We live in an age of heroes—in the entertainment industry anyway. You can’t throw a rock in a cineplex without hitting a screen showing some comic book-based movie or another. Television is following close behind with “Supergirl,” “Arrow,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders” and “Riverdale” to name just a few. Industry stalwart Marvel Comics continues to lead this field. Within the span of a week, the company had its name attached to not one, but two new shows.
“Marvel’s Inhumans” debuted Sept. 29 on FOX. The series pilot actually premiered in IMAX movie theaters before settling down and finding its Friday night timeslot. Alternately grandiose and underwhelming, the series imagines itself a Shakespearean drama with superpowers. In the secret city of Attilan—hidden, invisible, on the moon—there lives a superpowered offshoot of humanity known as the Inhumans. They’re ruled by a haughty royal family, including Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Medusa (Serinda Swan). But the king’s petulant and nonpowered brother (Iwan Rheon) is plotting to overthrow the benevolent dictators. Unfortunately, the grand concept is undone by some pedestrian scripting. The thrust of the show seems to be the various members of the Inhuman royal family escape the coup by teleporting to Earth—except they all end up in different parts of Hawaii and now seem incapable of locating one another. What promised to be “Game of Thrones” on the moon, now looks like a fish-out-of-water sitcom. With some seriously dodgy special effects.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is FOX’s “The Gifted.” Initially just another spin-off in the increasingly large X-Men franchise (which, thanks to various long-standing contracts, is controlled by 20th Century Fox, not by current Marvel-owner Disney), “The Gifted” debuted on Oct. 2. Strangely enough, it begins with a scene almost identical to the opening scene in “Inhumans.” A young girl runs away from a group of well-armed pursuers. She turns into the camera to reveal some funky-looking eyes. Clearly, she is not entirely human. She is, in fact, a mutant. Suddenly, just as it looks like she’s going to be captured, a gang of superpowered youngsters shows up to rescue her.
Where this leads, however, is some place more familiar and yet somehow more creative than “Inhumans.” Seems that the American government is freaked out over the existence of mutants, following the near-cataclysmic events of all the X-Men movies. Mutants are routinely being rounded up and thrown in jail, simply for existing. At the center of this law enforcement push is suburban Texas attorney Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer from “True Blood”). Reed’s happy to stem the dangerous spread of mutants in the Heartland—that is until his two teenage kids (Percy Hynes White and Natalie Alyn Lind) go all “Carrie” at a high school dance and manifest their own hidden mutant powers. Suddenly Reed and his family (including wife Amy Acker) are on the run from the government, trying to hook up with the secretive “Mutant Underground.”
The X-Men’s ongoing trope of “teenage mutants as metaphor for outcast outsiders of all stripes” is wearing a bit thin after more than 50 years. But “The Gifted” works thanks to a solid cast, a gritty look and some propulsive action. Here’s hoping “The Gifted” keeps it up and “Inhumans” steps it up.