James Asmus Takes The ‘All-New Inhumans’ Global [Interview]
It’s been nearly two years since Black Bolt crashed Attilan into the Hudson River, sending a cloud of Terrigen Mists across the planet and unlocking latent Inhuman DNA wherever it traveled. In that time, the profile of the Inhumans as a franchise has skyrocketed; they’re in the TV shows, they have a movie on the way, and the comics have expanded into an entire line, including fan favorites such Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur.
All-New Inhumans just wrapped up its first arc, as the team led by Crystal ventured to the dictatorship of Sin Cong to investigate claims that not one person there was transformed by the Terrigen Cloud. ComicsAlliance caught up with All-New Inhumans co-writer James Asmus to talk creating new Inhumans, their new global scale, and their relationship with the X-Men, both in canon and in the wider publishing landscape. We also have brand new art from All-New Inhumans #5 by Andre Araujo!
ComicsAlliance: To start, I’m interested in how the division of labor works, because your co-writer Charles Soule has been shepherding the Inhumans for a couple of years now. Was the concept and the line-up in place when you were brought on, or was it something you developed together?
James Asmus: Nick Lowe (senior editor at Marvel) reached out to me with the concept, direction, and much of the team for the book already laid out by Charles. A few plots, too. But they wanted to introduce some new characters, too. So my job was to build off of Charles’ concepts and craft the particulars of the book from there. His ideas were great, so I was happy to use as much of those as I could. But he and all our editors have also been wonderfully supportive of the stories and characters I’ve come up with and wanted to explore.
CA: The Inhumans are known for having weird, weird powers. Is it fun to create new Inhumans, or is it stressful trying to come up with powers that are exciting and unique?
JA: It’s both! But you’re exactly right on both counts. You can go a little strange with new Inhumans, if you want. And that can be helpful when it feels like every concept for powers is already taken. But I probably enjoy creating new characters --- the unique anxieties, drives, and circumstances --- of the people who wield those powers more.
CA: Stefano Caselli was the artist on the first arc of the book, how closely did you work with him on defining the look of the team and the new characters?
JA: Stefano is an absolute master of comics. I was thrilled to have him onboard because he delivers incredibly nuanced character work --- while also powering out robust and visceral action. He had to design a ton of stuff for our first issue alone --- three or four new characters, a militia, and the entire massive ship Crystal’s team is living on. (A cross between an embassy, cruise, and battle ship called the RIV.) And Stefano never needed more than really tweaks from any of us. Most designs were dead-on right away.
CA: The next arc features art from Andre Araujo, who previously worked on Inhuman. Do your scripts change from artist-to-artist, and is it easier working with someone who’s already worked with these characters recently?
JA: If I know who my artist is, I’ll usually try to lean into what I really respond to in their work. If there’s time, I’ll usually ask them to weigh in on some elements that could go a few different ways without changing what we need out of the story. Andre was a very collaborative artist. He would suggest alternate layouts or pacing for some pages that would work better for him --- and I’m always happy to have artists engage like that to make the final book better. And certainly, comic scripts are for your artist as much as for your reader. So it’s nice to not have to add the extra layer of explaining the basics.
CA: I want to dig into the cast of the book a little bit, starting with the team’s leader. Crystal has often been defined by her relationships to people around her, whether it be her sister, her boyfriends or her ex-husbands. How do you approach Crystal as a leading character?
JA: Crystal has a long, wildly diverse history in Marvel. But she was the first of the Inhumans to step out on her own and try to connect with humanity. She was an Avenger. She even married Ronan in War of Kings to broker a galactic peace. She’s always put herself out there, taken huge risks, for very compassionate reasons. I think that daring and empathy are an incredible emotional battery to put at the core of Crystal, her mission, and the series. And the dramatic experiment comes in seeing how well her virtues hold up under the incredible pressure of representing all of Inhuman-kind in very high-stakes political showdowns around the globe.
CA: All-New Inhumans is one of the few comic that feature a disabled superhero, with Gorgon still coping with his paralysis at the hands of Lineage. He has a big hero moment in the most recent issue, but how’s he coping going forward?
JA: Gorgon has always (gladly) served as a heavy-hitter in the trenches for the Inhuman family. Once that identity was shattered by paralysis, he started down a long, complicated road of redefining himself. Gorgon has usually been a pretty gruff and closed off guy. It’s exciting and kind of heartbreaking to steer him through such an emotionally loaded and transformative time for him. Now that he can’t lose himself in battle, he has to take a hard look at himself --- and confront the personal choices he regrets. And his failures as a father are #1 on that list...
CA: The series features a core-cast of NuHumans such as Flint, Swain and Grid, people who thought they were human until the Terrigen Cloud. How challenging is a book with such a large cast, and which characters should we be keeping a close eye on going into the next arc?
JA: The two issues coming up start to tease a bit more about the mysterious Skyspears that have landed all around the globe. We’ll get a better peek into Grid’s mindset there. And an important subplot teases some very, very big secrets the Inhumans have been keeping that one of the new characters just might blow open…
The second part of Andre’s two issues also has two very big turns for Flint --- including the revelation that they may have found the ‘lost colony’ of Inhumans he was mysteriously taken from at birth. So in #8 we’re diving right into a hugely formative storyline for Flint.
CA: The first issue featured a back-up story featuring the mutant Frenzy, someone with a very dedicated fanbase. What about Frenzy made her a good fit for the book, and are there plans for more Joanna Cargill going forward?
JA: Frenzy has always been a fiercely dedicated fighter for mutants. As an Acolyte and an X-Man. If anyone is willing to utilize resources offered up --- even from the people whose bomb is killing mutants --- to rescue mutants, it would be her. We’ll be taking a look inside her mission soon.
CA: Sin Cong as a location in the Marvel Universe has existed since way back in Avengers #18. What about it made it ripe for revival as the main location and antagonist for the All-New Inhumans in their first adventure?
JA: It was the perfect mix of real world analogue and heightened Marvel Universe danger. (In this case, robots and death traps that took down the Cap/Scarlet Witch/Hawkeye Avengers.) Charles had the idea of a harsh regime denying the existence of any Inhumans in its borders as an analogue for similar announcements you hear out of some dictatorships around the world about any number of persecuted groups. Sin Cong brought with it some existing Marvel history, while still being a distressingly relevant stand-in for parts of the real world.
CA: The fates of the mutants and the Inhumans are tied quite closely at the moment, with the Terrigen Cloud causing all sorts of trouble. How closely are the Inhuman writers working with the X writers?
JA: My editors have done a fantastic job of keeping me in the loop with where everyone is headed. Dennis Hopeless and Jeff Lemire are guys I made a point to touch base with early on. Everyone wanted the freedom to dig into their characters and define their books before we started messing with each other. But it does feel like something will have to come to a head soon, doesn’t it…?
CA: I don’t want to pit the two franchises against each other, but there are some readers who hold a grudge against the Inhumans for supposedly side-lining the X-Men. Without getting into conspiracy theories, what sets All-New Inhumans apart from every other team book?
JA: I’m actually glad you asked. I do see a bit of this online. But the truth is, the last few years have been the first time since the 90s when there are a lot of truly new readers and a growing interest in new and newly spotlighted characters in the Marvel Universe. Passionate fanbases for everything from Ms. Marvel to Miles Morales to Spider-Gwen have proven that there is a segment of readers who are especially excited to be there in the formative years for new characters.
All-New Inhumans offers a chance for us to dig deep into the new generation of Inhumans appearing all around the world. The Terrigen-ravaged landscape Marvel teed up is one that allows an incredibly diverse and unexpected range of new heroes and villains to emerge. And we’re taking full advantage with complicated characters from wildly different backgrounds and worldviews.
I loved --- loved --- X-books in my youth. And those characters mean a lot to me. But a big part of that is because I was along for the ride during their formative experiences. First loves. Finding themselves. I love the meaningful turning points and the important experiences of growing up far more than watching a hero’s 20th fight against the same villain. And now with All-New Inhumans, we’re crafting those types of defining, transformative stories for characters. It’s a modern, morally complicated, global story about discovering who you want to be in the world. And it’s made with genuine passion and love.
I know some people won’t look at Inhuman books, treating it like a rival sports team as opposed to what it is --- another corner of the shared Marvel Universe. I think part of why there are more Inhumans now is not unlike why there are so many mutants. Back in the day, Stan Lee wanted a way to explain lots of powers instead of continually having to invent different sci-fi accident backstories. But after 45 years of exploring that device, the story of the Marvel U cracked open a new source, and fresh ground to explore.
And I’ve heard some people disappointed that the Inhumans don’t serve as an analogue for minority and oppressed groups the way that mutants often did. But to me --- that’s not a bug in the system, that’s a feature. That territory is already well handled by the mutants. While All-New Inhumans is a team book, by the end of the first arc, you should see that the cast are on different paths as individuals. And we will see the ways they aim for very different things. It’s an opportunity to compare, contrast, and explore the way individuals around the world step up in a globalized era.
Increasingly, the real world is filled with unique people embracing the power to change the world in all manner of ways. I see our book as exploring parallels to the opportunities, challenges, and risks that come with the spread of digital tools. People are embracing digital tools, platforms, and connections for good, bad, and the complicated space in between.
So as new Inhumans become empowered around the world --- will it turn them into the next Malala Yousafzai? Donald Trump? Edward Snowden? We live in a time when regular individuals can suddenly seize and leverage influence and power. It can pit them against their own society with massive and public results. To me, Inhumans provide an opportunity to explore more complex stories of identity --- personal, cultural, national, and ideological --- and the tension and friction between those.
Long answer! But it’s one I’ve been thinking on a lot, without much chance to talk about it overtly.
CA: Lastly, the next arc sees a trip to China and a team-up with the Amazing Spider-Man. What can we expect from Skyspears, and do you have any non-Inhuman characters you’d like to bring in for a guest spot?
JA: There is a big, big plan for the Skyspears that will have big consequences for the Marvel U, well beyond the Inhumans. But you’ll start to see the first hints and secrets in these upcoming issues. Most comics fans will be happy to know one side-effect they seem to have --- is violence!
As for characters I’d like to have our team run into --- my list is long and (mostly) story-driven. There is one frenemy to the heroes of the Marvel U with a long history who has secretly been keeping an eye on the Inhumans. Around the time Flint picks sides between his family and his team, expect our mystery man to step out of the shadows with a number of familiar faces at his side…
Oh! Also --- I can’t have Crystal at the helm and not have her ex-husband Quicksilver show up, can I? That would just be irresponsible.