Inhuman is a promising new series, but with a rapidly growing cast it’s starting to feel overstuffed.
The newest ongoing ensemble series from Marvel is trying to do so many things at once, it struggles to give them all a place in the spotlight. As Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, works to rebuild New Attilan and lead her people, new Inhumans in need of guidance and help are appearing all over the world, giving a “gotta-catch-em-all” feeling to the book. Balancing the world of New Attilan with a growing cast of new characters puts a big strain on the series, which is most obvious in issue #4.
The Inhumans are genetically modified humans, created millions of years ago by the Kree. The first three issue arc of Inhuman introduced the Nuhumans, people who had Inhuman DNA but didn’t know it, and have now been exposed to Terrigen Mist, causing their powers to awaken. Black Bolt, the currently missing-in-action King of the Inhumans, detonated a Terrigen Bomb to save Earth from Thanos in the Infinity event. That bomb produced a cloud of Terrigen Mist that is now making its way around the globe, causing anyone with enough Inhuman DNA to enter a cocoon and transform in a process known as Terrigenesis. In issues #1-3, we learned that Black Bolt’s plan had a second purpose – to create more Inhumans in order to protect Earth against an unnamed new threat.
The fourth issue of Inhuman tells two largely unrelated stories. First, Thor has come to New Attilan, home to the Inhuman Empire led by Medusa, and ends up in the middle of an assassination attempt. Second, a mysterious man called The Reader rescues Xiaoyi, a Chinese girl who recently underwent Terrigenesis, from the Chinese military. The two stories are tangentially related by themes of choice, but the juxtaposition comes off as jarring. Writer Charles Soule is trying to tell interesting stories about New Attilan and Medusa’s struggles to restore her kingdom, but also to rapidly fill a stable with new characters, each in need of origin stories, personalities and motivations. Each issue, including this one, brings in at least one new character and origin story.
Inhuman‘s cast has ballooned, with several Nuhumans joining Medusa and her royal court over the first three issues. Lineage, a Nuhuman whose demonic look just screams foreshadowing, appears in the Issue #2 claiming to know Black Bolt’s plan. His power gives him vast knowledge, connecting him to memories of many past Inhumans. Inferno, a young musician whose Terrigensis granted him the power to engulf himself in flame, joins up with Medusa when she saves him from Lash, another new character. Lash is an Inhuman who distrusts Medusa, and he is actively gathering Nuhumans that he deems worthy in the ruined city of Orollan. Those Nuhumans he deems unworthy are killed. Lash has brought several Nuhumans to Orollan, including Grove, Mother Bones, and Korvostax, a young man with the power to manipulate and move rocks. Korvostax joined Medusa after she confronted Lash about his killing of Nuhumans and forbid further deaths.
In Inhuman #4, we meet Xiaoyi. Like all the other new characters introduced so far, Xiaoyi has a traumatic past. Her parents had hoped for a boy, and now Xiaoyi’s transformation has brought the army down on their quaint little home. It seems like people with supportive families and few hardships don’t carry Inhuman DNA. The Reader, her savoir, is another new character, a mysterious man who can manipulate time. With the story so tightly packed with introductions, we hardly get to see the personalities of these new Inhumans. It’s not sloppy, but it’s dense, and issue #4 in particular feels a contrived. This book feels frenetic, and the jumps between the two stories don’t do much other than breaking up the narrative.
It’s Medusa who carries the core story of Inhuman #4, and the story is solidly grounded by her. Faced with three traitors, Nuhumans who tried to kill her, Medusa decides how she will handle those who don’t want to be part of her growing city of Inhumans. Medusa is the most interesting character in the series so far. She is a confident, compassionate, and powerful royal leader when meeting with outsiders, rebuilding her city, and dealing with assassins, but also privately anguished over the disappearance of her partner and King, Black Bolt. Medusa only shows her grief when in the company of trusted advisors, choosing her public words about Black Bolt very carefully. The sudden arrival of an old nemesis with an unusual proposal at the end of the issue sets up a very interesting conflict between Medusa’s role as a Queen and her personal life.
Issue #4 also brings in a new artist, Ryan Stegman, with a sharper style that gives the book a grittier look than the first three issues drawn by Joe Madureira. Stegman’s art style is similar to Madueira’s but his panel layouts step back further from the action, giving a larger sense of scale particularly in Xiayo’s story. Color artist Marte Garcia, who has worked on all four issues, helps maintain the feeling of continuity despite the change in artist.
While Marvel hasn’t confirmed rumors of an Inhumans movie, Inhumans have definitely moved into the comics spotlight. The Infinity and Inhumanity crossover events, and now the Inhuman ongoing series have all increased the visibility of this part of the Marvel Universe. The Inhumans have been around since 1965, appearing in Fantastic Four #45 (though Inhuman Royal Family members Medusa and Gorgon appeared even earlier). It makes sense that Marvel wants to further develop the Inhumans now, as a potential tie-in to the Cinematic Universe. With the X-Men held by Fox, the Inhumans means that Marvel bring characters to the big screen with fantastic, inborn powers while nimbly sidestepping the word “mutant”.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for something with solid standalone stories, Inhuman isn’t your series. If you want to stick with the world of the Nuhumans, check out Ms. Marvel, who was recently confirmed to be an Inhuman. If you want to get in the ground floor of a brand new team of heroes, and you don’t mind Marvel pulling out the classic comic tropes to keep you picking up issues (mysterious new characters, huge ensemble cast, vague unknown threats), Inhuman will deliver. The series is going through growing pains right now, gathering and explaining its new cast of heroes, but the premise is solid and Medusa keeps it all together.
Recommendation: Once all the introductions are done, Inhuman has all the parts it needs to be a great superhero book. Until then, it’s a little shaky, but Medusa will keep me coming back.