Saladin Ahmed’s 2017 Black Bolt series featured an innovative narrative form in addition to magnificent artwork that enriched its titular hero with a complexity never seen before. I must admit, I am no expert on the Inhumans or Black Bolt himself. Sure, I have read some volumes of Inhumans stories, but they were never among my regular reading. That was until 2017 when ComicsVerse introduced me to Black Bolt in a totally new form.
So, now it is my turn. Let me introduce you to a Black Bolt you may have never known.
The History of a Royal
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Blackagar Boltagon, also known as Black Bolt, made his first appearance in 1965’s Fantastic Four #45. After his exposure to the Terrigen Mist, Boltagon developed intriguing abilities. The most notable of these abilities is his power to harness a hypersonic voice.
With a whisper, Black Bolt can tear down cities. Because of the magnitude of his abilities, it is worth noting the conditions to which he is subjected. Throughout his history, Boltagon has trained to prevent himself from emitting the slightest sound, even going as far as not making a sound in his sleep. Additionally, Black Bolt often uses sign language to speak.
Though he possesses an awesome power, it has come with serious consequences throughout Boltagon’s history. Avengers #95, released in 1972, features a flashback that depicts Black Bolt inadvertently killing his parents as the result of his powerful voice.
Consequently, Boltagon’s brother, Maximus, with whom he has always had a tumultuous relationship due to Maximus’ desire for the Attilan throne, went mad.
Thus, the rift between the brothers deepened.
The Modern King of Attilan
After fifty-two years of adventures, Black Bolt has finally attained his very own solo series. In the same year, the first live-action portrayal of the character was showcased in the television series Marvel's Inhumans. Unfortunately, this series did not sit well with critics and audiences. This is quite a shame because, overall, the Inhumans, and Black Bolt, deserved better.
Thankfully, Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian James Ward have given the character just that.
The story behind the Black Bolt solo series is a tragic one. The character has relieved himself of his royal duty after he activated a bomb that caused a deadly spread of Terrigen Mist throughout his home, Attilan. Now, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, the former king must find his own way.
This is where his story begins.
The Plight of the Silent King
The first issue of the solo series kicks off with a depiction of an imprisoned Black Bolt. Now, our titular hero is not just imprisoned, he is also broken. This is a thematic element presented throughout the series.
One of the best aspects of Black Bolt is writer Saladin Ahmed’s narrative form. It traverses the character’s every thought and action through an omniscient narrator. This form of narration never feels overwhelming because every thought and action is executed with purpose.
It is not long before Black Bolt realizes this mysterious prison that has entrapped him has also robbed him of his hypersonic voice. Thus, the prison signifies a suspension of time. Boltagon’s identity has continuously been rooted in his status as a king and a powerful character amongst the Inhumans. However, in this prison, history no longer bounds him. His fellow prisoners, as well as the readers, no longer perceive him as the man he was in previous depictions.
So, what does Boltagon do when he is stripped of both of these identifying attributes of his character?
The Wounds of a Fighter
Ironically, Boltagon is robbed of his voice, yet he gains repossession of the ability to speak without fear. Fear always played a large presence in Black Bolt’s character. His role in his parents’ death and Maximus’ insanity drove him to maintain his silence even more. Black Bolt could not be a hero without his fear. If he was not afraid, he would become consumed by a hunger for destruction. Now, well at least in the first few issues of the solo series, he no longer has to fear his own power. Despite this, fear still consumes Boltagon, as depicted in Black Bolt #8 after the Inhuman Panacea attempts to heal his mental wounds.
Black Bolt fears the exposure of his conflicts. Additionally, his fears have changed from the internal to the external. His relationships with his peers, particularly his son and wife, have been altered and greatly impacted since his absence. Now, upon returning home in Black Bolt #8, he must face these changes. So, it is safe to say Black Bolt fears change as well as his role in catalyzing tragic events.
He also fears whether or not his time away has truly made him a better man.
The Voice of Reason
Black Bolt has been stripped of his powerful voice in the first few issues of the series. This ultimately grants him the ability to speak as he would before his exposure to the Terrigen Mist. Once he discovers his ability to speak as he once did, Black Bolt selects each word carefully. This mode of speaking parallels Ahmed’s writing. Each word in the narrative is present for a reason as it traverses the experiences of Black Bolt and various supporting characters, rendering each of them more vulnerable. Thus, the narrative distinguishes Black Bolt from the Inhumans. This is his tale of how he sees himself as an outsider.
In regards to supporting characters, perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the series thus far is its ability to expose Crusher Creel, also known as the Absorbing Man. He, too, was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, making his first appearance in Marvel Comics in 1965. In the fourth issue of Black Bolt, Ahmed explores Creel’s tragic origins. That particular issue does not maintain any action sequences. Its titular hero speaks only briefly. The focus shifts to a supporting character.
Yet these changes never deter from the quality nor the enjoyment of the story.
Creels’ narrative exemplifies his disappointment in how he felt inclined to operate as a villain throughout his life. His remorse parallels Black Bolt’s own. Sure, the two maintained varying modes of living, but they both made decisions that hurt those closest to them. Thus, the narrative explores the natural human experience of regret. Though people often perceive regret as a negative experience, this particular narrative interprets it as a formative one.
The Archetype of the Hero
Black Bolt explores motifs that challenge the archetype of the hero. Firstly, the prison has stripped him of the abilities that elevate him as an Inhuman. Additionally, doubt fills his adventures, particularly in Black Bolt #5. He appears to no longer have the confidence he once had, the certainty to make an informed decision that will save others. Now, Black Bolt doubts his abilities to rescue his fellow prisoners. There is no solid plan, rather an instinctual reaction.
One can argue though that this stripping down of Black Bolt makes him even more heroic. According to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a true hero often pursues a journey that brings them to a place far different from their home. In the process of this journey, they often face challenges meant to break them down.
So, could Black Bolt’s time in this prison as well as his own indecisions be the exemplification of his quest towards true and total heroism?
The Revelations of BLACK BOLT
The prisoners have experienced death over and over again by the hand of the villainous Jailer. As a result, one can interpret this experience Black Bolt and his fellow prisoners endure as a purgatory. Not only do they have to experience horrific deaths over and over again, but they also come face to face with their own tragic mistakes.
The conclusion of Black Bolt #5 features the phrase “repent your crimes, name your crimes.” Yes, even the heroic king Black Bolt has crimes, and he must atone for his sins.
These phrases manifest into the apparitions of Black Bolt’s own parents, the parents he killed. Ultimately, Ahmed is not necessarily depicting Black Bolt’s experiences as a path towards reformation. Black Bolt’s mistakes do not make him a villain. Instead, they make him an individual who has suppressed his vulnerabilities. As a result, this purgatory is testing his nature. How much will it take to chip Black Bolt apart, exposing him and his weaknesses?
Thus, Black Bolt is not a series with the intention to reform its titular hero.
It intends to reveal.
The Voice of the Reader
What is the role of us readers throughout this series? We witness a deconstruction of Black Bolt. So, what role do we play in this deconstruction? A large one, in fact.
We as readers want to dig deeper into the character of Black Bolt, particularly when there has never been a series that has solely focused on him. Additionally, in a series that removes Black Bolt from the familiarity of his home and the Inhumans, we isolate the character in our own minds. We succeed in distinguishing him as his own character. As a result, Black Bolt becomes susceptible to the readers’ own dissection.
So, Black Bolt’s return home in Black Bolt #8 is strange for both the titular hero and the readers. We have endured these existential experiences with Black Bolt. As Black Bolt changed throughout the series, our perceptions of him have changed as well. Thus, our interpretation of this exposed Black Bolt varies greatly from the member of the Inhumans Marvel comics introduced us to long ago.
Ahmed brings our titular hero home, but that familiar setting no longer feels right.
Once, he was a king.
Now, Black Bolt has revealed his true heroism lies far beneath the layers of identity he once wore, from his identity as a king to a member of the Inhumans. We as readers exposed this true nature, and now there is no going back.
The King of the Inhumans
If you were to gather a group of people and ask them if they had ever heard of the superhero, Black Bolt, you may find that only a few would have heard the name. In a world where Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man conquer the silver screen, it is easy for heroes such as Black Bolt to fade into the background. It is even easier for him to get lost when the very series he was featured in was not well received.
Despite this though, I hope to assure readers that Black Bolt is not a one-dimensional character, at least not in the modern age. His solo series was among the best works of 2017. Additionally, the artwork of Christian James Ward maintained a life that is especially unique and magnificent.
Most importantly though, the narrative of the solo series deconstructs a hero many are unfamiliar with so that they could come to learn the depth of his character and therefore understand why he was created to be a hero in the first place back in 1965.