Setting Up An Ominous (and Overdue) Conflict in 'Inhumans vs. X-men #0'
A clash between the Inhumans and X-men is inevitable, but it can still be compelling.
Some epic struggles need no setup or backstory. If the story involves a knight and a dragon, then it's usually fairly clear who must be slayed and who is doing the slaying. There's certainly a need to establish the setting for such a struggle. Sometimes that setting is as big a part of the story as the proverbial dragon-slaying. When it comes to the X-men and the Inhumans, the setting for a conflict is basically a formality at this point.
This is a setup that doesn't need to be belabored. The events of Death of X, as well as the various events that unfolded in the pages of Extraordinary X-men and Uncanny X-men, make it abundantly clear that these two teams are going to try and kill each other. It's just a matter of when, where, in what circumstances, and how unbalanced it's going to be.
Since the conclusion of Secret Wars, the tension between the X-men and Inhumans is anything but balanced. Once side has the benefit of movie rights and an ongoing TV show. The other side's movie rights are being held hostage by a rival company who managed to help Josh Trank ruin his directing career. Logistically speaking, there's no way this conflict can ever be balanced.
Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule have an impossible task with the Inhumans vs. X-men event. With Inhumans vs. X-men #0, they can at least put the pieces in place on the proverbial chessboard. The first shot isn't fired, yet. The first ultimatum isn't issued, yet. Nobody from the X-men or Inhumans even beings to trash talking one another on social media -- yet. However, the story makes clear that these two teams are on a collision course and Emma Frost has her foot on the gas pedal.
In essence, Inhumans vs. X-men #0 is both a setup issue for a larger conflict and an Emma Frost story. It acts as a continuation of the events that unfolded in Death of X. In wake of Cyclops' death, she's the one who carries on the fight that he began. However, this is not one of those conflicts where a few extra hours in the Danger Room and a few team-ups with Deadpool can will equip the X-men for the coming battle.
Emma Frost doesn't try to be Cyclops in this story. She's going to fight his battles, but she's going to do it her way. That means using her wit, her cunning, and her willingness to do immoral things for moral reasons. It's what makes her the White Queen. It's what makes her a dangerous enemy and a questionable ally. Most importantly, though, it helps add some level of balance to the coming conflict.
It's still not balanced by any objective measure, but Emma Frost navigates this narrative in a manner that makes clear this won't be a simple shouting match between Storm and Medusa. This won't be a battle that Black Bolt can end just by whispering, either. She gathers allies, makes deals with shady characters, and even trains herself to be ready in case her cunning and deceit just isn't enough. In the grand scheme of things, Emma Frost is the only one in the X-men who is actually prepared for a battle with the Inhumans.
Her story in Inhumans vs. X-men #0 carries the bulk of the dramatic weight and provides most of the substance. The role of the other characters involved, however, aren't quite as engaging. If anything, they reinforce the ongoing imbalance between the X-men and the Inhumans. It gives the ominous impression that one side still has way too many advantages for this to be a fair fight.
Throughout the narrative, the Inhumans carry themselves with an aura of selfish arrogance. They seem less concerned about helping an entire population of innocent mutants and more concerned about the possibility that they might have to fight a larger war with the X-men. They give the impression that they're more worried about being inconvenienced than saving lives. Even without the inherent imbalance between the two sides, it's hard to root for the Inhumans, given how they conduct themselves.
That's not to say the X-men are any easier to root for. Other than Emma Frost, Beast plays a major role in setting up the conflict, albeit indirectly. He's the only other character besides Emma who contributes to the drama, but his story is far less effective. His efforts to work with the Inhumans to resolve this conflict without violence are entirely noble in terms of intentions. Those intentions, however, clash with the unforgiving imbalance between the two sides. He's not the only one realizes that either.
Medusa, the current ruler of the Inhumans, goes so far as to adopt some of Emma Frost's tactics. She also understands that a conflict between the Inhumans and X-men is inevitable and that concerns her far more than any suffering the Terrigen Mists are inflicting. Even if her intentions are ethically suspect, her understanding of the situation is every bit as pragmatic as Emma's. Whether or not she can be as cunning as the former White Queen remains to be seen, but it definitely adds some intrigue to the coming conflict.
Inhumans vs. X-men #0 does succeed, albeit in a limited capacity, in creating some compelling stakes for the coming conflict. Both sides are preparing. Neither side wants to be caught off-guard. However, the issues that manifested in Death of X remain.
There are still inconsistencies between the events surrounding this conflict and the events that have unfolded in other X-books since Secret Wars. The strange and unwarranted hatred of Cyclops that seemed to fuel the X-men's narrative remains unexplained, which makes the conflict and the setup surrounding feel incomplete and lacking in context.
In addition, characters not named Emma Frost do little to stand out. As a result, the impact of Inhumans vs. X-men #0 doesn't offer anything novel or groundbreaking -- it just reinforces the inevitability and imbalance of a clash between the X-men and the Inhumans. One is poised to thrive. One is poised to die. One has Marvel's unconditional support in the form of movie rights. One remains stuck under the thumb of Rupert Murdoch. At this point, it a sentiment that need not be reinforced.