Writer, Christopher Priest, and artist, Phil Noto, join forces to bring us a tale from a critical stage of the Inhuman Royal Family. The story and art match wonderfully, working in concert to bring forth an intriguing tale that (thus far) captures much of what is so wonderful not just about The Inhumans, but the comics medium in general.
The tale takes part in the Royal Family’s past. The Inhuman society of Attilan is in crisis. Its king and queen have perished in a tragic accident and their two sons are deemed too young and not quite ready to assume the throne. In the interim, The Inhuman known as The Living Terrigen has stepped in to fill the role of stewardship ruler of Attilan. He will decide when the brothers are ready to lead and which one will ascend to be the king, whether it be the ingeniously clever Maximus or his older brother, the destructively powerful Blackgarr.
The story begins on the shores of Iceland, where the city of Attilan was first built upon an isolated island. The Living Terrigen takes the brothers to view a monument that has been built in honor of their father, Agon the fallen king. Neither brother seems particularly interested in the monument. Maximus speaks about his crush on their cousin and peer, Medusa, while Blackgarr expresses concern over the welfare of the Inhumans’ slave caste, The Alpha Primitives. Blacker cannot speak due to the nature of his powers, yet Maximus’ psychic abilities allows them a rapport that enables him to share his brother’s feelings with The Living Terrigen. Blackgarr’s moral qualms over the Alpha Primitives are discarded by the steward king He states the beings are not slaves, but merely a lower form of life who rightfully serve more advanced beings.
Before the matter can be further discussed, the party is suddenly attacked. Each are struck with arrows that have attached to them repressor modules that have the effect of nullifying Inhuman powers.
It is The Alpha Primitive who are making this attack. Led by large Alpha named Dkamas the slaves are looking to slay their abusive master, The Living Terrigen. Maximus stays behind to defend his steward king while Blackgarr less hoping to outrun the range of the power dampeners. Maximus fights valiantly but is hopelessly outmanned. It looks as though he is about to fall when Blackgarr makes it to a cliffside beyond the range of the dampeners and hence regains his powers. He yells ‘enough!’ and the resulting sonic blast disperses the marauding Alphas.
In its wake, the monument to King Agon has been destroyed, but Maximus and The Living Terrigen have been saved. Someone (perhaps a guard, perhaps Maximus) has run Dkamas through with a spear, killing the leader of the revolt.
Blackgarr and Maximus have saved their stewardship king, yet it will soon become evident that they will pay dearly for the act. The Living Terrigen is initially thankful for his rescue. He doubts that this revolt could have been orchestrated by the simple minded Dkamas. The use of the power-dampening arrows required a level of sophistication that he feels is beyond the Alphas. Yet he is mistaken. The whole ordeal has been witnessed by an Alpha known as Elisha. There is something special about this Alpha, he possesses a wisdom and intellect not yet seen among those transformed into Alpha Primitives. It was he who had arranged this attack, who sought to kill the slave master and free his people… a plan that was foiled by Blackgarr and Maximus.
Back on Attilan, The Living Terrigen restores his health by bathing in Terrigen. Kadlec, The Inhuman known as The Seeker, stands by his king as the two discuss the revolt of the Alphas. The Living Terrigen continues to doubt that The Alphas possess the wherewithal to engage in such an intricate attack. Rather, he believes that the revolt must have been the work of an Inhuman, perhaps someone among the Royal Family.
Furthermore, the ordeal has afforded The Living Terrigen the opportunity to maintain the throne; and he aims to utilize this opportunity. He has Kadlec summon Medusa… she will be his key to undermining the sons of Agon and securing the kingship for himself.
The scene switches to the residence of House Amaquelin where young Medusa argues with her mother, Ambur, over adhering to laws of Attilan. Medusa is as wild and feisty as her prehensile hair.
She has been summoned by her king but has no interest in bowing before him. She sees The Living Terrigen as the scheming opportunist that he is. Yet her mother is having none of her daughter’s disobedience. Her daughter will do as their king orders or else risk the safety of her whole family. Reluctantly, Medusa agrees to her mother’s wishes; she will appear before the king. Crystal makes a brief appearance in the background.
Elsewhere, Blackgarr and Maximus have traveled to the catacombs beneath the city where a group of Alpha Primitive sit in vigil of their brothers who had been killed during the failed coup. By way of his psychic connection with Maximus Blackgarr expresses guilt and remorse over the deaths of these Alphas. Maximus disagrees; as he sees it Blackgarr did the right thing in foiling the Alpha’s revolt. Blackgarr killed no one and has no reason to feel remorse. Blacker is unmoved by his brother’s objections and joins the Alphas, kneeling with the others in mourning those who had died.
The two brothers are pulled aside by Elisha. He acknowledges that it was he who had orchestrated the attack on the Living Terrigen. The inhibitor devices he had contracted gave the Alphas their one opportunity to kill a malevolent god, yet Blackgarr had interfered and now the brothers will pay for their folly.
Elisha explains further that there is no way that The Living Terrigen will stand for the embarrassment of having to be saved by Blackgarr and Maximus. He is far too proud to let this matter stand. Somehow, he will manipulate things so that Blackgarr and Maximus are held as responsible; he will utilize the whole ordeal to dispose of the sons of Agon and secure his rulership.
Elisha’s warning is further supported when The Living Terrigen appears to also sit in morning among The Alphas. His doing so disavows any responsibility or ownership over the deaths of the Alphas, making it further evident that the whole matter is likely to be wrongfully pinned on the brothers.
Later, Medusa arrives for her audience before the king. The Living Terrigen shows her the Slave Engine, a device left behind by their Kree ancestors as a means to secure the wellbeing of the Inhuman peoples. The Slave Engine uses Xerogen Crystals to transform humans into devolved Alpha Primitives, creating a force of mindless laborers to serve the Inhumans.
Medusa appears to be just as disgusted by the Slave Engine as her cousin, Blackgarr, yet she wisely hides her contempt, saying to her king what he wants to hear: agreement and devotion (although she does manage to tip her true feelings a bit by referring to the slave engine as a ‘weapon’ rather than a device).
The Living Terrigen makes it known that he has chosen young Medusa to be his queen and then leaves her to process the matter with his servant, Kedlec. She holds her tongue no longer and expresses to Kedlec that she has no interest in being the consort to this vile king. Ever the schemer, Kedlec has plans of his own. He reveals that he has had Medusa’s home bugged and possesses a recording of Medusa speaking in a treasonous fashion… a recording that can be used to frame Medusa as responsible for the Alpha’s revolt. And yet Kedlec has desires of his own and offers to dispose of this recording were Medusa to choose him as her mate. Kedlec punctuates his lecherous proposition by groping Medusa’s rear end. It is an insult Medusa will not stand for. Her hair snaps into action, ensnaring Kedlec and slamming him against a wall.
Medusa turns heel to walk out but Kedlec shouts after her, wording the guards to seize her and proclaiming her as among the conspirators who plotted against the king. Medusa’s hair grabs the guards who have come to apprehend her, yet they are not guards, it’s actually Maximus and Blackgarr who have come to rescue her.
Elisha had warned them that The Living Terrigen would use Medusa as a means of framing them all for the attack and the brothers had come to her aide. Understandably, Medusa is less than pleased to learn it was her cousins who had gotten her involved in this whole mess. But there isn’t time to discuss it. Elisha shows up, having brought Lockjaw with him. And here it should be noted that seeing lockjaw as a puppy is just about the cutest thing ever.
Anyways, there isn’t time to get to the bottom of how it is that Elisha is so knowledgeable and worldly… why it is that he appears to wear clothes from the human world. What matters is that they are in danger and must utilize Lockjaw’s teleporting abilities to escape. The four of them hold hands around the puppy and are instantly transported away. And the story comes to its cliffhanger conclusion as the young Royals and Elisha are teleported to the heart of Times Square in Manhattan.
Wow! This is just about everything I could ask for in an Inhumans comic, harkening back to all of the weirdness and palace intrigue that first so bewitched me and made me such a fan of their bizarre characters. It’s all such a wonderful combination of super heroes and science fiction, a bastard lovechild of Claremont’s X-Men and Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Christopher Priest follows in the path of past Inhuman writers, Paul Jenkins and Ann Nocenti, casting aside any attempt to make The Royals more traditional super heroes and embracing all of the strange and problematic weirdness that makes the Inhumans unique. Yet he does so in a fashion that makes you care about these character despite their flaws. It’s a rather remarkable feat, and is accomplished so seamlessly that it can be easy to not even notice it.
The addition of Elisha to the cast is both intriguing and welcome. I’m very interested in learning more about him and how it is that he possesses such knowledge. Yet more so I am happy to see The Alphas more fully incorporated into the Inhuman lore. There being a specific Alpha as a main character in an Inhumans story has been long, long overdo and Christopher Priest is a writer I absolutely trust to handle the character properly.
All of this is all brought to vibrant life by Phil Noto’s fabulous art. Noto’s skills at illustrating people and facial expressions has been a well established strength; yet here he also gets to show off his abilities for creating cool settings and dynamic action sequences. It’s some of his best work and it would seem that Noto’s stint illustrating the Star Wars comic, Poe Dameron, has aptly prepared him for The Inhumans.
There are a couple of continuity matters that are likely only to bug hardcore fans like myself. The first of which is that Royals #3 had the brothers’ parents dying when Maximus was nineteen and Blackgarr twenty. The two are clearly younger than that in this story, but the matter can be chalked up to artistic license; a no-prize explanation can be that Maximus merely misremembers how old he was when his parents died.
The relationship between Medusa and Blackgarr also appears a bit altered in this telling. Beforehand the story had been that Medusa would go visit Blackgarr when he was sequestered in his isolation chamber and that the blooming love between the two was pivotal to Black Bolt’s learning to master his destructive powers. This story slightly reimagines the relationship, laying the foundation for more of a love triangle between Medusa, Blackgarr and Maximus.
The slave engine is in and of itself a retcon, an alteration of the inhumans lore that was born out of The Unspoken Story arc in the pages of Mighty Avengers. Before this retcon, The Alpha Primitive had been created by the Inhuman scientist, Avadar, who used cro magnum DNA to create clones who were meant to be drone-like automatons. It was only after several generations of new clones that the Alphas gained sentience. By then Attilan had grown so reliant on the Alphas as laborers that they forced themselves to repress this knowledge and attempt to deny that they had become a slave state. This repressed guilt was later channeled by Maximus in his creation of the android, Omega the Ultimate Alpha. This whole story was altered in Mighty Avengers #27 with the introduction of the Kree Slave Engine and the idea that the Alphas are actually captured humans who had been mutated by way of exposure to Xerogen Crystals.
Finally, the tale once more has Blackgarr, Maximus and Medusa referring to each other as ‘cousins.’ According to the family trees of House Boltagon and House Amaquelin, Blackgarr and Medusa are not blood relatives. It may be that the story is looking to rework that matter; cousins intermarrying is certainly not unheard of among royalty. Or it may be that ‘cousin’ is more of a colloquial term on Attilan. The population of Attilan is only about twenty-five hundred strong so they’re all pretty closely related to one another…
Once more these are all merely continuity blips that do not in any way detract from the story. Firm continuity can be fun, but I’m all for giving authors leeway if it means telling the story they want to tell.
The short backup feature string Lockjaw and The Thing doesn’t bring a while lot to the table, but is a fun bonus nonetheless. Ryan North is a hoot and his and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is always one of the best reads month in and month out. He and artist Gustavo Durante offer up a quick and fun Lockjaw story that’s a nice pallet-cleanser after the intensity of the main story.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. An emphatic five out of five Lockjaws!