Death of the Inhumans #1
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ariel Olivetti and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
There is something massive and epic in scale under the surface of Death of The Inhumans #1, but like its silent protagonist Black Bolt, no matter what heady thoughts Donny Cates puts on the page, this event can’t help but feel like it’s operating with the sound off. Some of this is due to Cates not quite having the same chemistry with artist Ariel Olivetti that he has on some of his other critically acclaimed projects, but even with Cates struggling valiantly to push the envelope in terms of content, one can’t help but wonder if the last five years of middling relaunches has hobbled the investment possible in the Inhumans as a whole.
Millennia after their genetic experiments on early humans, the blue-skinned armada of the Kree have issued the Inhumans a chilling decree: “Join or die.” While his progenitors’ motives are still largely a mystery, the silent king Black Bolt prepares for intergalactic war, as Cates pushes the stakes high with an entire moon ringed with the corpses of executed Inhumans. Beyond the use of sign language (a trick smartly yanked from ABC’s otherwise forgettable Inhumans TV series), Cates delves into Black Bolt’s internal state mostly through the use of narration - and while he borrows some choice bits from Black Panther about putting aside being a good person so one can be a good king, Black Bolt’s portentous fixation on the fall of Rome feels both a little unearned and more than a little on-the-nose for this shaky franchise.
Still, when it comes to high concept work, Cates is unrivaled, and for the most part, it’s where he excels most here. Given Black Bolt’s destructive voice, it’s an inspired touch for Cates to characterize him as a master communicator, for whom “each syllable is a death sentence” - and then to use that unbridled power as the key to activating Inhuman warp travel. (Spoilers: It’s still pretty brutal for those involved.) Additionally, the introduction of the series’ big bad Vox is a chilling, Game of Thrones-esque massacre, as Cates does some sharp work in pruning some of the lingering plot threads from the Inhumans’ messy tapestry. However, I do think he falls short a bit in two capacities - not only does the character of Vox feel (at least superficially) a little too similar to Cates’ new villain Knull in Venom, but Cates’ focus on Black Bolt means that the rest of the Inhuman gang gets short shrift in terms of introductions and characterization. While Cates can certainly switch up narrators as the series progresses, it’s just hard to feel a lot of tension about these side characters’ fates when they’re essentially just background figures.
But while Cates largely has the right ideas, they’re not translated in the striking, spectacle-laden way he needs to sell them, as we’re thrown a big curveball with artist Ariel Olivetti teaming up with colorist Jordie Bellaire. Those familiar with Olivetti’s over-the-top painted work might not recognize him here - Bellaire’s colors give him a more traditional look that feels almost like a proto-Frank Quitely... but without the individual flourishes of design that make that work pop off the page. As a result, a lot of Cates’ big moments feel swallowed up - this is a story that hinges a lot on the shock value of the deaths, but none of these moments hit you in the gut, even when they involve some of the most iconic names in the Inhumans franchise. While I do think that adding Bellaire to the mix was a calculated gamble - and one in the right direction, I might add, as the Olivetti of five years ago would have made this look like a cartoony, goofy affair - I can’t help but wonder if a separate inker could have taken Olivetti’s solid compositional foundation and added a bit more drama to this bloody siege.
After the one-two-three punch of Thanos, Venom, and this week’s fun Cosmic Ghost Rider, it’s not a knock on Donny Cates to find one series of his that isn’t a grand slam - it’s a law of averages. (And to be honest, it’s hard to knock Olivetti and Bellaire too hard, either, because changing one’s style so dramatically isn’t something that is perfected overnight.) But at the same time, it also feels a little too appropriate for the Inhumans, who just haven’t been able to catch a break since Matt Fraction left Inhuman nearly half a decade ago. I’m always a believer that any franchise that has lasted any significant length of time has potential, and I don’t think the Inhumans are exempt - but as far as first issues go, Death of the Inhumans doesn’t kick off with a bang, but with a feeling of underwhelming silence.