By Andrew Steinbeiser
The Marvel Universe plays host to many foreign lands and imaginative societies, from proud kingdom of Atlantis to the mighty realm of Asgard and the progressive nation of Wakanda. But, none can lay claim to being as strange and fantastical as the city of Attilan and its inhabitants, the Inhumans.
As a race of genetically tampered beings that have existed since humanity’s dawn, the Inhumans carry a complex mythology within the Marvel Universe. Led by King Black Bolt and his Royal Family, the Inhumans share a unique history with Earth’s heroes that dates from the Fantastic Four’s earliest adventures.
Through their darkest of hours and brightest days, relive the Inhumans’ richest moments at Marvel.
The Ultimate Immigrant Family
As Stan Lee and Jack Kirby constructed the Marvel Universe within the pages of the FANTASTIC FOUR, nearly every issue provided the foundations of new and enduring concepts. But few ideas became such a pillar to Marvel as the Inhumans. Slowly introduced from issues #36 to #46 culminating in the first appearance of the iconic Black Bolt, Royal Family members like Medusa and Gorgon surfaced as bizarre threats to the Fantastic Four.
Once their misunderstandings were set aside, however, Reed Richards discovered that Black Bolt and his wife Medusa were members of a race called the Inhumans, who lived in a civilization hidden from the rest of humanity.
“Kirby had a real love for the secret civilizations that are hidden among us,” says Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort. “He would play with that as a theme again and again over the course of history.”
From there, the Inhumans formed a fruitful alliance with Marvel’s super humans. The Inhuman princess Crystal began dating the Human Torch. Aquatic Royal Family member Triton aided Namor in his underwater adventures. Medusa would join Spider-Man for a series of Manhattan capers. With each appearance, Marvel’s heroes—and its readers—learned more about this strange civilization of people.
“Essentially, they were the immigrant family,” says Brevoort. “They were the guys from some strange old country who have now transmigrated to America. Their customs were a little weird and strange to us, but they tried to do good with the humans.”
A League of Their Own
As the Inhumans’ popularity grew, so did their presence. Graduating from occasional guest stars to main attractions, the Royal Family earned the premiere half of the double feature title AMAZING ADVENTURES in 1970. With a newfound focus on the Inhumans’ society, their mythology reached depths that rivaled many of Marvel’s other societies. The once-mysterious Black Bolt emerged as the king of Attilan, who only remained mute to protect others from his sonic voice.
“One thing that Stan clearly had an affinity for was the noble monarch as super hero, and that’s how Black Bolt was cast,” notes Brevoort. “It wasn’t just that he was the paternal figurehead of the family, he was actually the king of all the Inhumans.
“There was something about that setup that was very appealing to Stan on an almost Shakespearian, mythological level.”
The Inhumans’ newfound exposure also paved progressive roads with Medusa, who became of Marvel’s strongest female leads. Not just a girlfriend or supporting player, the redheaded queen made her mark as one of the strongest, independent super heroines at Marvel.
“We didn’t have a lot of female characters at Marvel, or major ones, but Medusa was one of the major leaders,” recalls Roy Thomas, who penned some of the Inhumans tales in AMAZING ADVENTURES. “And she had a super power that was really interesting.”
A Modern Masterwork
A major addition to the Inhumans mythos came in 1998, when writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee delivered the classic Marvel Knights maxi-series INHUMANS. As a modern overhaul to the kingdom and denizens of Attilan, the series took a dark much darker look at the classic Marvel characters. An unforgiving caste system stood revealed as part Inhuman society, framing the race’s history as stoic and it’s traditions as cold. Transforming into an Inhuman through Terrigen mist exposure no longer remained such a celebrated right; some developed freakish, if not useless powers. Sometime, one would be better off staying human. Characters acquired far more insidious methods. Black Bolt’s evil brother, Maximus the Mad, became as murderous as insane. But these brooding shifts developed the Inhumans into nuanced, complex characters who could host complex and intriguing tales.
“Their problems and situations, from the genetics council to the Alpha Primitive slave race, were very internal,” says Brevoort. “The internal politics, like Maximus plotting to take over the throne, it was all high opera, house intrigue stuff.”
Readers took notice of this newfound sophistication. INHUMANS earned the 1999 Eisner Award for Best New Series, and remains a definitive take on the Royal Family to this day.
With a slew of young characters introduced in Jenkins and Lee’s series, the time had come for the Inhumans to break their longstanding isolation. Stalwart characters like San, Tonaja, Nahrees, Jolen and Alaris journeyed to a Midwestern American university, where these young Inhumans came of age through the strange and foreign customs of grade point averages and fraternity parties.
With a much more grounded take on the Inhumans, writer Sean McKeever says that terrigenesis became a metaphor for growing up and assuming responsibility.
“Their worlds are upended twice over by both their metamorphosis and their having to live in a fraternity house in Wisconsin, instead of with their kind on the Moon,” McKeever explains. “The core of what the Inhumans is about, in my eyes, is the idea of being not just different but foreign—culturally, visually, genetically. You can use that to tell all sorts of stories that are universal and relevant today.”
Scorned by the events of Secret Invasion, where the Skrull Empire had captured Black Bolt and replaced him with an imposter, the king declared that Attilan would no longer be a passive kingdom. Needing to make a statement that the Inhumans were not to be trifled with, he annihilated the Skrull armada that imprisoned him.
Empowered by his first true conquest, Black Bolt led the Inhumans to the origin of their species: the Kree Empire. Ronan the Accuser relinquished the throne and declared Black Bolt the true Kree ruler. For the first time in their long history, the Inhumans had taken a position of power, inciting change within the Marvel Universe instead of reacting to it.
“It was like a restoration; an opportunity for them to come out of hiding [and] take advantage of the opportunities presented by the changing political map, and reclaim power,” says Dan Abnett, who helped shepherd the change. “They suddenly had a great, cosmic purpose, and they went for it with all the vast talents at their disposal. It was a moment for them to show what they were truly capable of.”
When Thanos invaded Attilan during Infinity demanding a sacrifice of countless Inhumans, Black Bolt defied the Mad Titan by blowing his kingdom sky high with a terrigenesis bomb. In the ensuing explosion, Terrigen mists dispersed across the globe—along with a momentous discovery.
The fallout revealed that secret tribes of Inhumans had fled Attilan during their earliest days, secretly breeding with homo sapiens at the dawn of humanity. With dormant genes spread across Earth’s population, a new, unsuspecting generation of Inhumans arose from contact with the wild transformative mists. The population skyrocketed overnight, making a dangerous world even more deadly.
“The Inhumans were essentially a hidden, isolated kingdom—up in the Himalayas, or on the Moon,” says INHUMAN writer Charles Soule. “Now, they are everywhere. Your best friend could have the Inhuman genome. Your mom could have it. You could have it.”
As if millions of new Inhumans weren’t enough for the Attilan nation, the Royal Family now lays in shambles. With the kingdom reduced to rubble and Black Bolt presumed dead, Medusa must take the reigns of a crumbling empire.
“If they want Inhumanity to survive, they will have to adapt,” says Soule.
How will the Inhumans and their fractured society exist as a sovereign nation to the humans? That’s the central question in the current INHUMAN series, unfolding the next fantastic chapter for Marvel Universes’ oddest inhabitants.
“The series is a churning mix of thrilling adventure, cool characters new and old, and intrigue that's set firmly at the heart of the Marvel Universe,” teases Soule. “Knowing what's on the way, I can very firmly say the best is yet to come.”