Inhuman Conditions

Dr. Mike Robinson, LC Communication Studies Professor~

The Inhumans are not going to happen.  Oh, there will be a series called Inhumans and it will presumably air on Friday nights on ABC.  It’s just not going to “happen” in the more contemporary, “stop trying to make fetch happen” Mean Girls sense of the term.  And the reason for that is fairly simple.  The Inhumans never have really managed to happen.  

Given my initial tone, it might surprise you to know that I really do like the Inhumans.  First appearing as a group in Fantastic Four #45 (1965), the Inhumans were the creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during their most creative period on the book.  It was a time when one astonishing idea after another was being tossed onto the page.  The awe-inspiring Silver Surfer and his insatiable planet-devouring master Galactus soon followed, as did the Black Panther, who was the first black superhero.  

The Inhumans are fittingly epic and mysterious beings who live in a secret Himalayan refuge called Attilan.  There, every single citizen has a superpower after being ritually exposed to Terrigen Mist, a cloud of mineral substance that interacts with their genes.  The Inhumans live in protected isolation, having learned how easily humans fear and mistrust.  Black Bolt, their king, is a powerful figure who says nothing because his slightest utterance releases destructive power.  Other important Inhumans in the royal family include Medusa (who is able to control her hair as a weapon), Crystal (an elemental), Gorgon (a powerhouse with cloven feet), Triton (an amphibian), Karnak (a martial artist able to find the weakness in anything) and their wonderful teleporting dog Lockjaw.  They are constantly plagued by the insane ambitions of Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus the Mad.

Afterward, the Inhumans were frequent guest stars in the Fantastic Four, thanks in part to the Human Torch’s doomed romance with Crystal and Medusa occasionally filling in for The Invisible Girl when she was off the team.  I call characters like this the “utility infielders” of comics because they could show up in any series.  Eventually, just about every Marvel character interacted with these supposedly secluded Inhumans at one time or another.  But unlike the Surfer, the Panther or say the Submariner, the Inhumans could never quite create enough excitement to hold their own comic book series for too long.  

In fact, Marvel has really been trying to make the Inhumans happen over the past few years.  The persistent rumor is that after Disney acquired Marvel, the comics company was encouraged to promote characters Disney has retained the movie rights for rather than other groups like the X-Men or Fantastic Four.  After years of trying though, Inhuman-centric books cannot seem to take off.  Royals, the latest try, sold just over 18,000 copies in July according to Chomichron.com.  That is dismal.  And over on television, things were just as bad when other Inhumans dragged down Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in an unnecessarily long season three storyline.  

Why can’t good characters hold a series?  My take is that some characters just work better as guest stars.  The Inhumans’ powers are strange.  Weaponized living hair takes some getting used to, for example.  Plus, imagine how hard it is to develop a series around a main character that will not talk.  As early reviews on the IMAX theatrical release of the TV pilot were bleak, the Inhumans may find themselves seeking refuge once again.