“Marvel’s Inhumans,” about a super race on the moon, faces a difficult landing on ABC.
The latest expansion of the comic-book empire’s screen universe has already faced criticism from fans, mostly based on an incomplete first episode that was available for television critics in the summer.
The new series premieres with two full episodes on Friday that give a fuller picture of the story. The best way to explain these new super-beings is to place them somewhere between Marvel’s more terrestrial superheroes like Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man, and the more cosmic ones, like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Fantastic Four, in whose comic book the Inhumans first appeared.
In the series, the superspecies live in the city of Attilan, which is on the Moon. It is ruled by a royal family. Their king is called Black Bolt, whose voice is so powerful he rarely speaks unless it is to let off a destructive concussive blast.
“It was the only way that they were going to let a redneck play a superhero,” jokes Anson Mount, who plays Black Bolt. The actor, who grew up in Tennessee, played the taciturn Southerner Cullen Bohannon for five seasons on AMC’s post-Civil War Western “Hell on Wheels.”
The character communicates by signing, and Mount even developed his own version based initially on the American Sign Language dictionary.
Serinda Swan plays Queen Medusa, who can manipulate her own hair into powerful tendrils. “There were definitely days on the shoot with a four pound, red wig down to my shins that felt like a very warm cat snuggling my head,” says the actress (“Graceland,” “Ballers”) about her costume.
The Inhumans are a bit like another Marvel franchise, X-Men, in that they have super powers, except that they are not mutants. They were created when a race of extraterrestrials experimented with a group of humans millions of years ago.
Eventually, most of the Inhumans migrated to the moon, although a few were accidentally were left behind. However, their individual superpowers are only activated when exposed to a certain type of mist.
Those who don’t transform and develop a superpower are cruelly sent to the mines to work. Black Bolt’s younger brother, Maximus, was spared that fate when nothing materialized for him. Instead, he was protected by his older brother, who kept the crafty Maximus as an adviser.
Iwan Rheon, best known as the sadistic and rebellious Ramsay Bolton on “Game of Thrones,” plays Maximus, who leads an uprising against Black Bolt.
“It’s essentially like any two brothers who have a very different approach to life,” says Rheon. “Black Bolt can’t speak, for a start, which makes it difficult for him to communicate. So he sort of holds everything in, whereas Maximus is very much about getting it out.”
The character of Maximus isn’t a simple villain. Like X-Men’s Magneto, he’s concerned about the future of his species. With humans on the verge of discovering the Inhumans’ existence on the Moon, Black Bolt has taken a wait-and-see position, but his brother has taken an aggressive position and wants the group to return to Earth and take their place.
“We are the change that we seek,” he tells his followers who successfully revolt, forcing Black Bolt, Medusa and a few of his followers to flee to Earth.
In the Marvel universe, notes Jeph Loeb, an executive producer on the show, “We don’t always do things in terms of just hero versus villain. The antagonist is often the protagonist, and often the hero is on the wrong side of the argument.”
“Royals were Shakespeare’s favorite subject for a reason,” adds Mount, “because we don’t, by and large, worry about larger politics when we deal with our family, but in these families, we do. What’s stronger, politics or blood?”
Whether audiences are ready for another complicated fantasy mythology, though, is another question. Originally, the “Inhumans” was aimed for theaters, but Marvel Studios announced it was going to be eight-episode series on ABC, which already had “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
On a slow Labor Day in theaters, a version of the first two episodes was shown globally on IMAX screens, earning $2.6 million, but there were still questions and carps from fans and critics.
Loeb cautions, however, that what been shown so far isn’t complete.
“By doing it as eight episodes, it’s a very quick, easy learn,” he says. “So with the first two episodes being in one night, you are actually asking the audience to come in over seven different nights, and all of those questions will be answered.”
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