Yes, The Avengers are all the rage these days. But Marvel has other awesome super groups too, like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Then there’s the Inhumans, a not-so-awesome third-string super team. That is until they got an excellent miniseries with the Marvel Knights line back in the 90’s. That series lives on in the form of a graphic novel that collects all twelve issues, but this month it arrives on DVD as a “motion comic” from Marvel Knights Animation.
The Inhumans have been around for decades, but always on the fringe of the Marvel universe. They pop in every now and then to help out other heroes, but have never been able to hold their own book for long. They are a subspecies of humanity that live in a hidden city with a society that practices strict Eugenics. When an Inhuman reaches puberty they are put through a process called “Terrigenesis” that causes them to mutate. This means that each Inhuman is a unique being with their own special power (A lot like the mutants in X-Men).
Ironically they got their best miniseries during Marvel Comics’ lowest point in the 90’s when the company was struggling to recover from their “Dark and Edgy” phase. The Marvel Knights Inhumans series was a twelve issue self-contained story that explored the culture and psyche of these neglected characters while avoiding the usual lowbrow 90’s tropes of revamping a character. The result was an amazing book that many fans still consider the high point for these characters.
Traditionally the Inhuman stories focus on the royal family which consists of King Black Bolt and his court. Under the hand of writer Paul Jenkins, the series explored the Inhuman society as a whole. While Black Bolt and the other royals got most of the screen time, Jenkins also introduced readers to young Inhumans who had not yet undergone their Terrigenesis mutation yet. He also showed what it’s like for the unfortunates who end up with lackluster super powers, like a three-armed man whose power is making tattoos.
The informal caste system of the Inhuman culture relegates the people with crappy powers to the slums, while those who can fly or shoot lightning get to work at the royal palace. Jenkins uses this as a metaphor for how young people blossom as they hit their teens, and also shows what life is like in a society that openly acknowledges the variations of genetic potential of its citizens.
The overall premise of this particular story is that humans are attacking Attilan, the secret Inhuman city. Black Bolt is one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel universe, but for reasons unknown, he refuses to use his incredible powers to crush the invaders. Instead there is a great deal of soul-searching and political potting.
Each issue of the story concentrates on a particular character or theme, and this gave Jenkins the chance to explore all of the major Inhumans characters in his 12-issue series while still taking a wider look at their society.
Although fans could buy it as a thick graphic novel, Shout! Factory has made a motion comic out of it. This is an extensively animated presentation. The original art by Jae Lee looks terrific, but the animators have found lots of tricks to make it extra exciting in the animation. Voice work is excellent too. There are no celebrity actors, but the cast is well-suited to the roles (Often multi-cast as several characters).
There aren’t many bonus features, just a half-hour feature on the history of the Inhumans, and interviews with the creative team behind the Marvel Knights comics. There are some fun behind the scenes moments in this, especially hearing about the bad-old-days of the 90’s when Marvel was frantically looking to elevated the cultural quality of its books.
A problem with the DVD is that viewers are stuck watching the opening and closing credits before and after every episode. The total running time is over two hours, but a fair-sized chunk of that time is just the same credits repeated twelve times. The chapter skip feature is timed to skip these titles, but it’s an annoyance that shouldn’t be there at all.
Marvel Knights Animation Presents: Inhumans is a great story whether experienced as a graphic novel or on DVD, although the DVD runs a little less than the going price of the graphic novel. Viewers/ readers who aren’t familiar with these characters should definitely start with this story to learn about this neglected corner of the Marvel universe. It releases on DVD April 23rd.