Marvel’s Chales Soule explores the impact of the ‘Inhuman’ legacy

(CBR) While super heroes and villains weren’t commonplace until the latter half of the 20th Century, super-powered people have been part of Earth’s history for thousands of years — at least, that’s the case in the Marvel Universe. In the early days of their intergalactic war against the Skrulls, the alien race known as the Kree began experimenting on Earth’s early Homo sapien population, their test subjects transformed into a highly advanced race of super-powered people that went onto form their own society.

This culture would be come to be known as the Inhumans, and at first glance, their culture appears to be an extremely insular one. But in “Infinity,” readers learned that was not the case. Over the years, many Inhumans left their secret cities and interbred with humanity, so when the Inhuman king, Black Bolt, detonated a bomb that spread the super power-activating Terrigen Mist across the globe, thousands of people suddenly found themselves transformed into powerful, and often strange looking, individuals.

Of course, that explosion also robbed the Inhumans of their capital city, and several members of the royal family are missing and presumed dead. It’s a time of turbulence and change for the ancient culture as they struggle to deal with their sudden population explosion and recover from the destruction of everything they knew. Writer Charles Soule and artist Joe Madureira begin to chronicle this time in April with the launch of the new ongoing series, “Inhuman.”

CBR News: When we last talked about your impressive workload, you indicated that you had made a resolution that you wouldn’t take on any new work unless it was really special. What is it about “Inhuman” that fits that bill? What sort of writing or genre muscles does it allow you to scratch that your other books don’t?

Charles Soule: You raise a good point, and thank you for calling me out on that earlier resolution. The thing about promises like that (and I’ve learned not to make them anymore, even just to myself) is that you make them based on the situation as it is, right then. So, when I said “She-Hulk” was the last new thing for a little while, it was because I couldn’t imagine getting offered another series that I would want to add to the workload, knowing what it would mean with respect to everything I already had on my plate. But that was before the Inhumans came calling, and so here we are.

I do love these characters, and have for a very long time. So, the opportunity to make them a bit more central, and expand their mythology and universe was very appealing. But as you point out, I’m not sure that by itself would have been enough — I try to pick books that feel different from one another (to the extent I get to “pick” at all, which implies a situation that’s not entirely accurate — I don’t get to roll up and stake a claim on anything, if you know what I mean.) So, “Thunderbolts” uses a different brain than “She-Hulk” does. It means that I don’t cannibalize my own set of ideas, and it also means that I’m reaching the widest possible audience via all of the different books. That’s the theory, anyway.

But to answer your question, “Inhuman” is an exercise for me in dense plotting with a ton of characters. It’s a chance to create new characters and make them cool and interesting. It’s got the whole “regal” angle, which is something I dig a lot. If anything, I’d say it has sort of an epic sci-fi fantasy tone, and that’s a really cool space to put your brain for a while every month. I’m a planner. I like intricate stories with layered payoffs that are still really relatable — and that’s “Inhuman.”

You’re coming aboard “Inhuman” after Matt Fraction and Marvel were unable to find a take that they were both interested in pursuing. Were you given a mandate on what you needed to accomplish with your initial “Inhuman” stories? And important is this series to the larger stories Marvel has planned?

There is no company-owned series, at Marvel, DC, Humanoids, you name it, that doesn’t come with a set of expectations from the people who own that series and characters. That’s the job, but in some ways it’s good, I think. It gives you a framework. I’ve never found (so far, anyway) that I couldn’t put together a story I was happy with while working within whatever guidelines I’m given.

As far as where “Inhuman” fits into Marvel’s larger plans, let me put it this way — a significant chunk of real estate in their last big crossover event (the fabulous “Infinity,” orchestrated by the fabulous Jonathan Hickman) was used to set up the status quo that launches the “Inhuman” series. Not only is it “important” to Marvel in whatever sense of the word you want to apply — they’re excited about it. I haven’t been in the game that long, all things considered, but you can tell when a team feels like they’re pushing product, as opposed to creating something they care about. This is very much the latter, and I think it makes a huge difference.

Will you have a core cast, or is this more of an anthology book where each story involves different Inhumans?

It’s a huge cast, but we don’t focus on all of them at once. We’ll have a core cast that will be added to (and subtracted from) over time, who will interact with a number of cool characters new and old. The classic royal family, particularly Medusa, will be pretty central (she’s awesome, particularly under Joe Mad’s pen). We also have a number of new Inhumans who are appearing around the world as a result of the cloud of transformative Terrigen Mist released into Earth’s atmosphere at the end of “Infinity,” and some older Inhumans who have been around for a long time, just operating under the radar. It’s a heady stew — but again, relatable. I’m taking great care to make sure that this doesn’t feel like you’re being dropped in the deep end. If you read “Infinity,” you’re already going to know what’s going on, who the players are and what they want.

What can you tell us about the shape and status of the Inhuman royal family when “Inhuman” begins? How are they viewed by the American government and the world at large? Could the place in New York they currently reside in be considered an embassy?

The royals have been decimated — Black Bolt’s missing and presumed dead, as is Maximus. Medusa, the Queen of the Inhumans, is in New York, trying to pull together the remains of her people (who were also scattered to the four winds during “Infinity”). Her home, the floating city of Attila, literally blew into a million pieces and fell over NYC — it’s a nice metaphor for her people as a whole. She’s trying to build something new out of whatever she has left. Yes, the government is very aware of these incredibly powerful people setting up some kind of new empire or home within their territory, and we’ll see some of the ways they respond. Everything on both sides (and actually, there are many sides, it’s not just Inhumans and everyone else) is in a wait and see mode — but that’s the fun of it, for readers. It could go in almost any direction. And it will.

What are your feelings on the individual members of the royal family? Are there members that you find especially fascinating?

I’ve always really loved Black Bolt and Karnak. Oh, well! But beyond those somewhat dead members, I also think Medusa’s very compelling, just as a very strong woman faced with an almost impossible task. She has no idea why Black Bolt blew up Attilan or released the Terrigen cloud — her co-ruler, confidant, her husband didn’t share that fairly crucial information with her. She has to rebuild her nation with very little help or guidance. That’s a cool arc. I also think Eldrac is an interesting — well, I would say “person,” but he’s more of an archway.

The neat thing about Inhumans is that they have the whole Terrigenesis process. They start their lives as ordinary humans (more or less), and then they get exposed to this creepy green mist once they reach maturity and they — change. Their physiology alters, and they usually gain one sort of ability or another. Sometimes that goes to some really weird places. Eldrac, for example, apparently turned into a big stone gateway thing. You walk through his wide open mouth and zzap, you’re sent somewhere else — wherever Eldrac thinks you need to go.

Honestly, that’s a bizarre concept. What does Eldrac think about that? I mean, you’re like 18, you’re a kid, all scared and excited about your Terrigenesis ritual, and then ‘ssss,’ you wake up and you’re architecture. Not only that, but your fellow Inhumans build you into their city and then walk into your throat all the time. I’m surprised he doesn’t drop them off cliffs when they do that.

My point — there are some awesomely weird concepts in Inhuman continuity. Super fun.

How important is the past of the Inhuman culture in your series? Is this a book that might flashback thousands of years or take readers to an ancient Inhuman city? Or is your primary focus on the present and what becomes of Inhuman culture now that it’s population has sort of exploded?

It’s a mix. One of the greatest things about the Inhuman story is that it is old. The basic concept of the race is that they were ordinary humans who were put into an Uplift scenario by the Kree, an alien species who genetically engineered the ability to change via Terrigen into a select group. They intended to use them as soldiers in some upcoming conflict. That war never really happened, and the Inhumans were basically abandoned on Earth, tens of thousands of years ago. That’s a lot of time to get up to interesting things, and I’d be a foolish writer if I didn’t use some of that potential.

Still, again, not to beat the drum too hard, but the series is set in the present day, with a bunch of cool, modern characters who are going to feel familiar. If I use an old-timey element, it’s going to be introduced in a very smooth way. I want Inhuman mythology to add to the experience for readers, not take away or alienate.

What is your initial “Inhuman” story about? And can you talk about the identity of the story’s supporting cast and antagonists?

Basically, the first story is designed to set up the world, set up Medusa’s challenges, and introduce some new characters, good and bad. The idea is that not everyone on Earth sees all these new Inhumans popping up as a good thing — one of our main new antagonists is a dude named Lash (who has an awesome design by Joe Mad). He’s Inhuman as well, but he lived in a community isolated from the main group in Attilan. They had only a very small amount of Terrigen to effect the transformations that are so central to Inhuman existence, so they had to be very selective about who got it. It became almost a religious experience — a sacrament. So, to Lash, the Terrigen cloud making its way around the globe, changing everyone with even a touch of Inhuman blood, is deeply sacrilegious — and he acts.

That’s only one point of view we explore — the point of the early stories is to introduce some new players. I want to set up some deeply cool new chess pieces before I start to knock them down.

Your artistic collaborator on “Inhuman” is Joe Madureira, a man who has an affinity for character design. When it comes to designing characters, what sorts of outlines do you give him?

Generally, I’m not going to get in Joe’s way. As you point out, he’s one of the very best at developing new designs for characters. Lash looks great, he’s come up with amazing ideas for Medusa’s powers (he’s doing things with hair I’d never have expected) and all of the new designs he’s turning in are just fantastic. Plus, he’s a super nice guy. One of the greatest things about being able to work on some of the series I’ve been writing is collaborating with superstar artists, and Joe Mad is about as that as it gets. What can I say? I’m lucky.

Finally, what kinds of stories are you interested in telling in “Inhuman?” Is this a series that will focus primarily on a certain kind of genre, or can we expect a multitude of genres and tones?

As I mentioned above, I’m going for sort of an epic fantasy thing — “Game of Thrones” has been tossed around, but I’ve been reading doorstopper fantasy since I could barely lift the books (“Wheel of Time,” Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen Lynch, China Mieville, Joe Abercrombie, David Eddings, David Anthony Durham, hell, even Stephen King’s “Dark Tower stuff”). It’s also got the sci-fi angle, though — alien races, high technology, etc. I don’t know that Marvel’s putting out anything else like it right now — or DC, for that matter.

I mentioned this a bit above, but everyone on the team is jazzed to be working on the title. From what I can tell, everyone’s bringing their A-game, all up and down the line. Series like this, with this scope, don’t come along that often — think of it this way: when you’re writing a series full of established characters, there’s a sort of “set in amber” effect that kicks in. Real, substantive change is hard. That’s not the case with “Inhuman,” because so much of it is brand new. I get to build, but I also get to tear down. I get to surprise — and that’s a very potent tool in the writer’s arsenal.

Marvel’s “Inhuman,” by Charles Soule and Joe Maduriera, debuts in April