The past few years have proven to be very unkind to Marvel's Inhumans. While the characters once seemed to be on the verge of becoming the company's next big franchise, there are grim tidings ahead. Recently, Marvel announced Death of the Inhumans, a new comic event by writer Donny Cates and artist Ariel Olivetti. Presumably, it will pick up after the royal family's war with the Progenitors, the race that created the Inhumans in the first place. More details should be revealed this weekend at C2E2.
Despite Death of the Inhumans' ominous title, very few characters stay dead forever in superhero comics. However, there are some very good reasons why this may mark the end of the Inhumans' push for the foreseeable future. Some of the beloved Inhumans may even get killed off along the way, including Black Bolt, Medusa, or even Lockjaw.
Where did it all go wrong? In the aftermath of the Infinity crossover, the Inhumans were the focus of their own event: Inhumanity. The explosion of a Terrigen Bomb dramatically increased the number of Inhumans around the world, which led to the creation of several new characters. At the time, Marvel was widely rumored to be moving the Inhumans in this direction to help the live-action Inhumans fill the role of the genetically enhanced X-Men in the MCU. We even saw the Inhumans as a persecuted superhuman race on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was supposed to pave the way for an Inhumans movie.
Unfortunately, Marvel positioned the Inhumans' newfound status as a zero-sum game with the X-Men. While the Inhumans rose to greater heights within the Marvel Universe, the X-Men were poisoned by the Terrigen in the atmosphere. That was the first mistake because it meant X-Men fans would immediately side with their heroes while resenting the upstarts who were usurping their place.
Inhumans became the enemy.
Marvel also pushed too hard to make Inhumans into a franchise that could support multiple ongoing series, a move largely rejected by readers, although a few fan-favorites emerged from this initiative. Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl have proven to be among the most popular new Inhumans (NuHumans), but they probably would have been just as popular if they had been mutants instead.
The biggest slap in the face of the Inhumans was the live-action TV series that debuted last fall, Inhumans. It was practically hated out of existence by fans and critics alike. ABC hasn't officially canceled Inhumans, but no one seriously expects the poorly funded series to return after sporting a severely damaged brand from the get-go. Essentially, it's the Inhumans' Howard the Duck moment.
Hollywood got it so wrong that the characters may never live down the embarrassment.
The final nail in the coffin might be the upcoming Disney/Fox merger. If it goes forward (and it probably will), then there won't be any need for Marvel to have a substitute for the X-Men or mutants. That leaves the Inhumans out in the cold.
Is there still hope for these characters? Absolutely. The fact that Marvel is even bothering to publish Death of the Inhumans shows us there's still a chance for the characters to thrive. But first, Marvel needs to make fans care about them again. If Black Bolt, Medusa, or even Lockjaw get absolutely heartbreaking and memorable deaths, it could be just the thing to remind readers why they were cool in the first place.
It was a mistake to make the Inhumans into the substitute X-Men. That was never what made those characters special.
The Inhumans stood out because they were superhuman royalty and the guardians of an entire hidden civilization. When played right, the Inhumans can have more than enough palace intrigue to hold their own series. Hopefully, that's something Cates (or the writer who follows him) will be able to pull off. The Inhumans can still have a place in the larger Marvel Universe, it just has to be theirs and no else's. Make no mistake, Marvel would probably love the chance to restore some of the Inhumans' lost luster. But it's ultimately going to be up to the fans.
Death of the Inhumans has a lot riding on it, including the future of the franchise. If readers don't respond to this story, then it could be quite a long time before the Inhumans get another chance to hold down their own comic. We're hoping the royal family will get some much-needed redemption from this tale. But we'll find out more when Death of the Inhumans #1 hits comic stores in July.