Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, The Inhumans proved popular enough as supporting characters in the pages of The Fantastic Four that they were spun off into their own series in 1975. Though that series lasted on twelve issues, they were brought back under the Marvel Knights banner for another twelve issue series in the late nineties. These twelve issues were written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated by Jae Lee. A four issue storyline followed in 2000 and then another short run in 2004. As part of their Marvel Knights line of DVD motion comics, Shout! Factory brings the Jenkins/Lee run to life and it actually works quite well.
The series starts by introducing us to the key characters, a race of 'genetic freaks' who live their lives away from mainstream society on an island of their own named Attilan. By choice, the people of Attilan keep to themselves, they do not take part in world economics nor do they socialize with anyone on the mainland. Each member of the islands population, as he or she comes of age, must undergo a rite of passage called 'Terrigenesis' in which they are exposed to Terrigan Mists, a naturally occurring phenomena that happens on the island and which will the being exposed to it superhuman abilities. The catch? You don't really know what you're going to get when you're exposed to the mists... it could be enhanced strength or it could be some form of horrible physical mutation. Serving the Inhumans are the Alpha Primitives, essentially a race of slaves who exist to serve.
Attilan is generally a peaceful place ruled by Black Bolt (a man unable to speak for fear of leveling the land with the destructive power his voice carries) and the rest of the Attilan royal family - but all of this changes when humans launch an attack on the island. If that weren't enough, there's the not insignificant presence of Black Bolt's brother, Maximus the Mad, who would be only too happy to see his brother's rule come to an end. Thankfully, Black Bolt has his loyal companion Lockjaw at his side, but as the attack intensifies and he seeks assistance from the United Nations, Maximus tries to destroy the Inhuman society from within by launching the Alpha Primitives into revolution.
While The Inhumans may, on a surface level, appear to be just another sci-fi tinged tale of men in tights, the story is actually very layered and clever. As the twelve chapters that complete the work play out, Jenkins works in interesting allegories to different aspects of society as the storyline takes on class war, race relations, slavery, isolation on a global scale (timely, given what North Korea's been up to at the time of this writing) and of course, genetic mutation. Quite a bit more political than your average superhero yarn, Jenkins' writing lets the story unfold at a somewhat slow but completely deliberate pace which helps not only to introduce and sufficiently flesh out the different characters but also to build some effective tension as the final issues approach. Let's not confuse slow with boring.
Complimenting this very nicely is the artwork of Jae Lee. The closest point of reference when comparing his work here to his other material is probably his four issue mini-series, Hellshock. Like that series, here we see bold use of color and sharp, sometimes jagged line work with heavy use of shadows creating a darkness that gives the visual side of the story an appreciable intensity and sense of brooding. This is a bit of a mixed bag once things start to move, however. Lee's art is intense, it's otherworldly and it's not always cut and dry. Once you start to animate it, you lose part of what makes it so interesting to look at when it's presented as it was intended - sequential art on the printed page. Sometimes the transitions work beautifully, other times not so well. The use of sound adds to this, the effects work helping to bring the story to life in interesting ways. One interesting aspect of the sound work, however, is the fact that so much of this story revolves around Black Bolt, a character who does not speak. To get around this and to let us into his head, the story uses internal narration to give us his take on things as well as other characters to sort of elaborate on different things and 'fill in the blanks' so to speak. Usually this works well, though there are spots where it feels like a gimmick and as such, comes across as a little bit overused - proving that not everything that works on paper work in animated or motion comic form.
The Inhumans arrives on DVD in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that replicates the art style well. This is a slightly harsher looking presentation than some might be accustomed to but it's in keeping with Jae Lee's illustrations which use very heavy, almost sketchy looking lines at times. Color reproduction is excellent, fine lines and thicker lines are both reproduced nicely here without a lot of shimmering. There aren't any compression artifacts and as this was all done digitally, there are no issues with print damage.
The only audio option provided is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and all five channels are used rather well not just for sound effects but also for the score. The levels are properly balanced throughout and there are no audible defects - the audio really helps enhance the presentation quite a bit and the powers that be at Shout! Factory have done great work here. The dialogue is always easy to understand and to follow, there's some nice weight behind the voice work here that helps to enhance the storyline quite effectively.
The only extra on the disc is a featurette entitled A Look Back At The Inhumans which is basically an interview segment with series writer Paul Jenkins and Marvel Comics Editor In Chief Joe Quesada that stands as a fairly interesting and extensive history of the characters that are featured here. It starts with their introduction way back in the pages of Fantastic Four #45 in 1965 and brings them up to the modern day as seen in this Marvel Knights series. We also learn of Jenkins' approach to the characters and what he tried to accomplish with this series. Menus and issue selection are also included on the disc.
Shout! Factory's motion comic DVD release of the Marvel Knights mini-series The Inhumans isn't going to convince those that aren't already sold on the motion comic idea but to those who dig it? This is good stuff. The story is multi-layered, intelligent and well told while Jae Lee's artwork actually works really well with the very minimalist animation that it's been given here. The disc looks good and sounds good and if it's only got on extra feature on it, at least it's one worth watching. Recommended for fans of the Marvel Knights motion comics line.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.