After decades of being a fascinating but minor part of the Marvel Universe, the Inhumans have stepped up in a big way. Originally created as supporting characters to the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans were an early attempt to expand the length and breadth of the Marvel Universe, and allowed the great mind of Jack Kirby to stretch his imagination by building a lost civilization, a motif he would return to in the pages of New Gods, The Eternals, and Kamandi.
During the Inhumans’ rich history, some of comic’s greatest creators have taken their shots at the lost tribe, and recently Marvel Comics have shined a spotlight on the greatness of the Inhumans with new Inhuman characters that have become part of the foundation of the modern day MCU. See for yourself!
A Star Crossed Romance in the Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four #45-48 (1965) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The Inhumans arguably appeared during the most creative time in Marvel history. Right before Lee and Kirby sprung Galactus and Silver Surfer on their unsuspecting fan base, they introduced another team that spoke to the boundless creativity of both creators during the pinnacle of the Silver Age. The introduction of the Inhumans was not just another Silver Age story. It was a tale that expanded the Marvel Universe and was fraught with unexpected characters and a fateful love affair that would change the course of two races.
When an emotional Johnny Storm meets a mysterious redhead, he follows her and meets her family. Revealed as a girl named Crystal, the redhead was part of a race of super-powered beings hidden in the Himalayas.
The Inhumans, as they called themselves, were forbidden to interact with humans, and as Johnny met each member of the Royal Family, the story grew exponentially. One by one, Lee and Kirby revealed Karnak, a martial arts master, Gorgon, a cloven hoofed powerhouse, Black Bolt, the brooding and silent king of the Inhumans Triton, an aquatic adventurer, and most unexpected of all, Crystal’s sister Medusa, a former member of the Frightful Four, a team of villains that had previously plagued the FF.
By adding Medusa, Lee and Kirby added an air of foreboding uncertainty to the Royal Family. Were they heroes or villains, and why would they accept a member of the Frightful Four into their midst? By the time it was all over, Marvel had a new team of super-powered anti-heroes granted amazing gifts by the constantly revving story device, the Terrigen Mists, and a mysterious new locale.
The Inhumans looked like heroes, but there was a mood of danger around them. What kinds of heroes were led by a man who could destroy cities with his voice and harbored known villains? This was the Inhumans, a daring new team of superhumans whose origin would define the cosmic confines of the growing Marvel Universe.
The Thor Back Ups
Thor #146-153 (1967-1968) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The backstory of the Inhumans was certainly mythic in scope. So much so that Lee and Kirby used the characters as a backup feature in Thor. The Inhumans archetypes would be used again by Kirby in other books as his all too brief run on solo Inhumans stories became an unscratched itch for a lost civilization legend.
Aspects of the noble but tragic ruler of the Inhumans, Black Bolt would later appear in Orion of the New Gods and Icarus of the Eternals. The loyal and regal queen, Medusa, would be mirrored in the Eternals’ Thena. Karnak, the cold and masterful strategist would be reflected in Metron, while aspects of Gorgon, his rage and primal fury, would also be seen in Orion. Even the Shakespearean familial conflict between Black Bolt and his insane brother Maximus the Mad would be thematically explored again in the New Gods’ core conflict between brothers Orion and Kaliback.
This was one of the first times Lee and Kirby explored the beginnings of the Marvel Universe, a pre-history that expanded the core universe and blurred the edges of its origins. Kirby introduced the concept that the Inhumans were Kree experiments, something that would become key to the Royal Family’s history. Black Bolt and Maximus’s background early tragic relationship was explored and rivals the Thor/Loki dynamic for sheer drama.
Amazing Adventures #1-10 (1970-1972)
Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Mike Sekowsky
Spinning directly out of the Thor back-ups, Jack Kirby got to continue his tale in the pages of the anthology title, Amazing Adventures. Reportedly, Jack had been working on an Inhumans title for two years, only to have the it shunted to the back of Thor, which displeased the artist. Be that as it may, the craftsmanship on the Thor back-ups was frenetic, and Kirby’s work on Amazing Adventures was no different.
Like any anthology of the time, the title sold less than any solo feature, which was a shame, as a Kirby Inhumans book at the dawn of the ’70s could have ushered in an era of creative concepts that built off his Fantastic Four and Thor work. Instead, Inhumans became an afterthought in a low-selling anthology.
That’s not to say the book wasn’t spectacular, as Kirby was at his best. The concept reinvigorated Jack and it was more than clear he wanted the characters to be a major part of Marvel’s past, present, and future. The Inhumans were cast in an eerie light…anti-heroes who did not trust or appreciate the outside world.
It was a step beyond Marvel’s then recently (and ironically) canceled X-Men because with the Inhumans, the prejudice between their race and humans was completely mutual. Fans didn’t know if they could fully trust the Royal Family, and in the first issue, Black Bolt is tricked into believing that the Fantastic Four had shot missiles at their refuge. Readers knew it was Maximus the Mad, Bolt’s insane brother, who committed the act, but casting the Inhumans in the role of hostile other set the tone for the series and many Inhumans appearances to follow. The conflict is resolved by the second issue but it was clear that the Inhumans were ready to go to war with humanity at the slightest provocation…a war they would not have to wait to long for as the next issue saw the Inhumans go up against the Mandarin.
With the end of the war with the Mandarin, Kirby departed the book with Amazing Adventures #4 and Marvel altogether. As for Amazing Adventures, things were in fantastic creative hands as the future X-Men team of Neal Adams and Roy Thomas took over and cut their teeth on their first group of Marvel outcasts. Adams and Thomas only stuck around for a couple of truly Amazing Adventures (boom), Thomas was replaced by Gerry Conway and Adams was replaced by co-creator of the Justice League Mike Sekowsky.
All the creators before and after Kirby tried to give readers the sense that the Inhumans were part of the Marvel Universe, co-starring such characters as Thor and Magneto, but fans didn’t support the anthology. Not even a title change for the final two issues (to Black Bolt and The Inhumans) could save it.
Doug Moench, George Perez, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Keith Pollard
Fans didn’t have to wait long for another go at an Inhumans solo feature, and this time Marvel dove into the Terrigen Mists feet first and finally gave the Inhumans their own book. The book, written by the steady hand of Doug Moench, also continued the tradition of A-list artists on the Inhumans. First George Perez and then Gil Kane drew the adventures of the Royal Family.
There was still a tone of mistrust between the Inhumans and the outside world and Moench understood the character dynamics. Maximus continued to be the main villain and the title delved deeper in the Inhuman’s connection to the Kree. Sadly, the Inhumans were still major supporting players in the Fantastic Four so Moench couldn’t make any seismic changes to any member of the family. His adventures were entertaining, and always beautifully drawn, but they had no real consequence and hence no drama.
Marvel Knights Inhumans (1998-1999)
Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee
When the Inhumans did return to their own series, they did so with a bang. Part of the four original Marvel Knights series, the imprint that ushered in the Joe Quesada era, The Inhumans was a groundbreaking series that redefined the look and tone of the Inhumans for a new generation of readers.
Paul Jenkins returned the Royal Family to their alien roots, focusing on their Kree origins and their interfamily struggles as well as their place in a world filled with aliens, mutants, gods, and superhumans. Jae Lee’s pencils portrayed the Inhumans as regal outsiders, eerie and gorgeous. The series was a true work of art and arguably the best book Marvel produced in the late ’90s.
Moving forward, in comics, television, or film, other than Kirby, this series is where other media will draw from the most.
Son of M and The Silent War (2007)
David Hine and Frazier Irving
Starting with Paul Jenkins series and continuing into McKeever’s work, Quicksilver was not part of the Inhuman narrative. He was divorced from Crystal in the pages of Avengers and continued his discontent into X-Factor, but after the events of House of M, where Quicksilver was directly responsible for the destruction of the mutant race, Pietro was left lost and considered a race traitor.
The Silent War returned the character to his Inhuman roots as Quicksilver steals the Terrigen Mists hoping to use them to rekindle the spark of mutantkind. The Inhumans were once again cast in the role of threat, as the Royal Family comes to the human to find who stole the Mists and end up going to war against humanity.
By the time the series was over, the Inhumans were seen as aggressive antagonists to the human race. The series features the Inhumans going one-on-one against the Avengers, reminding modern fans just how badass the Royal Family can be. The series also sees the USA invade the Inhuman homeland of Attilan.
Realm of Kings (2010)
Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Pablo Raimondi
After successfully ushering in the new Cosmic Age for Marvel with Annihilation, the power writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning turned their sights on the Inhumans. This is where the Inhuman connection to the Kree really came to a head as Ronan the Accuser planned to use the Inhumans as the ultimate weapon against their enemies the Shi’ar.
At this time, Crystal was forced to marry Ronan to foster a peace between Kree and Inhumans, and remained loyal to him. This brought Crystal into conflict with the Royal Family, specifically Medusa. It’s like Game of Thrones, in space, with a woman who has living, killer hair.
Abnett and Lanning are the writers that brought future movie superstars, the Guardians of the Galaxy into prominence and their take on the Inhumans should be experienced by fans eagerly awaiting the next step in the evolution of Marvel’s strangest heroes.
Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung, Jerome Opeña, and Dustin Weaver
Infinity was an event crossover that saw Thanos lead an invasion of Earth and go fist to fist with a huge gaggle of Avengers. You can bet the Avengers: Infinity War film will borrow from this story as a number of Thanos’ minions introduced in this event will play a major role in his cinematic machinations. However, we are here for the Inhumans, and in this epic event, Black Bolt was forced to expose the entirety of the Earth to the Terrigen mist to defeat Thanos. The resulting spread of the mists caused countless Inhumans to be created.
Before Infinity, Marvel’s Earth was made up of humans and mutants for the most part, but this event allowed Marvel to introduce many new characters and the spread of the mists was somewhat mirrored on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. After the battle with Thanos, Black Bolt and his people stepped up to be major players.
Matt Fraction, Olivier Coipel, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Dustin Weaver. Nick Bradshaw, and Todd Nauck
What began in Infinity continues in Inhumanity. This series is told through the point of view of Karnak, an Inhuman who can see all the flaws in a world made up of countless new Inhumans. Throughout Inhumanity, writer Matt Fraction introduces many new Inhumans that have played major roles in both the comics and on Agents of SHIELD.
Inhumanity was the beginning of the new Inhumans status quo and its impact is still being felt in all Inhuman focused Marvel titles. Plus, it created brave new directions for Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, and the rest of the iconic Inhumans created by Kirby and Lee so long ago.
By Matt Fraction, Charles Soule, Ryan Stegman, and Joe Madureira
Inhumanity continues in Inhuman, a deep look into the new world where Inhumans are becoming more prominent in the affairs of Earth. New characters like Reader, Flint, and Inferno all play major roles in this series as Fraction and Soule really play up the Game of Thrones like political machinations of Black Bolt, Medusa, and Maximus as this series is a deep dive into the current state of Inhumanity and the new characters that are appearing thanks to Black Bolt’s actions in Infinity.
By Charles Soule, Steve McNiven, Brandon Peterson, RB Silva, and more
Uncanny Inhumans is the series where the Inhumans played major roles in some truly seismic Marvel events. In addition to introducing concepts like Black Bolt’s karaoke bar, the Inhumans were important players in both Civil War II and Inhumans Versus X-Men. In fact, Civil War II was focused on an Inhuman named Ulysses, a young precog that could predict crimes and attacks before they happened. The heroes of the Marvel Universe were split in deciding how to handle evil before it was committed as the creation of more and more Inhumans began to impact the firmament of the Marvel Universe.
The saga of Ulysses, the war between Inhumanity and mutantkind, and the continuing power struggles between the major Inhuman players make Uncanny Inhumans a must read series for all readers hungry for more Inhumans action. Of all the Inhumans series (and there’s been a lot these past five years), Uncanny Inhumans is the series where the Inhumans and the major events of Marvel are inseparable.
By Warren Ellis, Roland Boschi, and Jorge Zaffino
During Inhumanity, Karnak underwent some major changes. When Kirby and Lee created Karnak, the master martial artist was always a somber, cold character that always got the job done. Karnak has the Inhuman ability to find the weakness in anything. So, basically Karnak can bring down a building with a quick tap of his hand. But in Inhumanity and beyond, Karnak became even more driven and intense.
When Warren Ellis got a hold of Karnak, fans of the Inhuman fighting machine learned just how terrifying this warrior can be. Karnak the series is filled with awesome and chilling moments of Karnak utilizing his powers to save a young Inhuman boy. Karnak may be a short series, but it is a perfect spotlight for this unique and at times, downright freighting royal Inhuman. Karnak looks like he can be a stand out character on TV, and with this series, Ellis and company created a perfect primer on what makes this kickass force of fury so awesome.
By Charles Soule, James Asmus, and Stefano Caselli
Did you know that the Inhuman known as Crystal was once married to Ronan the Accuser? Crystal once tied to knot with the hammer wielding big bad from Guardians of the Galaxy.
All-New Inhumans takes place after that marriage went south, so this series is really your one stop shop to get to know the classic royal Inhuman named Crystal. Crystal and her team’s mission is to find and help save any new Inhuman created by the Terrigen outbreak. But for old fans, it is a chance to spend some quality time with Crystal, a former member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and a woman that remains an underutilized and remarkable part of the MU. Hopefully the TV series does Crystal justice as she is often overlooked during the Inhumans saga, but not in All-New Inhumans.
By Charles Soule, Jeff Lemire, and Leinil Francis Yu
When Black Bolt unleashed the Terrigen cloud on the world, he turned his Inhuman people from a little known hidden race to another super powered minority. This led to the inevitable conflicts with Marvel’s mutants, a conflict that came to a head in IVX. Thing were made much worse when it was discovered that the Terrigen cloud has rendered the mutant race infertile, meaning that the Inhumans became a dire threat to mutantkind. The war between Black Bolt’s people and the mutant heroes and villains of the Marvel U led to great changes for many X and Inhuman characters.
In this age of endless crossovers and hero versus hero events, IVX stood out as an intense and tragic drama where both groups were in the right. As the X-Men tried to destroy all Terrigen on Earth, the Inhumans fought for their right to exist and the mutants for their right to survive.
By Al Ewing and Jonboy Meyers
Go ahead, read this Inhumans focused comic without getting that Lorde song stuck in your head, we dare you. After the devastating impact of IVX, Royals examines the fallout of the conflict to the original Inhumans Royal family created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This title focuses on Medusa and her kin as they now try to survive and thrive in a world where they are suddenly major players on the world stage. Royals is a grand, sweeping epic series that is not afraid to dissect decades old characters. These days, Royals is the core Inhumans title and it’s pretty darn potent in our humble opinion.
By Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward
Where Royals is a grand and sweeping tapestry of Inhuman action, Black Bolt is refreshingly personal. After six decades of existence, Black Bolt, the silent king of the Inhumans, finally has his own title.
In this series, Black Bolt is imprisoned and replaced by his brother Maximus the Mad. The series focuses on Black Bolt stripped of his powers and able to speak attempting to bust out of a cosmic prison with the unlikely assistance of some of Earth’s super villains. Yes folks, for some reason, the Black Bolt solo series also features the best damn Absorbing Man story you will ever read. We are not kidding. This series gives Marvel a chance to examine the usual silent and stoic king of the Inhumans. Black Bolt is a fun and improbable series that is floating under the radar these days, but check it out for some awesome character work on one of Marvel’s most intense and unknowable monarchs.
Inhumans: Once and Future Kings
By Christopher Priest and Phil Noto
Christopher Priest is a writer who knows his way around politics. Priest penned countless unforgettable Black Panther tales back in the early 2000s and now the writer has turned his Machiavellian sensibilities to the history of the Inhumans. Inhumans: Once and Future Kings is a deep dive into Inhumans political history. Again, I’m going to do the obvious and compare the complex machinations of Inhuman royalty to the world of Game of Thrones, but the comparison is apt as Priest focuses on the intrigues and betrayals that have defined Inhuman royal history. Who doesn’t love a good historical flashback?
As the Royal Family moves forward as major players in the Marvel universe, it is only a matter of time till new legions of fans find out what Lee and Kirby introduced back in 1965. The Inhumans may not be the flashiest players in the Marvel Universe, but they very well might be the most dangerous.