(spoilers for Agents of SHIELD s2 e10)

After weeks of teasing, hinting & allusions, Agents of SHIELD has finally made explicit what we’ve suspected for a long time: the Inhumans are here, and they’re the next great wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The mid-season finale dropped two major bombshells about Skye, Agents of SHIELD’s female lead: she is an Inhuman, and she is the MCU version of Daisy Johnson. In the comics, Daisy Johnson is a SHIELD agent named Quake. Due to genetic experimention from her father, she gains the ability to generate tremors throughout the Earth.

Making Daisy an Inhuman is a pretty radical reinvention of her character. It changes a lot of her backstory, and adds her to a grand pantheon of Marvel characters. But more importantly, it suggests a bold new direction for the MCU, a willingness to change established characters in order to bring the Inhumans to the foreground.

We’ve already given you the background of the Inhumans, and what makes them special to Marvel Comics. Marvel has made it clear for ages that the Inhumans play a huge role in their cinematic world. In fact, Marvel has already announced an Inhumans film, set for… November 2018.

So why now?

What makes the Inhumans so important, so urgent, to Marvel’s future that they had to be introduced now?

5) No more origin stories.

There’s an old anecdote about Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, the godfathers of the Marvel Universe. After co-creating Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, & others, they were so damn sick of origin stories. Finally, Stan & Jack created the X-Men & the concept of mutants, humans born with great and fearsome superpowers. This enabled them to hit the ground running, throwing new superheroes & supervillains into the story without contriving elaborate backgrounds.

Sadly, Marvel Studios doesn’t own the film rights to the X-Men, the most popular comic in the history of the company. But the Inhumans can fill a similar role in the MCU, and in fact already do in Marvel Comics. After a series of events over the past decade, mutants have dwindled to a few hundred while the Inhumans could possibly number in the tens of thousands.

We’ve already speculated that certain characters on SHIELD could be Inhuman. Adapting Daisy Johnson as an Inhuman suggests that Marvel is willing to radically reinvent their characters’ powers, origins & histories. It’s very possible that Marvel will introduce new superheroes and villains as Inhumans, skipping the origin process altogether.

Though this approach wouldn’t affect Marvel Studios’ immediate slate, this could be vital for Marvel Television moving forward. The recently released synopsis for Marvel’s second series, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, describes the title character as “a detective who gets pulled into cases involving people with extraordinary abilities”. It’s a similar logline to SHIELD’s first season. Agents of SHIELD’s early days suffered from spending huge swaths of time giving their villains origin stories.

How much easier would it be, instead of dedicating 2/3 of an episode explaining why your villain can randomly teleport, to just say that he’s Inhuman? Like Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, introducing the Inhumans gives Marvel a chance to cut down on the exposition and get to the real heart of the action.

4) A more cosmic Earth.

Guardians of the Galaxy marks a bold expansion of the MCU. Marvel Comics’ cosmic universe is enormous, featuring hundreds of characters and storylines spanning decades. With the third & fourth Avengers films set to focus on Thanos, it’s very clear that the immediate future for the MCU lies in the stars.

There’s one big problem with this approach: it’s in space, but most of Marvel’s heroes are on Earth. It’s not like you can just bring the Guardians to Earth, either: Kevin Feige and James Gunn have made it clear time and again that the Guardians of the Galaxy are in their own corner of the universe, and won’t cross over with the Avengers anytime soon.

So if the spacefaring side of the Marvel Universe is so important, how does Earth, with its localized heroes & conflicts, fit into Marvel’s cosmic future?

The Inhumans are a very intuitive way of bringing the cosmic sweep of the Marvel Universe home to Earth. The Inhumans are genetic experiments conducted on ancient humans by the alien Kree, the villains in Guardians of the Galaxy. The jist of the story is that while the rest of humanity was discovering fire, using spears and living in caves, the Inhumans had superpowers, ray guns flying cars and a sprawling metropolis, where they’ve lived for thousands of years.

The Inhumans themselves are valued by the Kree as a potential war weapon. In the comics, the Kree have invaded Earth multiple times to try to claim/enslave the Inhumans for themselves. Recent comics have actually reversed the trend: first the Inhumans relocated their secret city of Attilan to the moon, and then relocated it once again to Hala, homeworld of the Kree, to reign as their rulers.

While it’s unknown if Marvel Studios will take Attilan all the way into space, the Inhumans are a major way of establishing Earth’s prominence in the greater Marvel Universe. Before the Inhumans get their own film, we could see their presence in films like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Captain Marvel.

3) New factions within the MCU.

There is one classic Marvel “team-up” story that has been repeated in literally hundreds of comics throughout the years:

  1. Two heroes meet;
  2. Two heroes fight;
  3. Two heroes team up against a bigger threat.

This was used in The Avengers, where Iron Man, Thor & Hulk all brawled in various combinations before finally teaming up against Loki. The Marvel Universe has been defined by different perspectives, where flawed heroes saw differently but ultimately put aside their differences to find the common good.

Introducing the Inhumans now gives Marvel a chance to immediately toss a new faction into their universe’s diverse melting pot. Perhaps the remainder of SHIELD’s second season will have SHIELD & HYDRA trying to woo a hidden Inhuman enclave. Luke Cage could be hired to defend a hidden group of Inhuman immigrants living in Hell’s Kitchen. Black Panther could see Wakanda attacked by a group of Inhuman mercenaries, eager to lay claim to his home nation’s precious vibranium mines.

Though the Inhumans have only featured on SHIELD for a few moments, they’ve already seeded this concept for future storytelling: Skye & Raina, the MCU’s first Inhumans, couldn’t have different outlooks on their transformation. Skye, with her loyalty to SHIELD & the death of her friend, will undoubtedly be horrified with her transformation, at least initially. Raina, with her unwavering focus on evolution, will be thrilled.

Though the Inhuman royal family will likely be the focus of the titular Inhumans film, Marvel clearly doesn’t want to wait to explore new factions within the MCU, each with their own loyalties, allegiances & perspectives.

There’s been a lot of beating around the bush so far, but I think it’s time to just state the undercurrent for most of this article:

2) The Inhumans are the MCU’s mutants. Duh.

Almost all of the advantages in this article assigned to the Inhumans could easily be said of the X-Men. Obviously Marvel Studios doesn’t own the rights to the mutants; those reside at Fox. But Marvel’s not content to simply cede a major part of their universe to a different studio. They have a plan, and the events of Agents of SHIELD are the first steps to positioning the Inhumans as the “mutants” in the MCU.

And it’s very obvious. Basically every fanboy has speculated this for the last few years, and it’s a very unambitious claim since Kevin Feige said years ago that the Inhumans could be “an X-Men-style ensemble a la The Avengers.”

These are all compelling reasons as to why Marvel is pushing ahead with the Inhumans, yet they don’t answer the basic question: why now? The MCU has lasted six years without the Inhumans, so why is there a rush to introduce them four years before their actual film?

1) Marvel Television is about to blow up the MCU.

Here’s a list of the amount of MCU content per year, as broken down in minutes:

  • 2012 = 155 minutes (The Avengers, Item 47)
  • 2013 = 687 minutes (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Agent Carter (short), Agents of SHIELD (10))
  • 2014 = 1,218 minutes (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, All Hail the King, Agents of SHIELD (22))
  • 2015 = 2,205-2,647 minutes (Avengers: Age of Ultron (est. runtime 145 minutes), Ant-Man (est. runtime 120 minutes), Agent Carter (8), Daredevil (13), Agents of SHIELD (12-22), A.K.A. Jessica Jones (13))

(all episodes rounded to 42 minutes, an admittedly unsafe assumption for Daredevil & A.K.A. Jessica Jones)

Given the sheer volume of Marvel Television’s upcoming output (and 2016 will almost certainly see them clear 3,000 minutes), there’s a practical urgency to introducing the Inhumans now, in 2014, rather than waiting for 2018. Without the Inhumans, Marvel Television would have to navigate the waters of vague origins stories, & tenuous connections to the larger MCU.

With the Inhumans, Marvel Television has a chance to organically grow their TV series into the rest of the MCU. The Inhumans are an efficient, cost-effective way of linking series like Agents of SHIELD or the Defenders with the larger Marvel Universe, without feeling like they’re in the shadow of Iron Man or Captain America. This approach brings a touch of the rich, detailed cosmic Marvel Universe to the lower-budgeted TV series. The storylines offered by the Inhumans aren’t just a far-off potential idea; they’re a practical necessity for Marvel Television’s immediate future.

Though Marvel’s Inhumans film is four years away, it’s clear that they are the single most important property for Marvel’s Phase Three & beyond.