Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

08 May 2006

Inhumans, v. 1: Culture Shock

Collects: Inhumans (v. 4) #1-6 (2003)

Released: March 2005 (Marvel)

In Culture Shock, writer Sean McKeever and artist Matthew Clark build on the end of the Jenkins / Lee Inhumans mini-series, which was an Eisner-winning success for Marvel. But while that series focused on the internal politics of the Inhuman royal family as it tried to deal with humans, McKeever and Clark take five young Inhumans, some of whom were in the Jenkins / Lee series, and make them part of a trial cultural integration in America. Only one of the five, Alaris, is pleased to be sent on the mission, and the others are left looking to make sense of this strange mission with a savage, backward culture.

In Attilan, San is the primary viewpoint character, and rightly so. His confusion over why he was sent to deal with humans is piled atop a more personal confusion; his exposure to the Terigen Mists transform him from a strong, handsome young soldier-to-be to a weakened, hideous artist. He no longer knows who he is. His struggles with his new form are understandable and moving. But when the action moves to Earth, San gets lost behind some of the others.

Once the five start living at the University of Wisconsin (McKeever has put references to his native Wisconsin in two other Marvel series, Gravity and Sentinel), Alaris, Jolen, and Nahrees push San out of the foreground. Alaris is big, dumb, and sincerely likes humanity; Jolen hates humans but hides it and wants to rekindle a relationship with Nahrees; and Nahrees … well, she’s hard to get a handle on. She’s meant to be contemptuous of those around her, fellow Inhumans included. But her icy exterior breaks early and often; is it characterization or writing flaw? It could be either, although I lean toward the latter, given that Narhees’s snottiness is her defining characteristic, and to toss it aside so quickly seems a mistake. But this is one of those character issues that can truly only be examined by exploring the rest of the series, which isn’t in this book.

My main complaint with the Culture Shock is that is a bit too wacky for my tastes. The Inhumans aren’t the Japanese or even Latverians; they aren’t even from our planet any more. They have been separated from humanity through millennia of genetic differences and isolation. (In fact, I think Latverians would have worked much better than the obviously inhuman Inhumans.) Alaris is the only wacky personality, yet the plot still seems too Perfect Strangers: all the Inhumans have to work on campus because Alaris is scammed out of his money, the Inhumans live on Frat Row, pot heads ask Jolen if he can truly grow any plant, etc. I expect Alaris to do the Dance of Joy with every page. It’s out of character given San’s identity struggles and Jolen’s dark personality.

Culture Shock is in the digest format, although it is printed on paper that is superior to the other Marvel digests. The art improves from the change, and the book is noticeably thinner. Culture Shock Also differs from the other digests I have read in that it has bonus features: character sketches and McKeever’s story pitch. The latter is useful in pointing at what McKeever was aiming at, although it also shows that he perhaps watches a few too many teen movies.

This volume of the Inhumans — currently the last one — ran only 12 issues, and this is the only reprint of any of those volume. So if you do enjoy this book, well, prepare to hunt down the floppies or wait …

Grade: C+

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