There seems to have been a dominating form of storytelling for the last decade where plot is the most important focus with characterization taking a backseat. Hell, one of my favorite quotes for when incredibly stupid character decisions happen is “Because the Plot says so”. Now, I don’t think every big, bombastic, blockbuster piece of entertainment is this. I think characterization can be done more subtle than requiring three pages of people sitting at a kitchen table talking about how they feel. I believe, nay encourage, that plot and character walk hand-in-hand to make each other stronger. It’s a symbiotic relationship in storytelling, even if it’s not universal.
Case In Point: Uncanny Inhumans #0. Written by Charles Soule. Pencils by Steve McNiven. Inks by Jay Leisten. Colors by Justin Ponsor. Letters by Clayton Cowles.
Now, I reviewed Inhuman #1 for this site and found it quite good. Thirteen issues in and I find the world building in that book to be great and it has been building the foundation of an interesting core cast with the intriguing Queen Medusa at its center.
Uncanny Inhumans is shown to be quite a different beast. It focuses on the disgraced King Black Bolt and his quest to protect his people while essentially, and deservedly, being kicked out of Attilan by his wife. It also brings back a character that has been missing since the Fall of Attilan, Ahura, Black Bolt and Medusa’s son.
Now let’s get some aspects out of the way, while the characterization is what the meat of this discussion will be about, I still have to give praise to the other interesting plot points (including a double-page “Things to Come” page at the end by Brandon Peterson dealing with some new Inhumans, the Kree, Kang and Cyclops). With that out of the way, let’s get into what I truly want to discuss.
A criticism about the Inhumans is that they are too otherworldly, too out of touch with what we call “normal”, too…well…inhuman. They make for interesting side characters, but they’re too “out there” as a focus. Personally, I think this train of thought is lazy and cynical. A creator can make any concept work; it all comes down to execution.
That isn’t to say there isn’t an undeniable otherworldliness to the Inhumans. However, like all good science fiction, it interweaves humanity and relatability into the far-reaching concepts.
When I look at Black Bolt in this issue, I see many things. I see a King who puts his people before himself, an incredible powerhouse utilizing that power against his enemies, a man burdened by some of the horrible things he’s had to do (See: Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers), I see a brilliant mind working a complicated plan. But above all of those facets of Black Bolt, the one I see the most is a husband and a father who is trying desperately to make up for lost time.
It is best exemplified through this panel:
The entire issue is built around this one panel and dialogue, art, and lettering nailed it. The fact that Black Bolt, this cripplingly powerful, politically and literally, man who has torn the heavens with his voice, realizes that he has been a bad father. Not in an abusive way, he clearly loves his son, but like any parent with incredible responsibilities that keep him away from the places he sometimes needs to be (Coincidently, Eldrac, an Inhuman with the power to transport people where they need to be, is in this issue as well). It is time for Black Bolt to begin redeeming the years of mistakes he has made.
In a lot of ways, Black Bolt has begun to remind me of a character from my favorite comic in the medium, Fullmetal Alchemist. The character is Van Hohenheim, the father of protagonists Edward and Alphonse Elric. Hohenheim is, to put it generously, distant from his children. He has perfectly valid reasons for it, but it still eats away at him. Like Black Bolt, Van Hohenheim’s tale is one of redemption for some of the mistakes he has made and putting away devils from his past, while trying to find a way for his son Edward to forgive him. Now, Hohenheim’s story did end in a happy way, but it’s still up in the air for Black Bolt.
Being able to humanize these fantastic characters while still keeping their mystique is going to be the key for Marvel to expand on the Inhumans as they gear up for a movie and there’s still a lot to do. We have seen this expanding Inhuman world from Medusa and Black Bolt’s perspectives, but I would also like to see something from Ahura’s point of view. There is a great deal of justifiable anger in the young prince, considering this issue, and I do think it is worth exploring.
More importantly, this book, and its sister book Inhuman, need to keep the characterization in tandem with its plot. Uncanny Inhumans #0 was a very great start to that. If you want people to love these characters, then you need to make them relatable, while still keeping the mystique that Jack Kirby infused them with.