In 1998, Gus Van Sant directed a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant suspense/horror film Psycho. This wasn’t a remake, as we traditionally use the word nowadays, because next to nothing was changed from the original besides it being in color and featuring an, at the time, modern, all-star cast. While the film was, most agreed, very well made, well shot and well acted, the prevailing question was “Why was it made in the first place?” I found myself asking that very same question while watching The Inhumans motion comic DVD. It’s not a bad piece of entertainment, the story (originally by Paul Jenkins) is a fascinating look into an updated, vastly more politically charged, Inhumans' origin with the Marvel Universe.
For those unfamiliar: motion comics are like cartoons, but instead of being straight animation, they’re taken from actual comics panels and given a short of rudimentary motion and herein lies the first problem: Jae Lee’s art. Jae Lee’s art is gorgeous to look at, an absolute sight to behold at the best of times, each panel and page almost looking like a piece from classically painted pictures, but one thing they are not is particularly fluid. Lee’s art is much better suited for stories such as this, which are dominated by regal figures pontificating, talking, and scheming, but trying to lend motion to them, particularly the mouth movements, is distracting at best and extremely hokey and unnerving at worst.
The motion comic is broken up into several discrete episodes, a move that I’m unsure of the need for as they follow a very linear path from one directly into the next. At least the DVD could have included a “marathon” mode that stripped the opening and closing credits from each episode. We begin establishing who Black Bolt is and what he’s all about, of course mostly through voiceover as Blackagar can’t speak due to his sonic powers having the ability to level mountains, and here’s where things take a turn for the positive: the voice acting is actually very good. I don’t immediately recognize any of the names (and I’m an enthusiast of both cartoons AND videogames, the two places voice actors have flourished), but, with a few accented exceptions, they do good work. The opening scenes convey the day-to-day pain that Black Bolt lives with and the difficulty of governing despite being unable to speak, it’s unfortunately the animation that struggles to keep up. Again: this is not a critique of Jae Lee’s art, but much more the medium’s inability to use it effectively. We’re also introduced to the idea that Attilan, the city the Inhumans call home, may, in fact, be a splinter colony of Atlantis that is on the surface of Earth under an impenetrable dome. The actual time that this story takes place during is somewhat nebulous, but apparently things like unaccounted for nukes in Eastern European countries are still cause for concern in America, and thus a city full of living gods that is vastly technologically superior to all the countries of Earth is ALSO a cause for great alarm, but so far, beyond Namor trying to claim sovereignty over it, the nation has remained neutral and harmless. We also meet Black Bolt’s family and court, including the imprisoned brother Maximus the Mad, under close lock and key after a failed coup attempt.
Next we’re introduced to some of the citizens, it’s youngest citizens in fact, where we see children coming of age and about to be exposed to the Terrigen Mists, the catalyst that will transform them from relative normalcy and unlock their powers, but when something goes terribly wrong with one of their friends, we’re introduced to the working underclass of Attilan: the Alpha-Primitives. Similar to the Epsilon class of the Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World: the Alphas are relegated to simple manual labor, but are basically the slave labor that allows Attilan to exist as it does, and it’s here that some genuine intrigue begins: Attilan is essentially a peaceful utopia, existing not only fully independently and harmoniously with other nations, but also completely non-aggressively. That entire foundation, however, is built upon the backs of an underclass of citizens with few to no rights that major parts of the government don't even think twice of breaking an agreement with, so how much of a moral high-ground can the ruling class really have? And when Maximus touches the mind of the recently ostracized Inhuman, who turns out to have an unexpected and unnoticed power, to institute a coup, is he entirely in the wrong?
At this point, a few factions of the nations of Earth get involved, and it involves some of the absolute WORST Russian accents this side of Natasha Fatale, human forces are mobilized against the Inhumans. We're also treated to some genuine humor as we see Reed Richards appear on a talkshow to discuss the Attilan threat, as well as the impact such beings' existence has on everyday life from Jerry Springer to the Tonight Show. Maximus’ plan is actually quite brilliant, relying both on the avarice of humanity and the arrogance of the Inhumans, as well as intimate knowledge of his brothers’ weaknesses AND his own perceived helplessness culminates in a plot that actually passes a great deal of muster upon critical examination. No henchmen to be knocked out and replaced, no doomsday device to be disarmed after lengthy countdown, just good ol’ fashioned espionage, exploitation, and cleverness. To go much further would be to spoil the culmination of the show, but it’d be worth a very solid recommendation if there weren't already a superior way to experience it: the Inhumans volume collected.
Again: it’s not that this is a bad piece of media, it’s merely an unnecessary one. Between the lip flapping (seriously, just having their faces still with word balloons would have been a more elegant way to show who’s talking) and the very, VERY awkward scene transitions (that are clearly where one issue stopped and another started, or were simply the turn of a page on paper), there’s very little to recommend here unless you are an absolute die-hard Inhumans fan, and even then, this exists more as a strange curio than a thing that is totally worthwhile and must-have. Although one unexpected side-effect of the whole thing was it DID make me want to reread the book it's based on, so it does function as a reminder that the book is excellently written and drawn.
'Marvel Knights: Inhumans' is on sale April 23, 2013 from Shout! Factory.