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Double Whammy! 'Inhumans,' 'The Gifted,' And The Struggles Of Comic-Book Television

By Tori Preston | TV | October 4, 2017 |

By Tori Preston | TV | October 4, 2017 |

On Friday night, television audiences were introduced to the trials and tribulations of the Inhuman Royal Family (assuming, of course, that you didn’t pay to see the 2 hour premiere event in IMAX beforehand). Monday night introduced a different family, with its own set of super-powered challenges: the Struckers. The fact that these two vastly different “comic book” shows debuted on either side of the same weekend is a stroke of good luck, because MAN does it make my job easier. Is it fair to compare these shows? I don’t know, but it sure is useful.

ABC’s Inhumans may go down in history as the first property to be disowned by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The fact that their little self-contained kingdom, Attilan, is hidden away on the moon may explain why Coulson wound up on a space station at the end of last season’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (another Marvel/ABC property). After all, Agents introduced the concept of Inhumans to the MCU in the first place (fish oil terrigenesis FTW), and features a prominent Inhuman agent in its cast: Daisy Johnson, AKA Quake. And though Inhumans has many, MANY other problems, I can’t help but think that it was already facing an uphill climb, precisely because Agents had already introduced Inhumans so effectively … without the need of Black Bolt, Medusa, and the rest of the royal gang.

That would be like, oh I don’t know, Fox introducing mutants and then following up later with the core X-Men. And yes, we could talk about the fact that introducing Inhumans to the MCU after all this time is an obvious attempt to cash in on some sort of X-Men equivalent (i.e. a society of characters with inherent genetic super-powers), since they signed away their rights to the mutant side of the comics. But here we are anyway.

So if Inhumans had the challenge of introducing famous comic book characters into a cinematic universe that had already moved on without them, then Fox’s The Gifted had a different sort of challenge: adding wholly new characters to the already well-tread X-Men universe. Sure, some of the members of the underground mutant resistance are familiar. Characters like Polaris are pretty important to the comics, and Blink has shown up in the X-Men films. But the central Strucker family, with its teenage mutants and loving parents, were created as a new window into the mutant struggle (I’m not clear on whether the family has any ties to the Strucker twins known as “Fenris” from the comics, but since the kids don’t have to touch to use their powers and they don’t appear to be white supremacists, I’m guessing it’s a no). And while the series has no problem hinting at a reason why the X-Men and the Brotherhood aren’t around, it doesn’t change the fact that they, you know, AREN’T around. It’s not negating all of the movies that exist and all those beloved characters we know. It’s just carving out a new corner of the story, one without Wolverine cameos (presumably).

And maybe that’s the thing. The Gifted has something to add to its cinematic universe specifically by telling the story of the mutant struggle from the perspective of lesser-known mutants and in the absence of safe havens like Xavier’s School. It’s not that the films weren’t able to show the prejudice mutants face, it’s just that the very existence of the X-Men is a safety net. How worried can we be when we know that Wolverine and Storm and Co. are out there fighting for justice? Or when the main focus seems to be the ideological struggle between Magneto and Xavier, rather than the life-threatening one between a majority and a minority? Take all of that away, and you’re left with the story potential of mutants in hiding from a government that doesn’t view them as equal — and all the social parallels that kind of story invites.

Inhumans doesn’t have that sort of urgency or perspective. Sure, the Inhumans created during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are facing hate and fear and injustice. But the Royal Family up in Attilan are merely observers to that struggle, who are just now getting involved (and their reasons for delaying are vague at best). The plot of Inhumans kicks off with one of their lieutenants, Triton, being sent to Hawaii to help a new Inhuman escape a strike team, and being shot in the process. But then we find out that the entire escapade was a step in an elaborate palace coup enacted by King Black Bolt’s creepy brother, Maximus. Sure, by the end of the episode most of the royal family find themselves on Earth and on the run, and they’ll probably start rallying newly transformed Inhumans to their cause, but the fact is that the story of privileged people struggling to return to privilege feels hollow. Had the concept of Inhumans been introduced via this royal family, maybe we’d care. But now? There is so much more to the Inhuman story within the MCU, and I’m not convinced the Attilan side adds anything. In fact, it just feels like a distraction. And that’s a shame, considering how batshit crazy and fun the Inhuman Royal Family was in the comics.

Who knows? Both series are just beginning and could go up or down from here (though in the case of Inhumans, going any further downhill would be surprising). But if you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d say give The Gifted a chance. It’s not perfect, but it has potential and overall the pilot felt very confident.

Assorted Inhumans musings:

- I’d watch a whole show around Ken Leung as Karnak. He needs more to do, but already his powers (seeing the fault in all things) are the most interestingly conveyed of all the Inhumans. Takes a big page out of the Sherlock mind palace scenes, but in a good way.

- I’d also watch a whole show about Lockjaw. Seriously, I might continue watching just for the periodic Lockjaw moments. It’s impossible to go wrong with a giant teleporting dog.

- Medusa’s hair SFX was less terrible than I expected, but that might be because it’s been a few days since I had to look at it, and it gets cut off at the end of the second hour anyway.

- Look, I know it’s hard for Black Bolt to be expressive and serious without speaking, but poor Anson Mount just looks like he’s trying not to fart. It’s not the kingly expression I was expecting.

- Don’t ask me what Gorgon is doing with the fucking surfers on that beach. I don’t get it. I think he’s supposed to be waiting, but for that long? Really?

Assorted musings on The Gifted:

- I like that they don’t really explain or fully define the powers of the Strucker kids, since they themselves are still figuring it out. And seeing characters like Lauren, Andy and even Blink learning to mutant good without Charles Xavier will be interesting. But… is anyone else getting a slightly less crazy Legion vibe off Andy?

- I like Stephen Moyer. I do. He’s talented. But I also waited for him to SOO-KEH! the entire time. It is what it is. Just warning you.

- It seems unbelievable that both Strucker kids would be mutants while both their parents are powerless. So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Amy Acker will go full Illyria by the end of the season. You heard it here first.

- However, perhaps Momma Strucker shouldn’t have been telling Daddy Strucker that his kids are mutants while he’s driving? I’m just really sensitive to road safety. Pull over first, or just wait. That was not a conversation to have while operating a moving vehicle.

- Rolly spider Sentinels are rolly.

- The X-Men cartoon theme song ringtone was a cute easter egg, but it just made me realize I’d rather be watching the cartoon. And then I remembered that I bought all of the episodes on Amazon, so I’m gonna go do that now. Bye!

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Tori Preston is the managing editor of Pajiba. She tweets here. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.