ByScott Niswander, writer at
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Scott Niswander

Until recently, the Inhumans didn’t receive all that much attention. But similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is breathing new life into the Inhumans franchise whether we want it or not. In fact, many believe that Marvel is trying, not so subtly, to bring the Inhumans into the mainstream as a supplement for the X-Men. Why? Well, it’s probably obvious and old news to most of you, but as legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont said,

"That has nothing to do with comic sales, that has everything to do with the fact that the film rights are controlled by a rival corporation. I guarantee you that if 10 years ago, when Marvel was approached by Disney, if the X-Men film rights were owned by Marvel Studios and not Fox the X-Men would probably still be the paramount book in the canon. The reason for the emphasis on the other titles is because Marvel/Disney control the ancillary film rights..."

Yep. The idea is that Marvel has been sneakily trying to phase out the X-Men because they simply don’t have the movie rights to their favorite mutant characters. But they do have the rights to Black Bolt and his wacky family antics.

[Credit: Marvel]
[Credit: Marvel]

This is not really the point of this article because, again, it’s probably not a shocking development for anyone. Putting aside the debate on whether or not Marvel is or was trying to replace their mutants with Inhumans, I want to look at that idea in practice. Sure, if you squint a bit, these two groups seem interchangeable enough on the surface: colorful, super-powered beings who have their own societies outside of humanity. Even the roles the characters occupy are similar nowadays. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Inhumans have been used as stand-ins for persecuted social groups, where traditionally that would be a role filled by the X-Men.

But here’s the thing, the Inhumans are not the X-Men. They are not interchangeable. When Marvel tries to use the Inhumans in a nearly identical way as the mutant X-Men, they unwittingly introduce complications. The allegories of the mutants and Inhumans are not equal, and to explain why, let’s go over some brief history of the two superhero groups to show you and Marvel why they can’t just substitute one for the other without consequences.

Watch the video below or continue reading to find out more!

The X-Men's Accidental Allegory

The X-Men premiered in 1963, co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The idea of creating a team of mutants was actually kind of based on laziness and convenience for the sake of the story. Compared to the Fantastic Four, where the whole team got their powers in the same one accident, the X-Men were designed to be a group of teenagers from all over who received their powers independently of one another. Where it would be a hassle to explain every character’s distinct origin, it would be much easier, instead, if all these characters were merely born with their powers.

This narrative shortcut quickly led to the becoming an effective metaphor for those who face prejudice for no other reason than the fact that they were born. X-Men stories became allegories for civil rights, gay rights and beyond, all initially represented by a team of mostly white dudes. Even in the X-Men movie franchise, the films hit on themes of homophobia as shown in Bobby's "coming out" scene in X2: X-Men United:

The Unnatural Inhumans

It’s a bit of a different story with the Inhumans. Where the X-Men, for the most part, are bound together by genetic quirks that often leave them shunned by their families, the main Inhumans are bound together as a literal family.

The first appeared by name as antagonists in Fantastic Four #45 from 1965, just two short years after the X-Men. The Inhumans are a science experiment. This cannot be understated. They are not a naturally occurring species. The Inhumans were created by aliens known as the Kree who discovered life on earth and started experimenting with the early humans they encountered. They planned to continue the evolution of the Kree species to prevent genetic stagnation.

The Kree left their creations alone to see what would happen, and to their surprise, these Inhumans well-surpassed their neanderthal neighbors in technological innovation. Their defining achievement would come with the discovery of Terrigen crystals. Exposure to Terrigen, typically in mist form, introduces a metamorphosis in the Inhumans, granting them powers ranging from prehensile hair, concussive hypersonic voices, or uh, really long fingers?

[Credit: Marvel]
[Credit: Marvel]

Much of their publication history has been focused on The Inhuman Royal Family with Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Karnak, Lockjaw and couple others I’m sure people will be upset I didn’t mention by name.

From the outside, Inhumans look and feel a lot like mutants. They almost feel like one was a copy of the other, separated by two different publishers. So what does make the Inhumans so different from the X-Men? The primary distinction centers around how the X-Men and Inhumans came to acquire their abilities and how the mutations themselves are triggered.

The X-Men have evolved from your run of the mill humans to possess the X-gene. They are the next step in human evolution: Homo Superior. Their species is, (depending on the continuity, of course) naturally occurring in Marvel’s world. The Inhumans, on the other hand, had been selectively bred from primitive humans. They are experiments. While people in the Marvel universe can be born with Inhuman DNA now, the Inhumans were not originally a naturally occurring species. This tiny difference could unintentionally put Marvel into some hot water.

Choosing To Be Different

Mutants are born with mutant DNA. Usually, the mutant gene is typically triggered at puberty or by a particularly traumatic life event, but one thing is for certain: they have no choice about it. The mutation starts to show on its own. The mutant largely has no say in the matter, and it will happen automatically. With the Inhumans, the change occurs when the person comes in contact with the Terrigen mist. Which, honestly, might never happen. Historically, they’ve awakened their latent powers through a sacred ritual called Terrigenesis.

This ceremony was conducted in a very controlled and selective manner for eons. Not every Inhuman gets to go through it. But for those who do, it grants them little more agency than mutants. As one Inhuman Karnak explained, “Terrigenesis is a choice my people make — when they become a certain age it is like a rite of passage. A path some of us choose to walk.” In fact, part of the ritual has the Inhumans affirm that they are entering the terrigen mists of their own free will.

[Credit: Marvel]
[Credit: Marvel]

The theme here is "choice." Inhumans traditionally can choose whether they want to go through their transformation. And that leads to all kinds of problems when you start to use the Inhumans in the same way used the X-Men all these years.

Think about it: the X-Men can be stand-ins for people of color and the LGBTQ community because mutants are naturally born mutants. They didn’t choose to be the way they are, and there’s nothing wrong with it. The X-Men have fought for the ideas of tolerance and love towards one another, and an acceptance of yourself just as you are. But try putting the Inhumans in that same spot, a group of unnatural experiments who have the option of choosing to be different. Using the Inhumans as analogs for people of color and the LGBTQ community unintentionally sends the harmful message that those groups are unnatural and that their lifestyle or appearance was a voluntary choice. And that’s no good.

Enter The NuHumans

To their credit, Marvel may have realized this with their introduction of the NuHumans. Very briefly, do you remember way back when those ancient Inhumans first discovered Terrigen? Well, not everyone was on board with using it. It fragmented the Inhuman society, causing some to join in with the regular humans. After millennia as the groups intermingled, Inhuman DNA continued to be passed down from generation to generation, mostly dormant without any exposure to the terrigen mist.

That is until Black Bold detonated a Terrigen bomb, spreading transformative terrigen clouds throughout the world. Coincidentally, this terrigen mist had the strange and probably completely unrelated symptom of killing mutants. Probably nothing much to read into there.

'Ms. Marvel #1' [Credit: Marvel]
'Ms. Marvel #1' [Credit: Marvel]

While the traditional Inhumans have their own exclusive society and are mostly fine with existing outside of humanity, recent storylines have forced these NuHumans into the public spotlight. These were people who weren’t raised in the Inhuman culture. They believed they were ordinary human beings until one day they discovered that quirks in their genes suddenly provided them with superpowers. And with that description, they may as well be mutants.

Marvel, for the most part, eliminated the element of choice and put a heavier focus on the aspect of genetics. So, problem solved? I'll leave that up to you.

Can the Inhumans ever effectively replace the X-Men? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

(Source: Cosmic Book News)


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