Marvel plans to put out a movie starring its not-quite-mutant race, the Inhumans, three years from now. But it already feels like they’re everywhere. Marvel wants to make sure you know the name “Inhumans.” The thing is: can they actually make you care about this obscure race?
Ever since the movie announcement, the Inhumans’ time in the limelight has been on the rise. They’d already begun a resurgence in the comics, thanks to a crossover event in 2013 called Inhumanity, revolving around a sudden spike of Inhumans being activated across the world—but now they’re set to dominate Marvel’s comics schedule with a rash of new titles in the upcoming “All-New, All-Different” reboots, headlined by Uncanny Inhumans. As far as Marvel Comics is concerned, after years of obscurity, the Inhumans are here to stay, and we should get used to it.
The thing is, in a way they already have made people care ... but not really with the main group of Inhumans we’ll likely meet in cinemas in 2018. One of Marvel’s most popular comics right now is, of course, the adventures of Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel. And her nature as an Inhuman isn’t just a minor part of her origin—it’s an important part of her story and her life.
Kamala deals with the fallout of the Inhuman resurgence in the beginning of her own story, and just before Secret Wars began in Summer, she was discovering the first parts of what would become a major part of the Inhumans’ story arc going into the “All-New, All-Different” reboot. When not appearing in her own lavishly successful series, Kamala was moonlighting in the Inhumans ongoing as part of the younger wave of Inhumans. This wasn’t a case of the Inhumans putting the spotlight on Ms. Marvel, it was Ms. Marvel, a premiere comic book starlet, putting the spotlight on them.
And meanwhile, we’re getting something similar in the live action universe as well: Skye, aka Daisy Johnson (who was not Inhuman in the comics) in Agents of SHIELD. Skye’s evolution into Daisy Johnson, a.k.a. the Inhuman known as Quake, was a rockier road than Kamala’s ascension to popularity—she had her fans, but was hardly the most popular of characters in the show’s shaky first season. But her arc over season two, as she became the anchor for the show’s introduction of the Inhumans, has propelled her in the eyes of fans to one of the best, and most important, characters on the show. She’s the one superhero member of the otherwise non-powered team.
Most amazingly, just as Kamala’s growth introduced a new readership to the concept of the Inhumans, Skye has done the same for TV audiences—without including most of the trappings or characters of the Inhumans from the comics. Agents of SHIELD got people who’d never picked up a comic book before to understand what in the world “Terrigenisis” was. Hell, it’s amazing that the words “Terrigen Mists” were spoken on national television. If you said that would happen to a comic fan this time last year, before the announcement of the Inhumans movie, they would’ve laughed in your face.
But now millions of people who have never heard of big Inhuman heroes like Black Bolt, or Medusa, or Karnak, now know what an Inhuman is. That’s the crux of Marvel’s plan to make you care about the Inhumans: not through these established characters, but new, exciting ones, who just happen to be Inhumans rather than anything else. It’s a slow, steady process, but it’s working: people invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who aren’t comics readers will be more than familiar with Inhumans well before we even see a still of footage from the film.
But that’s not to say it’s an easy process. The Inhumans still have a major challenge both in and out of the comics: coming out of the shadow of the X-Men and the Mutants. And while they’re making progress in that area, Marvel’s attempts to use the Inhumans as a substitute for the X-Men don’t always work.
Everyone knows that Marvel doesn’t have the right to use the X-Men, or the concept of mutants, in its movies or TV series. So obviously, Marvel has been trying to use the Inhumans in its Cinematic Universe, and also increase their profile in the comics, as a way of getting around that. This, in turn, means that the more Marvel wants to replace the X-Men with the Inhumans, the more the company has to chisel away at the concept of mutant-kind.
And Marvel is going to face an uphill struggle to replace mutants in the popular imagination. Barely anyone outside of the most diehard Marvel Comics fans had heard of the Inhumans before their film was announced. Meanwhile, the X-Men are iconic—part of the wider pop-cultural tableau in the same way that heroes like Spider-Man and Batman are. The mutants helped spearhead the resurgence of the Superhero film genre. They’ve been on TV, both live action and animated. Heroes like Cyclops and Storm, Wolverine and Professor X, they’re part of the cultural lexicon. They have been massively popular for decades, in and out of comic books, while the Inhumans, even with the huge push they have at the moment, are still relatively niche.
And arguably, the way Marvel is combating this disparity is only making comics fans angry. Although the X-Men’s role in the fast-approaching comics reboot isn’t as diminished as many had speculated it would be, the X-Men will definitely be on the back foot. Recent interviews promoting the Extraordinary X-Men revealed that the Mutants and Inhumans won’t just be at odds with each other in this new storyline, but the Mutants will be facing extinction (and not for the first time) at the hands of the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mist.
Marvel isn’t just attempting to supplant the X-Men with the Inhumans, but actively place the Inhumans in conflict with mutant-kind, after years of co-operation between the two groups due to their similar minority status in the comics. And it’s not pleasing fans of the X-Men in the slightest. It’s a hot-button issue in particular for fans who are tired of moviemaking considerations affecting their comics.
And this is also a risky move, in a way that Marvel’s other moves to make people interested in the Inhumans haven’t been. Is this storyline making fans of the X-Men more aware of the Inhumans? Sure. But it’s not exactly making active comics readers, who often help generate wider buzz for superhero properties, fall in love with them. And these fans are already annoyed at other commercial influences already niggling at the X-Men.
To be sure, the population of comics readers is tiny compared to the audience for movies—but it’s clear that Marvel wants both parts of its fanbase to care about the Inhumans. And the more Marvel wants to signal that the Inhumans are the new X-Men—partly by actually having a storyline where the Inhumans threaten to wipe the X-Men out—the more it risks backfiring.
Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy proved that Marvel can take a more obscure property and turn it into a huge hit. But we’ll see in 2018 if the Inhumans can gain the kind of following that’s made the X-Men a cultural juggernaut. But at least right now, you can’t say that Marvel isn’t trying its damnedest to make it happen.