DCC Showcase – Jae Lee & Inhumans
This week for part three of the DCC Showcase series of Graphic Reviews, I’ll be taking a look at the work of artist Jae Lee. Lee will be on several panels at Denver Comic Con this year, including a panel on creating a 4-panel comic and adapting movies or TV shows to comics. Lee has worked for a number of publishers, including on a Namor the Sub-Mariner series for DC, a number of different series for Image Comics including Youngblood Strikefile and Hellshock, the latter of which he both wrote and illustrated. What Lee is most well known for however is his work on Marvel’s Marvel Knights: Inhumans series and that latter series is what I’ll be looking at this week. While the Inhumans have been around as a Marvel royal family since the 1960’s, they weren’t well known until received their own series in 1975 and then a limited series in 1999. This latter series is the subject of this week’s article and was written by Paul Jenkins, illustrated by Jae Lee and won an Eisner award that year for Best New Series. Marvel Knights: Inhumans introduces the Inhumans group to new readers and makes their history a bit more accessible for the modern Marvel era.
In Marvel Knights: Inhumans, the Inhumans are fast approaching a war for which they are ill prepared. The Inhumans have isolated themselves on an island called Attilan in the south Pacific so that they can remain apart from interactions with humanity. The Inhumans cannot survive in close proximity to humans as the latter are directly toxic to the former so they have remained apart from human society as much as possible. The Inhumans are a technologically advanced race that has existed long before humans and prizes a coming of age ritual which utilizes a technology known as the Terrigen Mists to create new mutations in each Inhuman youngster undergoing the trial. These mutations determine the Inhuman child’s path in their society and are of utmost importance to them. In this limited series, the Inhumans are faced with battle both within and without as a mercenary group launches an attack on Attilan at the same time that traitors from within do the same. The Inhuman royal family, led by the king, Black Bolt, must try to weather the storm, a task made more difficult by the distrust engendered by their isolationism. Black Bolt has almost inconceivable powers due to his mutation and is faced with the choice of defending his home by using his powers and annihilating the human attackers or trying to play the diplomat and hope that Attilan can survive the conflict. All around him, Inhumans are faced with the same choices.
Marvel Knights: Inhumans is one of those series that is what I consider to be a classic example of what not to do in graphic novel storytelling. The series did win an Eisner award so it’s entirely possible that it’s just me but I really struggled through this one. I’ll look at the art in more detail in a minute, because I think it’s the strong point of the series. The problem is the way in which Jenkins chooses to tell the story of Black Bolt and the Inhumans. To give him credit, I picked up this book knowing absolutely nothing about the Inhumans and had no problem understanding their story. Where Jenkins fails is in making that story interesting or compelling. Black Bolt’s struggle over whether or not to use his power against the humans and potentially provoke further conflict should be a fascinating one. Unfortunately, as was the case with Jonathan Hickman in Pax Romana, Jenkins spends WAY too much time with exposition and pointless philosophical meanderings that are aggravatingly distracting. At least once an issue, Jenkins will do a bird’s eye view overlook of Black Bolt (who can’t talk himself because the power in his voice would wreak total havok) and go on a philosophical tangent about the use of power that is only slightly related to the issue at hand. The great thing about the graphic novel medium is that you don’t have to TELL the reader everything. There is no sense in an artistic medium like this one having the art playing second fiddle to a conglomeration of little dialogue boxes. It’s a senseless waste of the artist’s talents and feels remarkably condescending when a writer feels like they have to explain every last detail to the reader because clearly said reader is too stupid to figure it out for themselves. The story isn’t the worst I’ve ever read, but due to Jenkins’ poor storytelling, it’s a bit of a drag to get through anytime it’s not a battle scene.
However, both because this DCC Showcase is meant to highlight the work of Jae Lee as the artist and also because he deserves special recognition in this particular series, I want to take a moment to comment on Lee’s art in Marvel Knights: Inhumans. For all that I disliked and was completely thrown by Jenkins’ storytelling in the series, Lee’s art is gorgeous. It’s strangely realistic for a series about superhumans who mutate themselves into crazy forms but I really enjoyed the various mutations that Lee brought to life and the rather beautiful appearance of the Inhuman society. Even the violence is strangely beautiful as it has little gore and tends to focus more on explosions and still figures than on the aftermath of said violence. Lee is a very talented artist and it was disappointing that the story couldn’t match the artwork.
Marvel Knights: Inhumans is one of those graphic novel series that is heavily weighted in terms of creator talent. While I don’t absolutely hate Paul Jenkins’ storytelling, the series is decent due largely to Jae Lee’s artwork. When you have a medium that can be as beautifully expressive as graphic novels, there is no sense in not utlilizing that and just filling every panel with dialogue boxes. It’s not quite on the level of Pax Romana in terms of aggravating my reading pet peeve, it’s still frustrating. Regardless, I’d highly recommend checking out the panels on which Jae Lee will be speaking as it will be a great opportunity to learn from a very talented artist. Have a great time at Denver Comic Con this weekend, both myself and other Aeither writers will be posting updates throughout the weekend so make sure to check em out!