X-Men 101: Mutants and Inhumans
You’ve probably heard about Mutants. They’ve had a few movies. A classic cartoon with an epic theme song too. You may not have heard too much about the Inhumans though. Even if you’ve watched every second season episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., their place in the Marvel cosmic universe may seem somewhat nebulous. The Inhumans have a deep history in the comics that sees them rubbing shoulders with a number of heroes and shoving elbows into our friends the X-Men. I’ll be talking a lot about the X-Men in the weeks to come, but I wanted to kick things off by talking about superpowers and the impact of their origins.
In a sense, the Mutants and Inhumans are two sides of the same coin. Unlike other superbeings they didn’t gain their superpowers through radioactive bites, freak laboratory accidents, or dead parents. Mutants and Inhumans are born with something extra in their genetic makeup.
Our friends the Mutants, sometimes called “homo superior,” have an X-gene that allows them to naturally develop superhuman powers and/or abilities. Sometimes this is activated at the prenatal stage (as is the case with Nightcrawler), but mostly this gene is triggered by puberty or extreme stress. Kinda goes hand-in-hand with the whole being a teenage outcast thing.
Some mutants develop secondary mutations (Beast). Others barely have any powers at all. Ugly John is a good example of this as his “power” is having three faces. That’s it. In contrast, Omega level mutants such as Iceman or Hope Summers have learned to manipulate their powers in such a way that they can be near unstoppable.
Inhumans also have a gene locked away that determines superpower and appearance. Unlike the mutants, which may be the next step in human evolution, the Inhumans began as an abandoned Kree experiment. The Kree, whom you might have seen a glimpse of in Guardians of the Galaxy, discovered that sentient life on Earth had genetic potential left untapped by the Celestials (a race of giant, ancient space gardeners). The Kree then began to experiment on primitive homo sapiens by splicing Eternals DNA into Cro-Magnons. Basically, they wanted to create an army of super soldiers for use in future galactic conflicts with the Skrulls.
The experiments they abandoned would go on to create a society of their own. Terrigen Mist unlocked their genetically gifted superpowers, but unrestricted use of the mist had resulted in genetic damage and physical deformities for many Inhumans. In order to control their populace, the Inhumans adopted a rigid caste system in which the most powerful hold the highest societal positions. Advanced eugenics are also used to control the population and their powers.
Two groups of naturally gifted superbeings that have lived two very different ways. Mutant/Human history is peppered with instances of racial conflict, media-perpetuated bigotry, and authoritarian politics. News stories are ignored unless they they fit the narrative of “the mutant menace” and hate crimes are a very real and very scary thing. The Inhumans, also knowing what it is like to be feared and hated for simply existing, are collectively isolationist. Their city, Attilan, has been known to move from location to location on a regular basis in order to avoid the outside world altogether.
And now Mutant and Inhuman are about to duke it out. For those not in the know, a mini-series titled “Death of X” has been leading up to a December conflict called “Inhumans vs X-Men.” There has been a Terrigen Mist cloud creating new Inhumans (Nuhumans) all over the world with one major side effect: the mist is toxic to mutants. This is after the events of House of M that left the majority of the mutant population depowered. For years, mutantkind has been struggling to survive and now only collaborative science between the mutants and Inhumans can generate a solution.
It’s an exciting time for X-fans who want that next chapter of their favorite franchise (ResurrXtion), but also for Marvel fans to see more of the underrated Inhumans. Terrigen Mist popularity is now picking up steam with Inhuman inclusion in AoS and newly announced ABC/IMAX mini-series, but they already have a pretty well established place in the comic universe. Medusa, who is the queen of the Inhumans, was first introduced as an antagonist in a 1965 issue of Fantastic Four and her husband Black Bolt (who is arguably a mutant among Inhumans) was a member of the Marvel Illuminati. More exposure is a great thing, especially when it doesn’t mean replacing the mutants.
There was a nasty rumour going on before the announcement of ResurrXtion that the Inhumans would be replacing the X-Men due to Fox being the rights-holder for all film and TV adaptations of mutant characters. Supposedly, Marvel was going to phase the X-Men out by killing them all off in Death of X. The whole thing didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t concern – especially with the Fantastic Four being dialed down in the comics before the release of Fant4stic.
I’m glad we still get our X-Men and get to see a bit more Inhumans. Hopefully this article has helped you understand both supergroups a bit better. Stay tuned over the weeks to come as we discuss some of the best X story arcs, the most underrated mutants, and maybe a bit more about Black Bolt and his Inhumans.