Of Inhuman Bondage

Marvel Masterworks: The Inhumans Volume 2, written by Doug Moench, Scott Edelman and Marv Wolfman, illustrated by George Perez, Gil Kane, Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Bob Hall, Terry Austin and others (1975-78; collected 2010): Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created the Inhumans during their long and essential run on their Fantastic Four title in the 1960’s.

The product of genetic experiments by the mighty, interstellar Kree Empire intended to create biological weapons, the Inhumans are basically a race of super-heroes. Led by the ever-silent Black Bolt (who can destroy things by whispering, much less talking) and the rest of his royal family (wife Medusa and cousins Crystal, Gorgon, Triton and Karnak), the Inhumans avoid contact with humans while they hide away in their Himalayan city of Attilan.

They’re great supporting characters. As the leads in their own book, they’ve never been much of a success. This volume collects the entire run (all 12 issues) of their first standalone, continuing series from the mid-1970’s, along with other appearances from that time period.

Doug Moench struggles mightily to invest these ciphers with defining characteristics beyond the simplistic (Black Bolt is noble! Gorgon complains all the time!) while also situating them within a much more blatantly science-fictional universe than that surrounding most other Marvel characters. Genetic engineering and space travel yield a number of productive storylines, as does the internal and external politics of the Kree Empire. Black Bolt’s nobility is put to the test again and again. Everybody, human and alien, seems to either despise the Inhumans or want a piece of them. They’re like mutants in the Marvel Universe, only moreso.

As Moench notes in his introduction, Kirby and Lee were playing with Chariots of the Gods material when they originally created the Inhumans — aliens tampering with human evolution and human history. The names of many of the Inhumans are drawn from human mythology, suggesting that they may be the source of certain myths. And of course there’s the city of Attilan, its name echoing Atlantis, which once was an island on the ocean until the Inhumans moved it to the Himalayas. Jack Kirby would further indulge his Space-gods ideas in the New Gods and the Eternals; in the Inhumans we find more of a rough draft, still more tortured mutants than gods (I’m assuming that’s mostly the work of Lee).

The great George Perez pencilled several issues of the continuing series, giving the reader solid superhero work that already shows flashes of the top-end superhero artist he would fully become by the early 1980’s. Gil Kane and the always solid Keith Pollard also pencil some issues. The whole thing doesn’t really go anywhere, but the ride is enjoyable. Recommended.

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