And that’s not a bad thing. But as the fourth season of Agents of SHIELD is about ready to debut and the previous three being heavily based on comic storylines introduced in 2008 (coincidentally the year of the launch of the MCU), I theorize that the executives at both Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios are doing their damnedest to make the general audience believe the Inhumans are the X-men. I theorize that I am witnessing a case of executive meddling on an unprecedented scale that crosses between three media – comic books, television, and movies. And I don’t like it. The Inhumans are not the X-men and they never are going to be.
Marvel Comics owes a debt of gratitude to the X-men. In 1975, with the new X-men, the merry mutants’ explosive popularity pretty much saved the company from bankruptcy. For the next 30 years or so, Marvel Comics milked the hell out of that mutant cash cow. At least half of all titles featured an X-team or a solo X-man (usually Wolverine). But about 10 years ago, something changed and I theorize that Marvel Comics is trying to replace their steadiest money-makers.
What happened, of course, was the rise fo the superhero blockbuster movie and Marvel’s purchase by Disney to create Marvel Studios. Marvel Comics had a history of licensing its properties to other companies. Thus, 21st Century Fox gained custody of the X-men and related properties (i.e., anyone created in a comic with “X” in the title) and the Fantastic Four. Sony got custody of Spider-man and it is fitting that Marvel Comics’ breakout hero really started the superhero movie boom. With potentially billions of dollars to be make, Marvel Comics wanted the kids back and then the custody battle got real ugly.
The people in charge of Marvel Comics became afraid that publishing comics for properties in the custody of other studios amounted to free advertising for those movies. Given that comic sales number in the tens of thousands and movie tickets in the tens of millions, it is far more likely that the movies served as free advertising for the comic books. But the executive types at Marvel Comics couldn’t see this perfectly obvious fact and thus Marvel Comics has been attempting to pare down titles starring shared properties.
The First Family was the first casualty of war. After 50 years and 600 issues, Marvel Comics ceased publishing any Fantastic Four titles. In fact, the company has gone so far as to remove any FF members from the covers of crossover event reprints. I suppose I should be grateful they are still in those actual comics. However, the FF never had the mass appeal of the X-men or Spider-man. Marvel Comics was in kind of a bind with Spider-man because it could no more stop producing a least one Spider-man comic anymore than DC Comics could stop producing at least one Batman comic. Luckily Sony has given in and worked out a more profitable custody arrangement. But Fox Studios is stubbornly holding on to the X-men and related X-properties.
So how do the Marvel Studio executives get around this? They’re just replacing the mutants with a group that’s close enough, like replacing your brand-name cola of choice with the store’s generic brand. You know “Mr. Pepper” isn’t the real deal, but that’s what your parents bought, so you’re stuck with it. The Inhumans are being treated as the generic off-brand X-men, and that’s really unfortunate because up until the launch of the MCU, the Inhumans were really nothing like the X-men.
Time for Backstory!
The Inhumans are genetically altered humans. They were genetically engineered by the alien Kree to one day serve as superweapons to the Kree (this worked out as well as you would imagine for the Kree). They have been a mostly isolated society in the ancient city of Attilan, which was either in the Himalayas or on the blue area of the moon for awhile. The Inhumans have a rigid caste system and are governed by a ruling family. All Inhumans undergo terrigenesis in which they enter a special chamber and breathe in gas emanating from terrogen crystals that activates their latent mutations. The power they gain defines their role in life regardless of what the individual may have wanted or trained for. Because the population is low, the early Inhumans created a humanoid species called “alpha primitives.” The alpha primitives are essentially a slave caste that perform all the hard, unskilled, dangerous work required for the Inhuman civilization. In the comics, for a long time, the Inhumans were secretive and mostly showed up as enemies or uneasy allies in other comics. The Queen of the Inhumans, Medusa, for example, lost her memory and showed up as a member of the Frightful Four in the FF comics. Crystal dated the Human Torch for awhile, and eventually married Quicksilver and had a daughter (this did not work out well). The Inhumans have spent most of their comic history in that weird limbo between terrestrial superbeings and galactic superbeings.
Back to the Present!
Now Marvel Comics’ executives are trying to succeed where so many X-men villains have failed – they are destroying mutantkind. There’s been an “Uncanny Inhumans” title. The terrogen mists now apparently sterilize mutants. In order to counter the low Inhuman population, it has been revealed some Inhumans bred with humans and those descendants can still have terragenesis activated (like the new Ms. Marvel). There are even warring factions of Inhumans now (kind of like Team Xavier and Team Magneto). The surge in Inhuman titles (like “Secret Warriors”) bear (to me, anyway) a strong resemblance to the role the X-men previously filled in the comic universe. Heck, in Agents of SHIELD, there’s a subplot about trying to “cure” Inhumans like so many villains have tried to “cure” mutants. This may explain the frankly baffling X-men storylines and character changes of the past decade. I suppose making plots needlessly convoluted and characters unlikable is one way to force readership in a different direction.
It’s really too bad for both the X-men and the Inhumans. I like the idea of the Inhumans in general, as they were up until about the “Son of M” storyline. The rigid caste structure of their society, the reliance on a slave caste, the lack of free will, and the lack of body control, are all interesting themes to explore. But those aren’t the stories the Marvel executives are trying to tell. They’re trying to replace mutants and are shoving the Inhumans into those kinds of stories. The Inhumans are not human by definition and their stories are about what it means to be an Inhuman. Mutants are actually human and their stories are about trying to be accepted. And I really think the only reason this is happening is because Marvel Studios does not and will not get the rights to the X-men back anytime soon. But the executives want that money, so they’re hoping to pull an Oreo cookie coup over Hydrox, if you will (look up it). The upshot is that the Inhumans just aren’t the X-men, and I fully believe if Fox Studios cedes the rights to the X-men, Marvel Comics/Studios will drop the Inhumans like a kid who just got his favorite toy back. Executive meddling and greed benefits neither team.