By Ryan Mogge and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Ryan: Narration can be a crutch, a device used to add exposition where story cannot carry itself, the epitome of “show don’t tell.” However, when it’s done well, it can be fantastic. In Death of the Inhumans 1, the narration’s tone and point of view work in concert with the story as it unfolds. At times, it feels as though the visual and the narration are two paths that run alongside one another and intersect intermittently. They inform each other and create a balance that elevates both elements to something more nuanced and affecting.
The narration’s omniscience and grand tone keep it at an emotional distance from the events of the story. This is important because the events of this issue are pretty freaking dark. So dark that the murder of over 11 thousand Inhumans is just an hors d’oeuvrve. The entire issue would be a dirge if there weren’t some moments for escape. Black Bolt is in mourning from the first moment we see him and is thrown deeper and deeper into grief as we go.
The issue begins with the story of the first Inhumans. Immediately, we see the contrast between the dispassionate voice telling the story and the horror of the events. Writer Donny Cates and Artist Ariel Olivetti play it like a duet, the contributions of each working with and against each other to create meaning.
One panel shows the mutation of a poor caveman, tentacles growing out of his face as a result of the Kree’s experiments. There is no sentimentality to the narration as the intended roles for the Inhumans are laid out. The art adds another layer to this as we see Queens of the five tribes. Each carries herself with pride, stoicism and an aura of anger. These panels become even more powerful upon a second read when you know that before the end of the issue, four of these characters will be killed upon surrender and the fifth will beg her husband for death.
It’s also in this opening sequence that we get more overt foreshadowing. The Supreme Intelligence foretells that the fall of the Kree will be thanks to an Inhuman they call The Midnight King, and if there is any confusion, we get an image of Black Bolt’s face that lines up perfectly with his reaction to the murder of the Queens. In an issue that is really one gut punch after another, the prophecy is some security that Black Bolt will at least get his revenge. Of course, given how deeply he carries the losses so far, it may destroy him.
What is reiterated about Black Bolt in this story is how heavily each loss weighs on him. He carries a book with thousands of names written long hand to force him to acknowledge each of the dead. Vox is positioned as the opposite, he has no empathy, no humanity and no remorse. Meanwhile, we see Medusa urge her husband to bury the “good man” in order to act as King.
The narration gives us another moment of effective dissonance when formally introducing Vox.
He is referred to as a “gentleman” which creates a sense of unease given what we’ve seen him do. Vox seems unstoppable and shows no mercy. The narrator has the ability to give him such a title because the narrator doesn’t really care any more about the fates of these individuals than Vox does. It’s disquieting and ominous because it implies that this story won’t take care to protect our heroes and by extension, us as readers.
All of that anxiety comes to a head when we see Vox easily dispatch Maximus and Lockjaw. While the narration acknowledges that these are the losses that hurt the most for Black Bolt, they are also the two that signal to the reader that this is not a story about a team coming together to fight a common enemy or the promised war. Instead, we are at the beginning of a tale wherein a man has lost everything and now must seek revenge.
Patrick, it’s possible that I’m jumping the gun on the revenge thing. I mean, Black Bolt is too full of pain and too powerful not to destroy something, right? Or is this just hangover from having just watched John Wick and not being ready to see another dog die? What did you think of the issue?
Patrick: Oh, man. Hard to say that I liked this issue, but it certainly is impactful. Ryan, I don’t know how carefully you’ve been following the Inhumans in recent years, but I sorta came to Marvel comics on the eve of Infinity, which kicked off the whole NuHuman expansion. You didn’t mention one of the deaths that hit me the hardest – Flagman.
I’m savvy enough to put on my skeptic’s hat when a comic book starts killing off big characters like Triton, Maximus and Lockjaw (the aforementioned dog), but the inclusion of a relatively unknown character on that bodycount makes the whole thing less undoable. We’re currently living in an era between Avengers Infinity War and a movie that finds a way to reverse the damage done by Thanos, so I think we’re trained to distrust any outcome that wipes our heroes off the board entirely, but like, yeah, maybe Flagman’s gone forever.
And for me, that’s representative of a stopping of growth in the Inhuman corner of the Marvel universe. With the exception of Ms. Marvel, there haven’t really been any of the new generation of Inhumans to break through. (Yeah, yeah, I know Inferno just appeared in Marvel Rising Squirrel Girl / Ms. Marvel 1 — I love him, but Dante ain’t mainstream.) The tone of this series certainly suggest that we’re heading into a dark time for this mini-franchise.
I love all of Ryan’s notes about the narration in this issue. For as detached as it is, it’s certainly verbose, serving up a pot of word soup to describe how Black Bolt’s brevity is demonstrative of his communication skills. He is necessarily a man of few words — y’know, because any one of them might decimate a city — and even when he’s signing, he keeps his thoughts tight, evocative and to-the-point.
A lot of what he does communicate actually forces both the reader and the person he’s talking to to extrapolate quite a bit. Here, it’s the rhetorical “How can I?” Later he signs “Get back to the bridge. Brace for jump.” but he really means, “I’m going to desperately use the power I’m afraid to use to give us half a chance.” Olivetti has a tendency to draw these characters with sorta pouty lips, so more frequently than not, their mouths are closed, which sorta re-emphasizes this idea that our characters aren’t totally communicating. I mean, check out how quiet a page gets whenever the narration takes a break.
So naturally, Vox’s weapon is also his voice, and Olivetti seems to delight in unhinging that thing’s grotesque jaw, sliding its metallic lips out of the way, and letting holy hell explode from between its gnarled teeth.
Again, the narration guides us to value Vox’s precision in language. “That is enough!” can take down Maximus the Mad armed with a gun the size of Cloud’s buster sword. That’s an impressive display of the power of brevity. But lemme ask you this — is that briefer than “Go.”? I hope Ryan’s right, and that Black Bolt will be able to exact revenge, but I’m legitimately worried he’s going to be getting revenge for… well, the death of all the Inhumans.
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