Spencer: I can’t even begin to imagine how much fun Charles Soule is having with the Inhumans. Despite their decades-long existence as characters, Soule’s been able to rebuild their status quo within the Marvel Universe nearly from scratch; that’s an assignment full of amazing possibilities, but it’s also one that comes with a daunting level of responsibility. The amount of thought Soule has put into these characters’ place in their world (and how they’ve worked to define it) is clear throughout Uncanny Inhumans 5, which not only introduces a new layer to their society in the form of the Quiet Room, but then makes it explicit how this works to further their agenda.
Of course, “agenda” is probably a bit of a loaded word here, as the Inhumans’ primary “agenda” is simply surviving in a world predisposed towards hating them. Still, as befits savvy royals, Medusa and Black Bolt have a comprehensive, multi-tiered strategy for co-existence.
Like Soule himself, Medusa’s been tasked with rebuilding the Inhumans and finding a place for them to thrive within the Marvel Universe. That makes her the perfect mouthpiece for Soule, and through Medusa, he’s able to make his priorities for the Inhuman franchise — depicting their struggles to peacefully coexist with humans and mutants alike while also protecting their own — crystal clear. Perhaps even more importantly, he’s also able to highlight how all the major characters, organizations, and settings throughout his books exist to support that goal.
This gives the Inhumans a specific role within the Marvel Universe, but Soule seems primed to make that role a prominent one as well. Medusa and Bolt are preparing to take action against the Skyspears — what danger, exactly, these structures pose is still unclear, but what we do know is that their range reaches 99.99% of the Earth’s population. This puts the Inhumans dead-center in a crisis of global proportions. Whether that crisis becomes a line-wide event or simply a mega-sized arc within the Inhuman books, it creates an opportunity to place the Inhumans front-and-center in the Marvel Universe
Of course, that’s still a while off — the more immediate concern in Uncanny Inhumans 5 is introducing Black Bolt’s new digs, the Quiet Room. The Quiet Room is intended to be a neutral ground that anyone can use to hold meetings or resolve disputes in peace, with Black Bolt prepared to intervene should any of his guests step out of line. Soule demonstrates the Room’s purpose through three different scenarios: an Inhuman product launch, a supervillain poker game, and a press conference between two bitter, superpowered MMA rivals.
Each of these scenarios teeters just on the precipice of disaster, and sure enough, by the issue’s end each has reached a boiling point, requiring Black Bolt to step in and settle things. I’ll admit that throughout the entire issue I was wondering how exactly Bolt could keep an entire club under control — especially when he was so preoccupied with family affairs — but all my concerns washed away when I reached the issue’s final image:
Bolt’s cocky grin here just crackles with personality, and that’s vital; see, concepts, plans, and agendas are all well and good, but they won’t keep the audience’s interest if not backed by interesting characters. Fortunately, that’s something Soule understands, and thus he makes sure to fill Uncanny Inhumans with a varied, complex cast. Flagman immediately stands out, but most of my favorite moments came from his young charge, Ahura.
Ahura’s cutting teenage sarcasm is good for multiple laughs throughout the issue, but it also (just barely) masks his feelings of loneliness and isolation. Whether these can be attributed to teenage angst or his “complicated” family life is up for debate, but it makes for an amusing, complex, and sympathetic character.
Soule also gets considerable mileage out of the Medusa and Black Bolt’s relationship. They’re a very believable “separated” couple — they’re still uneasy around each other, but they’re nonetheless attempting to work together anyway in order to care for their children (in this case, both their literal son Ahura and the entire Inhuman race). Most impressively, Soule manages to suggest years of shared history between them in even the most mundane of moments.
Medusa is instantly able to understand the meaning behind Bolt’s simple smile. I don’t see how that expression indicates that he needed to try something new, but while I briefly considered that perhaps artist Brandon Peterson failed to convey something important here, it seems far more likely that Medusa’s just known Bolt so long that she can discern the meaning behind even the most obtuse of gestures and impressions. They were married for a long time, after all, and again, that comes through loud and clear in the writing.
Drew, that reminds me, this issue finds Peterson taking over art duties from Steve McNiven. Do you have any thoughts about his work? What was your take on the Quiet Room and the Inhumans’ place within the Marvel Universe? What do you think Flagman’s Inhuman abilities are? It’s gotta be something more than just looking like a scarecrow, right?
Drew: I bet it’s setting flags on fire (talkin’ ’bout hey now). But you left me with a lot of good questions, Spencer, so let’s walk back to Peterson’s work, first.
McNiven is a hard act to follow, but this isn’t the first time Peterson has been tasked with following a stellar artist on an epic series — dude was on deck for Bryan Hitch on Age of Ultron — and, as usual, he more than acquits himself. Indeed, swapping in colorist Java Tartaglia’s gorgeous modelling for McNiven’s obsessive (but equally gorgeous) hatching makes for a surprisingly smooth transition. Ultimately, the tone of this issue is so different from the previous five, the artist change feels perfectly natural anyway. Peterson makes some interesting choices — I probably would have gone with a frontal shot on that panel of Flagman and Ahura Spencer excerpted above — but they’re all perfectly clear.
Moreover, his detailed backgrounds might just hold some clues about this issue. Check out the thieves that steal the product that was meant to be launched in that meeting Spencer mentioned.
This comes immediately after learning that the product has been stolen. It’s an effective smash-cut, but introducing the thieves after the crime has been committed seems counter-intuitive. Only, they were actually introduced on page one. Pay attention to that well-dressed couple they don as a disguise in those last two panels. Now check them out milling in the crowd outside of the Quiet Room:
More importantly, Peterson gives us another glimpse of them in the audience of the product launch:
Obviously, there’s no way for us to suspect foul play before it happens — indeed, there’s no reason for us to even notice this couple until we already know they’re thieves — but hiding them in plain sight cues us into the details, rewarding us for paying attention. Moreover, it suggests that we might have already met the “client” they mention, too. Could Ennilux have staged this to hold something against Black Bolt? Could Medusa have staged this to keep anti-Inhuman technology from being released? Could Black Bolt have done it himself for the same reasons — perhaps coordinating the other mishaps to give him an excuse for letting the product get away? It could be none of the above, but the fact that Soule and Peterson go so out of their way to introduce these thieves before their reveal leads me to suspect that they might have already done the same for whoever is pulling the strings here.
Which actually brings me to Spencer’s second question about my take on the Quiet Room. Spencer, I find your reading of Medusa-as-Soule to be pretty compelling, but this issue left me much more impressed with its other expository device: Flagman’s tour of the Quiet Room. Readers of Inhumans: Attilan Rising will recognize the concept, but detailing its specific implementation is essential for understanding Black Bolt’s world. Ahura is a natural perspective character, having missed the last eight months, giving Soule a perfectly logical reason to offer a sampling of what goes on here. Only, these are actually set-ups for the problems Black Bolt no has to solve. Again, Soule hides them in plain sight, and each situation works as an indicator of the range of people and events that might make use of the Quiet Room, but they’re all in service of a bigger goal — we thought we were getting one kind of exposition, but it turned out to be another kind entirely. That’s just smart writing.
All of these elements come together to create a remarkably readable issue that is much, much more clever than it seems at first blush. These are exactly the kinds of twists I’ve come to expect of this series, yet that expectation never makes them any less surprising. I don’t doubt that Soule is having fun with this, but it’s possible we’re having even more.
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