adjective1. strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.
Patrick: In light of the recent nuking and un-nuking (or possibly re-nuking) of the Marvel Universe, readers are reasonably expecting some straightforward adventure storytelling. What better way to get back to the basics of these characters than by comfortably setting them in a familiar world? But writer Charles Soule seems to be after anything but “comfortable” — only two issues in and it looks like he just wiped most of the Inhumans out of existence. The series is possessed by this insane confidence, with little regard to how strange, mysterious or even unsettling it becomes. They’re not joking around when they call this thing “uncanny.”
The hook of the issue is that Ahura — Black Bolt and Medusa’s son — is being fostered by Kang and the Conqueror, and the pair have been tearing through history, eliminating important Inhumans from the time stream. In the present, that means that modern-day Inhumans start to disappear, and not gradually like in Back to the Future. Kang and Ahura’s victims disappear all at once, as does any memory that they ever existed. The first occurence of this is poor, doomed Gorgon. The dude’s already suffering from Lineage’s attack back in the previous Inhumans series and he remarkably just pops out of existence mid-conversation. Artist Steve McNiven graciously shows us the corresponding events in the past that cause this to happen, and the non-ceremony that accompanies Gorgon’s disappearance is some of the most effective comedy in the issue.
Even with that consistent two-shot of Reader and Johnny, I didn’t notice Gorgon’s absence in that third panel. Or maybe I did, but my mind subconsciously filled in the necessary information. He could have gotten up or McNiven could have made a continuity error or something. It didn’t seem like a thing worth noticing at the time — especially when there’s so much death and destruction in the second and fourth panels. So when Beast “Wait. Oh, no.” on the next page, it serves as some genuine insight that not only needs to be shared with the rest of the characters in the war room, but also with the reader.
And of course Beast has to be around for something like that. If there’s one character in the Marvel Universe that’s qualified to speak on messing with the space-time continuum, it’s Beast. The X-Men so frequently get wrapped up in time-travel shenanigans, that it only seems right that the Inhumans would borrow their “Uncanny” adjective for a time-travel story. Does it make sense that Beast is able to remember Gorgon? Not really, but there’s no way to tell this story without a guide, and his history with pulling the original X-Men into the present makes him more of an invested participant that impartial exposition-machine. There’s also a palpable tension between Beast and everyone else at the table, which grants so much more character to his explanation of what’s going on.
Soule also takes the opportunity to raise of what I assume are his own concerns about the NuHumans, many of whom he created. With all of the wrinkles in continuity, one could imagine those new characters getting relegated to supporting roles, or simply retconned out of existence. Since his first appearance, I’ve been saying that Inferno is a kind of work-around to have Human Torch in this universe without actually using the Human Torch. Whatever might motivate that substitution, it does seem weird to have both Johnny and Dante in the same series, right? Outside of telepaths, how frequently do these superhero teams contain more than one character with the same powerset? And hey, I like Dante as much as the next guy — probably more — but what do we need him for with the Human Goddamned Torch around?
So it was momentarily heartening when Johnny swings by Grid and Inferno with the intent of spiriting them back to the paradox-free bubble. That’s a way of acknowledging that those are characters that someone cares about, so they’re worth keeping around. But Johnny’s fears are realized — just realized by Johnny — when he gets back up to the war room.
That’s all so good and so weird. And it also connects to the main goal of the series, which is to legitimize the Inhumans as a viable group to tell stories about. Obviously, New Atillan can’t stay erased forever, so our heroes are going to restore these ancillary Inhumans to the page, effectively saving them from retconned.
Michael, how are you feeling about our Uncanny In-brothers? I’m impressed by how quickly this issue establishes the time travel wankery and accelerates to totally insanity by issues’ end. I mean, stumbling into an aged Ahura wearing Kang’s uniform in a desert wasteland is a pretty wild capper on an already wild story. Did it lose you at all, or were you on board with all of this monkey business?
Michael: I am very much a newbie to the realm of the Inhumans, but I actually found myself following along with Uncanny Inhumans 2 pretty well. So from an outsider’s perspective, Soule does a good job at assigning and maintaining each character’s individual role within the structure of this time travel caper. I found myself raising an eyebrow at Beast’s ability to recognize alterations to the time stream, but like Patrick I realize that it’s a necessary evil to have in a story like this. Time travel stories are tricky that way, aren’t they? One would think that Kang and Ahura’s tampering with the past would completely overwrite Black Bolt and co.’s existence in the present, but then there’s really no conflict. I think the kind of story where Kang irrevocably changes the Inhumans’ history without their knowledge is a worthwhile story, but more of a depressing story — a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“Time travel logic” aside, we need Beast and his fancy plot-device-wrist-watch to move the story along. Instead of simply wiping out Black Bolt and the Inhumans in one fell stroke, Kang has Ahura surgically remove parts of Inhuman history piece by piece. The folly of Kang is the same as many other comic book villains — they refuse to go for the easy kill and instead make things incredibly complicated. The prevailing notion for this kind of action is that they don’t just want the hero dead, but they want him/her to suffer. If we’re to assume that Kang’s very meticulous plan is meant to make Black Bolt suffer, then he’d have to somehow anticipate that Black Bolt would be in the position to be attacked in such a temporal manner. Though Kang is a time travel master, I find it hard to believe that he’d count on such an off chance; but similar to time travel logic, “comic book logic” falls apart under intense scrutiny, so whatever. Then again I could be completely off the mark and Black Bolt’s suffering is just an added bonus for Kang.
There is something so satisfyingly devious when a villain raises the hero’s son — it’s pretty much a trope at this point but I’m still on board. Kang didn’t kidnap Ahura however; Black Bolt willingly gave him up as a means to save the boy’s life at the assumed end of existence. Taking Ahura and warping him into a weapon that is redirected toward his own father is one of the evilest of evils. At the end of the issue (when he is old man Kang Ahura) Ahura recognizes Black Bolt as his father, so we can assume that Kang never lied to Ahura about his lineage. The fact that Ahura agrees to not only fuck with Black Bolt but also to systematically undo the entire Inhuman line is pretty dark. If they do indeed erase all Inhuman lineage I would assume that Kang had somehow built some kind of safeguard so Ahura would still exist, right? Because if the Inhumans never existed, then Ahura would never be born to go back in time and erase the Inhumans from existence… ah the time travel ouroboros.
Soule weaves a very engaging tale that doesn’t put its head too far up its own ass. I know the basics of Black Bolt (he talks, shit goes down) but it was nice to have the Inhumans paired up with characters like Johnny Storm and Beast, who I’m more familiar with. If Soule’s mission is to place the Inhumans right in the thick of the action alongside other mainstays, it’s a smart move to pepper in some Fantastic Four, X-Men and an Avengers villain to boot.
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