Marvel’s Inhumans is heading into the rest of its season, and now that fans have a more concrete look at the characters, it’s obvious that the Inhumans just aren’t very likable, particularly the royal family. The real root of the difficulty that fans have connecting to Black Bolt and Medusa’s mismatched clan isn’t in their powers or their struggles; it’s tied to their very origin story itself. Black Bolt and Medusa are descended from a lineage with its roots in eugenics or forced breeding to ensure that desirable traits become more common. It’s a topical discussion with roots in our world like other Marvel properties, but it also ties into some of the darkest corners of human history. Eugenics is a widely disavowed practice and difficult for many to discuss with roots in the Nazi party.
The Inhumans began as a race of homo sapiens who were experimented on by the alien Kree. When the Kree learned via a genetic prophecy that they’d be overthrown by one of their unwilling soldiers they stopped the experiments altogether. Cast out, their experiments dubbed themselves the “Inhumans” and formed their own society with its own rules and laws. These laws include the caste system which was seen in the show, as well as the system which keeps Inhumans without superpowers in a slave class called the “Alpha Primitives.”
While fans will see the Kree and the Skrulls and what they’re truly capable of in the MCU with Captain Marvel, the inhuman remnants of their experiments remain behind to plague the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and even the Inhumans themselves. While their origins are understandably tragic, no one has checked them on their power and privilege. When they’re a part of a team they add a unique perspective, that of the aloof outsider who can bounce off other heroes. When they’re protagonists they become hard to root for.
In essence, Black Bolt and Medusa are at the head of a race of people who willingly exploited and enslaved their own kind as a part of their rituals. They even participate, making love casually in the premiere while other citizens toil and suffer in the mines below them. While Medusa asks “Do you remember what it was like before we were King and Queen?” and Black Bolt simply shrugs, they’re completely disregarding the suffering of everyone beneath them, including Maximus, who was saved from slavery by his brother, but dealt with prejudice from his fellow Inhumans. Fans can attribute this to the distance that royalty maintains from their subjects, but it’s a hard sell when it’s made clear in the premiere just how much contempt the King and Queen of Attilan have for people that don’t participate in their society. They watch Earth like children watching R-rated movies and fail to see the similarities between the atrocities committed on their former homeworld and the one they currently inhabit.
Even the royal family’s allies aren’t particularly likable from a personal perspective. Gorgon is obsessed with anger and willing to potentially cause trouble in an effort to “save” them from trouble. Karnak, the monk who “sees all perspectives” is incapable of seeing the world from anyone else’s point of view which makes him a chore to be around. Crystal is a Disney princess without a quest to go on. Couple that with the fact that they were all bred to be this way and they become villains perpetuating a system that made it easy for Maximus to take over Attilan and gather an army at his side.
It’s an outmoded system and dismantling it is part of what makes Maximus a hero of the show, but can Black Bolt and Medusa be saved? Their origin makes them difficult to root for. Unlike the mutants who are persecuted for existing and serve as a metaphor for marginalized groups in multiple circumstances, the Inhumans represent fallible, closed off, xenophobic societies that won’t make those changes unless forced. Them being forced however has produced great comic books, like Saladin Ahmed’s Black Bolt. In that comic, Black Bolt is jailed and forced to confront his crimes while facing an unjust jailer and learns to value other lives that aren’t as powerful as his own.
It remains to be seen if the television show will ever be able to adapt some of these stories or if there’s any saving the royal family and showing a more human side of their society that has its roots in such dark aspects of human history. While many comics get political, tackling beings who explore things like slavery and eugenics is a truly tough sell. Their inhuman descendants left on earth, however, have captured the hearts and minds of fans. Characters like Daisy Johnson from Agents of SHIELD have strong fanbases. The royal family may not be likable, but characters like Quake and Yo-Yo are beloved by fans and critics alike.
If Marvel’s Inhumans wants to succeed, they may need to cede control to the Inhumans that they left behind who know nothing of their rules and laws and can teach them something about empathy. They’ll also need to cede control to the humans who they despise (remember, “human” is a dirty word to them) as well. It depends on how far the writers of Marvel’s Inhumans and the MCU are willing to go, otherwise, there may be too much inhumanity in the characters to make them starring players in the MCU. Marvel’s Inhumans airs at 9 PM ET/PT.
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