Warning: contains spoilers for Avengers Annual #1!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is wildly successful – but if a superhero property bombs on the screen, it doesn’t have much of a future on the page. That’s the message Marvel has delivered with Avengers Annual #1, written by Jed Mackay with art by Travel Foreman and colors by Jim Campbell, in which Captain America and Iron Man search for the missing Infinity Stones and their hosts – people chosen by the stones themselves. A certain team is conspicuously absent from the issue, tipping Marvel’s hand regarding the fate of any property unlucky enough to fail in the MCU.
As the individual Infinity Stones seek out their hosts, Captain America and Iron Man realize these “Infinity People” can cause serious damage if left unchecked. The stones contain a near-infinite ability to change the universe, and not all humans can cope with that amount of power (and many can’t control it). Thus, as the Avengers track down the stones (part of the ongoing Infinite Destines event), a humanoid AI (though he prefers the term “synthetic person”) named Ward finds himself in a diner, surrounded by angry humans.
Having just been called a robot (an offensive term to him), Ward finds himself attempting to explain his existence to the angry patrons of a diner. He talks about humans, mutants, and the way both sides see artificial intelligence – and posits that the three types of sentient, sapient life – “Humans, mutants, and synthetics” – have a shared history ever since the three have shared the planet on which they live. Of course, regular readers remember a fourth group that Ward is omitting entirely: the Inhumans.
Given powers by the Terrigen Mists, the Inhumans are a not-insubstantial group in the Marvel Universe. They appear human until exposed to the Mists; Ms. Marvel, perhaps the most well-known Inhuman, acquired her powers in this manner. The Inhumans were prominently featured in multiple stories over the past decade – mostly because Marvel Studios did not hold the film rights to the X-Men until 2019, and the higher-ups believed they could promote the much-maligned Inhumans to replace Xavier’s team. This all culminated in Marvel’s Inhumans, a 2017 TV show that unfortunately flopped both critically and commercially: the production was clearly rushed and the budget astonishingly low for a Marvel property. Barely a year later, Marvel’s Death of the Inhumans miniseries killed the Inhumans push in the comics. Ward omitting the Inhumans from his monologue is clearly no accident.
Marvel has since acquired the X-Men rights, and Jonathan Hinkman’s 2018 soft reboot of the property has once again brought the mutants to A-list status. With the abrupt cancellation of the Inhumans TV series after only one season, the abandonment of the Inhumans in the comics shows the downside of brand synergy across multiple platforms. Perhaps new films like Shang-Chi and Eternals should be concerned if their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut meets with less-than-stellar results – their fate in the comics could be the same as the Inhumans.