Writer: Charles Soule
Penciler: Steve McNiven
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Marvel is asking a lot of its fans and readers. For all of the times that mutant genocide has been contemplated or actually executed, it’s never stuck and it’s never felt permanent. Until Marvel editorial directed its writing staff to do just that. Gone are the X-teams, at least in the traditional or neo-revisionist forms that we have become accustomed to. And the Fantastic Four, after being laid off ignominiously, have all taken lower paying jobs as also-rans with new teams. Admittedly, I’m not sure if Sue Storm landed on her feet, but I’ve at least seen new LinkedIn posts for Ben, Johnny, and Reed posting their new gigs. And here we have one of the new flagships that is supposed to replace the retired X-Men mythos. It’s a lot to swallow, especially as it’s been drawn out over the last several months. Books like this might make it easier though.
We all know that Charles Soule, one of the hardest working scribes in comics, is a master story-teller, despite being relatively new to the genre. But his work here is that of a master surgeon. Working in conjunction with McNiven’s pencils and Gho’s colors, this issue is a good standard-bearer for the new status quo. Whatever happened in post-Secret Wars not-continuity to get the characters here, this new series focuses on what are now the key members of the race of Inhumans. Black Bolt and his estranged wife Medusa who is now dating Johnny Storm; a complex love triangle to say the least. Add an eclectic group of other Inhumans who are now charged with charting the future of the new pre-eminent race of extra-normals in the Marvel Universe. But first, they need to deal with Kang, who is trying to eradicate them from existence. And using the royal prince and heir, Ahura, son of BB and Medusa, to do so.
When you open to the first page of this book, you should be impressed. You might be floored. Black Bolt’s costume has definitely gotten the “prep him for the movie” treatment. It’s clearly not just smooth spandex, with all sorts of ruggedized textures. Nice detail treatment on his head tuning fork glowing as he and The Human Torch face off. As the pages go on, though, what is really impressive is that McNiven surmounts the difficult job of making Black Bolt, a character who has no lines of dialog, as important an actor as any other character on-screen. Maybe more. What McNiven is able to have Black Bolt emote with no use of the spoken word is some damned impressive craft. Gho’s color work on the Human Torch (gone is the solid flame mannequin with hash-marks oversimplified look) is equally jaw dropping. I love the look of McNiven’s Beast. It’s a bit furry Panthro, but it works. The only thing that is off is the large panel with all of the Inhumans coming out of a portal. It’s an action shot and not the best in the book. At first it made me think McNiven does not do action well, but might be great at talking heads shots because of his exquisite face work. But now I think this is maybe just not the best panel selection. I wonder if a full-page portrait or a landscape panel splash page may have worked better for him.
Regardless, it’s great art work, and that is important when you pair it with a great story-teller like Soule. This is him at his best. He’s clearly got a meaty story, a lot of room to maneuver without as much past history on this franchise as some others he has worked on. The work on the Death of Wolverine was not my favorite, so I am hoping that there are not as many editorial shackles as there may have been on that one. For me, Soule is perfect at unravelling a story. He’s not as much of a slow-burn as Johns or Morrison, but also does not drop reveals left and right and overspeed the story. And he knows how to pin a single issue around a particular relationship dynamic and put tons of torque on it, with a twist in one line or two that jabs you right in the eyes with the emotional pain and strain. And now he has Black Bolt and Medusa, which has become perhaps Marvel’s most prominent tragic love story. He does it in this issue with the various characters periodically disappearing and the immediate wiping of their memory from the main cast’s memory. And in the interplay between Storm, Bolt, and Medusa. He even gets Reader in on the action, when Storm acts as if he’s old school and knows to not get in between the royal family, and Reader asks him about having previously dated Medusa’s sister, Crystal.
Whether you like the creative direction Marvel has gone by subordinating the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises and raising the Inhumans to prominence or not, there is no denying that this is a sharp book. Well drawn, beautiful colors, strong story-telling; it is not a book that knocks past works off of their stools, but it definitely is something to take notice of. This run is likely to go for a long streak. If you were looking for that one thing to hop on with the hope of it sticking around a long time, this is it. And it is good.