Fans can find a better outlet for these characters on the page
This week ends with the finale of Inhumans’ first season — and judging by the less-than-rapturous reception the ABC show has received, it could be the last. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent a few years depicting Inhuman characters — that is, normal-seeming humans who gain strange superpowers after being exposed to a mysterious substance called Terrigen — in shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Inhumans was the first time they adapted the most famous characters associated with that name: the royal family consisting of Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Medusa (Serinda Swan), Karnak (Ken Leung), Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), Triton (Mike Moh), and Maximus (Iwan Rheon).
Unfortunately, the Inhumans TV show has not proved capable of fully exploring these characters’ strange depths, but disappointed viewers can take comfort in the fact that Marvel is actually producing a bunch of really good Inhumans comics right now. Here are EW’s current favorites.
Inhumans: Once and Future Kings
Christopher Priest (writer), Phil Noto (artist)
The plot of ABC’s Inhumans show features the main cast scattered across Earth (specifically, Hawaii) after being exiled by a coup in their home of Attilan. This five-issue miniseries is set back when Black Bolt, Maximus, et al. were still precocious teenagers, but otherwise features a similar plot — and does it way better. The show sometimes gestures at making a political point, but Priest does not shy away from interrogating the questionable politics at the heart of the Inhumans concept — namely, the Inhuman royals’ use of slave labor to run their society. He also has way more fun mashing up the pretentious royal characters with the ordinary Earth life they encounter. Even with five issues, Once and Future Kings manages to be just as entertaining and head-expanding as any Priest comic (see also: Deathstroke, Black Panther, etc.). But this one also comes with a delightful palate cleanser in the form of little Lockjaw backup stories at the end of each issue. The secret of the Inhumans, after all, is that the very best character is their gigantic teleporting dog.
Order issues of Inhumans: Once and Future Kings here.
Al Ewing (writer), Jonboy Meyers (artist)
If you want to know what many of the major Inhumans characters are up to right at this moment in the Marvel Universe, this is the book for you. Ewing’s expansive imagination (seen in previous books like The Ultimates) is well-suited to this tale of the disgraced Inhuman royals (plus a handful of newer characters) setting off across space and time to solve their kind’s original sin. One particular benefit TV viewers would get out of this series is seeing Maximus at his most charismatic and formidable. Iwan Rheon’s on-screen version is powerless and therefore vulnerable, but comic Maximus is a mad telepathic genius, constantly 10 steps ahead of everyone and impossible to predict. He is exactly the kind of character Ewing loves to play with. Issue #3, a Maximus solo story that takes place across three different timelines at once, is a perfect demonstration of the series’ strengths.
Order Royals vol. 1: Beyond Inhuman here.
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Christian Ward (artist)
Anson Mount’s version of Black Bolt has spent some time in prison on screen. Karnak and Crystal, too, have been held captive to varying degrees over the course of the show. But like most superhero stories, Inhumans barely contemplates the effects of this imprisonment — which is a strange attitude, considering how central prison is to the basic outline of the genre (bad guy attacks the world, hero beats bad guy, hero sends bad guy to prison, over and over again). As a comic that strands its superhero protagonist in the depths of the galaxy’s most brutal superjail, Black Bolt is therefore rather unique in its focus on what prison actually feels like and what it does to people — and that’s before you get to the book’s interrogation of whether carceral punishment is even truly just at all. Issue #4 of Black Bolt is set mostly from the perspective of the supervillain Absorbing Man, and Ahmed’s writing demonstrates an extraordinary empathy with its criminal protagonist that is sometimes sorely lacking in the superhero genre. But best of all, Black Bolt’s world-breaking vocal powers (mostly ignored on the TV show) are finally capable of being properly rendered, thanks to Ward’s cosmically psychedelic art. Here, dreams flow into memories into prison bars, while the midnight king screams in colors of every hue.
Pre-order Black Bolt vol. 1: Hard Time here.
Warren Ellis (writer), Roland Boschi and Antonio Fuso and Gerardo Zaffino (artists)
Ken Leung’s performance as Karnak, the Inhuman “shatterer” with the ability to detect the flaw in anything, is one of the show’s few real highlights. Karnak got his own deserved spotlight in this short-lived series from prolific comic scribe Warren Ellis: After a tumultuous few years in the Marvel Universe, Karnak died by suicide and then came back more brutally nihilistic than ever. This series has heaping helpings of both action (with Karnak using his insight and martial arts skills to demolish enemies in pages that put the show’s equivalent sequences to utter shame) and philosophy, as Karnak looks for “the flaw in all things” and questions whether human existence even matters to the universe at large.
Order Karnak: The Flaw in All Things here.
G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa (artists)
Kamala Khan does not appear on Inhumans the show, but she is still easily the best new Inhuman in the Marvel Universe. In recent years, Marvel has shied away from using mutants and X-Men as the driving force of their fictional universe (possibly because Fox still holds the movie/TV rights to those characters) and instead turned to using the Inhumans as their new species of superheroes who face prejudice because of abilities they didn’t ask for. As a Muslim-American child of Pakistani immigrants in an increasingly xenophobic climate, Kamala has double the difficulty — which makes her insistence on saving her hometown of Jersey City even more inspiring. Nearly four years after Wilson and Alphona first introduced her to the world, Kamala remains the symbol of a generation struggling to do right in a world that repeatedly does wrong.
Order issues and volumes of Ms. Marvel here.