The Inhumans have long since been on the drawing board for injection into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Originally, these off world enhanced humans were planned to have their own movie, at one point being on the books for a 2018 release. However, not long after the announcement of a film, Marvel revised their schedule and removed The Inhumans from its slate altogether. For a while, word on The Inhumans in the MCU was null, seemingly reading that Marvel didn’t quite know what to do with the characters/property. Much to the surprise of fans, it was announced this week that an Inhumans television series will be coming to ABC with the first two episodes premiering exclusively in IMAX commercial theaters in 2017.
So who are the Inhumans? Out of the endless crowds of guys and gals in funny outfits, what makes them ripe for television?
The Inhumans were introduced during one of the most creatively rich periods of early Marvel: during the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run of Fantastic Four. Within a few issues of The Inhumans’ introduction, equally memorable and enduring characters like Black Panther, Silver Surfer, and Galactus saw their premiere on Earth 616.
Fantastic Four #45 was the first time The Inhumans were seen as a group , (though individual members Medusa and Gorgon were introduced earlier), after FF horn-dog Johnny Storm followed The Inhuman known as Crystal to her family’s hideout.
The Inhumans are a super-powered off-shoot of humanity. In the distant past, while the aliens from 2001 were leaving black obelisks for cave people, the Kree (blue guys, you saw them in Guardians of the Galaxy) recognized the potential in early humans and altered them, hoping to use them as weapons against their enemies the Skrulls. Once their potential was realized, however, The Inhumans refused to be mere pawns of their alien benefactors.
Like the X-Men and the mutants who fill their ranks, all adult Inhumans have super powers which often bring with them strange physical mutations like scaled skin, hooves instead of feet, tentacles instead of eyes, or, well, there’s the one guy who’s basically a dog.
Unlike the X-Men, The Inhumans aren’t really a super-hero team. The Inhumans are essentially their own race. They have their own home: the City of Attilan which has moved numerous times. At one point Attilan was on the Moon, and earlier it was in the Himalayas. The Inhumans have their own culture, their own customs, and their own rigid caste system.
Their king is Black Bolt, one of the most powerful heroes of Marvel, having gone toe-to-toe more than once with powerhouses like the Hulk and Thor. Black Bolt transforms energy into strength, speed, and flight, but the power that tends to define him is his nuclear option: his voice. If Black Bolt speaks even a whisper, it unleashes a ridiculously destructive wave of energy. Basically, if the guy walked into your living room and whispered “hi,” he’d probably knock you through the wall, blow out all your windows and totally destroy your flat screen and any gaming consoles. If he said, “Yo, what’s up,” in a normal voice, you would just explode and your home would probably collapse on top of him, but he’d be totally fine. If he yelled “Yo, BRAH!” you would just instantly liquefy and your town would collapse into the earth.
The characters who make up the Inhuman royal family are usually the ones who are considered more or less the heroes of The Inhumans. There’s Black Bolt’s wife and queen Medusa (crazy hair), Crystal (elemental control), Triton (fish dude), Gorgon (hooves), Karnak (little martial arts guy with a big head), Lockjaw (the teleporting dog) and more. Black Bolt’s nemesis is his jealous kinda Loki-ish brother, Maximus the Mad.
After their first appearance in Fantastic Four, there have been numerous attempts to bring The Inhumans to the forefront of Marvel. They were featured for a while in Amazing Adventures, had their own back-up feature in Thor, and continued to appear as peripheral characters in other series, most notably Fantastic Four. Inhumans Crystal and Medusa have both enjoyed brief stints as members of FF in fact, and Crystal was married for years to Quicksilver of the Avengers. There have been a few shots at Inhumans series, including one by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee from the late nineties that updated the look of many of the characters and won the prestigious Eisner Award for Best New Series.
More recently, Marvel saw an event called Inhumanity in which the Terrigen Mists – the substance that gives The Inhumans their powers – were released on Earth and lots of civilians who had no idea they shared ancestry with The Inhumans suddenly sprouted brand spankin’ new super powers.
So why these guys? What potential does Marvel Studios see in them that they don’t see elsewhere in their long list of franchises?
Well, The Inhumans have already been the main focal point on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since its second season – well, not The Inhumans as referenced above but earthbound humans that have been exposed to Terrigan Mist and turned into Inhumans. Now in its fourth season, the show has even promoted an Inhuman, Jeffrey Mace a.k.a. The Patriot, to head the new iteration of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In a grander scope, one of the possible pushes for Inhuman in Marvel’s TV/Movie-verse is in one of the franchises that Marvel Studios can’t do anything with: The X-Men. The Inhumans and the X-Men have a lot of things in common. They are both separated from the larger family of humanity and both are groups of people defined by either being born with super powers or with the potential for super powers (Inhumans do not develop their powers until they come of age and are exposed to the Terrigen Mists). They both have the outsider/rebel vibe that makes Wolverine and His Amazing Friends so popular. So Marvel likely sees it as a way at making money off the X-Men without needing to use the X-Men, or more accurately using the same concepts that made the X-Men popular. This is something they’ve already explored in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with transformed humans chased down and hunted first by the government and now more recently sub terrorist groups set to forcibly remove enhanced humans from the populace because they’re “dangerous”.
Though there is the question of how to make The Inhumans themselves appealing to a wider audience. One of the weaknesses of the franchise is part of what makes it unique: they’re not really superheroes, they’re just people who happen to have powers and as such, they have no more fallible halves with whom to relate. No secret identities. There are no Peter Parkers among the Inhumans. No Clark Kents. The character most closely associated with the franchise – Black Bolt – almost never speaks (and when he does, it’s usually in order to liquefy someone). Telling the story through his point of view would be difficult.
Circling back to relatability. While their ancestry comes from humans, they’re so far removed they might as well be aliens, cemented by the fact they have a whole culture and class onto themselves. Their whole shtick is the equivalent of watching a Star Trek episode from the perspective of an alien race. Interesting, yes. Relatable. No.
Now, an argument can be said that that, if Marvel can get away with, for example, making Guardians of the Galaxy which featured a bipedal tree and a talking gun-toting raccoon, they could make anything work. All the fun characters and otherworldly happenings in GOTG, however, only worked because of ONE thing, that thing being a person – Starlord. His character, a “human” plucked from earth served as the vehicle in which to bring relatable humanism (and well-placed pulp culture references) to otherworldly beings. Director James Gunn did a great job of humanizing all the characters, but take Starlord out of the movie and would audiences care as much about all these other aliens and their problems even if most of them looked human? Maybe, but not likely. Another great thing GOTG did, was that it brought a team of misfits – groupings of different people/aliens – together learning to put aside their differences and share a common goal. That’s a concept people can connect and ride along with.
The Inhumans. They’re sectioned off from humanity and they’re already a team. They’re biggest plot device is that they are a family and “you don’t mess with family!” While that’s a strong basis to build a film/show around, it’s someone else’s family that are elsewhere and completely out of touch with the rest of us. It’s like real life, the American populace for example generally doesn’t care so much about problems happening overseas, namely the Middle East, what with it being so far away and the culture being so radically different. The more foreign something is, the more people are averse to it.
In order from The Inhumans to work, it needs a Starlord – a human character the audience can live vicariously through before they can buy into the weird world where a teleporting dog, hoofed half man and a scaly fish dude are cool.
It seems likely that Marvel will have to find a character with a foot in both worlds: the Inhuman world and the more mundane one. A good choice might be Crystal. As mentioned previously, in the comics Crystal has arguably spent more time among humans than the rest of her family, and has generally seemed less outright xenophobic than her Inhuman brethren. She married Quicksilver, had love affairs with Johnny Storm, and has been a member of both Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Of course, Quicksilver is dead in the MCU and Fantastic Four are a FOX property, so yeah…
Now, Marvel has already done some great ground work with the development of Agents of Shield‘s Daisy into the seismic powered Quake and the rest of earthly transformed Inhumans. They’ve been outed. They’re being hunted. Where do they go, where can they hide? Where can they be accepted? To Attilan and in the welcoming home of Black Bolt and his ilk. The Inhumans from AOS and the off world Inhumans from Attilan are, by all accounts, extended family. Ties that bind, right? Not only does that potentially give way to the introduction of Black Bolt and the rest of The Inhumans but it means a clash of cultures and ideals. That’s where things could get really interesting…
Imagine being of Indonesian descent but raised completely in America, and some extreme cause (let’s say a Trump Presidency) forces you back to Indonesia. Buckle up Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Learning to adjust, well, it’s a two-way street. Black Bolt and most of the citizens of Attilan and their attitudes towards earth humans are weary at best. That viewpoint offers a harsh but honest commentary on mankind. The Inhumans of Earth, while pushed and kicked and exposed to the worst of humanity, are only physically different, they’re still the same people they were before their transformation – that is, human in spirit. Having their Attilan forefathers be judgy c*nts ain’t gonna fly. Basically, this AOS and Inhumans crossover, assuming the two shows are intertwined (they would have to, otherwise all the groundwork on AOS would be a waste) would be like that Star Trek Enterprises series with Scott Bakula – with Earth’s Inhumans being the crew of the Enterprise and the off world Inhumans being the superior and kind of disapprovingly dickish Vulcans. What the two can learn from each other, now, that’s what interesting!
ABC certainly has its work cut out in making for a relatable show. It all comes down to just how human the Inhumans actually are or learn to be. Even though they’re different and consciously/purposely distance themselves from lower, less understanding, and fearful cousins, they’re really not that much different. If the show plays with the message of “We are more alike than we are unalike” it could make for a much more interesting dynamic/examination that one might have going into this show. Certainly something audiences need to see on TV, even if the message is coming across from fictional superheros.