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    About Change: A Retrospective on Charles Soule’s “Inhumans”

    By | March 7th, 2017
    Posted in Longform | 2 Comments

    For three years, writer Charles Soule has been the head of Marvel’s attempt to bring the weird Royal Family of Attilan into a more prominent role in the universe. But all runs end, and Soule’s run concludes with this week’s “Inhumans vs. X-Men” #6 and an epilogue in “Uncanny Inhumans” #20 next week. In recognition of that, I thought we’d take a look at the run, examine the good, the bad, how it changed Inhumanity, and unfortunate what-could-have-beens.

    Warning: Naturally there will be spoilers about the entire run throughout.

    art by Madureira & Gracia

    A Fall and Rise

    ”You are my hope for the future. You represent the truth. Being Inhuman can be… wonderful.”– Medusa

    Fun fact: Charles Soule wasn’t even supposed to be the writer of Inhumans. During the Marvel event “Infinity” it was announced that the Inhumans would be getting a new ongoing, but it would be Matt Fraction (at the time of “Hawkeye” and “FF” fame) that would be in the driver seat. However, he and editorial couldn’t see eye to eye so they parted ways and Soule really came in at the eleventh hour. That they were all able to salvage it and create a steady story for three years is something, even if that first arc of “Inhuman” was a bit shaky.

    “Infinity” is a good place to start because the events there set the tone for nearly all of Soule’s run. To make a long long story short (read Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers”), in order to protect the world from Thanos and his Black Order, King Blackagar Boltagon (which is still one of the most comic bookey names ever) begins preparations to bring about the next change in Inhuman society. That change? Black Bolt has his younger brother, Maximus the Mad, create a bomb of Terrigen (the compound that initializes the change in Inhumans to grant them their power) that would scatter the mist across the world and awaken thousands of people with latent Inhuman DNA. This also caused the destruction of Attilan, the isolationist seat of power. Literally destroying the Old Inhuman world to herald in the New.

    That brings us to “Inhuman”, the first book of Soule’s run. Now, there is an contingent of fans that have constantly criticized Marvel for trying to make the Inhumans more like Mutants. I’ve always felt it’s kind of a crap comparison (even if Marvel’s marketing didn’t help), but… yeah, the beginning of “Inhuman” is probably the closest that comparison could ring true. The Terrigen Mist traveled all over the world, awakening Inhumans to their power. A lot of them are confused and scared, but some of them would find safety and learning in New Attilan, a city built from the ruins of Old Attilan under the protection of Medusa, Black Bolt’s wife and Queen.

    Let’s get this out of the way. The first arcs of “Inhuman” introduce several characters and I do enjoy a good degree of them. It’s the little details here that always made me cock an eyebrow. First and foremost, those who awaken from the bomb are called “NuHumans”; I guess it’s an acknowledgment of their different origins from the Inhumans of Old Attilan but it always sit ill with me. On top of that, many of the new Inhumans take on “new names” but are really just codenames. Dante, Inferno (yes, it’s acknowledged in-universe as on the nose, shut up). Jason, Flint. Xiaoyi, Iso and so forth. There is some words about Inhumans taking new names post-terrigenesis… but they really don’t. “Black Bolt” is essentially a nickname for “Blackagar”, just like Medusa is one for “Medusalith”. It really came off as trying to force Inhumans into a superhero mold which they aren’t and I’m going to come back to this, but this run soared the most when it wasn’t trying to be superheroes.

    “Inhuman” also did a lot to build the wider world of Inhumanity. It piggybacked on the “Infinity”-introduced Inhuman tribe of Orrolon and expanded it, introducing characters from there such as Lash (who is not the superpowered evil side of some human, I don’t know what that is) and Reader, who perhaps has the most interesting power of the Inhumans introduced in this series. “Inhuman” also introduced us to Auran, chief of New Attilan’s security force, who surprisingly will be on ABC’s Inhumans show later this year, and introduced Ennilux, a kind of Inhuman City-State/Corporation in the style of the merchant princes of the Italian Renaissance. When it was introducing these new pieces of Inhuman history and seeing the struggle between the Old World and New World, that is when this book was at its best, with Queen Medusa trying to protect both parts. It all culminates in “Inhuman Annual” #1 where the newer Inhumans have to defend New Attilan from the treacherous Lineage.

    Continued below

    art by Timms, Poggi & D'Armata

    A King and Queen

    ”I did all these things and did them well. And you.. And you think you still have a throne?!”– Medusa to Black Bolt

    Let’s face it, one of the pillars of Inhumans as a franchise is the relationship between Black Bolt and Medusa. As such, Soule took them to some… interesting… places. The first act being essentially Medusa kicking Black Bolt out of his home. Which, let’s face it, he deserved. Medusa at the beginning of “Inhuman” is juggling a lot. She lost her home. Most of her people were scattered to the winds. There are now thousands of new Inhumans awakening without guidance. At this point, she thought Black Bolt was dead. Her son is missing (more on him later). So she is most certainly not going to let Black Bolt just waltz back in and sit the throne.

    Separating these two may have proven a bit controversial, but I was honestly all for it. Medusa’s anger makes perfect sense and it would give a chance for the characters to grow a bit on there own. And it’s one of those scenarios where you know they’ll get back together. Case in point: “Inhumans: Attilan Rising”. When “Secret Wars” came and destroyed the Marvel Universe and remade it under the guidance of God Emperor Doom, “Attilan Rising” was the stand-in book that Soule penned. I’m not going to talk about it much but it establishes two things. First, it introduces The Quiet Room, a supper club/intel gathering location which would carry over into the Post-”Secret Wars” world. Second, it establishes that no matter what, no matter the universe, Black Bolt and Medusa always find each other again.

    While Medusa had a good deal of development and Soule seemed to have a load of fun writing her, it always felt like he was a bit restrained with Black Bolt at times. I get it, he’s a very powerful character and trying to find challenges for him could be tricky. It always seemed like Black Bolt would be somehow incapacitated during a big fight. Sure, let the younger characters shine, but it felt a bit disappointing at times. Luckily, Soule was able to find a more mental/emotional challenge for the Once King…

    art by McNiven, Leisten & Gho

    The Midnight Prince

    ”Do you think this matters? One sentimental moment does not make up for everything you’ve missed.”– Ahura to Black Bolt

    Secret Wars. Everything Died. But Everything Returned. With it came a new book, “Uncanny Inhumans”. Queen Medusa is still trying to rebuild New Attilan. Black Bolt running the Quiet Room in his exile. Crystal is preparing a diplomatic mission that would be the premise for the “All-New Inhumans” spin-off. But there was an Inhuman that had been missing since the fall of Old Attilan. Someone very important to the royal family, Black Bolt and Medusa in particular: the Royal Prince, Ahura.

    I’ll be honest, Ahura is one of my favorite Inhumans and it has a lot to do with his potential. He sits as the child of two of the most powerful people in the Marvel universe and he was barely utilized since his introduction, heck a majority of his life he was essentially kept in the closest thing Attilan had to a mental facility. So, getting to see Ahura be a central figure in the first arc of “Uncanny” was something long overdue. The basic premise of the arc is that, when Black Bolt learned that he and his Illuminati buddies wouldn’t be able to stop the End of the Universe, he came to realization that he had to protect his son. So he gave used a sample of Terrigen Mist to begin Ahura’s Terrigenesis and gave Ahura to the one person that could protect him from the End.

    Kang the Conqueror.

    The deal was if Kang saved Ahura, then Ahura was his. Long-story-short, Everything Ended, But Didn’t. So, Black Bolt began his plan to get his son back. Having to work together again with Medusa (who he never told about giving their son to Kang, by the way) in a time travel quest for redemption and trying to do right by your kid.

    Continued below

    “Time Crush”, as it is called in paperback, is my favorite arc of Soule’s run. So much so that I wrote an article on how Soule averted the expected death of Ahura and making him an active participant in his own rescue. This arc also bestowed Ahura his terrigen-given ability to essentially remove pieces of his soul and use them for a variety of uses such as hard light clones, weaponry and even straight up possessing and implanting a subliminal command in order to protect Inhumanity from reprisal.

    And this isn’t the only thing Ahura would do. He’d use his powers to make his powerplay by essentially manipulating his way into taking control of Ennilux. It interesting for me because it put him in an interesting position to tell more stories and it seemed like a plot thread that would be important going forward.

    Yeah…

    art by Kuder, Leisten & Hollowell

    Marvel Be Marvel

    ”I am sick unto death of death.”– Medusa to Beast

    Okay, let’s talk about some of the downsides of this run… and how I’m not sure if I can really assign blame to the creative teams of the rest of the series. “Uncanny” introduced a lot of new pieces to the the Inhuman plate. It essentially retconned the Terrigen Mist to being deadly to Mutants (this is in spite of them being perfectly okay walking through it before “Secret Wars”), it introduced the Skyspears, nineteen structures that appeared all over the world and had weird effects on Inhuman powers, and it began setting the steps for “Inhumans vs. X-Men”.

    Kind of.

    I say “kind of” because any of the “setup” felt very tacked on and obligatory. Hank McCoy, Beast, joins the “Uncanny” cast to use New Attilan’s technology and knowledge of Terrigen to try and reverse the effects but after the first arc he really does fall into the background. There are the occasional talks about the tension between Inhumanity and Mutantkind but the book was far more interested in building its world (Which is fine by me. Those were the best parts).

    On top of that, Soule’s run was constantly being dragged into the events of “bigger” books. The tie-ins to “Axis” were some of the run’s weaker issues. The “Civil War II” tie-ins were better but those were only good in spite of “Civil War II” being one of the worst big event comics I have ever read. Finally, the run is going to see its conclusion with “Inhumans vs. X-Men”, an event that really no one asked for.

    If you’ve been reading my reviews with Jessica you may know that I am not the biggest fan of this story and a good chunk of it comes from the fact that it essentially interrupted stories I was more interested in and that will probably never be resolved now that Soule is leaving. That interesting and tenuous storyline between Black Bolt, Medusa and Ahura? Apart from a bit part in the “Civil War II” tie-ins and “IvX” #6, Ahura barely factors. The Skyspears, the other big introduction to “Uncanny”, one of the cornerstones of “All-New Inhumans” premise? We have no idea. They are never mentioned again after the second arc of “Uncanny”.

    It really seemed like a cross between Marvel wanting the Inhumans to be a bigger deal but lacking patience, their inability to just say “No” to a big hero vs. hero event book regardless of how much it would throw a run off its equilibrium and their refusal to do something other than “endangered species” with the X-Men. Because of that, you had an X-Men tenure where the general response has been utterly miserable and you have an Inhuman mythology you hobble before it could really grow. All for cheap short-term dollar.

    art by Silva, Di Benedetto & Tartaglia

    Conclusion

    ”For the first time I can remember… anything can happen.”– Medusa

    Charles Soule did with this property a lot more than I think anyone really expected. He introduced a whole slew of characters and really showed an effort to building the world of the Inhumans and I think, for the most part, he succeeded on it. I really really wish Marvel would showed a bit more restraint with the interference and allowed it to succeed on its own merits instead of trying to manipulate it into something it wasn’t nor should it be. It was always at its height when it was introducing concepts, playing with the science fiction genre (outside of “Time Crush”, the arc right before “IvX” involving a resurrected Auran is another highlight). One of its biggest flaws is that it never did (or never would be able to) follow up with some of those concepts and events, at least under this creative mind. It felt like there were more stories that wanted to be told, but had to be scrapped.

    Continued below

    I don’t know what the future holds. Al Ewing will be taking over as main Inhumans writer with Saladin Ahmed launching a “Black Bolt” solo series and Matthew Rosenberg reviving “Secret Warriors” with a mix of old and new Inhumans. There does seem to be an effort to return the Inhumans to a more isolationist form with a majority of the Royal Family going into space to discover the secrets of the Terrigen Crystals and I’m not sure how great an idea that will be. I called this article “About Change” because the Inhumans did change. The destruction of Attilan did cause a great shift in their mythology that couldn’t be taken back. It made a scenario where they couldn’t be isolationist anymore and had to change. Maybe they can continue exploring that. There doesn’t seem to be a book titled “Inhumans” in the Post-IvX world and there are several characters (Iso, Ahura, Reader, Frank McGee, Naja) that seem unaccounted for that could follow up on those changes. But that’s just me wishing.

    Charles Soule and the plethora of artists (including Joe Madureira, Ryan Stegman, Pepe Larraz, Steve McNiven, R.B. Silva and more) created an expansive sandbox for the Inhuman world and what is going to be dependent is how much of it is utilized from creators going forward. Terrigenesis was always about change and potential and there has always been a load of it. The run wasn’t perfect, there were some parts that never felt right, but on the whole, it was a really fun, really interesting experience while it lasted.


    Ken Godberson III

    When he's not at his day job, Ken Godberson III is a guy that will not apologize for being born Post-Crisis. More of his word stuffs can be found on Twitter or Tumblr. Warning: He'll talk your ear off about why Impulse is the greatest superhero ever.

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