What does it take for a clash between two superhero teams to be interesting these days?
What does it take for a clash between two superhero teams to be interesting these days? That's an increasingly relevant question because modern comics, as well as the movies they inspire, have gotten to a point where heroes fight each other more often than they fight actual villains. It seems an entire generation of comic book fans and creators have read Mark Millar's Civil War and desperately want to recreate that success, much to Millar's chagrin.
Those efforts, and the desperation behind them, don't often yield results. In fact, in the decade since Civil War, it seems as though that one stunning success was lightning in a bottle and trying to capture it again is like keep up with a race between Flash and Quicksilver. It's a losing battle, but one that still inspires more superhero clashes.
Avengers vs. X-men went to great lengths to match the scope of Civil War, leading to mixed results at best. Inhumans vs. X-men, the latest attempt to make heroes fighting heroes compelling once more, can't go to those lengths or match that scope. In some ways, this is a good thing because it means that Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire, the writers who have been developing the Inhumans and X-men respectively, can't follow the same formula.
The ingredients this time are very different. This comic is not about proactive justice or superhero legislation. Inhumans vs. X-men is set up with the simplest of circumstances. One team's very existence threatens to destroy another. Now, it's no longer possible for both teams to occupy the same world and not just because of clashes involving movie rights. This clash finally manifests in Inhumans vs. X-men #1 and while there's a lot of plotting, there isn't much drama or impact. Mark Millar can probably sleep easy for now.
The story doesn't hit the ground running, but it doesn't drag, either. Lemire and Soule are very careful, if not too careful, to set up the internal politics guiding the X-men. Unlike the Inhumans royal family, they must deal with the grim prospect of either going to war, leaving the planet, or being gassed to death. The most the Inhumans have to worry about is being mildly inconvenienced by the prospect that they'll be responsible for purging the whole planet of mutants. That may upset those who work at Sentinel factories, the stakes for them aren't quite as high.
This is the inherent flaw of the underlying conflict in Inhumans vs. X-men and this flaw has plagued every story leading up to this one to some extent. The conflict tries to frame the situation as balanced. For one side, the Terrigen Mist is life. For the other, the mist is death. In principle, it makes for a balanced conflict. In practice, however, it highlights a disparity that undermines any drama this conflict tries to inspire.
This is where the mentality of Inhumans vs. X-men clashes with the actual mechanics of the conflict. Beast makes it clear to his fellow X-men that the mutant will die if they stay remain on a planet where the Terrigen Mist roams unencumbered. It's not a matter of preserving their culture or their way of life. It's a matter of avoiding a horrible, painful death and the extinction of an entire species.
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For the Inhumans, the particulars of the conflict can't be less similar. They're not facing extinction. They're not facing the death of their people. At most, they're facing a major inconvenience in that the future of their species will face uncertainty. However, uncertainty is a far cry from dying a horrible death at the hands of a poison cloud. Given that there are mutants like Magneto, who have direct experience with the horrors of a minority being gassed to death, it ensures this conflict remains utterly unbalanced.
Now that's not to say that the Inhumans make no effort to aid the X-men. They do show that when they detect a mutant in the path of the Terrigen Mist, they will go out of their way to get that mutant to safety. The X-men even use this policy against them in instigating the conflict. However, their unwillingness to let anyone taint this cloud that is bringing so much death to a minority that has subject to one too many Sentinel attacks still makes the conflict feel unbalanced.
To their credit, Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule still make an effort to navigate the conflict in a way that demonstrates a certain level of substance. Leinil Yu's art skills also add a distinct style as well. They highlight the high emotions of certain characters, especially Emma Frost and Beast. It gives the sense that Inhumans Vs. X-men #1 is a seamless extension from the story that has been unfolding since Death of X.
Along with these emotions, there's a distinct attention to detail that other superhero clashes like Avengers vs. X-men lacked. There isn't just some elaborate rallying cry ripped from the Braveheart movie. The X-men don't just blindly attack the Inhumans. They employ some strategy, which is kind of important in any conflict that is likely to involve explosions. They single out powerful Inhumans like Black Bolt and Karnak. They find ways to neutralize them. There's no magic to it. There are no cosmic forces disrupting the story. It feels like a substantive conflict.
Inhumans vs. X-men #1 has all the basics of a superhero clash. It even has a few refinements here and there. However, it doesn't have enough to make the conflict feel balanced. The biggest flaw in the story has to do with the larger circumstances surrounding it. In following this story, it's still painfully obvious which franchise's movie rights aren't wholly owned by Marvel and Disney. This limits the impact. Nobody's heart will be racing here because it's too obvious which side has the most to gain.
Some flaws are inescapable. Whether or not these flaws will undermine the conflict remains to be seen. Lemire and Soule have an uphill battle ahead of them and they may only be able to go so far up that hill. At the end of the day, the conflict between the Inhumans and the X-men still comes off as uneven and petty. At the very least, it also means that Mark Millar's title as the last writer to craft a decent superhero clash is safe for now.