Next week, the Inhumans take their first big step into the world of TV when Inhumans arrives on ABC. We’ve told you about the origins of Marvel’s weird mutants in the past, but what are they up to in the comics right now? If you’re looking to dive in before Inhumans arrives, this is what you need to know.
Okay, it didn’t really “come”—it was released from a bomb made by the King of the Inhumans himself, Black Bolt. Long, weird story short: Thanos the Mad Titan found out he had a bastard son of Inhuman descent, Thane, so he came to Earth scouring the world for his child, who had been kept hidden among a tribe of Inhumans who had not gone through the transformative process of being exposed to the Terrigen mists. Thanos’ offer to Earth was simple: The Inhumans could hand over Thane, or they could hand over the heads of every Inhuman young adult between the ages of 16 and 22.
Oh, and he’d destroy the world. Because he’s Thanos and that’s a very Thanos-y thing to do.
Naturally, the Inhumans disagreed, so when Thanos arrived in Attilan to claim his tribute, all he found in the city was Black Bolt, and a great big bomb of Terrigen crystals he’d created to try and initiate Terrigenesis on as many people as possible, hoping to hide Thane from Thanos’ sight. One superpowered scream that destroyed Attilan later, Black Bolt activated the bomb, creating a huge cloud of Terrigen that enveloped most of the Earth.
This cloud started activating an unprecedented number of Inhumans across the globe, leading to a huge surge in their population that would come to be known as “NuHumans,” given the sudden shared nature of their ascendance to Inhumanity. This is the event that gave us a ton of the currently active Inhumans in the comics, including Ulysses, the future-predicting star of the Civil War II event, as well as Kamala Khan, the now-beloved Ms. Marvel.
The royal family regrouped in New York, using the ruins of Attilan to forge a new home dubbed New Attilan floating above the Hudson River. With so many new Inhumans emerging, the Royals found themselves thrust onto an international stage that they were unused to, having to deal with both helping newly-transformed Inhumans coping with their powers, as well as the prejudice of the general public, fearful of the mysterious cloud and its transformative effects.
Soon, they had another problem to deal with, as Terrigen and Earth’s atmosphere don’t really mix that well. (That’s actually why, back in the ‘80s, the Inhumans had to leave Earth and resettle Attilan on the Moon.) The Terrigen Cloud, which had this point had split into two different cloud masses making their way around the globe, had mutated in the time it had spent in Earth’s atmosphere... to the point that it was now toxic to Mutants. Sorry, Mutants!
Now, when a Mutant was caught in the mists, they’d develop a disease called M-Pox—a plague that slowly but surely debilitated them, sterilized them, and ultimately killed them. As the population of Inhumanity across the world surged, Mutantkind was dying out. The X-Men, now operating from the hellish plane of Limbo to keep themselves safe from the mists, were called into action to protect the Mutant population, but eventually triage was not enough. The Terrigen clouds were about to reach a level of complete global saturation, which would render Earth completely uninhabitable for Mutants.
Emma Frost and Cyclops (well, sort of—it’s eventually revealed Cyclops was one of the first victims of M-Pox, and Emma had been keeping his death a secret by psychically projecting a version of Scott into everyone’s minds) and a faction of Mutants attempted to destroy the clouds so they could survive. They succeeded in destroying one of them, but not without a few losses—including “Cyclops,” who was seemingly killed by Black Bolt in retribution. Eventually, after the Mutants declared all-out war on the Inhumans, Medusa voluntarily destroyed the second cloud herself and abdicated from the throne, knowing that the wider Inhuman populace wouldn’t understand why she would choose to disperse the cloud that was the lifeblood of her people.
When Medusa chose to destroy the Clouds, it’s explained, she destroyed all the remaining Terrigen on Earth, depriving the Inhumans and latent Inhumans alike the chance to activate their powers, and thus a major part of their culture. As a result, the Terrigen in Medusa’s body began to more or less “punish” her for effectively ending new Inhuman activations by robbing her of her signature red, prehensile hair.
As Medusa’s hair fell out in chunks, the gravity of her decision began to finally set in for the rest of the Inhuman population. That’s when Marvel Boy (Noh-Varr) helpfully mentioned that the key to creating more Terrigen is supposedly located on the Kree homeworld Hala. So, Medusa did what any sensible leader of a dying race would do: she rallied a crack squad of other superheroes and took off into space to find Hala and, hopefully, a new future for her people.
You’d think that by this point, the Inhuman Royal Family would know better than to have any interaction with Maximus beyond keeping him locked up in a cell where he can’t cause all of Inhumanity any more problems. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Recently, Maximus attempted to stage another unsuccessful coup (coups are his thing) that landed him in a holding cell while Black Bolt and Medusa decided what to do with him.
Ultimately, Black Bolt reasoned that it would be in everyone’s best interest if Maximus was shipped off to an ancient Inhuman prison located in deep space, which was a very good idea right up until Maximus managed to knock his brother out and switch places with him. Black Bolt was sent to the Inhuman space prison, which he discovered is actually a horrifying citadel of torture (still in space) where inmates are repeatedly murdered and resurrected in an endless cycle of fatal torture. Currently, Black Bolt has teamed up with the Absorbing Man Crusher Creel, Raava the Skrull, and his teleporting dog Lockjaw to stage a massive breakout and free all of the people still trapped in the prison.
It’s not just the Royal family who’ve had a rough time lately—especially since Marvel’s US has been under the iron rule of Hydra for most of the year, led by an evil, fascist version of Steve Rogers in the pages of Secret Empire. Hydra’s rule involved the involuntarily imprisonment of all Inhumans, putting them into work camps (not a good look at a time when Marvel wanted you to believe that the organization had moved on from its historic ties to the Nazi party).
Inhumanity was either imprisoned or forced to go on the run in a country that now feared and hated them. After fascist Steve was defeated (in a small way thanks to an Inhuman named Barf who could literally vomit up an item he visualized in his head, granting the resistance a piece of a Cosmic Cube that helped bring back the good Steve Rogers), Inhumanity was left in an uncomfortable place, trying to re-integrate into a society that had, days and weeks beforehand, considered them subhuman degenerates and racially discriminated against them. The process isn’t over yet, but it’s helped along by the fact that at the end of Secret Empire it seems like most Americans conveniently forgot their shocking racism against the Inhumans the minute Stevil Rogers was defeated and imprisoned.
Look, this event was a lot.
The Inhumans have been through so many twists and turns that making sense of their history can be something of a daunting task. While there are definitely benefits to going back and reading some of their classic stories, one could also read Christopher Priest and Phil Noto’s Once and Future Kings, which tells the story of how Black Bolt came to be king and how Maximus came to hate his brother.
Once and Future Kings is set in the distant past when its cast of characters were all still young (by Inhuman standards), but there’s a precise crispness to Priest’s take on them all that feels like a very satisfying distillation of who they are as people. If you’re completely new to the Inhumans, this is where you should start. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, just enjoy the ride.