Marvel has been doing this thing for a while now where they have a miniseries (sometimes an ongoing if it merits a new one), starring the team or characters from a soon-to-be-released movie or television show, come out close to the release of the live-action property. They’re not necessarily tie-ins to the live action piece, but it’s rather obvious why they exist to any discerning comic consumer. This five issue series was clearly one of these seemingly cash-grabby miniseries tying into the release of the universally panned Inhumans television show. Surprisingly though, Once and Future Kings didn’t concern itself with the television show or even with previous Inhumans canon. With this series, the creative team was given full reign to tell a story and do things their way. It’s bold of Marvel, and I wish they would do things like this more often because the finished product is incredibly enjoyable, insightful and does a lot of things to make the royals more realized characters than Inhumans stories of the past.
Originally billed as the secret backstory to the Inhumans royal family, from the get-go this is obviously not the case. The fact that this story does not fit well into the canon could be annoying to some, but it gave much more flexibility to the writing. At the end of the first issue, Medusa, Black Bolt, and Maximus get stuck in modern day New York City. Their time in NYC is a fun juxtaposition against the usual palace setting of old Inhumans stories. There are many sidesteps in the plot from interaction with Spider-Man to Karnak not knowing how subways work, which was a huge hindrance for a series that has a very limited amount of time to get a story told. In the end, the biggest and most glaring problem with Once and Future Kings is that there is not more of it. I wanted to know so much more about these versions of the royal family and to have so much more time with them than I was given, which is both good and bad. It doesn’t seem that Marvel has any plans to extend this to an ongoing or another series, and with an ending that felt like a set up to something more, that makes me incredibly sad.
On the art front, I’ve always had the idea that the quality of Noto’s art and how much effort he puts into it is based on how much he actually cares about the series. His Black Widow work is maybe as close to perfect as comic art gets, but other times I’ve felt the lack of passion in his art that can lead to it being technically great but lacking in overall energy. This series falls into the former category. It’s beautiful to look at and buzzing with love and excitement. The color palettes are carefully chosen to evoke the scene’s mood, and the action is very fluid. And, to show my personal bias here, Maximus also looks cute as a button.
Probably the best and most lasting thing done in this volume is its recontextualizing of Maximus’ madness. In this series, it’s shown to be more of a mental illness than of something inherently wrong with him. He takes medication for it, and throughout the story he gets more and more anxious about returning to Attilan as he runs out of pills. It’s something that probably should have happened years ago considering the recent strides in understanding mental illness, but at least it happened now. It seems grandiose to call this retcon ‘inspired’, but paired with the humanization of him in the recent Royals series, it has really helped Maximus become a more multifaceted and well-rounded character.
Once and Future Kings is a wonderful series that leaves you with a bittersweet feeling. I’m happy for the time I got with these versions of the royal family and with the beautiful art. If Marvel ever did decide to revisit this with the same creative team, I would be over the moon. It doesn’t feel complete though. The ending leaves you wanting more, and you probably won’t be getting that any time soon.