Ryan Stegman punches his ticket and joins up with the Inhumans and Nuhumans of New Attilan in the pages of "Inhuman" #4. Writer Charles Soule is also present, and allows Stegman to bring a "plus one" in the form of Thor.
The Norse God of Thunder appears, walking the streets with Medusa, declaring it to be impressive, "allowing outsiders to mingle with Inhumans -- I have never seen such a thing." At first this comes across as a major headscratcher, but Soule quickly clarifies the differences between Asgard's relationship with Broxton and New Attilan's place much closer to New York. In Thor's perception, the Inhumans have always been much more exclusive than the Asgardians ever were. Soule gives the two royals a chance to converse and trade notes with one another, and eventually reveals Thor's true purpose: he's there on (at least informal) Avengers business. Soule balances that visit with a credible threat, the emergence of another Nuhuman in China and a conversation between Nuhumans Flint, Inferno and Lineage. The Chinese Nuhuman is introduced to readers through Reader, an Inhuman with a vast power set, a seeing eye dog named Forey, and a whole lot of confidence and charm. Clearly, Soule is positioning Reader for further development, which will hopefully include a more definitive description of his powers.
A portion of Reader's powers is defined in conversation with a newly empowered Inhuman, but the visuals Stegman provides are somewhat open-ended. It's clear that Reader has some ability that comes from his vision or perhaps even his mind's eye, but what the limits are and how he can truly utilize those abilities are apparently left purposefully open-ended. Stegman uses glints of energy at the corners of Reader's glasses to indicate the power use and colorist Marte Gracia employs a magnificent purplish tone that is electricity and imagination all in one. Shadows creep into the story as "Inhuman" #4 progresses, with the most intimidating, creepiest shadows threatening to squeeze out Gracia's colors on the final page.
Luckily for Gracia, Stegman uses plenty of Medusa's hair to frame that final scene and to direct the readers into the heart of the page. Throughout the issue, Stegman animates Medusa's hair in the most spectacular way. He ensures her coif is lush and full, reminiscent of Paul Pelletier's work on the Inhumans in "War of Kings," but Stegman pushes it further. In some scenes, her hair is slithery, undulating tentacles, in other scenes, it is almost cape-like, but in every scene in "Inhuman" #4, Medusa's hair is full and gorgeous, certainly the envy of every shampoo spokesmodel ever.
I had the privilege to see some of these pages in a sneak preview at C2E2 2014, which fosters the impression that it's safe to assume Stegman has been able to gain a little more lead time in production than "Inhuman" seemed to have with Madureira on art. The story is well-crafted, well-drawn and smartly colored. The real test will come to fruition in the next few months as we wait to see how many issues come out before 2015. With Stegman onboard and Reader jumping into the cast with both feet, "Inhuman" #4 reads more like a new volume of the title and feels like it should be a new #1. Yes, the plotline and subplots carry into this issue from the first three issues, but Soule and crew provide readers with a nice place to join in.