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Series Review – ‘ALL-NEW INHUMANS’ #1 – 11 (2016)…

Marvel's ALL-NEW INHUMANS (2016)

All-New Inhumans is a wonderful little series. Probably underrated and largely overlooked, it is something you need to start reading in order to understand why you should read it.

It might be one of the two or three very best books Marvel had going in 2016.

All-New Inhumans #1 runs like a finely-tuned machine, ticking all the boxes for what a first issue should do when trying to establish a new(ish) set-up.

It effectively introduces a whole bunch of characters, effectively presents the broader backdrop and the underlying themes, effectively establishes dynamics and tone, and finally it tells an entertaining story at the same time.

James Asmas and Charles Soulle establish immediately an easy, flowing style of writing, with solid storytelling and flawless dialogue, while Stefano Caselli and Andres Mossa combine to sustain a rich, lucid and eye-pleasing visual dynamic throughout.

Of all the post Secret Wars books I bothered to pick up – which was only some of them – All-New Inhumans was the one I was most pleasantly surprised by and left the most enthused by.

Naja, Grid, Flint, Swain, are all fairly enjoyable characters – nothing outstanding, but each with a likeability factor and, probably more importantly, an entertaining, fun inter-character dynamic. On their own, I doubt these newer, less familiar characters could carry a comic book (much less a series): but with the more familiar figures, Crystal and Gorgon, here to anchor us and act as elder statesmen, this works very well.

The dynamics therefore work effectively on two levels: on the first, we have the younger, newer characters and their own interplay, while on the second we have the older, more familiar characters and the more adult level of the story. These both work very well in their own right and, more importantly, together to provide the overall dynamic.

The entrance of Crystal on page 7 is genuinely a bad-ass entrance moment.

The big image of her arriving, in full power mode, eyes glowing and her Inhuman energies swirling around her, about to wipe the floor with a racist mob, is as good an entrance as any character will make in a Marvel book all month.

It may, actually, be the finest arrival the character has ever had, as far as I can remember.

  

Speaking of her, I really want to focus for a moment here on Crystal in general.

This – literally from the early pages of All-New Inhumans #1, but then in fact throughout this series – is the very best I have ever seen Crystal written, illustrated or explored.

She is a character I’ve always been lukewarm about, back from when I was first reading her (generally in the pages of Avengers back in the early-to-mid nineties, when she was part of the team commanded by Black Widow and including the Black Knight and Vision). She was always more of a plot tool than a fully formed or enjoyable character and was largely relegated to being a love interest for Quicksilver, the Black Knight or someone else. She was important for being a member of the Inhuman royals and for also being the mother of Luna Maximoff and therefore daughter-in-law of Magneto.

But she was never interesting, layered or endearing. And beyond that, even within the dynamics of the Inhuman royal family, she was always secondary to the likes of Medusa and Black Bolt.


Here, however, I really got how good a character Crystal could always have been.


Here, she’s a bad-ass, full of class, wit, leadership and character. Here, in these pages, I started to fall in love with her pretty quickly, which is something I hadn’t expected when picking up this title.

I give full credit to Soulle and Asmas for this; and also to both Caselli and Mossa, who render her superbly. Her look is also all business here and I dug it from the outset: there’s a whiff of Carol Danvers to it, but it retains some of the old-school Crystal color-scheme to maintain that sense of history.

It’s pretty much perfect as a look, while, in writing terms, this is a near-perfect presentation of the character as I would like to see her.

The story here in general throws us into this set-up in a perfectly measured way right from the outset, with an interesting, layered scenario allowing us to meet characters one by one (or two by two, as it happens) and get our bearings.

There’s a cool start-point here too, with a crowd of curious onlookers (as well as anti-Inhuman thugs) gathering to watch a Terrigen Cloud and a cocoon as if it’s a public event, and our team of Inhumans arriving at the same time.


What is immediately striking about this book – and actually has been the case for a couple of years now with Inhumans stories – is how much this contemporary rebooting of the Inhumans is designed to recapture or mimic the tone and themes of classic X-Men.


This has been obvious ever since the 2014 stories, where we got a lot of Inhumans ‘coming out’, so to speak, and having to face not only their sudden powers but the reaction of society.

The Inhumans are now written as the Mutants were back in the old days: as special people with a genetic predisposition to manifest powers and/or odd appearances and to then have to deal with mass societal prejudice and fear. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this.

Speaking as someone whose formative comic-book reading life was largely dominated by X-Men books in the early nineties (along with the X-Men animated show), I don’t mind these echoes at all and am able to enjoy this newer Inhuman take on some of those themes.

Even the cover to All-New Inhumans #1 – a pretty bad-ass cover, at that – captures this classic X-Men thematic feel to things.

The presence here in #1 of the militant, racist mob (or militia) wanting to attack and kill Inhumans is particularly rooted in older X-Men stories and dynamics. I like it; I also like the loose notion (even though it might be primarily in my own head) of Crystal being the equivalent of Professor X in this context, with her and Gorgon essentially training and leading this group of young Inhumans.

Gorgon’s “I hate to break it to you, but we’re Inhumans – there is no normal” sounds like it’s probably a direct paraphrasing from the pages of some old X-Men book.

The dynamics here between Medusa and Crystal are interesting and entertaining, and we get a good sense here of what Crystal’s mission is. I read this title in parallel to the Uncanny Inhumans title and I geninely preferred this one; but it’s good to have the crossover where possible and to show Medusa showing interest or being actively involved in what Crystal is involved in.


Overall, All-New Inhumans #1 is a terrific opening book to a series, which hits the mark in every way that matters.


All-New Inhumans #2 sees Crystal and her team on the RIV (Royal Inhuman Vessel) arriving in the pariah state of Sin Cong to investigate Terrigen Clouds there.

There’s another magnificent full-page rendering of Crystal on page 5 here that I couldn’t stop going back to look at. The art and colours are again sublime, with every tone and texture realised perfectly. This is all a visual feast: which, for a lot of comic books, might serve largely to compensate for shortcomings in story or characters, but in this series simply mirrors the comparable quality level of the writing.

The early talk between Crystal and Daisy/Quake from S.H.I.E.L.D is also a really nice inclusion. I haven’t read any of the current Agents of SHIELD comic book title; but, even so, it’s nice to see Daisy Johnson’s comic-book life extending outside of AoS pages and into other parts of the MU.

The scenario presented, with Crystal and her team examining the repressive, totalitarian state of Sin Cong (here, seemingly a North Korea analogy) under the close watch of a military dictatorship, is a fun, interesting premise. The story, as presented, also rings fairly true, with the official visit being carefully stage-managed by the dictator so that Crystal and her people only see what their hosts want them to see (they, of course, manage to get a look into places they weren’t invited too).

Generally, this is a solid issue, with solid storytelling.

Characters, from Naja to Swain, all get their moments and Crystal of course continues to shine brightly as the central character in a book for once. The intrigue and interactions in Sin Cong are suitably interesting, while Crystal’s laconic, yet knowing, style of leadership – which manages to somehow be aloof and down-to-earth in equal measure – is consistently great reading.

Visually, everything hits the perfect note at every point, including where slightly more evocative or even unsettling imagery is needed (there are a few particular grim moments and images late on in this issue).

All-New Inhumans #3 continues the series on fine form, with strong character development, interplay and storytelling, while the level of intrigue is slowly raised another notch.

Naja, Grid and co get good development, being off on their own on a mission, and we also get some unexpected dark-side here too with the trio discovering a chamber of Sin-Cong’s super-human experiments/chimeras – a grim scene of grotesque suffering, with an equally (and unexpectedly) grim solution from our young Inhumans.

What’s good about this, in storytelling terms, is that these characters aren’t falling into predictable patterns, but retain the element of unpredictability and the sense that we, as readers, don’t fully know them yet. In this case, it’s Panacea showing a casual – though logical – ruthlessness in putting those living experiments out of their misery instead of leaving them to suffer.

Meanwhile, Crystal and co are continuing to try to understand what’s going on in Sin-Cong, while Swain (another enjoyable character in the mix) enters into a ‘dream space’ to make contact with a mysterious Inhuman who is responsible for their hallucinations. Swain’s dream-space encounter with this ‘NuHuman’ enigma (the Living Dream) is fascinating and, just as importantly, is is rendered stunningly on the page.

Again, I really can’t say enough for Caselli’s and Mossa’s visual work in this series, which is superb every time. Here in particular, however, with this striking, otherworldly character and interaction, it is gripping; visually and conceptually absorbing, interestingly textured and lucid, it gives palpable life to what is an eerie, paranormal idea.

This series continues to hit the mark on all fronts.


And again, as was mentioned earlier, Crystal has never been rendered this beautifully or lucidly before – and Caselli should be contractually obligated to render this character in any and every future appearance (no matter in what title: even a random guest-appearance).

I say this not only for how good his visual take on Crystal is, but the fact also that I’ve been seeing her elsewhere and it feels irritating now to see her rendered differently (for example, I’ve glimpsed images of her in IvX and she looks terrible).


All-New Inhumans #4 opens with a battle between the RIV and the Sin-Cong forces.

Again, right from the start, the eyes feast upon superbly illustrated sequences with vivid colours and a visual scope that feels three-dimensional. Crystal herself going into battle is a thrill to look at, as is seeing her take charge in general.

Meanwhile, the Living Dream is a visually and conceptually fascinating character and is also suitably unsettling to read.

Crystal bringing an end to the situation essentially by inciting the army to depose their dictator seems like a suitable course: although it happens very quickly and with very little exploration. However, having her then casually and even arrogantly report the outcome to Medusa and Daisy/Quake and completely ignore their objections is fun and further reinforces why the way Crystal is being developed in this series is so refreshing and so enjoyable. It’s a terrific little moment that displays her increasingly headstrong, independent attitude in her new role and her frustration with authority (Medusa) and bureaucracy (Daisy and S.H.I.E.L.D).

In short, another terrific issue in what is proving to be the most solidly consistent series currently being put out by Marvel.


All-New Inhumans #5 is the first issue in this title to drop the quality-level a little.


It’s also the series’ first gimmicky issue – in as much as it gives us a guest appearance by Spiderman.

Which is fine – Spidey’s presence gives us a fresh dynamic. The general action here, however, is a quality drop from previous issues, though not by too much. The story is set in China, where the latest skyspear has just emerged. Spiderman and a delegation from Parker Industries has come to investigate; but he also gave Crystal a heads-up and she soon arrives with her team.

  

The People’s Defense Force of China also soon shows up and a conflict of interests ensues.

The biggest problem with this issue is the art. Ironically – and disappointingly – after everything I said about how wonderful Caselli’s illustrations have been in this series, All-New Inhumans actually sees a change in artist.

And it suffers accordingly. Without wanting to be cruel about it, Andre Lima Araujo’s renderings just don’t have the sublime quality or lucidity of what we were seeing previously. Caselli’s work in prior issues has essentially spoilt me, making this re-adjustment a little hard to swallow. Caselli’s absence is felt throughout, but it is felt most sharply with Crystal, who just isn’t brought to life anywhere near as beautifully here.

Having been so enamoured with how Crystal was being captured and distilled by Caselli, it’s a little disheartening to see her looking much less striking or dynamic here.

Coupled to that, Charles Soulle is absent for the first time here as a writer, leaving James Asmas to take sole writing credit – which, again not meaning to be cruel, may account for the slight drop in consistency.

This problem continues in to All-New Inhumans #6, with the visual experience again being at a lower quality level than the first four issues.

#6 is a fair read, giving us one or two meaningful character moments, while wrapping up the China incident and introducing a next new element in the mix. But, again, it isn’t quite at the level of the earlier stories.


All-New Inhumans #7 takes us back in a stronger direction.


Flint going to Mozambique with Ana Kravinoff (daughter of Kraven the Hunter) and Gorgon on a quest to find his family gives us the first real deviation from the ‘main’ story threads. The native Inhumans living in a hidden location (‘Utolan’) gives some broader scope to the Inhumans mythology in a global and historic sense. Utolan itself is gorgeously presented, with stunning visuals and inspired imagination, aided somewhat by the fact that Caselli is back in the illustrator’s seat.

All-New Inhumans #8 follows the same form, with really strong art bringing Utolan to life and some reasonably engaging exploration of Flint’s secret backstory and family history. Utolan continues to be really nicely conceived and designed, with each setting or environments, including the interiors, feeling both authentic and aesthetically absorbing.

If there’s a noticeable weakness here, it’s the absence of Crystal; which perhaps highlights that the individual characters – Crystal herself notwithstanding – aren’t necessarily able to sustain the highest interest levels on their own, but rather that the series works as an ensemble.

Flint himself isn’t a hugely interesting character at this point, but this mythologizing of his backstory helps to make him a more substantial figure.

All-New Inhumans #9 takes us more into the intrigues and secrets of the hidden Inhuman community in Utolan, as Flint’s people turn out to be not as noble or friendly as it first appeared. This isn’t exactly gripping stuff; but it remains fairly interesting for the most part. Ana Kravinoff is growing on me by now and becoming an enjoyable-ish character.

To be perfectly honest, however, by now I’m just wishing we could get back to Crystal and the RIV.

All-New Inhumans #10 brings an end to this storyline reasonably well, centering on a showdown between Flint and his sister.

In parts of this, it is interesting to see the whole subject of Terrigenesis examined in the context of a remote culture with accompanying religious, apocalyptic overtones.


What struck me most about all of this, however, was regret. It was just before I started reading this issue that I learnt the series was to be cancelled, with the next issue being the finale.


Firstly, I was very disappointed by this, as this – at least for the first four issues or so – has been a highly entertaining, fresh and colourful book and it has so much potential to go on further.

Secondly, the fact that the series is being cut short made me a little annoyed that we’ve spent the last three issues or so focused exclusively on Flint and this detour into Mozambique. While it has been interesting in parts, if I had been writing this – and had known we only had a couple of months left – I would’ve been looking to do more and to diversify the story too.

And I wouldn’t have just turned into a Crystal-fest, though that would’ve been my first desire: I really feel like we should’ve had a lot more with Naja and Panacea, for example, who could’ve been explored more. The situation with the ‘Living Dream’ (unresolved, so far as I know) should’ve also gotten a lot more.

It’s a little frustrating. But more frustrating is the series being discontinued at all.

All-New Inhumans has been one of the titles I’ve been enjoying most this year and looking forward to (along with, perhaps, Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Men); more importantly, it seems to have so much scope for development.

While I’m guessing that perhaps sales were lower than expected, I would argue that faith should’ve been kept and a further chance taken – for creative purposes.


So coming then to the bittersweet business of All-New Inhumans #11.


Rhoald Marcellius takes the helm as artist for this farewell issue, although Casselli and Moussa are responsible for the cover art. The cover to All-New Inhumans #11 is a highly endearing thing, by the way, and captures the end-point feeling wholly appropriately, with a kind of photo collage of All-New Inhumans moments or connections.

  

It’s odd for a series that has only lasted 11 months to be able to evoke any sense of nostalgia, but this book – and this Casselli/Moussa cover – seems to manage it.

Given that there are only 11 issues of ‘memories’ to draw on, I suspect the vibe evoked in the cover art is more about wistfulness for what could’ve been (had this series been able to go on longer). Still, it’s a great cover to finish with.

#11 opens with dramatic scenes of a refugee boat hitting perilous waters. This isn’t the only instance lately in which Marvel writers have tried to deal with or echo the real-world refugee crisis. It’s been happening elsewhere; among others, The Mighty Captain Marvel’s early issues have been exploring it from a different angle, while the current Captain America: Steve Rogers title has touched on off-shooting issues from the refugee crisis, such as right-wing nationalists and the Red Skull using it to radicalise people.


But this brief sequence here is as direct and blatant a reference to the real-world crisis as I’ve seen so far.


We’re even told at the outset that the scene is taking place ‘Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea’ (indicating the boat having been launched from Libya). Although I think the art could’ve been stronger here (in order to more capture the sense of fear, danger and tension of a packed boat in the process of sinking), this brief scene does somewhat capture a sense of the struggle and desperation.

These particular refugees are mutants – and the mutant ‘Frenzy’ is on the scene to try to rescue some of them. Her matter-of-fact statement that only some of the refugees can be saved (and others have to be left behind) is genuinely grim and, again, somewhat troublingly echoes some of the real-world elements of the refugee crisis (in particular, the endless armchair analyses on ‘how many’ refugees a country can afford to house, etc).

Frenzy’s reference to the boats as ‘rolling gas chambers’ is particularly grim.

On a minor note, I love that this relatively minor, obscurish character – Frenzy – has been put to good use. I actually remember Frenzy from all the way back to my very earliest comic-book reading days when she was among Fabian Cortez’s ‘Acolytes’ in the X-Men books.


In fact, I know for a fact that the very first comic-book I ever bought was either a Thundercats Annual or it was Uncanny X-Men #297 (around 1992 or 1993). I’ve never been able to remember which it was first; but if it was Uncanny X-Men #297, then it means Frenzy was in the first comic-book I ever bought, as #297 I distinctly remember being an Acolytes issue.


Along similar lines, though in a much bigger way, the appearance of Crystal’s daughter – Luna Maximoff – in this issue, really did hit a massive nostalgia note.

And it also serves to remind me of how much of a relationship we (as long-time comic readers) establish with some of these characters and connections. I remember all of the tension surrounding Luna as a baby, back in my formative comic-book reading years in the early nineties. All of the tension between Crystal and her then-husband, Quicksilver.

The fact that Luna was Magneto’s granddaughter and that the Acolytes even tried to kidnap her. In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of Luna Maximoff is her, as a baby, being held (kidnapped) in the arms of a deranged Fabian Cortez as Genosha burned around them – this was at the beginning of Avengers #369 (the conclusion to the ‘Blood Ties’ X-Men/Avengers crossover storyline).

I remember that image – and that entire story – so well, because it (along with the ‘Fatal Attractions’ story that preceded it) was the story that firmly cemented by love for both the X-Men mythology in particular and comic-books in general. When I look back, I think that storyline was what ensured a lifetime connection to the comics instead of just a passing fad.


In all my subsequent years of on again, off again, comic book reading, I haven’t really thought about baby Luna much.


But her arrival here, with those big, Disney-like eyes, and the simple line “Mom…?” really did get me right in the nostalgia-gut. Which is perhaps an additional part of what makes All-New Inhumans #11 a bittersweet entry – it both frustrates me by teasing how much more could’ve been done with this series and manages to play with a nostalgia scope way beyond the mere 11 months this title has been going.

All of the Luna/Crystal material here is genuinely either adorable or funny (from Luna’s apparent acquisition of an English accent to her mother apparently hating “English people”); and it also really does reinforce the sense that this series could’ve gone on a lot longer, with there being plenty unexplored potential. The Luna/Crystal relationship is just one of those potentials, with Crystal’s life as a mother being yet another dimension to her character that this series didn’t even get to touch until here in the final issue.

The scenes here do a good job of showing how distracted she is from motherhood and how much of a headache having Luna on the RIV is; but they also showed me how much I would welcome seeing a lot more of this.

It being Crystal’s birthday also gives this final book a nice, fitting theme to finish on.

The book – and the series – therefore ends on a party, bringing everyone together (complete with cameo from Medusa). Rather fittingly, the final scenes amount to a tribute to Crystal herself, with Medusa giving a toast. Gorgon also gets a nice little moment to finish on.

The final images include Crystal and Luna finally getting a relaxed, happy moment together. We end, suitably, on an image of the RIV in the air.


All-New Inhumans #11 is a near-perfect send-off for an all-too-brief series that I have enjoyed significantly.


It is a perfect mix of humour, nostalgia, characters and themes. And, as endings go, it’s as good as I could’ve hoped for, leaving us on a note that is open-ended enough to leave possibilities for the future, while also conclusive enough to wrap up the series.

  

Most of all though, as I have mentioned too many times already, it is a bittersweet end to a series that really should’ve been allowed to run for a lot longer.

Even before reading this final issue, I already held that opinion – I wanted to see these stories and themes developed further, wanted to see Naja and Swain and Panacea and the others grow more and have more adventures, and, most of all, wanted to continue to see Crystal explored more in her leadership role.

It’s been a great pleasure seeing Crystal in a central, leading role in a series for once, and I hope very much we get to do so again. If we do, I would love to see Casselli illustrating her again too, as I’ve never seen anyone render Crystal as beautifully as he does.

Furthermore, this final issue – in introducing Luna to the mix – simply shows us the vast, unexplored potential this series and set-up stil had in it. The implication here is that Luna remains on the RIV with Crystal and the rest of the family – I would love to see more of that.

Unfortunately, the hints and vibes I’m seeing in various place seems to suggest this story and the set-up we’ve seen in these 11 isues of All-New Inhumans is pretty much being killed dead here and there are no apparent plans for continuation or ressurection in some other form.

Which I consider a waste of both story potential and creative talent.

While book was probably at its peak when Soule was on-board early on, Asmus clearly has a good handle on this situation and these characters and 11 issue is nothing like enough time and space for him to develop and explore this set-up.

And another word again should be given here to Caselli for some of his stunningly good art in this series and also a mention again for how vivid and good Moussa’s color work has been.


I have enjoyed All-New Inhumans way more than the parallel Uncanny Inhumans title. I have, in fact, enjoyed All-New Inhumans probably more than any other contemporary Marvel title in the passed year.

It is finished too soon. And, dammit, we might never see Crystal written – or illustrated – this superbly ever again. Alas, at least we had these few months.


S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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