In sports, people love cheering for the underdog. In nearly every major sports movie, this underdog spirit is as common as the elaborate training montage that everyone since Rocky Balboa tries to emulate. It’s not that hard to set up an underdog in a fight. They usually face harsh, unforgiving circumstances that puts them at a clear disadvantage. Having them overcome these disadvantages is a powerful narrative that often plays out in superhero comics as well, including those that involve superheroes end up fighting each other.
With Inhumans vs. X-men, it’s not quite as easy for one side of the conflict. One side is fighting to prevent an entire species from suffering a horrible, painful death. The other is fighting to protect the big green cloud that is spreading this death. It’s easy to make the former the underdog, as this is the position they’ve been in many times since their inception. For the latter, however, it’s akin to making Emma Frost seem modest.
The circumstances of Inhumans vs. X-men are exceedingly unbalanced and have played out as such since before the conflict began. The clock is now ticking for the X-men. If they don’t do something about the Inhumans’ sacred cloud, every mutant on the planet will die a terrible death. If the Inhumans were agents of Hydra or just some ordinary villains who got tired of using killer robots, this doesn’t even need to be an underdog story. It can just be a typical X-men story.
Unfortunately, the other side’s movie rights aren’t owned by Fox and Marvel has a vested interest in making them underdogs. Inhumans vs. X-men #3 tries to accomplish this as the conflict reaches a critical turning point. It doesn’t fail miserably, but it certainly doesn’t succeed either. The plot moves forward. The conflict gains new complications. From a narrative standpoint, however, that’s about all this issue accomplishes.
Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire already have an impossible task on their hands. They’re attempting to tell a story about a conflict where one side is fighting for survival and one side is fighting to preserve their current situation. This isn’t a passionate disagreement on the merits of proactive justice. This is one side trying to survive while one tries to preserve the status quo. There’s simply no way for that conflict to carry the same drama as Civil War, Avengers vs. X-men, or even the infamous Clone Saga.
With Inhumans vs. X-men #3, though, the story avoids any effort at creating meaningful drama around the conflict. There seems to be this unspoken acceptance that such drama is impossible. That may be a byproduct of the messy circumstances surrounding the story, but it doesn’t change the outcome. There’s no emotional weight to give impact of the story. It tries to roar like the Hulk, but only hits with the intensity of a feather duster.
The action won’t get anyone’s heart racing. It won’t get anyone to stand up and cheer for one side over the other. The only thing Inhumans vs. X-men #3 accomplishes is moving the plot forward. Even in this context, however, that progress is limited because it requires the story to ignore many of those messy circumstances surrounding the conflict.
At this stage, the Inhuman royal family is down for the count. The X-men have them contained in Limbo, thereby giving them the time they need to destroy the Terrigen Mist that’s poisoning their species. Them having the advantage and the most to lose creates this strange situation where seeing the younger Inhumans rally against them doesn’t generate the sentiment that most would associate with underdogs. There’s no iconic training montage or Captain America speech to inspire them. They just call up some of their allies on a cell phone and go from there.
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That’s the extent of the Inhumans’ recourse. With the royal family neutralized, they turn to the other younger Inhumans like Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl, and Quake for help. There’s no depth or drama to enlisting them. They literally just call them up, they acknowledge the situation, and they start making preparations. They put as much effort into crafting a counter-strike as most people put into ordering a pizza. They call each other up and just like that, they’re a team ready to strike back against the X-men.
In addition to this being extremely bland, there’s no effort on the part of the younger Inhumans to understand the conflict. They just see that the X-men attacked New Attilan and that’s it. There’s no heated debate on what to do, how to do it, or even why they’re doing it in the first place. They react the same way they would if Hydra attacked New Attilan and that just compounds the underlying problem with the Inhumans vs. X-men conflict.
There’s no getting around the implications. These young, inexperienced Inhumans are not just fighting the X-men, some of which are close friends with characters like Ms. Marvel. They’re fighting against a desperate group of people trying to save their species from extinction. If the young Inhumans succeed, that means that countless innocent mutants suffer and die. If they fail and the X-men succeed, then no one dies. The Inhumans will face some difficult new challenges, but again, it wouldn’t require that anyone die. There’s just no way to be underdogs in that situation.
If there is an effort on the part of Soule and Lemire in Inhumans vs. X-men #3, it falls short by a wide margin. That’s not to say there isn’t substance within the story. It does succeed in adding new complications to both sides. The Inhumans do manage to hinder the X-men’s efforts to destroy the Terrigen Mist and can buy time for their side to recover from the initial attack. Again, unless someone is a die-hard Inhuman fan, it’s hard to root for them.
The Inhumans still try to carry themselves as though they’re the underdogs and have just taken a few devastating punches to the jaw. On the surface, and only on the surface, it works just enough to keep the sequence of events going. Dig just a little bit deeper, and the unpleasant truth is still there. The Inhumans are still trying to stop another species from saving itself. If the most they have to lose is not being able to create new Inhumans in a way that murders innocent mutants, then they can’t be underdogs. Carrying themselves as such is just dishonest, misguided, and downright insipid.