REVIEW: ‘Inhumans’ is not that bad, plus Black Bolt’s sign language rocks

marvel's inhumans

[Warning: Contains a few vague, minor spoilers for Marvel’s Inhumans]

A few weeks ago I made a point to defend Anson Mount’s work in giving Black Bolt a ‘voice’ in Marvel’s Inhumans, released September 1st.  After viewing the show a few times to ensure I had a decent understanding of Mount’s system, I am happy to report that Black Bolt’s signs are phenomenal.

As a quick review, Inhumans is not Marvel’s greatest achievement but it s definitely an enjoyable, solid ride.  The opening sequence was visually amazing, and it was worth seeing in IMAX for those first five minutes alone as the rifle gunshots felt like punches to the chest.  The way Karnak (Ken Leung) uses his power to take on a group of mercenaries is very clever, and his cynicism balances well with Gorgon (Eme Ikwuakor) who isn’t the brightest but is definitely more savvy at socialization.  We even get a glimpse of what that written language of Attilan, Tilan, actually looks like, compared to the eight words that currently exist in the comics.  Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) has the weakest moments of the show but I look forward to seeing her character develop as the season continues under different writers.

Much of the criticism the show received as trailers were released (Medusa’s hair, Black Bolt’s constantly serious expression) was greatly improved in the first two episodes; Medusa’s hair looks far more natural, and Black Bolt’s expressions vary throughout the episode. Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones) is amazing at subtly portraying Maximus-the-Runt and Maximus-the-Statesman.  He makes you want to support Maximus, so at times there is not a clear bad guy.  It must be an unwritten law with Marvel that the nicest people play the villains.

What I found most enjoyable was that every character had a dynamic range of scenes; even Black Bolt, who received flak for being too serious, has a few funny moments. Some of the sweetest scenes are between Black Bolt and Medusa, especially the way they communicate when separated.  Inhumans is definitely a testament to Marvel maturing by opening with two characters having sex, so young children may need to skip the first few minutes.  It must be said that Medusa kicks the most ass of the entire show thus far.

And of course we need to acknowledge the true star of the show, Lockjaw, who is a very good boy.

Lockjaw is too good for humanity, that’s why they live on the moon. 13/10 best superhero doggo (Marvel/ABC)

Is Inhumans the abysmal tragedy that others reported on for weeks?  Absolutely not.  It certainly has clunky moments and some dialogue that will make you cringe, there is no denying that.  But it is a solid show, one that did not have the hype of The Avengers backing it and was the victim of being written by the same writer of the Netflix Iron Fist (which was terrible).

This is the only face Finn Jones makes in Iron Fist.  It’s 13 episodes of this face.  (Marvel/Netflix)

Overall, I give Inhumans a 4 out of 5.

Some would say that is generous, but the highlight of the show for me as Pop Mythology’s resident Deaf Guy™ was Mount’s signing system (which I dubbed “Tilanese Sign Language” in my previous article and it’s now my life’s work to get Mount to acknowledge it!).  The immense amount of work he put into a whopping four minutes of ‘dialogue’ is very apparent, and I simply cannot praise him enough for doing so.  Where many actors would only learn a handful of signs, enough to sign their two phrases and move on, Mount went well beyond that and it shows.  His signing is not clunky or awkward (see my previous complaint about Elden Henson), but looks like he’d been legitimately using them for years.

One of his goals was to ensure that his signs do not resemble ASL, and he definitely succeeded–about 95% of his signs do not look anything like ASL, and the ones that do are simply unavoidable (there are only so many ways to sign ‘DNA’).  Even though his signs look different most of them are iconic, so if you were to go back and examine each sign individually you can see a bit of what went into creating that sign.  As an example, his sign for ‘meditate’ is iconic of the way Black Bolt holds his hands while meditating.  Most importantly his signs are consistent; signs involving time involve similar handshapes and movement, and this consistency becomes the skeleton on which a signed language is built.

Since Mount had a signing consultant help him out, he incorporated some very advanced features of ASL.  A few of his signs are directional, meaning the interpretation is different depending on the direction in which it is signed.  His namesigns (signs that refer a specific individual) follow the ‘rules’ of other signed languages: they are based on an obvious feature or personality trait.  The sign for Triton, a character with aquatic characteristics, looks like ‘gills’ and his sign for Medusa is ‘hair-heart’ (which is the sweetest damn thing I’ve ever seen).  In an interview, Mount described the sign he uses for Maximus resembling something like ‘headache’ so I’m sure I’ll get a kick out of that when it comes up in the show.

The King and Queen of Attilan (Marvel/ABC)

Black Bolt has one ‘monologue’ thus far in the show, and if there is one complaint I have, it is the way that scene is filmed.  At times the camera is behind his back as he signs, which I found to be disrespectful to the amount of work he did to create and memorize those movements.  Since all signed languages depend on facial expressions (think of expressions as the ‘tone of voice’ for signing), when the shot focuses solely on his hands it ignores a huge component to signing.

I’m sure the scenes showing young Black Bolt and Medusa creating the language that leads them to falling in love will be adorable.  According to the actors, paying attention to Black Bolt’s signs will become increasingly important as Medusa, historically a very strong-willed character, will not say everything that Black Bolt signs word for word.  They certainly have my full attention.

About Clint Nowicke

Clint Nowicke
Clint is a graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University working on his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, focusing primarily on the Deaf community as well as the LGBTQ community.