Marvel’s handling of the Inhumans franchise in recent years has been subject to much derision. From the controversial Inhumans vs. X-Men event to the critically panned new television series, Marvel’s team of superpowered recluses can’t seem to catch a break. How are the comics doing though? One of ResurrXion’s new Inhuman series, Royals, just came out with its first paperback collection. Is it good?
Royals Vol. 1: Beyond Inhuman contains the series’ first five issues, as well as the prologue issue “Inhumans Prime.” The whole volume is written by Al Ewing, who turned out to be a great choice to breathe new life into the franchise. Ewing accomplishes something that feels very important at this point in the franchise’s history: he makes the Inhumans likable for more than just their unique costumes and powers. This is perhaps most evident in his handling of Medusa, who sees her quest in this story as a matter of penance for her past misdeeds.
Rather than glossing over controversial events in the team’s recent history, Ewing addresses them and turns them into fuel for character introspection and development. The return of Marvel Boy to prominence is fun, and most of Royals‘ cast members get moments to shine. We don’t get deep analysis of the whole cast, but what is here makes the likes of Swain, Gorgon, and Flint likable enough that I’m curious to see what happens with them in volume two.
Also successful are Ewing’s dramatic captions. There are portions of the volume which detail events surrounding a mysterious “last” Inhuman 5,000 years in the future. Ewing’s descriptions of the character, and the city of Arctilan he inhabits, would risk veering into purple prose territory if they weren’t so fun. Royals is about a band of Inhumans going on a pivotal and dangerous journey, and the narration echoes that of high fantasy novels or classic epic poems. It’s a great tonal fit. In terms of downsides, my main qualm with the volume concerns issues four and five. Ronan the Accuser factors in heavily, and Ewing provides the necessary context for his involvement to make sense. With that said, I didn’t feel emotionally invested in his portion of the story, especially when it came to his former romance with Crystal.
Artistically, Royals #1 outshines the rest of the volume. Jonboy Meyers pencils the whole first issue (and portions of the second) and his line-work conveys energy and spectacle very well. His style could be considered a bit of an acquired taste, so your mileage may very with how much you like it, but I think it works for the book. Also worthy of praise is colorist Ryan Kinnaird. The coloration in this volume is just superb, with bright costumes and beautiful renderings of outer space.
Unfortunately, the art’s quality dips a bit once Meyers leaves the book. His main replacement, Thony Silas, does a decent job, especially when it comes to facial expressions and page compositions. Unfortunately, Silas’ work is hindered by frequent instances of low detail and wonky anatomy. Characters’ emotions are always clear, and the artwork is functional as a whole but it seldom captures the same epic scale as Meyers’ work here does. Royals #3 features Will Robson as a guest artist during flashback scenes, and his style just doesn’t work for the book. I’m a fan of Robson’s art on more light-hearted books (such as the too-soon-cancelled Great Lakes Avengers) but when it comes to depicting the animosity between Black Bolt and Maximus the Mad, it lacks an appropriate intensity.
Overall, Royals Volume 1: Beyond Inhuman is a solid volume that gets a lot of important things right. The Inhumans are likable again, with Medusa stealing the show while lesser-known characters like Flint and Swain still get small moments to shine. The narration throughout the issue is fantastic, and Meyers and Kinnaird do a fantastic job on their portions of the artwork. Unfortunately, the rest of the art team, though competent, doesn’t shine as brightly. The volume’s last two issues in particular are a bit disappointing, as Ronan isn’t made as compelling as he could have been. Nonetheless, this is a strong volume that succeeds on two very important fronts: it builds interest for the next volume and it makes the Inhumans cool again.