Agents of SHIELD inadvertently proven Inhumans don’t work, turning them into mutants. In 2013, Marvel Television launched what was supposed to be the first official MCU-related television series, Agents of SHIELD. It didn’t take long for the show to start charting its own course, with Season 2 introducing the Inhumans. Chloe Bennet’s hacker Skye was transformed into the inhuman superhero Quake, a literal makeover that essentially led to her becoming the show’s co-star.
The Inhumans’ small-screen debut was accompanied by the announcement of Phase 3 from Marvel Studios, which included the announcement of a Inhuman movie, slated for November 2, 2018. At first, it seemed like a surprising case of corporate synergy between Marvel Television and Marvel Studios; the general assumption was that Agents of SHIELD introduced the concept of the Inhumans, setting them up to become their own major MCU franchise. Unfortunately, the relationship between Marvel Studios and the rest of Marvel Entertainment soured, with Disney being forced into a major corporate restructuring in 2015. Inhumans the film was quickly dropped, with full ownership passing to Marvel Television, which launched its own Inhumans TV series instead – an ostensible companion show for Agents of SHIELD which flopped. This failure led to the Inhumans being relegated to a secondary plot point even in Agents of SHIELDwith several major arcs removed.
In truth, however, Agents of SHIELD unwittingly reported major issues with the Inhumans franchise as a whole. Marvel Comics also tried to raise his profile at the time, and Agents of SHIELD mimicked the comics by introducing a version that looked more like the mutants of the X-Men than anything else. This should have served as a warning that the Inhumans concept is a tough sell.
Inhumans have always been a hard sell
It’s easy to forget that even Marvel’s best writers and artists were people of their time. In the case of the Inhumans, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were directly influenced by the now discredited science of eugenics, which was much more common in the 1960s. This led them to create the Inhumans as a society based on superhuman castes, which seems to have had three levels:
- The Inhuman Royal Family sits atop this caste pyramid, holding office by virtue of inheritance.
- Then there are the general Inhumans, who – mostly – are never shown working.
- The lowest caste are the Alpha Primitives, a race of slaves who have been genetically engineered to have low levels of intelligence and only the most basic skills; they do all the work.
It’s immediately easy to see why these tropes and concepts are, to say the least, problematic. According to the comics, caste-based society was forced upon the Inhumans due to limited resources, but that’s really just a vindication. It also raises troubling questions about whether the Secret Genetic Council controls breeding in the lower castes, given that there aren’t many resources for everyone. This, unfortunately, is probably a major reason Inhumans historically, streaks have not tended to last long. One of the best series started in 1975, by Doug Moench and George Perez, and it only lasted 12 issues; another definitive series by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee launched in 1998 and fared no better. The basic concept just doesn’t resonate.
Marvel made the Inhumans work… by turning them into the X-Men
Marvel had an answer; turn the Inhumans into X-Men. In the comics, this was accomplished by releasing the legendary Terrigen Mists into Earth’s atmosphere. These mists trigger the development of superpowers in anyone with an Inhuman gene, and it turns out that in ancient times, humans and Inhumans intermarried a lot. Agents of SHIELD took a similar approach, with Terrigen released into Earth’s water supply. People with latent inhuman genes who came into contact with the Terrigen – perhaps by eating a fish that had been exposed to it, for example – spontaneously developed superpowers, often with little control over them.
Amazingly, this led to Marvel simply importing ideas from the X-Men. The world reacted with hatred and fear to the spontaneous transformations induced by Terrigen, with President Ellis setting up a new organization called the Advanced Threat Containment Unit (ATCU) to deal with the Inhumans in the United States. Quake first became something of a Professor X figure, trying to train new Inhumans to use their powers and build his own team of Secret Warriors. She and her SHIELD colleagues soon found themselves torn between dealing with rogue Inhumans like Lash and battling a terrorist group called the Watchdogs, clearly inspired by the classic X-Men anti-mutant group known as Friends of Humanity.
Captain America: Civil War introduced the Sokovia Accords, the MCU’s version of a controversial super-human registration law. In the movies, the Sokovia Law seems to have been limited in its influence, having mostly dealt with the governance of the Avengers. But Marvel Television changed the Sokovia Accords, with every Inhuman legally required to register – a more accurate version of SHRA, but also inspired by the X-Men’s infamous Mutant Registration Act.
Marvel Television’s Inhumans Killed the Franchise
Agents of SHIELD had made the Inhumans quite successful, and the comics took the exact same approach. And then, in 2017, Marvel Television launched its Inhumans TV series. This time they played the Inhumans directly; they introduced the city of Attilan to the dark side of the Moon and recreated caste-based society. Inhumans he himself had many problems; it lacked the advantage of slick writing, the performances were sluggish, and its shoestring budget meant the special effects were less than impressive – for example, Medusa’s hair was shaved off from the start, clearly at cost purposes. But all of these issues were compounded by the fact that the core concept of the Inhumans is outdated, controversial, and debunked science, and viewers really had no reason to connect with the characters.
The Failure of Marvel Television Inhumans led to a major course correction at Marvel. Agents of SHIELDThe story arcs veered away from the Inhumans, even leaving scant details related to the characters they introduced. In the comics, the Inhumans – who had been pushed around since 2013, at the expense of the X-Men they now so closely resembled – were gradually sidelined. 2018 Death of the Inhumans the event seemed to have an appropriate name; although it was just a comic book death, meaning it led to an inevitable resurrection, it ended the Inhumans as a major comic book presence. Their leader, Black Bolt, only returned this year to the Darkhold miniseries – the first time he had been seen since Death of the Inhumans.
Agents of SHIELD did the right thing by turning the Inhumans into a version of the X-Men. But it’s a trick Marvel Studios won’t replicate, simply because they scooped up the movie rights to the X-Men themselves when Disney acquired most of Fox’s film and TV empire. . They don’t need to create their own iteration of the X-Men; they have the real deal. And so, perhaps unsurprisingly, all the evidence suggests that the Inhumans have become a property the studio doesn’t want to touch. The next Ms. Marvel The Disney+ TV series seems poised to completely write out Kamala Khan’s inhuman origins, replacing them with something cosmic or magical. The decision seems symbolic, suggesting the age of the Inhumans is well and truly over.
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