Over the last few decades, comic book movies have reached heights of storytelling and spectacle that readers could never have DREAMED of. But for every triumphant high—The Dark Knight, The Avengers—there have always been a good number of stinkers… some bad enough to become punchlines or talking points, but most mediocre and ultimately forgotten…
Until they end up here.
The Discount Spinner Rack is where you’ll find the worst, the weirdest, and the most puzzling of comic book movie misfires. We’ll take a look at the things that actually work and the parts that absolutely don’t, and decide whether it’s worth your time and your dime. In the end, movies will be marked down on a scale from $1.00 (a surprise gem) to $0.05 (better used for kindling). To celebrate our TWENTIETH official spin around the Rack, I’ve opted to do something special: I’ve subjected myself to ALL EIGHT hour-long episodes of the infamously heinous MCU-adjacent Marvel Television production, Inhumans! (Buckle up, kiddos—there’s a lot to unpack here!)
Spite is a helluva motivator.
Case in point: the roots of today’s subject can be traced alllllll the way back in 1994, when producer Lauren Shuler Donner purchased the film rights to the X-Men for 20th Century Fox. Marvel Comics had been working hard to license their properties to movie studios since the ‘80s, in an effort to legitimize their brand (and to rake in some of that sweet Hollywood dough). But after motion picture deals had fallen through with Orion Pictures, Carolco, and Columbia, Fox was ultimately won over by the success of the X-Men cartoon on their network’s Saturday morning line-up. Several years of development later1, Donner enlisted director Bryan Singer to lens a slick, stripped-down X-Men film, which leaned heavily on the sci-fi/action aesthetics of post-Matrix Hollywood (black leather costumes, monochromatic cinematography); the film came out the summer of 2000, and it was a decent-sized hit. But it also helped to establish Marvel as a bankable brand for studios, paving the way for the record-breaking release of Spider-Man two years later—which kick-started the superhero movie explosion that turned Marvel into a household name!
Flash forward to… oh, let’s say 2013. The game had VERY much changed. Around 2006, Marvel Comics had parlayed their industry connections and brand clout into forming their OWN film production company: Marvel Studios. Their plan—to develop comic-faithful, mainstream films about the characters that major studios WOULDN’T buy the rights to (Captain America, Thor… you know, the lame characters)—proved to be a smashing success when their very first film, 2008’s Iron Man, grossed $585 million worldwide. The next year, the studio and its parent company were bought up by the Walt Disney Company; then in 2012, the fledgling studio changed the landscape of popular cinema as we know it with the release of The Avengers! So Marvel Comics had gone from being an underdog at the mercy of major movie studios to being the biggest game in town.
But they had a problem: the studio couldn’t include any of the characters that they’d already licensed the rights to in their new, fledgling “cinematic universe”. This included nearly all of their most iconic characters: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four… and the X-Men, a property which had just gotten a cinematic second wind with the release of X-Men: First Class and was back to being a prized IP at 20th Century Fox. With negotiations for re-acquiring the rights firmly off the table, Marvel Studios found itself deprived of one of its most beloved, successful properties… and that’s when Ike Perlmutter, C.E.O. of Marvel Entertainment (and head of all its subsidiaries, including Marvel Studios)2, came up with a petty and thoroughly devious plot. Because as he saw it, if 20th Century Fox wouldn’t let them use the X-Men…
… well, they could always just replace the X-Men with something else.
Look… the Inhumans have always kind of sucked, okay?
This offbeat collection of weirdos has been lurking around the fringes of the Marvel universe since the salad days, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced them as antagonists in their seminal run on Fantastic Four; they’re not superheroes so much as an assortment of isolationist autocratic xenophobes3 with superpowers. The lead characters—Black Bolt, Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton, Crystal, and Lockjaw—were originally escapees from the hidden Inhuman city of Attilan, fleeing the tyrannical rule of Black Bolt’s treacherous brother Maximus the Mad. By the end of the story, however, Bolt had dethroned Maximus, and reclaimed Attilan before his brother could launch an attack on humanity; their central conflicts were essentially OVER after three issues.
In hindsight, they seem to be a dry run for Kirby’s eventual “New Gods” and “Eternals” concepts: a royal family of highly evolved superbeings who live in their own insular sci-fi kingdom (though, unlike the later characters, the Inhumans as a society have no sworn enemies to battle, which leaves them rudderless as far as motivation goes). But the Inhumans were never meant to be leads; they were just representatives of another strange fantasy society for the Fantastic Four to run afoul of in their many episodic adventures.
And what exactly ARE “Inhumans”, anyway? Well, initially they were a divergent race of humanoids who’d already developed a technologically advanced civilization back when mankind was still in the Stone Age, and used genetic manipulation to give themselves superpowers. When proto-humanity inevitably tried to destroy them with rocks and spears, they created Attilan as a fortified refuge and retreated from the rest of the world4. But later writers would reveal that the Inhumans were the product of genetic manipulation performed by the Kree on ancient humanity, in an attempt to create super-powered warriors (until they ultimately abandoned the project5). Humans descended from these test subjects would present as completely normal at first, until they were exposed to an alien substance called “Terrigen”—at which point they’d develop crazy-ass superpowers, unique to each individual and ranging from the trivial to the catastrophically powerful.
Aside from an acclaimed miniseries from Paul Jenkins that ran under the original Marvel Knights banner in 19986, the Inhumans had never made much of a splash with readers (because it bears repeating: they kind of suck). But that didn’t stop Ike Perlmutter from deciding that the Inhumans were going to become the NEW X-Men… whether fans liked it or not.
Perlmutter is a controversial figure in the history of Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios. Most famously, he was the man who repeatedly blocked attempts to produce a Black Widow movie, because he insisted that a female-led superhero movie would tank at the box office. He also refused to produce ANY Black Widow merchandise for the Avengers films, and pushed to recast Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in the Iron Man films with the rationale that black people “look the same”, so no one would notice7. And under his tenure as C.E.O., characters whose movie rights were owned by 20th Century Fox (specifically the X-Men and Fantastic Four) started to disappear from the comic books and merchandising shelves… and while a mandate was never officially acknowledged, rumor was that Ike was determined not to promote any franchises that would make a competing studio money. So while the X-Men were getting shoved farther and farther into the margins… wouldn’t you know it, suddenly the Inhumans are getting a MAJOR push by the publisher—complete with major company-wide storylines, new characters, and a new status quo that sees Inhumans being created spontaneously across the globe, just like mutants!8
But comics weren’t the end of it—ooooh, no. They were just the beginning!
In 2014, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced a 2018 release date for an Inhumans motion picture as part of their extended film slate—a project which Feige was reportedly not happy about, but which Perlmutter had forced into development. Feige had chafed under Perlmutter’s executive control for as long as the studio had existed (he’d been championing a Black Widow film since the release of Iron Man 2). The situation eventually got so bad that Feige appealed directly to Alan Horn (chairman of The Walt Disney Studios) to restructure Marvel Studios so that Feige could have complete control of the film department, while Perlmutter would still maintain control of the television and comic book divisions. Horn agreed (Perlmutter’s reputation preceded him), so in 2015 Kevin Feige was made the creative head of the film studio… and shortly after that, the Inhumans movie was quietly dropped from the release schedule.
But by then, Perlmutter had already begun setting the table for the Inhumans’ debut in the MCU. A running plotline on the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which, at the time, was supposed to be tied in to the continuity of the movies9) had introduced the concept of Inhumans, the genetic machinations of the Kree10, Terrigen—ALL of the crazy, convoluted backstory from the books. They even revealed that one of the main characters (“Skye”) was actually an Inhuman superhero named Quake! The show spent two seasons building up Inhumans as a concept that was going to have a wider payoff in the MCU—even introducing a plot point wherein Terrigen had been seeded into the world’s oceans, causing the widespread transformation of people around the globe with Inhuman DNA. The stage was SET. And with or without Kevin Feige’s help, Perlmutter was going to go on with the show!
Before long, Marvel Television approached ABC11 and pitched them a television EVENT unlike anything they’d done before. The plan? To team with IMAX and produce an eight-episode Inhumans series with a much higher budget than an average broadcast sci-fi drama—shooting the first two episodes with IMAX cameras and cutting them together into a feature-length pilot that could be released into theaters to promote the show! The greenlight was given, and before long a showrunner was brought aboard to bring the whole project together: seasoned TV writer and showrunner Scott Buck!
… As in, Marvel’s Iron Fist Scott Buck.
… Or “last few seasons of Dexter” Scott Buck.
The result is the closest we have ever gotten to seeing an MCU project fail utterly and spectacularly. (Not that the show WASN’T a failure—it absolutely was—but it technically isn’t even a part of the universe anymore12.) The theatrical IMAX release only managed to draw in $3.5 million over a two-week period, and the series broadcast barely eeked out higher ratings than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite an extensive marketing push (including a trailer attached to IMAX screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2). This series was SO awful that it killed any remaining ambition to push the Inhumans as a “big thing” in the Marvel mythology; the very next year, Marvel Comics published an event titled “Death of the Inhumans” that killed off all but the few most popular new characters (Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl) and exiled the Royal Family into the cosmos somewhere (no one really cares where)13. And it goes without saying that ABC didn’t bother to renew the show for a second season. The franchise was rendered radioactive.
So let’s take a look at what spite and greed hath wrought, shall we?
IN THIS ISSUE: A terrible story about terrible people, terribly told.
The main plot of Inhumans will sound very familiar if you happen to have seen Thor. The Royal Family of Attilan—King Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan), Bolt’s cousins Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor), Triton (Mike Moh), and Karnak (Ken Leung), and Medusa’s sister Crystal (Isabelle Cornish)—rule over a kingdom of Inhumans living in secret on the moon, so as not to be persecuted by the human race. But when the king’s jealous brother Maximus stages a coup to claim the throne, the family escapes to Earth—getting scattered around the island of Oahu in Hawaii14, where they each have their own fish-out-of-water adventures in human society while trying to reunite and defeat Bolt’s treacherous brother. It’s a typical good king/bad king fantasy conflict, with a “fantasy characters wandering around a contemporary world” hook that makes for lower budgets and easier shooting (which is why you see it in so many cheap B-movies, like Masters of the Universe and Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time).
But context counts for a lot here. Because the thing is… Attilan is a HORRIBLE place! It’s a city on the moon with limited space, limited resources, and an ever-expanding population. Worse still, it’s governed by a rigid and arbitrary caste system: when a young Inhuman is exposed to Terrigen and develops superpowers (a ritualistic, quasi-religious process they call “Terrigenesis”), the kind of powers they get (which, remember, is entirely random) determines their placement in society for the rest of their lives. And if you get crappy abilities? Well, then you get to do hard labor in the mines—digging up moon rocks to, I guess, power the city’s invisibility dome or something. So to sum up, Attilan is an absolute monarchy governed entirely by eugenics; the place is like a Nazi wet dream.
Knowing this, the viewer would assume that the thrust of this story will be about the ultimate dismantling of this unjust system, in opposition to a tyrant who only wishes to preserve the status quo, right? Well, of course!
… Except the guy who wants to tear down the caste system is Maximus, the main villain of the story.
Maximus, as played by Game of Thrones alumni Iwan Rheon (in a transparent bid to steal some of that show’s second-hand prestige), is the black sheep of the Royal Family; he went through Terrigenesis like everyone else, but he ultimately came out the other side as a normal, powerless human. And from the first episode, we see the other members of the Royal Family treating this guy like crap. Gorgon openly mocks him, Black Bolt and Medusa ignore his advice, and no one respects him. But among the lower caste, Maximus has a following because he openly rails against the caste system—pointing out that it’s unfair, that it only exists because they’re stuck on the friggin’ moon and have to ration resources, and that all their problems would be solved if they just went down to Earth. And he’s absolutely right!!!
Swaying the leader of the Royal Guard, Auran (Sonya Balmores), to his cause, Maximus successfully manages to oust Black Bolt and the others from power. He then disbands the Genetic Council, a committee of elders who dictate which Inhumans go into which caste—effectively ending the caste system, exactly as he promised. And while he then mostly focuses his attention on killing Bolt to solidify his claim to the throne, his plan to head to Earth is clearly next on the docket15. Maximus REALLY SEEMS to be doing all the right things here! Yet the show frames him as a sniveling, underhanded worm—trying to convince me that he’s the “bad guy” just because he’s paranoid, manipulative, and treacherous16, and because he wants to kill off the Royal Family.
But the thing is, I want him to kill the Royal Family! Because they’re a bunch of irredeemable assholes!
ALL of our main characters are self-involved, unsympathetic, and/or spiteful. Black Bolt17, who is functionally mute (his special ability is a voice powerful enough to level mountains, so he has to remain quiet at all times), is largely left as a blank slate; because he can’t allow himself to relax for a SECOND (lest he vaporize some poor fool standing in the way of his merest sigh), poor Anson Mount plays him like a perpetually constipated robot—wandering through the episodes with a semi-confused scowl plastered on his face at all times—and as a result, we can’t connect with the guy emotionally. All we know about him is that: 1.) he does seem to love his wife, 2.) he’s more than willing to lie to everyone he cares about to play political games (he actually fakes Triton’s death for six straight episodes—WITHOUT telling his family—just to trick Maximus into making a move against him18), and 3.) he demands unwavering, unquestioning loyalty from his subjects AND his family, with his repeated admonitions to “trust your King”… despite the fact that he refuses to confide in them with his PLANS or take any of their political advice. So overall: kind of a dick.
… Oh, and we find out early on that he accidentally killed his own parents after he first got his powers, in a shot that is easily the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve ever seen:
(Man, they really do just get VAPORIZED, don’t they?)
As boring an inert as Bolt is, though, his queen Medusa (whose power is long, prehensile hair—hence the name) makes up for it by being thoroughly AWFUL. Medusa is an angry, vicious person who threatens violence against everyone she comes up against; she drags a woman into the plot by holding her at gunpoint for nearly an entire episode (and repeatedly threatening her life), and her first words of comfort to Black Bolt after Maximus’s coup is that they would find Maximus and “tie a rope around his neck and throw him from the highest wall in the city”! She also voices the most openly pro-eugenics argument in the entire series when confronted by Locus (an Inhuman fighting for Maximus to abolish the caste system), AND she argues that any challenge to the system would be a challenge to Black Bolt himself as king—which implies that the only reason that Bolt and Medusa support the caste system is because it justifies their absolute power as monarchs.
As for the others: Karnak—who has the power to “see the flaw in all things”19 (which somehow amounts to him having Nicolas Cage’s future-predicting powers from Next—go figure)—is an emotionless, nihilistic tool who has no regard for the feelings of others and openly considers himself superior to everyone around him. Crystal—who has element powers, or something—is a vapid, doe-eyed brat who strands everyone on Earth against their wishes when the coup starts, and then faffs about with a cute boy when she’s supposed to be tracking them all down later on. Gorgon—who has stompy goat-hooves and super-strength—is an openly disdainful Inhuman-supremacist who relentlessly mocks Maximus and all of humankind for their “genetic inferiority” (I can’t help but think it was a deliberate troll move to cast the ONE BLACK MAN in the show as what is essentially an out-and-out racist). Oh, and Triton—the fish guy—is only in two episodes, and has no personality whatsoever.
Each of these characters (except for Triton, who is not, strictly speaking, a “character”) ends up on their own little solo adventures once they make it down to Oahu… and perhaps unsurprisingly, these adventures all turn out to be an exercise in aimless wheel-spinning that manages to keep the plot on hold until the finale! And it makes up, like, 90% of the show!
Black Bolt gets arrested and sent to jail after stupidly trying to walk out of a clothing store without paying for his new clothes (because apparently he doesn’t understand the concepts of money and commerce)! Gorgon stumbles across a group of chill Samoan surfer dudes who immediately volunteer to help him fight off a military attack! Black Bolt escapes from prison, only to be brought to a secret laboratory by Desmond from Lost (Henry Ian Cusick, here playing a geneticist named Dr. Evan Declan), where he has a couple genetic samples taken… before easily escaping again! Medusa kidnaps a scientist-lady named Louise2021 (Ellen Woglom) and coerces her into helping her track down the others by pointing a gun to her head (spoiler alert: they become buddies)! Crystal flirts with a cute blonde guy, but then his ex gets all jealous! And perhaps most infamously, Karnak—who has lost his powers after suffering a head injury22—decides to ABANDON the Royal Family and join a group of quasi-militant marijuana farmers camped out in the middle of the forest… where the one woman in the group, Jen (Jamie Gray Hyder), falls for him in spite of his several glaring personality flaws! (Then, predictably, one of the guys there flies into a jealous, murderous rage, and tries to kill Karnak and Jen. Then the psycho guy gets killed off by the Cartel bosses they were farming for, who then ALSO decide to kill Karnak and Jen. It’s all a rich tapestry.)
None of these storylines help us to better understand our heroes, or help them to grow or change in any meaningful way—except, shockingly, for Karnak, whose lost powers and relationship with Jen teaches him to take chances on things even if he’s not certain of the outcome. (Also, I guess Crystal learns not to be such a racist against humans when she finds a cute homo sapien boy she would totally bang.)
Even the MAIN plot—which explicitly questions the morality of Attilan’s systems of eugenics, autocratic monarchy, and rigid class divides—seems to have no effect on our leads. The season ends with Black Bolt reclaiming the crown and the populace of Attilan escaping the crumbling city to find sanctuary on Earth… but the final, triumphant scene sees Bolt and Medusa addressing their people with no mention of a “new way forward” or a “change from the restrictive ways of the past”. Hell, the caste system doesn’t even come UP in the last few episodes—aside from a few nauseating references to how the sanitation and maintenance systems have been understaffed since Maximus abolishes the castes, leaving Attilan in disarray and open to attack (a sneaky reframing of that old conservative chestnut that “someone’s gotta clean the toilets”)23. The assumption we’re to make by the end is that the status has been officially quo-ed, and that this is apparently a GOOD thing.
But strangely, I’m not as mad about THIS series as I was about, say, Wonder Woman or Dylan Dog: Dead of Night—even though it has possibly the worst politics of any comic adaptation I’ve ever seen. Why? Because the fundamental, nuts-and-bolts storytelling on display here is so BROKEN that the show can barely hold your attention long enough to offend you!
There’s a fairly simple concept in writing known as “set-up” and “pay-off”. The idea is that you provide your audience with vital information about the characters and the world AHEAD of time, so that when that information becomes important to the story, the audience understands what is happening and why, and is satisfied seeing everything play out. Pretty elementary, right?
Not if you’re Scott Buck!
Throughout the series, the writers drop important exposition on the audience at the exact moment it becomes necessary to move the story forward or to complicate the plot—which makes it seem like the writers are pulling the information out of their asses.
For example: in the scene where Maximus tries to sway Crystal into supporting his claim to the crown, he argues that she should join him because her and Medusa’s parents were executed for opposing the caste system… something that we were NOT TOLD until that very moment. And that should be important, character-defining information! We should have gotten this in the first episode—perhaps with a scene where Crystal criticizes the system and Medusa defends it, and Crystal brings up their parents and makes it clear that she’s bitter about what happened to them. This would establish that Crystal is ALREADY conflicted about the castes, which would make her scene with Maximus tense and dramatic! “Will she side with Maximus and betray her sister?” But instead, Maximus brings it up from out of nowhere, and it feels contrived and unimportant because Crystal hasn’t talked about the castes or her parents ONCE.
And this kind of thing happens THROUGHOUT THE SHOW! Maximus tries to seduce Medusa by bringing up a childhood friendship between them that we’ve never seen; the flashback to Bolt killing his parents only comes at the exact moment he’s debating whether he should vaporize his treacherous brother as well; hell, the last two episodes revolve entirely around how bad an idea it is to try to go through Terrigenesis twice, which isn’t even suggested as a possibility until the minute they’re about to do it! That’s like Ghostbusters failing to mention the idea of “crossing the streams” until they have to destroy the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man!
But even when the show DOES successfully manage to plant a set-up? Well, then they just screw up the pay-off.
Take, for example, the curious case of MORDIS: an Inhuman SO dangerous and SO destructive that he’s locked away in a dungeon in the bowels of Attilan. We’re told REPEATEDLY that Mordis is someone who can not be trusted, who’s too powerful and uncontrollable to sic on the Royal Family… but Maximus lets his ambition override his better judgment, and he frees Mordis under the condition that he kill Black Bolt. So this Mordis sounds like a terrifying guy, right? He sounds practically monstrous, like some sort of hideous beast riven to insanity by the extreme transformation he’s undergone.
But then we meet Mordis, and it turns out he’s basically Deadpool.
I wish I was kidding. His superpower might be a super-destructive face laser that he can’t turn off (perhaps they should have named him Laserface), but when he has his face shield down, he’s just a skinny guy in a black jumpsuit who is constantly… CONSTANTLY… cracking jokes and making smart-aleck remarks on the sidelines. He’s not frightening. In fact, he’s constantly breaking the tension in every scene by being snarky and acerbic! And worse, when he’s finally face-to-face with the Royals, he starts begging for sympathy by railing against the injustice of his dungeon imprisonment… and dammit, he has a point! He’s not any more dangerous than Black Bolt… in fact, with his face shield down, he’s significantly LESS dangerous than Bolt! I mean, at least his powers can be effectively contained! This is not how you build an intimidating villain!
… Then he dies, and all that set-up goes in the garbage can. He manages to take Gorgon with him, but only by accident.
This kind of structurally-bad storytelling makes it impossible to care about what’s happening in the series, because you simply don’t have enough information to feel anything when the big, dramatic moments hit. And that’s setting aside the outright stupidity of the characters24, their inconsistent motivations25, and the things that are simply NEVER explained, such as: how did the Inhumans build a city on the moon? Why do they have a teleport wall with a face on it? Is he an Inhuman, or is that some sort of technology? Is LOCKJAW, the giant teleporting bulldog, an Inhuman, or is he a genetically-enhanced dog of some sort? Why do the Inhumans have such advanced technology in some respects, yet they can’t seem to wrap their heads around Earth technology like cell phones and ATMs? And no, seriously, how the f%$# did the Inhumans build a city on the moon?! These questions all have answers in the comics, but we get no answers in the series, which is IMMENSELY off-putting when the show has been marketed as a self-contained story.
But at the very least, Inhumans is still a MARVEL production, right? And Ike Perlmutter wanted this show to make a big impression on people—to KNOCK their SOCKS off, so that the Inhumans could become the underdog heroes-de-jour of Marvel Studios and blow those mutants out of the water. So surely, at the very least, the folks at Marvel Television made this into a visual SPECTACULAR, right? A bad script can at least be made watchable by interesting visuals, big special effects, and conceptual creativity. And they even decided to shoot the first two episodes on IMAX cameras! It’s gotta look good!
… Oh, you sweet summer child.
Inhumans is one of the most hideous shows I’ve ever watched. Attilan—our shining city of wonder on the moon—is a depressing hellscape of brutalist architecture: all stone walls and white/black/beige color schemes and fluorescent lighting. The living quarters look like upscale minimalist condos. Black Bolt meditates in a big, round, concrete room with no distinguishing features. The costumes for all but a couple of the leads are in drab earth tones—browns and beiges and greys. For EVERYONE. The majority of the show’s color and visual dynamism comes from shooting the Earth scenes in Hawaii—a location the production team could shoot cheaply, thanks to the infrastructure in place from filming Lost there—but even in Oahu, the majority of scenes are set in nondescript wooded areas, a cheap motel, a grey prison, and a dimly-lit laboratory facility. And a barn.
The costume and make-up departments seem to be trying, DESPERATELY, to imitate the style of the Fox X-Men films—and they manage to perfectly capture that franchise’s WORST qualities!
Karnak and Gorgon—probably the two least vibrant characters on the page—are somehow even less visually interesting as they tool around in costumes the color of various shades of mud. Gorgon’s distinctive hooves (which are essentially high-heeled prosthetics) completely disappear halfway through the show as Gorgon starts wearing regular combat boots; they didn’t even bother to give him a tiara, the cowards! Black Bolt and Maximus are both wearing head-to-toe black leather and trench coats, as if this were shot in the early 2000s; Bolt never wears a mask and doesn’t have those crazy paper-fan wings under his arms, and his “crown” (which we only see him wear once) only vaguely ALLUDES to the iconic tuning fork on his head. Triton (for as long as we see him) dresses like a hobo (complete with fingerless gloves!) and has skin the color of pus. Overall, the two most visually dynamic characters by FAR are Crystal (with her mustard-yellow dress matching her blonde hair) and Medusa, whose atrociously fake-looking red wig actually pairs really well with her lavender gowns. In fact, I’d say that Medusa is the most colorful, fun-looking character in the whole series—she seems like she just stepped out of a comic book!
… Which is why it’s so pathetically fitting that Maximus shaves her head in the FIRST EPISODE, and she’s stuck wearing a brown leather jacket for the rest of the series.
(And he does it with a regular old set of hair clippers!)
Because the real villain of this particular story is BUDGET. Medusa’s animate, prehensile hair was simply too expensive a special effect to feature on a weekly network television series (even with a short, eight-episode season order)… so she gets to use it in three scenes (including a single short fight scene) before Maximus melodramatically shaves her head and considers her defeated (which I THOUGHT might lead into a subplot where Medusa has to cope with being newly powerless and come to sympathize with the lower class’s plight, but, HAHAHAHA… no)26. Most of the characters barely use their powers (I didn’t even know what Crystal’s WERE until the fourth episode), and the Inhuman strike force that Maximus sends after our heroes mostly resort to using standard firearms and kung-fu to go after the Royals. And as for Lockjaw—the five-foot-tall bulldog who was loudly touted by ABC as the FIRST all-C.G. character ever created for a broadcast drama—they find excuses to knock him out or weaken him repeatedly over the season, so that he can rest comfortably off-screen and they don’t have to explain why he’s not running around and eating up all the show’s budget. Hell, making the main plot of the series as a fish-out-of-water, “Inhumans running around in street clothes on location in Hawaii” story is an insultingly transparent attempt to keep costs at rock-bottom.
This is a CHEAP production… a half-assed attempt to knock-off a proven success with a weak imitation story and bare-bones production values. You can blame Scott Buck for the failures of the storytelling (I certainly will), but in the end this is really Ike Perlmutter’s baby—born of pettiness and avarice, from its derivative aesthetics to its heinous morality.
By the end of the series, we find out that Maximus didn’t even care about eliminating the caste system; he was just using populist rhetoric to sway the masses, while his ultimate aim was to claim the throne and to try to undergo Terrigenesis again (which the Genetic Council—UGH—would have never allowed him to do). It turns out that this story didn’t have a hero; Maximus was a con man, spinning hollow, manipulative tales of “equality” and “justice” so that he could consolidate his power and feather his own nest.
I’m sure Ike Perlmutter can relate.
IS IT WORTH YOUR DIME?: Sweet Jesus, NO. Marvel’s Inhumans is eight hours of your life you can never get back—working neither as a grand, epic narrative nor as a moment-to-moment diversion. In the end its greatest asset is that it’s too freaking incoherent as a story to effectively get across its hateful core ideology.
DISCOUNT PRICE: $0.05 (RUN!!!)
- Holy Sh*t, a Good Line!: As Medusa and Black Bolt trudge through the woods trying to track down Gorgon and Karnak, they get a call from Maximus on one of the wrist communicators they confiscated from Auran’s attack team. Maximus is clearly panicked that the two of them aren’t dead yet, and Bolt signs to Medusa a message to give to his brother:
“Black Bolt says that when he gets home, he wants to have a few words with you.”
Whoa, whoa, WHAT? A genuinely witty, badass action-hero line? In THIS show? How did a professional manage to sneak into the writers’ room!?
- Lockjaw: Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? That’s right—LOCKJAW’S a good boy! While the big C.G.I. bulldog doesn’t get very much screen time, the lovable pup manages to be the only wholly sympathetic character in the series… mainly by dint of being just a big, happy, furry pooch. But the show doesn’t focus nearly enough on the big guy—even though his teleportation ability is plot-critical and basically drives the entire story—because animating a fairly realistic doggo costs big bucks. So Marvel TV somehow managed to whiff on a can’t-miss beloved mascot character (which could well have scored them PILES of merchandising revenue) because they were too stingy to spend a few more minutes with him.
- Give Me a Sign: Among the more absurd creative decisions on the show was the choice to have Black Bolt communicate with Medusa and Maximus through sign language27, but NOT to subtitle his part of the conversation. So every one-on-one exchange Bolt has with anyone goes back and forth between him signing something, and the person he’s talking to repeating it back to him before responding to what he said. Can you imagine how tedious and frustrating that would be, if someone was doing that to you when you were trying to have an important talk with them? Jeez, no WONDER the guy looks perpetually pissed off.
- Flag-Waving Flashback: The show is loaded with awkward expository flashbacks throughout, but one of the few GOOD ones comes in episode five—when we get a silly little scene in which Gorgon has swiped the American flag planted by Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface and brings it to Karnak to show it off. Karnak, of course, immediately tells him that he’s being an idiot, and insists that he go put it back. Here, for the first time, we get a sense of a character dynamic between these two: a sort of sibling rivalry, wherein Gorgon is the brash and boastful (but empty-headed) jock, while Karnak is the self-serious nerd that Gorgon loves to annoy. And better still, the present-day storyline in this episode ends with Gorgon and Karnak reunited, and Karnak managing to swallow his pride and thank Gorgon for coming to his rescue. THAT’S set-up and pay-off, dammit!
- The Kiddie Pool: So the central conference room for the Inhuman Royal Family is this basement-level, mostly-empty space with a small pool of water at the center and expositional holographic projections that play out over the pool. But situated on either side of the pool are these two women wearing white robes and hoods, who just sit with their feet in the water, staring placidly at the surface… and doing… literally… NOTHING.
They never move. They never speak. No one speaks to them. They don’t even react when fight scenes break out around them. Sooooo… are these precogs? Are they monks? Are they the ones who generate the holographic images for the room? Do they ever leave? Do they eat? What the hell IS this? (But don’t worry: they DO show up down on Earth after Attilan gets evacuated, so at least they didn’t die with their feet still in that kiddie pool!)
- … Wait, HOW do you know Maximus?: So Dr. Evan Declan (Desmond-from-Lost) is doing clandestine genetics research on Inhumans (since they’ve been popping up all over the planet thanks to a plot point in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and before long we find out that one of his major supporters in this venture is Maximus himself (who, remember, is looking for a way to undergo a second Terrigenesis). Now, Declan apparently didn’t KNOW that Maximus was a prince from a secret moon-based kingdom of super-people. All he knew was that Maximus was providing him vital clues about the existence of Inhumans… while funding his entire operation.
HOW? How was Maximus funding something like that? Maximus lives on the moon. The only ways down to Earth are through a sentient wall that’s loyal to the King and a teleporting dog that belongs to the Queen’s sister. And apparently the Inhumans don’t go down to Earth very often, because the Royals have no idea where to go or what to do once they get DOWN there—they seemingly have no allies or covert resources in place at ALL to draw from. So how could Maximus have amassed enough American currency in secret to finance an entire high-tech scientific research and development operation? He couldn’t have! So WHAT DID HE PAY YOU WITH, DECLAN?
NEXT ISSUE: Oh my GOD, that was way too much to review! Next time I’m doing something short…. say, ninety minutes… and something that’s OBVIOUSLY bad. Like, ENTERTAININGLY terrible, rather than just being boring and long; something I can work with, y’know? So yeah—looks like I’m reviewing Son of the Mask!