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‘Inhumanity’ #1: Previously, In Comics [Review]

Inhumanity #1

Another week, another Marvel crossover. No sooner has Infinity packed its bags and left the planet than the universe is propelled into Inhumanity, a more nebulously constructed event that weaves between a dozen or so books this winter, all marked by the sound of a disaffected teenager who doesn’t want to take out the trash, “inh.”

The event will lead up to a new ongoing series, Inhuman, by writer Matt Fraction, artist Joe Madureira, and whoever takes over art from Joe Madureira halfway through issue #1. (The book has already been bumped from January to April.) But it all begins with this week’s Inhumanity one-shot, by Fraction, Olivier Coipel and others.

Actually, that’s not true at all; it all began with events shown in Infinity, specifically Black Bolt’s gambit to stop Thanos wiping out a generation of Inhumans by unleashing a “terrigenesis bomb,” thus awakening the Inhuman sleepers in the human population.

You don’t actually need to know about that before you dive in to Inhumanity #1, though, as that’s broadly what Inhumanity #1 is about. It’s a one issue recap with bonus material. If you remember Marvel Saga, the mid-80s series that told the official history of the Marvel universe in comic book form, this is kind of that.

Is that a complaint? Yes and no. I was a big fan of Peter Sanderson’s Marvel Saga, and especially the first issue, which skimmed the surface of Marvel’s vast and complicated pre-history of aliens, space gods and experimental mutations. Sanderson compiled and reconciled a patchwork narrative from all Marvel comics published to that date and produced a strange epic tale that hinted at generations of adventure.

Fraction taps into that a little bit here, sketching the experimental origins of the Inhumans, how the population split, and how Thanos’s Inhuman son Thane came to be. This isn’t just background, but a roadmap for where the story will take us. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso has hinted that Inhumanity will be a Game of Thrones-style story about warring kingdoms and the ripples of history, and this book is a tantalizing trailer for all of that.

Inhumanity Karnak
Inhumanity #1, Olivier Coipel

Yet it’s also a rather thin story in itself. It’s essentially two lectures – how the Inhumans split, and why the terrigenesis bomb was used — delivered by Karnak the Shatterer, the Inhuman martial artist philosopher-monk who can see the fault in all things. These lectures are delivered in a framing device drawn by Olivier Coipel, and Fraction wisely uses Hawkeye as our initial point-of-view inquisitor.

It’s a little peculiar to see Fraction’s Hawkeye in a more traditional superheroic setting, but it’s welcome; Hawkeye and Karnak are the only real personalities in the story. We should also take a moment to appreciate Coipel’s beefy hip-thrusting version of Hawkeye, which is always a delight.

Inhumanity Hawkeye
Inhumanity #1, Olivier Coipel

Though this is billed as a Fraction/Coipel book, inked by Mark Morales and colored by Laura Martin, about a third of the pages are by other artists — Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Dustin Weaver and Israel Silva. These inserted “flashback” scenes are so stylistically different as to be jarring.

There are echoes in this art choice of Infinity itself, which also parcelled out the work of its main narrative to multiple artists. One suspects this collective approach is not being used out of desperation to hit deadlines after the fact, but as part of a deliberate proactive policy to manage and spread the workload of popular artists like Coipel ahead of time.

This tactic further advances Marvel’s inclination to link stories and characters more strongly with writers than with artists, which is concerning for the way that it delegates and dilutes the artist’s contribution. If this multiple-artist approach is going to be part of how Marvel does business from now on, we’ll need a name for it. Unfortunately, “Frankencomics” is the name that springs to mind.

Coipel does excellent work here, of course. His three panel depiction of the spread of the Terrigenesis bomb is perhaps the most effective communication of the idea that I’ve seen, albeit squeezed into too small of a space.

Inhumanity #1
Inhumanity #1, Olivier Coipel

This whole issue is really about those three panels.

As a story in itself, Inhumanity #1 is a decent execution of a trailer you had to pay for. As set-up for the Inhumanity crossover and a taste of Fraction’s forthcoming Inhuman series it does enough to pique my interest, but it doesn’t give a very satisfying accounting of the number of new Inhumans being created. Presumably Marvel wants to stay vague and keep its options open, but this is an unusual about-face for a company that once complained (under a similar regime) that there were too many mutants.

Frustratingly, the issue ends with portentous remarks that hint at still bigger things to come. We’re being set up for the next event already, and the overall arc of the Marvel universe is in danger of taking the form of a series of guys expressing alarm about the next guy who’ll come with a warning about the next guy. That’s not storytelling, that’s a pyramid scheme.

The pay-off to such foreboding hints — the “everything” that changes forever — never seems to be as clear, as significant, or as satisfying as we were led to expect. It’s as if everyone in the Marvel universe was trained in hucksterism by Mark Millar.

But maybe this time Marvel has it all worked out to the last detail? Maybe this time they’ll really land whatever it is they worked out at the writer’s retreat before last? Maybe this time it really will change everything?

Maybe this time. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.

 

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