Posted on Thursday, March 16, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
You’ve got to admire Marvel’s perverse determination to confuse people. The solicitation says IvX. The Comixology listing says IvX. The cover says Inhumans vs X-Men.
Let’s go with IvX. It’s shorter to type.
IvX is an example of a beleaguered genre – the necessary resolution to a high profile storyline that bombed. Regular readers know the back story. Marvel wanted to plug the Inhumans into the role that mutants had occupied in the Marvel Universe, because that fitted more neatly with the rights that were available for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the X-Men being licensed elsewhere). As a piece of corporate synergy, this made reasonable sense; as a story direction, not so much, for either group.
The device to achieve this was to take the Terrigen Mists – which had previously been part of a special ritual in which the hidden race of Inhumans exposed their children to mutagenics to give them powers in a coming of age ritual – and turn them into a bloody great cloud that floated around the world, activating the powers of random people who apparently had some degree of Inhuman DNA in them. This meant that the Inhumans could now serve the mutants’ function as a generic origin story, while the X-Men got to do a story in which the mists were poisonous to mutants.
From the X-Men’s standpoint, this was an awful idea, because it was basically a retread of the “No More Mutants” storyline – which had itself dragged on for years, wasn’t any good, and had only just been resolved. It was a hopelessly retrograde step and it did nobody any favours.
But from the Inhumans’ standpoint, it wasn’t so great either. They were never designed to serve the mutants’ role. Their whole thing was that they were a hidden culture that was a bit weird and, in some respects, a bit creepy to boot. Sometimes the Inhuman royal family were fairly straightforward heroes, sometimes you got rather odd stories about their obsession with eugenics, and sometimes they would turn out to have a clone slave race which they didn’t really see a problem with. And that worked quite well for them. They were basically decent but with some really odd cultural values.
Once the Terrigen Mists go from being part of a culturally important ritual to just a thing drifting around the world, though, you’ve got a problem. You’ve already deviated so far from the values and norms of their society that it looks awkward for them to treat the cloud as central to their culture. It might have worked to play it as the Inhumans clinging on dementedly to the last vestige of their traditions, but the franchise wants new Inhumans – or at least a fair number of them – to cheerfully pack up and go to live in New Attilan. And that just doesn’t work. There is no earthly reason why these characters should identify in any significant way with Inhuman culture, let alone this attenuated version of it.
But here we are anyway, and this thing must come to a climax so that it can be cleared away. It does so thusly: the mutants discover that the Terrigen Mists are going to wipe out the mutants, which they knew anyway, and has been driving the books for the last couple of years. But supposedly it’s urgent now because the Cloud wibble wibble something or other unless it’s destroyed very soon. So the X-Men set out to sideline the Inhumans and then get rid of the cloud with a macguffin built by Forge. And after six issues of this, Medusa discovers that the cloud is going to kill all the mutants, which she too knew already, and agrees that they have to get rid of it.
Which… well, it gets us where we need to go. It wipes the slate clean for the X-Men so that we can forget about this whole fiasco. Yes, yes, they claimed once that the Mists had already sterilised all mutants so that no mutants would ever be born again, but shh, we’re pretending that didn’t happen. It made no sense anyway, because how could the Mists have affected the mutants who hadn’t yet been poisoned by them? And how would it stop new mutants being born to normal humans? So it never happened. You didn’t read it. We’re back to the status quo.
The Inhumans basically inherit the X-Men’s sidelined role, as a group with no future and no way of activating the powers of their next generation. This, of course, is easily solved in a couple of years when somebody finds some more Terrigen crystals down the back of the sofa, but it might give them something to do in the meantime.
But beyond that. Ugh.
A lot of the eye rolling about this series has come from the treatment of Emma Frost, who is basically now a full scale villain who was trying to engineer the X-Men and the Inhumans into vicious conflict. At the broad strokes, I don’t greatly mind this, at least if you see it as driven by bitterness over Scott’s death. The current take on Emma seems to be that she’s trying to memorialise her rather distorted image of the man she loved, and take on his revolutionary role in a way that further blurs the moral lines. They’re not pitching it right – for this to work properly she needs to be veering towards Magneto without quite becoming him, and that distinction isn’t really there. Instead, we get her wheeling out a bunch of anti-Inhuman Sentinels in the final issue, which comes across as absurdly over the top. I guess that once the misunderstanding is cleared away, somebody has to serve as the token villain in order that there can be a climax. But with a bit more subtlety, the basic idea is not so bad.
And there’s some entirely passable corridor-running and page-filling action sequences over the course of the story. Leinil Francis Yu and Javier Garron are a perfectly fine artists for this sort of thing, and both handle a large cast well. There are a few cute moments as lesser characters get their page in the sun.
But there’s no content to any of this. The general thrust of it is that the X-Men get the upper hand at first, but then some of the more peripheral Inhumans get brought in as reinforcements – you know, Moon Girl, Ms Marvel, Mosaic, the equivalent of mutants who don’t really hang around much with the X-Men – and it all gets a bit out of control. And then the Inhumans find out what’s happening with the Cloud and just agree that it has to be stopped. The peripheral guys help Forge rebuild his Save The Day Machine, and Medusa agrees that it has to be used.
It feels like there’s a better story in here trying to get out. The conflict, in theory at least, is between the X-Men wanting to preserve their race and the Inhumans wanting to preserve their culture. This only works if you’re prepared to accept that the Inhumans place a higher value on their cultural artefact than on mutant lives. No sensible reader is going to think that, so when it turns out that the Inhumans don’t believe it either, you’re left with six issues of tap dancing to disguise the fact that there is no story.
For this to work, the Inhumans – or at least some of them – need to actually believe that the loss of the Cloud would be the destruction of a central aspect of their culture. And they need to actually believe that this is so important that the mutants are acceptable collateral damage. That’s eminently writeable. It’s not as if the Inhumans haven’t displayed some staggeringly odd cultural values in the past. It’s not even that unusual for one culture to be indifferent to another, at least in the level of out of sight, out of mind. So there’s a viable plot in here where some of the traditional Inhumans really are willing to throw the mutants to the wolves, and it’s the new blood characters who ultimately see through it all.
But that’s not the direction for the Inhumans. It would make them into, at best, sympathetic villains. They might do quite well in that role, but they’re supposed to be heroes. In the bigger picture, perhaps that’s the right call. For this story, though, it means it’s just a case of killing time until the bad idea has gone away.