Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thoughts on the Inhumans’ Trailer

Marvel came out with a trailer for their new Inhumans TV show, set to debut this coming September.  Though the show is set around an interesting concept, I confess that I didn’t necessarily love everything we saw in the trailer.  I’ll withhold any final judgments until after I’ve seen the premier episodes—available in IMAX theaters!—but at this point, the entire enterprise strikes me as something of a tough sell.

First thing’s first: the Inhumans are by no means a natural fit for ABC’s network television sensibilities.  Invented in the mid-1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as foils for the early Fantastic Four, the Inhumans were and always have been of a piece with the hippie cosmic weirdness that informs many of the most bizarre aspects of the Marvel Universe.  This was by design.  The Inhumans came along at roughly the same time as the Mole Man, the Silver Surfer, and Galactus, none of whom fit neatly into the more straightforward DC-style storytelling of the then-previous age.  Up to this point, superheroes were uniformly lantern-jawed WASPS Hell-bent on upholding not just Truth, Justice, and the American way of life, but also a specific vision of that way of life.  Stan and Jack began to change this, but slowly at first and largely through allegory.  Still, they were pioneers.  They intentionally pushed the boundaries of what could pass muster in mainstream society.  The theme of outcast weirdness therefore informs a lot of the early Marvel comics, which is why so many Marvel heroes seem ill-at-ease with their surroundings.  The Inhumans in particular, like the mutants who came after them, stand apart from everyday humanity and spend a lot of their time worrying about what the straights might think if they ever found out that Inhumans exist.  
First appearance in FF #45 (1965).
Not coincidentally, this is how the new trailer opens.
Network television, however, is supposed to appeal to a broad cross-section of America by design, and it’s unclear how a show about Inhumans can stay true to its outcast origins while presenting a family dynamic in which every day America can actually see itself.  The success of the concept relies on a shared sense of alienation that is by definition the opposite of the mainstream.
Worse than this, though, is the fact that the Inhumans themselves are not natural stars—by design.  They keep to themselves largely because that’s their thing.  It made them useful foils for the Fantastic Four because they had their own lair, the Blue Area of the moon, and their own history and culture, all of which served to make them an interesting destination for a group of interdimensional space explorers.  The Inhumans’ world became a kind of dungeon that the FF could explore D&D-style.  When Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, later fell in love with the Inhuman Crystal, the Inhumans’ very insularity became a useful and compelling obstacle to an otherwise straightforward romance.  

Interracial romance was a fraught topic back in the 1960s.
How do you make a show about a bunch of folks who don’t want anything to do with the mass of humanity at large?  How do you focus it on a protagonist who can’t even speak?  The Inhumans work well as inscrutable alien weirdos, but it’s unclear how they’ll function as stars of their own series.
Beyond that, the new show looks cheap.  This is not the fault of Marvel Television.  Marvel shows on Netflix generally look really good while something that ought to be as compelling as Agents of SHIELD ought to be often looks worse than ABC’s other supernatural drama, Once Upon a Time.  ABC just doesn’t want to spend the money to make its stuff look right.  As a result, Agents of SHIELD has effects that can’t compete even with the alien sensibilities of the CW’s Supergirl.  Save for CGI Lockjaw, what we’ve seen so far of Inhumans looks about on par with daytime soaps like All My Children.  Specifically, the costuming looks like costuming, Medusa’s hair appears plastic and dead, and Black Bolt, the actual king of the Inhumans, spends 90% of the trailer looking either uncertain or confused.
This last is a serious problem.  Black Bolt is the king by divine right of a race of super-powered half-alien super-soldiers, and he is therefore supposed to be a legitimate badass.  He has to be.  This is a guy who meets with Dr. Strange, Captain America, and Reed Richards as a first among equals in the comics, who’s gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Ronan the Destroyer and the Hulk and walked away with outright victories.  Black Bolt can literally bring the house down with a single word, but now he looks uncertain? 
This fight has always had a clear winner in the comics.
When Inhumans was scheduled as a movie project, there were rumors that Marvel wanted to cast Vin Diesel as Black Bolt.  Say what you will about Diesel; the man has a certain physical presence that was right for the role.  Now we’re on TV, however, and I’m sorry, but actor Anson Mount just isn’t as imposing.  I don’t want to body-shame anybody, but dude needs to hit the gym and put on maybe twenty pounds, mostly in his shoulders, traps, and upper back.  That is his actual job, to look like the character he’s supposed to be, and right now, he doesn’t look like the king of anything, much less the king of the Inhumans.
In the trailer, we see Black Bolt get beat up by, like, four mundane police officers wielding nightsticks.  That’s just not gonna get it done for me.  Not when we’ve seen Daredevil punch his way through an entire hotel full of Russian mobsters.  Not when we have Agent Daisy Johnson on the very same network using her very similar superpowers to wipe the floor with entire platoons of Hydra soldiers week-in and week-out.  Black Bolt is supposed to be Daisy Johnson’s king, her honest-to-God liege lord, but as he’s portrayed here, she’d kick his ass wholesale.
We just can’t have that.  Being a part of the Inhuman royal family has to mean something, or the entire premise of this show is going to come apart before it ever even gets off the ground.  Black Bolt’s freaking dog is a badass, but the man himself can’t take down four mundane cops?  
No.  Veto.  Totally unacceptable.
An Agents of SHIELD trading card, staring Ms. Marvel & Lockjaw!
Like the rest of the world, I thought Lockjaw was the best part of the trailer.  I posted on Twitter that I was ready to see an adaptation of the Ms. Marvel arc that teams Kamala Khan with Lockjaw in the days after she meets Medusa and the rest of the royal family.  In fact, Ms. Marvel is the kind of character that I’d like to see this series introduce, but I’m not counting on that happening.  ABC seems fixated on bringing the royal family to the screen in a way that minimizes their weirdness, and I’m a little skeptical that they’re going to be able to bring that off.  
But I guess we’ll see.

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EDIT: I got the following comment on G+ from Scott Arthur, and since he is obviously a bigger Inhumans fan than I am, I'm reprinting it here.  He brings up several factual corrections to the original article, and though I don't think any of them change the overall conclusion, it feels wrong to leave the mistakes uncorrected.

"When trying to make a point that the Inhumans were loners "by design", it undercuts the argument to place their home on the moon. Stan and Jack (the designers) placed them in the Himalayas, which should be sufficiently remote to support the argument. It was John Byrne (presumably with Jim Shooter's OK) who relocated them to the moon in the early '80's. Citing both locations would be a good way to argue that they are distant "by tradition", but not "by design".

In a similar vein, it's true that the Inhumans were part of "the hippie cosmic weirdness" of mid-60's Marvel, and the introduction of the Inhumans (except for Medusa) led into the introduction of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. Noting their proximity supports that argument. Including the Mole Man, however, undercuts it. That cosmic period started after Reed and Sue got married (in FF Annual #3) and ended when the Silver Surfer got his own title. (From FF#44 to #80 and Annuals #4-6.) The Mole Man  commonly appeared before and after that period, but never in it. While the FF were getting cosmic with Prester John, The Kree, The Negative Zone, Him, Psychoman and Annihilus (plenty of names that would reinforce a salient point), Mole Man was fighting Hulk, X-Men and Iron Man. Cool comics, but not "cosmic hippie weirdness". When that period was over, Him and Galactus both moved to Thor, The Kree focused on Captain Marvel, Prester John disappeared for years and Silver Surfer got his own book. In the FF, the older villains began to return: Mole Man, the Skrulls, the Wizard (who appeared briefly in the cosmic period) and Dr. Doom (who had a four-parter with the Silver Surfer in the cosmic period). Once Franklin was born (in Annual #6) the tone changed the same way it did after Reed and Sue got married."

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