In recent years, Marvel have brought more attention to the Inhumans by featuring them in important stories and creating a TV series. Formerly one of the comic giant’s obscure properties, the Inhumans have been introduced to a new generation of fans. What I like about the group is their diversity, as each character brings a unique perspective.
One of the most fascinating members of the Inhumans is Karnak. Cousin to Black Bolt, Karnak has always stood out from the rest of his family. Unlike the other Inhumans, Karnak was never exposed to the Terrigen mists. So, what is his role within the Royal Family and the wider Marvel Universe?
Philosophy over confrontation
Karnak grew up alongside his brother Triton on the island of Attilan. Like the rest of his race, he was born with superhuman strength, agility and reflexes. But, Triton’s experience with the Terrigen mists was so extreme that their parents begged Karnak not be put through it. This led to Karnak being sent to the Tower of Wisdom, where he took up philosophy and martial arts.
Training in the Tower of Wisdom allowed Karnak to develop the ability to see the weak point in any structure. He could perceive stress points and fractures in any person or object, making him a deadly combatant. His training extended to his mind as well, as he learned to solve complex puzzles and situations. Karnak’s intellect made him a keen strategist, so he became an advisor to Black Bolt and Medusa.
Even though he preferred to be a teacher, Karnak never hesitated to go into battle. He took part in several missions on the Royal Family’s behalf. In his first appearance, he joined the other Inhumans to rescue Medusa. Another adventure involved him tracking down Black Bolt’s lost son in New York, with him teaming up with Daredevil.
Getting a solo series
When Marvel decided they wanted to expand their Inhumans line, Karnak became a key character. Karnak received a solo series that saw him deal with the Terrigen mists appearing on Earth. As he hadn’t been exposed to them, Karnak brought a specific viewpoint. He saw how the mists could damage people, so he wanted to help prepare a new generation.
During this time, writers like Charles Soule and Warren Ellis placed greater emphasis on Karnak’s problem solving abilities. In one instance, Karnak committed suicide, but was able to return from the dead because he’d found a structural weakness in the afterlife. He opened up a door and came back to re-join Medusa’s council.
Karnak’s skill in seeing the flaws around him makes for a compelling story. It suggests knowledge can be a blessing and a curse. I’d argue Karnak is the most intelligent of the Inhumans because he can think of multiple strategies at once. In an interview for the solo series, Warren Ellis summed Karnak up in the best possible way.
“He’s not an Inhuman. He never took the mutagenic Terrigen mists like the other Inhumans. He’s a dementedly intense philosopher who can see the flaw in anything — objects, systems, ideas, people — and strike that flaw in order to destroy it.”
“His parents refused to allow him to become an Inhuman, and instead he studied at the Tower Of Wisdom until his natural powers of perception became so phenomenally strong that he could annihilate anything by touching it. He is the Inhuman who made himself inhuman by sheer force of will. He extends the work of the Tower Of Wisdom by both teaching and extending aid to people damaged (as he sees it) by the Terrigen mists that cause Inhumanity.”
There have been a variety of impressive Inhumans stories told over the years. One of the best is Black Bolt: Hard Time by Saladin Ahmed. Check out the review!