Another day, another new Marvel #1. I’ve got to say, it’s beginning to get a little repetitive, watching Marvel continue to simply throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Because the barrage of new series launches has, quite frankly, produced some garbage that probably never should have seen the light of day (Venom, Human Torch). At the same time, however, it hasn’t been without its share of successes, both large (Runaways, New Mutants) and small (Mystique, Sentinel).
Inhumans, a concept that hasn’t seen the new release rack for as long as I can remember (though I missed out on basically the entire latter half of the ’90s, having seen enough during the first half), makes its return in this week’s batch of titles. And for the most part, it’s a pretty solid book, though I do have some complaints, which I will address later. For the moment though, summary takes precedence.
The Inhumans, for those unfamiliar with the concept (read: those less steeped in Marvel lore), is less a story of a superhero team than it is the history of an entire race. The titular characters are comprised by nothing less than a complete society, founded in genetic diversity and destiny, held together by a common desire to peacefully exist outside the purview of the human race. For a better example, imagine if Marvel released a book called “Mutants,” a book that centered not on the strongest or the prettiest mutants (read: the X-Men), but every mutant in the entire world, no matter what their status or inborn abilities.
Now, that is not to say that the Inhumans are dime-store mutants. Far from it, in fact, though the concept of natural abilities does strike a familiar chord. For the Inhumans, however, the greater-than-normal powers spring not from the onset of puberty, but from immersion into what are known as the Terrigen Mists, which act as the catalyst for a process called Terrigenesis. Afterwards, a being’s “genetic potential” is fully apparent; that potential defines the being’s role in the Inhumans’ society. As a result, the book reminds us, younger Inhumans are actively discouraged from seeking out any sort of vocational training, as the reality of their adult life may be quite different from what they would hope for.
Which is exactly the predicament that our protagonist, San, finds himself in. A golden child in every sense of the word, San is the next in a long line of warrior Inhumans, his family line tracing their martial prowess back multiple generations. So despite the urgings of his elders to concentrate on no field in particular, the boy follows the only example he has (his father) and dedicates his adolescence to the pursuit of physical perfection. Following his exposure to the Terrigen Mists, San finds his formerly statuesque body stunted, his flawless musculature cramped into a drastically reduced body. And, most horrifying of all, his destiny as a warrior has been derailed. Finding himself “reduced” to the role of artist, something he perceives as supplemental rather than essential to Inhuman society, San spends his days sulkily creating works of sculpture. Until the day that a human spacecraft arrives and the miserable young adult is called by King Black Bolt himself to undertake a mission to Earth.
OK, there it is.
In and of itself, Inhumans #1 is a fairly solid debut. Its plot is based on the rather timeless notions of directionless adolescent rage and frustration over being trapped within a social order. It’s a high concept that Marvel built its name on in the early days, tapping into the unchecked teenage aggression of its readers and creating sympathetic characters.
But therein lies the problem: this just all feels like it’s been done before. And it feels that way because it has all been done before. I mean, if you read this book, there will be absolutely no doubt in your mind, from the moment San’s monologue begins to ramble on about achieving his goal of fame as a warrior, that fate will not allow him to achieve that goal. At the same time, you’re practically assured from the get-go (based on previous stories of this kind) that despite finding his preferred course radically altered, San will find peace within his role and learn that everyone in Inhuman society has an equally valuable role to play.
And worst of all, since it’s a Marvel book, it’ll take six issues for the story to reach that point.
So I’m forced to fall back on my critique of New Mutants #1 as a guide for this issue as well: admitting that if I were the target audience for this book, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Unfortunately, this title doesn’t even have an overly familiar background to fall back on (it’s not as if the Inhumans were a group that fans have been clamoring for the return of like they were with the New Mutants), so it’s got that against it as well. It’s just one of those instances where I can see the value in a book, but don’t particularly enjoy it myself. Hence, the best I can give it is a shaky recommendation that the buyer beware: for the right reader, this is probably pure gold. For the rest of us, you can live without it.