Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Inhumans Receive The Marvel Knights Treatment


With Marvel Comics having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996, you may have noticed a trade name making its appearance on corner boxes in 1998 which was an indication of the company outsourcing production of a few of its titles to Event Comics (headed by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti):

Around 2006, Marvel Knights would revert to being handled in-house by its now more solvent namesake (joining Quesada himself, who came aboard Marvel six years earlier as its new Editor-In-Chief), and of course went on to see its imprint appear on other series during that decade (and spawning other imprints such as the MAX line and the Ultimate books). But in MK's nascent days in 1998, we would see Event produce a new Inhumans twelve-issue series which, along with Black Panther, Punisher, and Daredevil*, was a pioneer of the story format which Marvel Knights brought to the table.

*Marvel Knights also became a series in its own right--the name of a super-team led by Daredevil and consisting of Shang-Chi, Moon Knight, Black Widow, Dagger, and Luke Cage.

Inhumans, written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, was probably quite an eye-opener for readers like myself who had been soured by the quality of comics released by Marvel in the late 1990s. With Marvel Knights' emphasis on higher production values, stories with more of an edge and not necessarily beholden to continuity, and jettisoning long story arcs**, Jenkins and Lee were free to think outside the box and explore aspects to the Inhumans that have often been shuttered behind closed doors. (Roy Thomas's 1973 story highlighting the travails of their worker race, the Alpha Primitives, being one example.)

**That may have looked good on paper, but you can nevertheless expect a MK story to take awhile to play out.

Its first issue, where we find the Inhumans' city of Attilan now located somewhere off the coast of Portugal following developments which took place in the "Atlantis Rising" event, takes an approach of the members of the Royal Family pondering what their king, Black Bolt, might have to say if he were somehow given a chance to speak. For Black Bolt himself, Jenkins' opening narrative combined with Lee's imagery make for a striking first glance of a man soaring toward the refuge of his people--a "silent king" whose voice, if released, could otherwise cause devastation and destruction. "Imagine you could never make another sound. Not for the rest of your life. Not a sigh. Not a yawn. Not a single word. Ever."

Presumably the story title borrows its name from that of the rock band formed in 1981; here, it seems to apply to both Black Bolt, as well as the outwardly human children of Attilan who by tradition must undergo exposure to the terrigen mists which will transform them into a unique sub-species of their race, a subject explored to excellent effect in the series' second issue.  (Although those fully mature guards look pretty human in appearance to me, Mr. Lee.)

As to the adjective part of the title, a conversation between Black Bolt and his incarcerated mad brother, Maximus, addresses another subject touched on by Thomas in the early '70s.

It's news to me that the cause of several incidents that day which would bear investigating--the Kree crash, the shattered sanity of Maximus, and the death of their parents, all of which must have been in full view of witnesses--has either been swept under the rug or was never even looked into, while Maximus also believes that the truth would present a direct threat to Black Bolt's status as King. The fact that this is a society of people who have their own protocols and laws doesn't necessarily imply impunity.

With the appearance of Gorgon and Karnak, both Jenkins and Lee take the opportunity to present them in a more casual light, with Gorgon being more gregarious than we've known him, and hooves having taken the place of Jack Kirby's sturdy footwear for the character--while Karnak's musings serve to remind us of Jenkins' parting words for Maximus.

The Royal Family's banquet serves to provide additional glimpses of Triton, Medusa, and Crystal, Triton's curious manner of speech deviating from the Inhuman we've known in previous stories--while Medusa's contribution to the story is in expressing how isolated she sometimes feels as the wife of Black Bolt, not in terms of her position as such but in how closed off he becomes at times, and how difficult it is to be in a relationship with someone without a single word being exchanged between them. (Curious how learning to sign has never occurred to either herself or her husband.)

Essentially, then, we've seen the ground covered by this first and quite promising issue. Yet while Medusa is thinking out loud (an ironic turn of phrase, since Black Bolt has no such luxury), she reveals an interesting tidbit in regard to when Black Bolt retires for the evening, at which point he undertakes a ritual of meditation to make even the act of sleeping less life-threatening.

(And no, I doubt that Medusa will interpret the sound of snoring in a positive light.)

Christopher Priest is handed the reins of the Marvel Knights Black Panther launch.


Anonymous said...

"The fact that this is society of people who have their own protocols and laws doesn't necessarity imply impunity"

Well, by definition absolute monarchs are above the law, Comicsfan.
Now its possible Inhuman society could have a form of constitutional monarchy in which Black Bolt has wide ranging authority but with some political mechanisms to hold him to account... but I don't recall that from any stories I've ever read, and by the sound of it thats not something covered in this series either.

Anyway, as someone pretty much out of the loop on twenty-first century Marvel comics I mainly wanted to let you know that I appreciate these posts filling in the blanks for me. Thanks.


Comicsfan said...

Fair points indeed, sean, and thank you for always chiming in with them! :) Still, I think the jury may be out on just how absolute Black Bolt's position is as ruler of the Inhumans--otherwise, how is it possible for Maximus to have standing to usurp the crown and even exile his brother (as well as the rest of the royal family) as often as he has? (Starting with Black Bolt's first appearance in print?) Granted, Black Bolt is unable to literally say "No!" to that sort of move--but surely he's developed a gesture to that effect that, as absolute ruler, his guards and militia will heed without question.