Columns > Published on November 30th, 2015

Inhuman History: 6 Must Read Inhumans Comics

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is massive and ever-expanding. One of the biggest shared universes in film. Which is good, because there’s still a great deal of comics to cover. As the movies continue to reach further into space with the Infinity Stone storyline, more and more characters with interstellar roots are being introduced. Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s first foray into their cosmic pulp properties, and on the heels of its success came announcements of movies about Captain Marvel and the Inhumans, both of whom got their powers from alien technology. Even if the rumors of cancelation prove true, the latest season of Agents of SHIELD is all about investigating and dealing with a sudden outbreak of people with awakening powers.  So far, Agent Coulson’s crew hasn’t learned much except that Inhumans have alien DNA and extraordinary abilities.

They may not have the high profile of the X-Men, but they’re an intriguing group of characters with a long and complicated mythology.

So who are they? The Inhumans are not just a team of superheroes, but a race of people with their own civilization and culture. They were created by the Kree, the blue-skinned people of Guardians villain Ronan the Accuser. Though tough and intelligent enough to conquer their corner of the galaxy, the Kree were evolutionarily stagnant. They were just such badasses that it didn’t matter, until their war with the Skrulls, who could adapt to and overcome anything. Intrigued by humanity’s genetic potential, the Kree experimented on our ancient ancestors in hopes of creating a race of superpowered soldiers to oppose the Skrulls, or possibly solving their own race’s developmental conundrum. They succeeded at the former, but politics back on the homeworld cut the program’s funding and they were forced to abandon the test subjects. These rejected experiments built their own city and thrived in secret, hidden from the rest of humanity. Attilan, their secret city, had teleportation technology back when we were still using rocks to sharpen other rocks. The entire metropolis has relocated itself several times, from the middle of the desert to the bottom of the ocean. It even chilled on the surface of the moon for a few years before departing for the far reaches of the galaxy.

While all Inhumans enjoy greater strength, better health and longer lives than normal humans, not all of them have powers. They all have potential that can be unlocked through exposure to an element called Terrigen. Once transformed, an individual’s “genetic destiny” is written, and they are expected to take their proscribed role in society, never deviating for the duration of their extensive lives. One’s powers are typically well-suited for a particular line of work, so there is little resistance to the status quo, besides the King’s mad brother attempting to overthrow him about once a decade.

The Royal Family are the central characters of most comics about the Inhumans. Of course the halls of the palace are never short on drama—it’s practically Shakespeare in Space. They are ruled by King Black Bolt, whose voice can shatter mountains, and once knocked the Hulk flat with a whisper. Unable to speak for public safety reasons, he relies on his queen, Medusa, to relay his orders. Somehow, she always knows what he’s thinking, and their romance is often as touching as it is bizarre. As her name might suggest, Medusa’s long, beautiful red hair is incredibly strong and under her complete control—she can use those fiery locks to fetch the remote from the coffee table, or fight an entire platoon of soldiers. Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus the Mad, uses his mind control powers to stage an endless series of coups with varying degrees of success. There’s even a lovable royal pet, Lockjaw, a giant dog with antennae who can eat anything and teleport across interstellar distances. So far the only characters from the comics to appear onscreen have been Lash and Agent Daisy Johnson. The former is obsessed with judging which Inhumans deserve their powers and punching holes in the ones that don’t, while the latter tries to make sure SHIELD is helping the Inhumans more than hunting them.

Ever since their first encounter with the Fantastic Four, the Royal Family has continuously vacillated between opening up to and retreating from the world. They are from Earth, but they are not of it, and they often struggle to find their place without losing their identity as a people. Some of their better stories include:

'Silent War'

After losing his abilities on M-Day, Quicksilver steals the Terrigen crystals from Attilan in a desperate attempt to help mutants regain their powers. The crystals are sacred to the Inhumans, who declare war on Earth. While Black Bolt makes a preemptive strike against New York City and assaults the Pentagon, Maximus plots to steal his throne. The scenes where Black Bolt negotiates with government leaders perfectly illustrates just how different from us the Inhumans really are.

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'Illuminati'

Black Bolt is among the leaders of the superhuman community that assemble in secret to discuss how to keep the Earth safe from extra-normal threats. The series is an interesting behind-the-scenes retrospective of major crossover events in the Marvel Universe, such as the Hulk’s exile and the Kree-Skrull War. If you’re a longtime reader of Marvel, this series is a must.

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'Secret Invasion: Inhumans'

Medusa takes command in order to protect her people from an alien invasion. The Skrulls hold Black Bolt prisoner, torturing him with the universe’s biggest megaphone wired to his throat. They plan to use his powerful voice to wipe out Attilan, the only people who might be able to warn Earth of its impending doom. The Royal Family must find a way to defend the city, contact Earth and rescue their king before he can no longer resist the urge to scream. A very dark chapter for Inhuman history.

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'War of Kings'

Attilan departs from the moon to hunt down the remains of the Skrull fleet. We then fly to the Kree homeworld of Hala, where a bizarre reversal of fortune finds Ronan the Accuser kneeling before Black Bolt, a man he once called slave. As soon as he assumes the throne, the Kree Empire is at war with the Shi’ar, led by megalomaniacal X-Men reject Vulcan. Black Bolt has always been one of those characters that’s so powerful you rarely see him fight, and when you do, it’s typically settled with a single blow. Emperor Vulcan finally provides an equal combatant so that he can cut loose, and the resulting battle is so epic it nearly destroys an entire galaxy.

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'Karnak'

Black Bolt’s cousin is the chief warrior-philosopher of the Royal Family. Although not enhanced by Terrigen, Karnak’s training and discipline give him the ability to detect the weakness in anything, be it an object, person or system, and then exploit it. He regularly takes down opponents many orders of magnitude more powerful than himself with a single, well-placed strike. In his new solo series, Karnak tries to play nice with SHIELD as part of the Inhumans’ latest PR push, but can’t stop finding trouble everywhere he looks. An in-depth look at a fascinating character that rarely sees the spotlight.

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'Inhuman'

Attilan explodes over New York, spreading Terrigen mist throughout Earth’s atmosphere. Now people all over the world with dormant Inhuman DNA are being activated and must be taught to control their new powers before they can become dangerous. In the wake of Black Bolt’s disappearance, Medusa tries to rebuild Attilan while providing sanctuary and guidance for the new Inhumans. The latest season of SHIELD seems to be taking some inspiration from this one, or maybe it’s the other way around.

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With Marvel’s gaze turning to the stars, it makes sense to introduce a group that has ties to both worlds, to act as a bridge between the earthbound adventures and the cosmic ones. The Inhumans are Earth natives with extraterrestrial origins, and it is through their eyes that a newcomer might begin to understand the complex space opera of the Marvel Universe. Until recently, they have typically kept to themselves, except when the world is in dire need. By bringing them back to Earth, exposing them to the public and creating a reason for many more to start popping up, it looks like Marvel is positioning the Inhumans to be the new “people who walk among us with extraordinary abilities.” They may not have the high profile of the X-Men, but they’re an intriguing group of characters with a long and complicated mythology, so it makes sense to spend the extra time introducing them on TV before their big-screen debut. That way if the movie does get made, it doesn’t have to be saddled with forty-five minutes of exposition before they start telling the real story. I remain hopeful that the movie’s cancelation is just a rumor, because the Inhumans are another great ensemble of oft-overlooked characters that deserve a chance to shine.

About the author

BH Shepherd is a writer and a DJ from Texas. He graduated from Skidmore College in 2005 with degrees in English and Demonology after writing a thesis about Doctor Doom. A hardcore sci-fi geek, noir junkie and comic book prophet, BH Shepherd has spent a lot of time studying things that don’t exist.  He currently resides in Austin, where he is working on The Greatest Novel Ever.

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