Marvel Comics is in a state of flux. Coming off the mixed reaction to its “Secret Wars” event and the messy roll-out of its “All-New All-Different” line, Marvel seems to be doubling down on top-down storytelling, focusing on a lot of big pictures and events. “Secret Wars” just wrapped up and the publicity push for its next event, “Standoff”, is already getting started, while Steve Rogers’ return as Captain America was just announced, and “Civil War II” looms in the not-so-distant future. Whether Marvel’s seeming obsession with high-profile, large-scale storytelling is a good move or not is irrelevant right now–the more important question immediately is, “How are their smaller stories doing?”
To look at sales figures and general reactions, one could reasonably conclude that faith in month-to-month titles is waning. Marvel’s readers seem like fans of a television show way past its prime, tuning in when something big happens, but not really caring much otherwise.
That’s what makes this month’s All-New Inhumans that much more important. Yes, All-New Inhumans #4 is part of a larger arc, but few recent single issues have been as thoroughly satisfying as this one.
To briefly recap, after Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, exploded a Terrigen bomb to save his kingdom, a massive cloud of Terrigen has been circling the planet. (How this is still happening in the wake of the destruction of Battleworld (see Secret Wars #9) is a mystery to me, but… whatever.) With Black Bolt and Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, off dealing with their own problems, Medusa’s sister, Crystal, leads a diplomatic mission around the globe to lend aid to those struggling in the wake of the Terrigen cloud.
Their most recent trip brings them to Sin-Cong, a thinly veiled stand-in for North Korea, whose unhinged dictator rules with an even ironer fist than his father. As you’d expect, all is not as it seems in Sin-Cong, and, as a result of a mysterious shared vision, Crystal and her team are redoubling their efforts to get to the bottom of whatever’s going on.
Okay, maybe that recap wasn’t so brief but, really, the issue does a much better job than I did of re-establishing the stakes quickly–and the stakes are high. That much is clear from the start of the issue and it stays that way, making each page more thrilling than the last.
The story splits off into three arcs, one featuring Crystal (who is a great character–a capable albeit flawed leader, standing in stark contrast to the more reserved leadership of Black Bolt and Medusa), who’s trying to keep the peace, one featuring her ship’s captain, Swain, who’s trying to understand the source of their shared vision, and one featuring a ground team of Inhumans who are directly investigating the mystery of Sin-Cong as sneakily as possible.
Never once does the back and forth feel jarring, and the pace is kept up so expertly that, again, the pages almost turn themselves… almost to a fault. Why? Because the artwork is so elegantly simple (and gorgeous) that you want to stop and appreciate it (especially once the source of the shared vision is revealed). Some critics of Marvel’s current output maintain that there isn’t really a cohesive style to it. While I don’t think anyone expects all the comics to look the same, I could see wanting there to be a “Marvel Style” again. I myself am of two minds about this, as I do think there’s value in pushing your visual boundaries as opposed to homogenizing, but if there was a candidate for how Marvel comics should look, I think All-New Inhumans should be it.
The work is grounded and realistic enough to be inviting, but bold and dynamic enough to grab your eyes and keep them. Stefano Caselli’s character designs are strong, unique, and consistent, while Andres Mossa’s colors make it all pop off the page. I can’t quite say I’m a total fan of the lettering, as it veers towards the cartoonish and can undermine the stakes, but I’m also not entirely against a grounding reminder that I’m reading a comic book. To top it all off, while the panels are dynamic and engaging, nothing gets lost–the details are richly rendered so that your eyes are drinking each panel as the story’s current is rushing you along to the next one.
That current comes crashing in one big wave as the three story threads intersect, culminating in a breathtaking spread the likes of which I haven’t seen since the early days of Image’s Saga. Beyond just being a great issue, All-New Inhumans #4 points to the fact that, at the very least, James Asmus, Charles Soule, Stefano Caselli, and Andres Mossa are committed to rewarding your attention month-in, month-out, regardless of whether their title is a tie-in or not. I’d recommend reading all of All-New Inhumans so far, but definitely pick up a copy of #4.