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Marvel is making an Inhumans movie and now you’re wondering who the hell they are. Wonder no more: here’s your crash course.

So. If you’ve even a passing interest in superheroes, sci-fi or blockbuster movies in general you probably saw that Marvel Studios has revealed its planned next four years of movies – collectively known as Phase 3. The roster included plenty of titles folks were expecting (Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of The Galaxy 2,) plus a few people had been seriously hoping for (Captain Marvel Black Panther.) But there was also a head-scratcher: The Inhumans, slated for 2018.

The Inhumans? Really?

As Marvel characters go, they’re really only “superheroes” in as much as they have special powers, exist in the Marvel Universe and know other superheroes socially. The Inhumans are both very easy to explain in the short term but very difficult to summarize in the longer term.

Basically, they’re a race of humanoids, most of whom have superhuman abilities (and, occasionally, monster-like physical appearances) that lead to them being ostracized by a wary “normal” humanity. How does that make them different from Mutants like the X-Men? Well… The Inhumans’ backstory is ancient, more complicated and involves aliens. They live as a separate race from humanity in various secret-civilizations rather than attempting to integrate (for the most part). But beyond that? They’re actually not all that different. There are good ones and bad ones, they angst over their powers and their stories generally involve interpersonal relationships and group-politics. It’s just that whereas X-Men character-drama inevitably defaults to Boarding School soap-opera, Inhumans is more like Game of Thrones in rainbow spandex.

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Longer Version? Well, okay – you asked for it.

Here’s the thing: When The Inhumans were first introduced as supporting characters in The Fantastic Four, things were relatively simple. They were a lost race of alternately-evolved humanoids (their ancestors were Cro-Magnon humans experimented on by aliens) living on Earth with superpowers, who hid from the outside world and frequently jockeyed over leadership issues. Big idea stuff for what was still considered kid’s fare at the time, but manageable.

However, not long after that, the Marvel Universe started to go big on cosmic/outer-space storylines, and The Inhuman’s ultra-malleable alien origins and presence on Earth made them a go-to place for tying the cosmic-stories to the street-level stories. This became especially common after ancient astronaut theory-devotee (and Inhumans co-creator) Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the 1970s with his ambitious series The Eternals. Originally, The Eternals aimed to stay mostly separate from the rest of the company’s continuity, but soon found itself being used for connective tissue by other cosmic-minded Marvel niches – primarily The Inhumans.

So by now, Inhumans History goes something like this: Millions of years ago, an alien race called The Kree (you met them in Guardians of The Galaxy) decided to muck around with a population of primitive humans on prehistoric Earth, hoping to create a race of warriors they could enslave and put to use. (They’d been drawn to Earth because they’d noticed The Celestials and The Skrulls poking around, already.)

Eventually, a number of those beings subjected to experiments by The Kree escaped, only to find themselves shunned by humans who had evolved on a more conventional path. Roughly 7,000 years ago, these “Inhumans” ultimately founded their own secret city, Attilan, where they could live beyond the persecution of normal humans. During this period, they learned to harness a gaseous element called The Terrigen Mist by which they were able to further alter the mutations introduced into their DNA by The Kree. However, this experimentation led to a rise in genetic deformities, leading The Inhumans to arrange their society into a selectively-bred caste system to mitigate the long-term damages.

In modernity, The Inhumans and Attilan’s existence was gradually exposed to the world at large following an encounter with The Fantastic Four, who became caught-up in an attempted coup against the reigning Royal Family by a treacherous interloper. Since then, they’ve been dragged (usually against their will) into just about every major conflagration the Marvel Universe has gotten into. Exactly what their role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be can’t possibly be known at this time, especially since the studio has apparently nixed to notion of using debut features for origin stories. It’s looking like the “idea” of The Inhumans will be introduced well before they get their own movie. More on that in a bit, though. For now…

So who are they?

Well, there are close to 200 (probably more) “named” Inhumans in the Marvel Universe, but most of the drama tends to surround the Royal Family – so it’s likely that they’ll be the main folks we’re likely to meet in the movies. They include:

BLACK BOLT

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Full name: “Blackagar Boltagon” (yeah, it’s one of those series…) The King of The Inhumans. Along with general superhuman abilities, he’s gifted/cursed with a voice so loud that even a whisper can level a city block. As such, he seldom speaks and has an (reeeeaaaaaallllly “emo”) powerful-yet-vulnerable leader thing going on (watch them go for a sad-eyed prettyboy for this part.)

LOCKJAW

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Lockjaw has the power to teleport himself and others in his immediate vicinity anywhere in the world instantly. Lockjaw is also The Inhuman Royal Family’s pet – a slobbery English Bulldog roughly the size of a small car.

MEDUSA

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Medusa is Black Bolt’s wife, Medusalith Amaquelin Boltagon. And also his cousin. That’s “okay” in Attilan, apparently. She has hair-powers. Did you see Tangled? Yeah, like that.

CRYSTAL

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Crystal is Medusa’s sister, and her powers mainly involve controlling the four basic elements of nature. She’s otherwise human-looking. Catching the romantic attentions of The Human Torch is what led to her civilization being discovered in the first place, because a surprising number of early Fantastic Four stories featured “Johnny Storm’s boner” as the inciting incident.

KARNAK

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Karnak is a martial-arts master with a very silly hat. He has the ability to innately sense the weakest point of any opponent or object, allowing him to defeat or destroy them often with a single strike. That’s… actually an incredibly useful power. Rock on, Karnak.

GORGON

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Gorgon is a satyr, but with bull-legs instead of goat-legs that let him cause earthquakes by stomping. Look, they don’t all get to be interesting.

TRITON

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Triton is a fish-man. So… about as not-super-interesting as Gorgon, but he at least looks kind of cool what with the scales and fins and such.

MAXIMUS

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Maximus is Black Bolt’s brother. He’s the bad guy. You’re shocked, I can tell – kings in fiction tend to have such pleasant sibling relationships otherwise… But yeah, he’s evil. He’s insanely narcissistic, wants to steal his brother’s throne and as a bonus wants to wipe out “normal” humanity so Inhumans can rule – so, he’s sort of a Doctor Doom/Loki/Magneto turducken.

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So why are they making this? Good question.

Officially? Same as every other Marvel Studios production: They think it delivers something the other films don’t exactly, and they have a story that they want to tell with them. Expect to hear a lot about how it can be a “political story,” “explore themes of being an outsider” and “bridge the cosmic and Earthbound Marvel series.”

Unofficially? It’s all about The X-Men.

More to the point: It’s all about Marvel not being able to use The X-Men (or, by extension, almost any character who originated as a Mutant) in their movies. The film and TV rights to The X-Men and “Marvel Mutants” are still owned by Fox. Though Sony seems to be warming up to the idea of letting Spider-Man have supervised-visits with Dad every other weekend, Fox and Marvel/Disney don’t like each other, and after the big box-office for Days of Future Past those rights aren’t reverting any time soon.

That’s a problem for Marvel – and not just because it means Hugh Jackman will likely be long-retired from the claws and muttonchops by the time anyone gets to see Wolverine vs. The Avengers. Fox’s ownership of the very concept of Mutants has (thus far) robbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe of the opportunity to explore one of the comics’ most fertile recurring themes: the public prejudice against “mutant” humans who are born with superior abilities, as opposed to those who acquire them like The Avengers. On more practical grounds, it robs them of the ability to introduce new characters with cool powers and skip an origin story in favor of “He/She’s a Mutant, they’re just born able to do stuff.”

You can pretty much see where this seems to be going: “They’re Inhumans,” (or whatever we’ll call Inhumans before we find out their actual name) could easily replace “Mutant” in that second regard. It’s already widely assumed that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, when they make their official main-feature debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron, will be Inhumans in origin (a special contract-arrangement allows Marvel to use those two characters and their names so long as they never mention Magneto or Mutants.)

Meanwhile, the seeds of this may be planted earlier: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D features a running storyline about an enigmatic woman named Raina who apparently believes herself to be something more-than-human, and who has aligned herself with any number of unsavory organizations in order to research instances of humans born with powers. Many fans theorize that this is the early planning-stages of introducing The Inhumans into MCU continuity, and some particularly elaborate theories suggest that multiple characters on the series are already Inhumans themselves.

Of course, we’ve got about 3 ½ years for this film to come out, so who knows what can change until then. But for now, consider that your Inhumans primer.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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