotiate.
So someone at Marvel got the bright idea, what about the Inhumans, it’s the same thing as mutants, right? And there you go, suddenly the Inhumans were everywhere, and Infinity allowed them to appear at will in Marvel Universe continuity. We don’t need your stinking mutants any more, we have the Inhumans. Of course the problem with this overdose of these characters, viewers and readers might just hate them as much as the humans hate the mutants in the X-books. Be careful what you wish for. Inhumans are not mutants, and they especially aren’t beloved X-Men, not matter how hard you try.
The Coming of the Inhumans
First we were promised a full feature film in theaters, albeit a few years down the line, but both the more friendly contractual addition of Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Sony, and continuing weaving of the Inhumans into the television universe the last few seasons of S.H.I.E.L.D., kind of derailed that plan and moved the project to the smaller budgeted world of television.
This is not the worst idea, unless we’re talking special effects and super powers, but let’s face it, at its core, the Inhumans saga is a bit like Game of Thrones, and if done right, could and should be. Hell, they even cast a GoT veteran Iwan Rheon (perfectly cast by the way) as Maximus the Mad. Equally perfect is Anson Mount from AMC’s criminally underrated Hell on Wheels taking the silent lead role of Black Bolt. To me these were signs of greatness to come.
Of course then not so encouraging photos arrived online, followed by a less than stellar trailer. Couple that with the sparse distribution of the IMAX premiere in theaters of the first two episodes and it does not look good. I now live dead center between two major cities, Tampa and Orlando, and could find nowhere showing it. That why I had to wait for the TV debut to review it, rather than three weeks ago. Did anyone see it in theaters?
At first glance I didn’t mind the look of the Inhumans. They were certainly more similar in appearance to the comics than some of the other denizens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are also easily recognizable, if a bit subdued, certainly the branding is there. They live on the moon, hidden from sight, in Attilan. And this is clearly the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Inhumans are hunted in the opening.
As with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the effects and the powers are sparse and toned down. Medusa’s hair could be better, it’s stiff and slightly unbelievable (not that it’s not an unbelievable power, mind you), but sadly stiff and unbelievable are also two words I might use to describe the acting as well. The characters are well defined and true to the source material, yet the actors are not the best suited to give the full effect.
Now I have yet to see Iron Fist, which has been referred to as the weakest of the Marvel Netflix series, but it is notable that these two episodes were written by Scott Buck, who also wrote a majority of that show. That said, I thought at the start Marvel’s Inhumans was quite well done. A lot goes into explaining and demonstrating what their mythology is all about. Of course those who have read the comics or watched S.H.I.E.L.D might find it a bit redundant.
Anson Mount is convincing, and his sign language (that he developed himself) is intriguing. Speaking of signs, Kree is everywhere in Attilan. Lockjaw rocks whenever he is on screen, which is not nearly enough. Iwan Rheon is suitably treacherous, but nowhere near the level of madness needed for the character. I guess he is a one note actor, and giving this role very little of the passion or aggression he gave GoT’s Ramsey Bolton.
Plot and Problems
As I found the look and definition to be as good as it can get in a page to screen transfer with limited budget, it all falls apart in the story, simple and cliché, and logically unlikely. Maximus stages a coup against the Royal Family in a bid to leave Attilan and colonize/conquer Earth. I hated bits where Maximus not only shaves Medusa’s hair off but also intimates a past between them, something that as far as I know is not in comics continuity.
In the midst of Maximus’ takeover, some of the Royal Family, via Lockjaw, escape to Earth for some cliché fish out of water adventures. Yawn. These sequences try to be funny and fail. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old Galactica 1980 with its similar budgetary difficulties. I was almost expecting Wolfman Jack or Mike Brady to show up. Yeah, it had that feel.
Losses and Wins
While I was happy with the characters and their looks, if not the actors playing them, even that was not perfect. Crystal was appropriately naive (I’ll be kind and not say dumb), and the attempt to recreate her hairstyle was inspired and yet distracting. Gorgon grew on me even as the newest comics version of Karnak weighed on my nerves, almost like a bad joke.
I hated Black Bolt getting a new suit more than I hated shaved head Medusa. And I hated Black Bolt’s half-run even more than that. And are the Honolulu Police that abusive, or do they just hate Inhumans that much. I was also disappointed at the lack of screen time for Triton, and the change in Auran from the comics. The music is pedestrian except for the intriguing cover versions of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and especially the Doors’ “Break On Through.” I did like those at least.
I think it says volumes that ABC has chosen to air Marvel’s Inhumans in the death slot on Friday nights where genre shows rarely flourish, The X-Files being the only exception that comes to mind. They don’t want this show, any more than they wanted another season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. apparently.
The premise is faulty, with the Royals on Earth hunted by Maximus and the humans, and especially with Medusa neutered of her powers, I have little hope or interest. All that said, despite the look and definition of the characters, everything I’ve seen here in these two episodes, “Behold…. the Inhumans” and “Those Who Would Destroy Us,” indicate sour disappointment, and only this single season of this show.