Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Human Than Inhuman

You know who I really can't stand...in fact, have never been able to stand?

I don't really grok the Inhumans.

Of all the Kirby/Lee creations, none leave me colder, none have me more willing to give an issue or series a pass, than the damned Inhumans. And many a creative team I admire has tried their hand at these games, and they still haven't managed to make me care.

Why? Well, I've been giving that a lot of thought lately, and I've come to a few conclusions--conclusions that lead me to believe that maybe, just maybe, Marvel may be taking steps to finally make this a palatable concept.

The first problem I've always had is the frankly one-dimensional characterization they've been given over the years. Seriously, beyond the names and powers, what do you have?  No jobs, no hobbies, no friends...just ciphers.


Gorgon? He's Hercules with goat legs. That's it!

Triton? No one has a clue what his character might be, and he's fairly useless. He's Aquaman without the good looks, but more clueless.

Crystal? She's been a member of the Fantastic Four, an Avenger, she married a mutant--she should be one of those characters that belongs to every clique, who can pick up a phone and connect with a contact in any corner of the Marvel Universe. Yet they can't even define her powers, let alone give her a personality.

Karnak? Well, they certainly have tried to turn his power--the ability to find the flaw or weak point in anything--into a personality. Unfortunately, that's 100% of his personality, as any appearance in the past 15 years sees him yammer on about the flaws in everything--building, people, society...he's pretty much the ultimate one-track mind guy.

Medusa? Haughty and arrogant and...well, haughtier and more arrogant. Take away the hair, and there's no there there.

Maximus? He's just Loki without the keen fashion sense, the Joker without any of the cool factor. Every damn time it's the same thing. Oooh, Maximus is mad. Ooh,  Maximus has a plan to take over. Ooh, Maximus is thwarted--pat him on the head and put him back in his cell until next time. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Reminder--in his first appearance, Maximus tried to murder every single human on Earth. Yet he's still tolerated because of his bloodline...)

And Black Bolt? Sheesh, the guy drives me nuts. I understand the shtick, but nearly 50 years without a single thought balloon or speech balloon? He can't even get one of those patented 21st century self-narrating captions? The entirety of his characterization comes from other people talking about him. And if I have to hear one more time about the immense burden he has to bear, I'm going to barf.

Plus, c'mon--there are no telepaths among the Inhumans? All of this supposedly advanced technology, and you can't even come up with a whiteboard and a dry erase marker? You can't find a way to communicate electronically? (Wait, let me guess--"the merest tap of his fingers on a keyboard could rip the planet asunder"!) Dude, if Stephen Hawking can communicate, you can too. This "silent burden" is just a lame pose...get over yourself.

Of course, the haughtiness and self-importance are all part of another problem: the royalty. Virtually every Inhumans story has revolved entirely around the "royal family," to the exclusion of any semblance of anyone else. And so we get tale after tale about the the burden of rule, about how ungrateful the lower castes are about all the sacrifices Bolt & company have gone through, about how superior the Inhumans are to humans, yada yada. And unlike, say, T'Challa, the monarch of Attilan and his inbred family make little effort to connect with the common folk, or humans. Perhaps it is just me, but to read the Inhumans has been like watching Upstairs, Downstairs with only the upstairs, a regular dose of "feel sorry for the poor rich folk despite the fact that they enjoy every advantage." Pshaw! It's as overbearing as a whole family of Namors, just nowhere near as interesting.

But it gets worse. Because the Inhumans leap past the whole area of questionable class politics straight into some very, very uncomfortable social doctrine.

The society of the Inhumans is a rigid "genocracy," with your place in the culture determined entirely by your genetic heritage. If you're not chosen to undergo Terrigenesis, you're a second class citizen (in fairness, it should be noted that some versions have shown that all Atillans undergo the Terrigenesis ritual, while others have said that only those of the proper genetic lineage get to, so this point is a bit inconsistent). You're not allowed to have children without the permission of the Genetic Council.

And if you want to advance in society? Good luck. Black Bolt's family doesn't take applications--"Bred to rule, engineered to be royalty" says the text recap page in Realm Of Kings: Inhumans #1--and the whole culture is a rigid caste system, where your genes and your Terrigen mutation determines you role, sorry, no exceptions. (Youngsters--it's like Divergent, except here the oppressors are the good guys!)

Oh, yeah, and they created a slave race of inferiors to live underground and do all of society's dirty work. Don't worry, the Alpha Primitives are bred for it--they love being oppressed. And once they were "freed," well, it was found that they just couldn't handle freedom, they willingly went back to the toil and submission they were bred for!! But it's OK, it's in their (inferior) genes to like it!!

Seriously, that's some extremely repugnant stuff there, no matter what direction you want to take the underlying metaphor.

Oh, yeah, and they just up and decided to go and conquer the Kree, because they were born for that.

So a completely undemocratic monarchy that practices eugenics, has an inviolable caste system that doles out benefits based solely on inviolable physical characteristics, keeps a slave race for all manual labor (but they WANT to be slaves!!), and who feel the right to go out and conquer because they're superior.

And these guys are heroes?!?!?!?! They're a bloody race of Khan Noonien Singhs!!

However, and I say this very tentatively, this whole Inhumanity event may finally be making some moves in the right direction, half a century later.

Yes, the premise is totally a duplicate of the return of mutants at the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men--dues to an outside stimulus, lots of random "normal" humans suddenly are transformed into powerful beings of another race. So, not a lot of imagination spent on the premise.

Yes, Matt Fraction's last solo event, Fear Itself, was pretty darn dire, and Inhumanity #1 read like a 20-page illustrated Wikipedia article titled "Stuff You Already Know."

But...
...but...the decision to blow up Attilan (what, the 8th or 9th time it has been "destroyed"?), as well as some of the things discussed in Inhumanity #1, have some promise. Removing the royal family from control of everything, and spreading out Inhuman status to thousands of people who didn't know that they were of Inhuman ancestry, who didn't have millennia of indoctrination as to how superior they were or how there was only one way that things could work or how Black Bolt was all that...that could be the first step in correcting many of my problems with the Inhumans.

As Karnak says in Inhumanity #1, "Without Attilan, no Inhuman has a home, or a capital. Or a King..." and later, to Medusa, "If you want to save Inhumanity, Your Majesty--you must forget everything you think you know. You will ignore your instincts and forget your past. Otherwise, all is lost."

So, maybe, this could be a clean break for the concept of the Inhumans, a fresh start, a rejection of the stagnation of the same old royal family, of the arrogant genetic elitism and caste systems and slavery and "bred to rule" and all that offensive nonsense. Maybe.

Maybe not, though. We still don't know how they're going to sufficiently distinguish this Inhuman malarkey from the mutant malarkey going on simultaneously. Will your average Marvel-616 citizen know--or care--about the difference betwixt a mutant and an Inhuman? Why would they react any differently? If they've traded the Inhuman status quo for "Mutants Lite," it won't mean new life for the concept, but rather eventual irrelevance.

So the jury is out. But for now, they have me paying a bit of attention...

3 comments:

googum said...

A thought: every writer that takes on the Inhumans seems to have read the Lee/Kirby FF issues, maybe the Byrne one where they go to the moon or the Jenkins/Lee series...and that's it. There's no continuity with guest-spots or even the previous series. Most Inhumans series bring in a secondary cast besides the royals, never to be seen again in the next one. Attilan may or may not be destroyed, rebuilt, inhabited, or empty. Crystal may be involved with Johnny Storm, the Sentry, Ronan the Accuser, Black Knight, Quicksilver...

I'd bet the rules for the Terrigen Mists affecting humans depend on when you ask, too.

snell said...

Humans? Hell, there have been at least 4 different explanations for how and why Terrigen affects Inhumans...

SallyP said...

I like the New Gods better.