With so much debate swirling around Inhumans, we are doing a little mini-series this week on the project and our feelings about it a few weeks out. Yesterday, Adam shared why we should give the show a chance. I’m taking the opposite tone today, but note that doesn’t mean I disagree with Adam. You should give the show a chance. I’m going to see it opening night and probably will go a second time if it’s better than a 5 of 10 for me because I love Black Bolt more than any other character in comics. That said, just because I think it deserves a chance, doesn’t mean I don’t think it deserves some criticism too. Here are a few reasons. Also, the plan is for me to do another piece for tomorrow where I share why some criticism has been way off base for my tastes. I feel like the two sides of that coin are important.
It Just Isn’t Weird Enough
The best comparison to my first Inhumans comic experience, that I can think of, is the first time that I saw Star Wars as an elementary school kid. I remember Luke entering the Mos Eisley bar and being filled with wonder. There were so many different character designs in that room! There was an equal measure of wonder and fear watching that scene. These creatures were spectacular, but also mysterious. Who could be trusted? Who might be out to kill our heroes? You feel all the emotions that Luke would be feeling in that moment.
Reading a good Inhumans book (or watching a good Inhumans show) should be the same. One startling concern has been the panning shots over groups of (presumably) Inhumans, listening to Maximus speak. They look no different than any crowd in any American city. The most recent trailer added one guy with some gills, but it is all very flat. This quite simply is an obvious, major oversight. It makes the entire thing feel wrong. Imagine the Mos Eisley scene, but the bar is filled with people they grabbed from an LA pub. Quite simply it isn’t the same property any more. The likely culprit here is a combination of budget and time (it takes awhile to build a cache of different alien looks), but that’s exactly the concern. If the producers cannot afford to take the time or expense to deliver a core tenant of the property, they shouldn’t do the property at all.
This TV Show Has a High Opportunity Cost
In economics, opportunity cost is the idea that any choice brings with it the cost of other mutually exclusive costs. If I take a job at one company, the opportunity cost would be a job at another company. MCU fans know that there is one huge opportunity cost with a TV show and that cost is no movie interaction. Many people love Luke Cage as a Netflix series, but it likely means a Cap and Luke interaction or a version of the Avengers with Luke isn’t happening. He’s stuck in TV purgatory, never to leave. (Hypothetically they should be able to crossover, but most fans have realistically given up on those hopes as the films continue to ignore the TV side.)
This is a huge opportunity cost for Inhumans in two ways. First of all, this property at one point was due to be a film. Unlike something like New Warriors which never seriously looked like it would get a big screen iteration, Inhumans as a film was rumored for years. It was officially announced by Marvel! This is like telling someone they’d have steak for dinner and then saying, “Just kidding, who wants a hot dog?” That switcheroo is an important part of why fans struggle to reset their expectations. Second, the Inhumans has some great solo stories, but over the last decade the characters have had an even larger role in the bigger MCU. Black Bolt was a huge part of World War Hulk, Silent War, and Infinity. Recently Inhumanity and Inhumans vs. X-Men has continued this trend. MCU fans will never get to see that kind of crossover. Black Bolt will never be a member of the Illuminati like in the comics and will never face off with Hulk. In this way, the show was always going to be a disappointment, regardless of how good it was.
Jeph Loeb Should Know Better
At SDCC, Jeph Loeb gushed about the time he sent a letter into Marvel to be printed in an Inhumans character. The story was surprising and touching to me. He cares about this stuff. As such, it is hard to imagine why he is so flippant about the obvious concerns with the property. It is almost impossible to think that he is a life long Inhumans fan and not aware that all these various concerns would arise on the project.
More importantly, he knows who Scott Buck is and what Scott Buck does. At this point attacking Buck seems pointless, if not redundant. Buck takes properties that are being rushed and under funded and he makes something passable of them. One of the ways he does this is by focusing on the non-supernatural parts and instead focusing on relationships between characters. So, you take away the mystical city, the undying dragon, and super human villains and you replace with Davos and Claire talking about pizza and the corporate intrigue of the Meachums and Danny talking to a homeless guy. Aside from the quality of those choices (most fans didn’t like it), they are just the wrong choices for Inhumans. Again, the property is a visually rich one and that isn’t what is happening with Buck at the helm. He shies away from those things. And frankly, Loeb knows that’s who he is. At this point, I think Loeb deserves the heat. If you replace a hunting dog with a panda, it isn’t the panda’s fault they are cuddly, harmless, and slow. That’s what they are. Loeb had seen the “grounding” of Iron Fist and incomprehensibly chose the same guy again. Putting aside the question of “Does Scott Buck do things that are good?” that other obvious question is “Does Scott Buck do things that stylistically fit Inhumans comics?” The answer is no.
I Blame Kevin Feige Too
I know, its sacrilege to go after the Master of the MCU. As an Inhumans fan, however, it is hard not to see him as part of the problem. Inhumans was a Phase Three film on the schedule. It was in Feige’s control. He then delayed it and postponed it and ultimately handed it to the TV side. This occurred despite several times when he tried to reassure fans he cared about the property and wanted to give fans a film. While serious production would never have started on the film, Feige surely had some idea of the scope of the project. One would think that some early script ideas and budget calculations could be done. And in all that, Feige had to know that even with IMAX there wasn’t enough budget for a proper adaptation of Inhumans. But instead of saying, “I can’t give you that IP, it shouldn’t be a TV show” he let it go to Loeb and company. At this point it’s been proven that the best characters for TV are those with less fantastic powers (see The Defenders) and yet Inhumans was given away to ABC.
This is the most infuriating part for those who love this set of characters. A property that means so much to so many fans ultimately became Marvel Studios and Marvel TV’s beach ball. It was batted back and forth (along with fan hopes and expectations) as part of the machismo chest pounding contest that has become Marvel’s TV/Film spat. While none of it is official, all signs point to Feige and Perlmutter/Loeb not getting along. Who knows why and frankly who cares? The point is that Feige told Inhumans fans on the El Capitan stage in 2013 they were going to get a film about their loved characters. He then jerked them around for three years, and then he handed the thing over to executives he knew were cheap and incapable of handling the project with fidelity to the source material. For those of us who love Inhumans, we got sold out by Feige, likely because he knew he could revel in the failure of his adversaries over on the TV side. That’s reason enough for righteous indignation.
Okay, so maybe that last part is mostly just me venting. But Marvel should know that these characters matter to people. And if a good version of a property can happen on at TV budget, that’s great. Daredevil has worked splendidly. But just as Hulk will never be possible on an ABC budget, Inhumans just shouldn’t have gone to ABC. It never would get the budget it needed. The makeup and VFX were never going to be the necessary caliber. There is a reason Lucasfilm doesn’t do live action TV. And that’s ultimately where the well-placed anger on this project comes from. It isn’t the actors or the directors doing what they can with the limits they have. Personally, I don’t really even blame Scott Buck. It comes down to an idea that should always have been obviously shot down. Something as grand and visually stunning as Jack Kirby‘s Inhumans should never have been done as a TV show to start with, and much of the criticism has been an outpouring of that poor decision.
Some of it, however, has been unfair and based on comic ignorance. More on that in another article tomorrow.