Mark: Black Bolt is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He, Triton, and Reader travel back 13,000 years to Attilan in hopes of retrieving Black Bolt’s son and heir Ahura. But in doing so Black Bolt breaks his word to Kang the Conqueror, and Kang doesn’t take very kindly to the betrayal. He transports the Inhumans to an island where a hydrogen bomb is about to be dropped, and then beams in some dinosaurs and WWI troops for good measure. You do not want to cross Kang the Conqueror. And if that weren’t bad enough, moments after Reader is able to get them back to their time by the skin of his teeth, Black Bolt walks in on Medusa making out with the Human Torch. Today is just not Black Bolt’s day.
Author Charles Soule is promoting Uncanny Inhumans as a book about Black Bolt. While other characters obviously feature — Medusa is of course here and Soule promises she is a critical player in getting this first arc rolling — this is supposed to be a book whose main focus is on the big BB. I have to admit that the limited focus is appealing to me. Marvel’s previous premiere Inhuman title, the aptly named Inhuman, never really clicked for me. I just never cared that much about the problems of New Attilan, and only a few of the NuHumans ever made an impact. For every NuHuman I dig, like Reader, there’s a Dante. It’s not even that Dante was a bad character, it’s more that he felt (especially at the beginning) so much like a poorly concealed Human Torch replacement to be ridiculous.
It’s well known that in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Inhumans are going to take the place of X-Men and the pesky “M-words” that Marvel licensed to 20th Century Fox years ago. If the rumors are true, Marvel as a corporation is doing everything they can to strangle the Fox properties’ comic books and leave them a mere memory in readers’ minds. How pleasantly odd, then, to see both Hank McCoy, aka Beast (a mutant!), and Johnny Storm (a member of the Fantastic Four!) show up this issue. Does this mean that all the rumors of corporate sabotage are just rumors? Or does Charles Soule have enough sway to write whatever he wants— corporate mandates be damned?
Uncanny Inhumans 1 is a promising start. In an interview given when the series was announced, Soule explains that:
…I think the “Uncanny” books (whether you’re talking X, or Avengers, or wherever else it might be used) contain a certain type of anything-goes storytelling. Uncanny, in my mind, really means “not the same old thing,” and that’s this book all over. It’s big, it’s brash, and it takes no prisoners.
Soule’s set himself up for a challenge basing a book around a main character who’s famously a man of few words, but it’s one that I think will be beneficial to Black Bolt (and the Inhumans as a franchise) going forward. Who is Black Bolt and why does he matter today? What do Inhumans have to say that can’t be done in an X-Men book? It’s a lot to ask, but with Inhumans so firmly entrenched (in my mind anyway) in the shadow of their Mutant brothers, it’s a question worth answering. What’d you think, Spencer?
Spencer: I agree with you, Mark, that this is a promising first issue, and I also agree that it’s worth exploring the differences between the Inhumans and the X-Men. True or not, the rumors you mentioned about the two franchises are too prominent to be ignored, so I think Soule makes a smart decision to feature Hank McCoy and put the conflict between the mutants and the Inhumans front and center — he could be dismissing the rumors or simply adding fuel to the fire, but it’s something that needed to be acknowledged one way or the other.
Thanks to Uncanny Avengers, we know that Terrigen is apparently harmful to mutants; Uncanny Inhumans further explores that narrative by letting us know that Cyclops, as he is wont to do, tried to take down the Inhumans because of it. Painting mutants as the aggressors certainly plays into certain conspiracy theories, but considering that they’re the ones dealt the bum end of this deal, I can’t blame them for being angry. More importantly, though, this conflict gives Soule the opportunity to demonstrate that Medusa is a just ruler, concerned with the safety of both her people and the Mutants who may attack her. She’s prepared to address any threat, but she doesn’t want conflict, and she’s “sick to death of death.”
From what we see of New Attilan throughout Uncanny Inhumans 1, one of the things that separates the franchise from the X-Men is the way the world views them, and much of that might just boil down to some smart P.R. on Medusa’s behalf.
Establishing a middleman between the humans and Inhumans is a genius idea, but even smarter is the choice of liaison; the Fantastic Four are (were?) the Marvel Universe’s most trusted and beloved heroes, so of course recruiting Johnny Storm to the position will give the Inhumans some good spin!
Perhaps even more importantly, though, Johnny seems to be Medusa’s new paramour, and as the story’s final scene shows, that creates some serious friction between her and Black Bolt. Johnny is just the tip of the iceberg, though; things were already rough between this estranged couple long before he “flame on-ed” his way into Medusa’s heart. As far as I know, Medusa hasn’t seen her husband since he unleashed the Terrigen bomb and destroyed their home. Medusa had to take over his Kingly duties during one of the Inhumans’ most trying hours — of course she’d be more frustrated by his return than happy. He put her through a lot.
I’m legitimately eager to see how their conflict plays out, especially since there’s no clear “right” or “wrong” side to it. Medusa’s been forced to become a strong leader, and no doubt doesn’t want to give that up, but Black Bolt did what he felt like he had to do to save his people. Despite Black Bolt’s lack of speech — and despite having to use Triton as a mouthpiece for the Midnight King’s motives — Soule does a fantastic job of showing us just what kind of man he is. Bolt is a King, husband, and father who cares deeply, but who only seems to take action in the form of grand, irreversible gestures, and now he has to deal with the consequences of some questionable decisions. Neither player here is a “designated” bad guy, which means that there’s no predicting how things will play out.
That’s a refreshing direction for Soule to take Uncanny Inhumans in, especially when you factor Medusa and Black Bolt’s romantic history into the equation. There may be opposing philosophies behind the two rulers, but those philosophies are complicated by their romantic entanglements, their children together, and their obligation to their people, whether those Inhumans/NuHumans consider themselves inhabitants of New Attilan or not. Medusa and Black Bolt aren’t Professor X and Magneto, and those kind of details more than anything are what separates the Inhumans from the X-Men — and makes them a compelling property in their own right — despite all their similarities.
Steve McNiven’s art also does an excellent job differentiating Black Bolt’s world from Medusa’s. Medusa and her Inhuman companions are depicted with cleaner lines — they’re smooth, shiny and pretty. Black Bolt, Triton, and Reader, meanwhile, are depicted in a much more sketchy, detailed, “gritty” style.
The dog aside, these are some gnarled, “manly” looking men — it’s like they stepped right out of a Western, and that kind of weathered appearance is much more fitting for Bolt’s harried troupe than Medusa’s more superheroic guardians. It’s instantly clear what sort of lives both sides have been living, and that makes for some concise, clear storytelling.
If Uncanny Inhumans 1 has a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t quite feel like a first issue. There’s a lot of backstory about Black Bolt and Medusa’s relationship, the events of Infinity and the previous volume of Inhumans, the identities of and relationships between Medusa’s Inhuman guards (Inferno, Flint, etc.), and the Inhumans in general that wouldn’t be clear to a reader with no prior experience with the franchise — heck, I am familiar with the franchise and I still don’t understand Reader’s powers. Still, in general, Soule does a fantastic job of doling out the bare essential amount of necessary information without ever making it feel like exposition.
Moreover, any uncertainties this issue does leave lingering feel more inviting than off-putting. I think much of that has to do with the back-up story, which opens the world of the Inhumans to far more than just the royal drama of Medusa and Black Bolt. Soule makes it clear that he has a lot of plates in the air, that he’s willing to take the book in any direction (and genre) he needs to to explore the lives of these characters, and I think that makes readers a lot more willing to just go along for the ride instead of worrying about understanding every little detail. It’s clear that Soule plans to follow up on even the smallest details of life in New Attilan, and that however he chooses to do so, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. That’s worth sticking around for.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?