5 Apr 2014

Cover To Cover: INHUMAN #1

Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Joe Madureira & Marte Gracia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: A broad plan by a comic book publisher to expand the breadth of one of their lesser known legacy properties following a successful summer event, as well as a potential necessity to find a live action alternative to a property to which they no longer hold the rights (X marks the spot), shouldn’t surprise anyone in this day and age. It is, however, not surprising to start looking a little more closely at the products related to that property when a top writer at that publisher then steps aside due to creative differences over the story and direction of the lead title.

And so, here we are, nearly five months removed from Infinity #6, Matt Fraction’s pass on the writing duties and the large marketing push that ended up targeting an initial optimistic January date Marvel wouldn’t be able to meet, with Inhuman #1 by writer Charles Soule (Letter 44, She-Hulk) and the fan favourite artist Joe Madureira (Avenging Spider-Man, Savage Wolverine, Battle Chasers). In and amongst a (some might say 'surprisingly') well polished collection of All New Marvel NOW! titles, can Marvel and this hastily readied creative team come up with brand new property that can capture the hearts and minds of readers who are potentially already feeling the pinch from the surrounding illustrated quality on offer?

Reading through the opening few pages you’d be forgiven for thinking that Soule was stepping down a ‘tried and tested’ introduction as we meet a Norwegian native: a cocky, smart, blonde and handsome fellow, with accompanying trouble/anger issues in spite of his success, the sort of character that usually has the protagonist sign dangling from his neck within three panels. The Terrigen cloud released above New York is travelling the globe on the winds and it’s impossible to predict who might be affected by the mysterious chemicals next... though in this case it’s of course quite easy to predict! We’re even given a brief overview of the Inhuman history, the use of Terrigen via differing factions, the rise and fall of the House of Attilan and its former king, Black Bolt, and how now, following the Silent King’s daring machinations in the face of Thanos and extinction, many Inhumans will be born across the globe.

Ho-ho, and hah-hah, it’s then from here that Soule starts showing his hand, selling the odd dummy here and there and introducing an antagonist who at this juncture appears to be more interesting than the protagonist. Lash seems to represent the idea that the Inhuman species should be nurtured, cultivated, trained and any weak, unfortunate elements removed without mercy to ensure the strength of his people. I liked the fact that while Lash is acting alone here, there’s the suggestion that he’s possibly just one of many Inhumans following a code, or as he calls it ‘The Word’, that binds and guides his rather ruthless wanderings. There’s a sense of elitism in this ideal, but it’s wrapped up in an aesthetic from Madureira’s character work that suggests travelling warrior-monk, and Soule also ensures that his actions - he patiently sits with one Terrigen exposed individual so they are not alone on their ‘journey’ - come across with a sense of strange benevolence and belief in his actions, despite the brutality that comes with them.

Further into the issue things to dart close to the cliché line once more, with a net of struggle, responsibility, sacrifice and loss covering the proceedings as a turn of events completely resets the status quo for one individual and his family in dramatic and explosive fashion. Once Medusa is thrown into the mix, you’d once again be forgiven for thinking the standard ‘good vs evil’ line had been drawn in the sand, but Soule places neat dialogue leads here and there to suggest that the Queen of the Inhumans is in the dark about a great many things and that despite her strong leadership and unwavering faith in her husband's plans, this series will track her journey of discovery just as much as any newly created protagonist that we may have been introduced to.

When it comes to character design Madureira is a master and his years spent working in the video games industry has kept this skill particularly sharp. While it could be said that many of his muscular powerhouses tend to follow a particularly similar build and look - and Lash is no exception to that rule here - his characterisation on the generic human passerby and crowds is certainly diverse enough and when it comes to beefing up the ranks of Terrigen-affected citizens I think we’re going to be in for a treat as he’s an artist with an enviable imagination. He’s been back in the comic book fray for a couple of years now and my only hope would be that with a fresh slate title such as this he might get the opportunity to play with the panel format at some point as this debut, while certainly a delight to look at, is a tad formulaic in that regard and I think his dynamic style should suit some improvisation upon the page.

Come the end of Inhuman #1 we’ve been brought up to speed with the early days of Black Bolt’s gambit, discovered that there are further earthbound Inhuman mysteries to be explored, some of which may have been in play for generations, and we’ve been reminded of Medusa’s drive as a leader. We’ve met some new Inhumans, seen some not survive the page count and been giving the smallest of ideas about how big this event could be and what it could lead to. Soule manages to deliver a lot within the page count, yet that’s potentially at the cost of failing to truly nail the early characterisation of the newly introduced characters. At this early stage it’s hard to gauge whether this will read more as a pacey event book over the long haul, in which case characterisation may need to be delivered in short, sharp bursts, or whether it will become a more measured, character-driven story that focuses on the drama of the philosophies in play. The quality on show in this debut, both aesthetically and in terms of storytelling, should certainly get Marvel the early crowds interested to find out which direction this will take, but the jury is still out on whether they, Soule and Madureira can finally make the Inhumans a lingering and long lived success. Inhuman #1 is certainly a strong piece of evidence to submit to that jury though! 8/10

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