By Joe Glass
As the prominence of the Inhumans and decline of mutants visibility has been seen more and more at Marvel comics of late, many have talked about problems with going in that direction and seeing the mutants going through yet another decimation of their numbers and facing extinction.
However, few have touched on an element which is my biggest concern.
Now, firstly, let me state that I don’t think that Marvel are trying to replace mutants or the X-Men with Inhumans. That would be beyond foolish for them, and no matter how rough the relationship with Fox gets or how angry a certain higher up gets, they would never abandon all commitment to that side of the Marvel Universe. It’s simply too popular and makes Marvel too much money, it will never happen.
However, Marvel do seem to be laboring under the idea that Inhumans can be the same thing as mutants/X-Men, and Inhumans, with their new prominence and visibility in the MU are being described as being ‘feared and hated’ for being different, a description more commonly linked to the mutants and X-Men. My problem is that Inhumans, allegorically, cannot fill the same role as mutants, and it’s even marginally offensive to try.
As my Bleeding Cool colleague Dan Celko might say, ‘here’s the thing’: mutants are so insanely popular because they can be seen as an allegory for any number of minorities. This isn’t just a queer reading of the X-Men, but really one that anyone can relate to…and ultimately not just minorities. It’s a universal feeling, as a teenager, to feel different, and weird, or a freak. And we do our best to find others like us to form communities and try to feel that little less alone – it’s why our high school years involves us navigating an obstacle course of cliques.
The mutant idea works so well as an allegory simply thus: you are born different, it is an inherent part of who you are, and you can find a community and fight for representation and understanding in a world that seems so much against you. Further strengthened of course by this coming round in the teenage years, a time when everyone is changing or becoming more aware of the things that make them different from everyone else.
Inhumanity does not work the same way at all. Whilst true, it does involve having to have the Inhuman gene, it also requires an outside incident: Terrigen Mists. Looking far enough back in the Inhuman mythos, it gets worse: Inhumans are the by-product of experimentation on humanity by an outside force (the Kree) and their powers come from their own experimentation to unlock the potential of the changes made to them.
Why is this a problem? It’s because that allegorically this means you are different because SOMETHING was done to you. An outside effect CAUSES your difference.
If we take this from the queer reading standpoint, it’s like saying that something happens to a person to make them gay – a dangerous viewpoint which has led to all kinds of problems for the LGBTQ community, not least of which recently are gay conversion therapies, where they try to ‘cure’ or ‘pray’ the gay away. It’s nature or nurture writ large, with mutants being nature (evolution) and Inhumans being nurture (the environment, actions of others).
Inhumans can easily be used as a metaphor for something else, some other part of life that maybe isn’t as often represented in comics. Or simply, it could be what happens when something truly life-changing happens to you, how does the world react to you? How do you learn to cope or understand your new life and capabilities?
Of course, we have recently been promised at NYCC by Nick Lowe and Axel Alonso that what we have seen about the plans for the X-Men/mutants is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more to come. It’s worth remembering that we still haven’t seen Cyclops, Emma Frost, Havok and many other ‘big players’ of the X-Universe, and surely there’ll be more to see with them. I for one look forward to learning more, and I have faith that Lowe and Alonso weren’t simply trying to sidestep to conversation.
Hopefully, we will eventually see these kinds of differences between the two communities play out too, and maybe even creatively we will see the Inhumans pushed more into their own place in the MU; there are any number of other useful and powerful allegories that Inhumans can represent or stand for – but being different; being queer, being of a different race, gender or creed, is not one of them.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool reporter and comics writer and creator. He created LGBTQ superhero comics series, The Pride, about a team of all LGBTQ superheroes fighting for representation and the world. It was one of the Top 25 Comixology Submit Titles of 2014 and can be found on Comixology, or here. He also co-writes Stiffs, a Welsh horror comedy featuring a zombie-killing monkey, also available on Comixology, and here.