Thursday, September 1, 2016

Middle Act Without The Motivation: Inhuman Volume 2: Axis Underwhelms

The Good: Generally good artwork, Mirroring of two characters
The Bad: Terrible transitions, Fidelity to issues instead of story, Lack of character development and plot resolution
The Basics: Inhuman Volume 2: Axis is a mess of a middle act in a larger story and it is missing far too much to make it a worthwhile book on its own.

Last month was a pretty DC Comics-intensive month for me and September, leading into October, is looking like a pretty Marvel Comics heavy month. September will mark the return of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Netflix is capping off the month with the release of the first season of Luke Cage. Last month, I finally got around to reviewing the whole of season three of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!) and the emphasis on Inhumans led me to finally start reading some of the source material. I picked up Inhuman Volume 1: Genesis (reviewed here!) and was not overly impressed. Regardless, I decided to continue with the series and I picked up Inhuman Volume 2: Axis.

Inhuman Volume 2: Axis picks up right where Genesis left off and it is hard to pick the book up on its own and care about the story one finds themselves in the middle of. After all, Genesis was often preoccupied with the idea that Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans, had disappeared (presumed dead). Inhuman Volume 2: Axis picks up immediately with Black Bolt's story and without understanding the magnitude of what is going on in the (Marvel Comics) world in Black Bolt's absence, it is pretty hard to care. Inhuman Volume 2: Axis is a compilation of only five comic books and it is a middle act of a larger story, but within its own narrative, it is missing key plot and character elements.

Opening with Black Bolt, a prisoner of his brother Prince Maximus, being held in check by the knowledge that he will destroy quite a bit around him if he speak, Queen Medusa dispatches her two best guards to try to find her King, whom she believes is still alive. Auran and her partner, Frank McGee track Maximus fairly easily to Manhattan - very close to New Attilan where the Inhumans have taken refuge and begun building a society for themselves - where Maximus has Black Bolt captive. Frank McGee manages to make it back to Medusa to report on Maximus and Black Bolt, which leads him to take up Auran's dying wish of McGee saving Black Bolt. While Naja comforts Dante's human sister, Gabby, as her pregnancy advances, Inferno suits up to join Gorgon in going to stop Maximus. Gorgon, Inferno and McGee teleport to the Himalayas where they confront Maximus and witness Black Bolt recovering the Inhuman Codex.

Around the same time, Reader and Xiaoyi are tracked across Turkey by a group of people (and an Inhuman) who want to do them harm. They manage to thwart the attempt to take Xiaoyi, while back in New Attilan, a funeral is held for Vinatos. Medusa arrives and very tersely disposes of Vinatos's body, much to the shock of her subjects. Shortly thereafter, a very aggressive Medusa expells U.N. inspectors from the city. Reader brings Xiaoyi to Ennilux, where she meets Capo and he attempts to implant his mind into her body. On New Attilan, Medusa abruptly decides to teach humans a lesson in respect by declaring war and attacking Manhattan, against the advice of her counselors. Medusa visits the U.N., but her declarations to the General Assembly are interrupted by Spider-Man. In the fight, she learns that one of her own people called upon the Avengers and after calling out her counselors, she abandons New Attilan, just before the city is attacked by those pursuing Reader.

Inhuman Volume 2: Axis is a problematic anthology book because it pays fidelity to the issues, as opposed to fidelity to the storyline. Apparently, there was a Marvel Comics crossover event that the Inhumans were a part of (Axis). Something happened to Medusa in that volume that left her transformed. In Inhuman Volume 2: Axis this takes the very abrupt and awkward transition where Medusa appears in chapter two of the book in her familiar form and then as an almost completely different character in the third chapter. Medusa does not pop back up simply with braided hair; she completely alters her view on how she wants the Inhumans to interface with the rest of the Earth. Given the lack of in-text reason for this (there is an editor's note alluding to issue #3 of Axis), the sudden alteration of Medusa makes absolutely no sense within the book. Medusa goes from caring about her people, she then appears differently and there are oblique references to Genosha, then she goes off in a completely different direction. This is disappointing within Inhuman Volume 2: Axis.

Having read nothing before Inhuman Volume 2: Axis with Black Bolt as a character, the impact of Black Bolt was very well revealed in the book. Black Bolt has a voice that a single syllable (or letter, apparently, on the page) can blow out a whole floor of a building. That makes Black Bolt an initially impressive character and that Inhuman Volume 2: Axis begins with only his sense of ethics retraining him from speaking is a very cool statement that defines the character to newbies very well.

Maximus is characterized in Inhuman Volume 2: Axis like Kilgrave from another corner of the Marvel Universe. That easy comparison makes it very easy to reduce the Marvel Comics world to three groups: Humans and humans who were altered to become superheroes/villains (Iron Man, Luke Cage, the Winter Soldier), mutants (X-Men), and alien-created mutants (the Inhumans). In other words, the moment Maximus comes into the narrative and his powers are made explicit by Medusa in chapter two, it is tough not to feel like the Inhuman corner of the Marvel Universe is just a very cheap retread of the more popular elements from Marvel Comics. Inhuman Volume 2: Axis does little to contradict that notion.

Ultimately, very little actually happens in Inhuman Volume 2: Axis. There are three fights in the book, but the only character that really has anything remotely close to character development is Reader. Reader has an epiphany about the nature of Ennilux, but he barely has time to outrun the forces of the corporation he has been working for, much less grow from his understanding of being an unwitting slaver of Inhumans. Medusa is entirely erratic in the book and the final chapter of Inhuman Volume 2: Axis leaves the reader wondering if she has had a psychotic break or if Maximus somehow managed to survive the events of the second chapter. Regardless, this is not a character-driven graphic novel.

In a similar fashion, Inhuman Volume 2: Axis is entirely underwhelming as it lacks any larger thematic statement. The X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe has often been likened to an analogy for gays, Jews and others who have been treated as outsider and they tend to be written with a larger theme of acceptance and the importance of diversity. The Inhumans section of the Marvel Comics universe often seems to be similar, with the additional element of survivors. Most of the Inhumans - especially the NuHumans from Inhuman - were transformed into Inhumans by external forces, many without their consent, so they band together to survive the ravages of the outside world. Inhuman Volume 2: Axis lacks any sort of thematic unity or statement that would make its stories relevant in any metaphorical context.

All Inhuman Volume 2: Axis truly has going for it is the artwork and a mildly interesting play involving two unrelated Inhumans. One Inhuman generally embraces his humanity and life before his transformation, rejecting the name that he is given at New Attilan; by contrast one of the Inhumans finds some sense of belonging among the Inhumans and has to correct Reader about her new, true, name. That is a mildly interesting dichotomy.

It is, however, not nearly enough to save or recommend Inhuman Volume 2: Axis.

For other Marvel graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Secret Invasion
Daredevil: West-Case Scenario
She-Hulk: Disorderly Conduct


For other Graphic Novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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