The Inhumans were created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and were first introduced in 1965 in Fantastic Four #45.
"This was just at a time when I think Stan and Jack really began to move into what would be considered the very best period of Fantastic Four stories," Roy Thomas, former editor-in-chief of Marvel and co-author of 75 Years of Marvel Comics: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen, says. "Starting with The Inhumans and then climaxing some months later with things like The Galactus Trilogy with the introduction of the Silver Surfer, and then right after that the introduction of the Black Panther and the villain Klaw, and a couple of other key stories over a period of a year or two. The Inhumans were sort of a bookend in a way on one side to the best period, probably, in terms of creativity and inventiveness that the Fantastic Four ever knew."
The special abilities The Inhumans displayed were a result of genetic experiments done on early humans by an alien, space-traveling race called the Kree. Through exposure to a mutagenic vapor called Terrigen Mist, The Inhumans can develop a variety of powers. They lived separately from humans and created their own civilization.
Ruling The Inhumans are a royal family consisting of intriguing characters like their king Black Bolt and their queen Medusa as well as Crystal, Gorgon, and Lockjaw. This family is often the focus of stories featuring The Inhumans, who over the years have interacted with various Marvel characters.
Charles Soule, writer of the current Inhuman series, believes the family is one interesting aspect that separates The Inhumans from other characters. While there are other Marvel royals like Sub-Mariner and Black Panther, they are often an individual in control while The Inhumans are a family unit. Soule also highlights their unique dynastic history as something that sets them apart.
"They've been on Earth for 20,000 years and there's a lot of that history that we haven't ever seen. When they originally appeared in the Fantastic Four back in the early days they were already established in this very powerful hidden city of Attilan and ruled by a king and a queen and a long standing race with all this obscure tradition and history and all these amazing things that they've done that preexisted all the superheroes that we'd already been seeing in the Marvel Universe…" Soule says. "The Inhumans have been having huge cosmic scale adventures for longer than human history's been around, so it's very fascinating."
Soule was a fan of The Inhumans before being tapped to write this series. He said he's been reading stories about The Inhumans for almost as long as he's been reading comic books. Some of the stories he read have left an impact on him as he's written his own take on the characters, including the Eisner Award winning Inhumans by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee which Soule calls a "very significant seminal story." It ran for 12 issues and offered a darker, modern take on the characters. To Soule, the series "really brought home that these guys could support an amazing story on their own."
It also helped open the door to telling different kinds of stories with The Inhumans. In another 12 issue series, writer Sean McKeever explored what would happen if a younger generation attended college with humans. McKeever hopes that his time with The Inhumans showed they "can be used in a wide variety of contexts."
"I love the royal intrigue stuff, and I like when they're doing the space opera thing, too, but, as I'm sure more modern approaches are showing, they can be so much more," he says.
Jonathan Hickman's Infinity series has certainly shown this by changing the world of The Inhumans forever. In Infinity, a Terrigen Bomb explodes and spreads Terrigen Mist across Earth. This awakens powers within people everywhere who are descendants of Inhumans. The event has had lasting effects on the entire Marvel Universe and resulted in the creation of heroes like the popular new Ms. Marvel.
Soule said one of the fun things about his series has been the ability to introduce new Inhumans from all walks of life and all ages as a result of this event.
"It's been a way to create new characters that reflect the diversity both of the Marvel Universe and the world as a whole," he said.
It may seem like there's a lot to catch up on before you can understand this unique group but Soule's Inhuman can be a jumping on point for new readers. He said issue one was designed to reintroduce The Inhumans, explain what's recently changed about them and how those events will influence the whole Marvel Universe.
The Inhumans will also feature in the brand-new Uncanny Inhumans series launching in April. The book will be written by Soule and reunite him with artist Steve McNiven, who he worked with on Death of Wolverine. This series can also be a starting point and according to Soule will differ from the Game of Thrones-like intrigue found in Inhuman.
"Uncanny Inhumans is going to be a little bit more of a straightforward superhero throw down. We're going to really see what these guys get to do when they're pushed up against the wall and it will be very cool," he said.
While The Inhumans' presence grows in the world of comics, they are about to take a huge leap and soon enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans may have to wait until 2019 to see them on the big screen, but hints on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might mean their appearance on TV sometime this year. Introducing The Inhumans might not be without its challenges, however.
"One of the risks you run with a team like The Inhumans is that they don't have an automatic link to the 'everyman' type average person that many of the other Marvel characters do," says comic book writer and historian Matthew Manning. "But Marvel was able to ground Thor in a world resembling our own, and if they can find a bit of common ground like that, then The Inhumans' interesting backstory and variety of characters should take care of the rest."
Soule thinks The Inhumans won't have any trouble making the transition from page to screen.
"Who had ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before last summer? Nobody. Marvel Studios is just phenomenal at introducing new characters and new concepts to viewers and to audiences so I'm not worried at all about them making an amazing movie," he said.
André Lima Araújo, artist for The Inhumans issues 13 and 14 who also worked with the characters as the artist for Avengers A.I., thinks viewers will be able to connect with The Inhumans.
"Good characters are good characters and they don't depend on the familiarity of the viewer or reader."