How can one man live with the consequences of controlling a force powerful enough to destroy nations? What helps you sleep when the responsibilities of an entire Peoples weighs heavy on your shoulders? Ask Blackagar Boltagon, as King of the Inhumans and potentially the most powerful non god in the Marvel U he could tell you, (bring paper and pen). At one time or another those two questions are set at the feet of all superheros who reside in the upper echelon of the power meter. None however, find the answers to those questions as restricting as Black Bolt. For everyone else, it is the exercise of their awesome power that will carry the day. Instead, Blackagar must find those answers inside a straightjacket, and that makes his story all the more valuable to those of us who can’t answer our questions with cosmic powers.
Black Bolt has had better days. Surviving the coming of Thanos, insuring the survival of the Inhumans in their war with mutants, and falling under the mental control of his brother Maximus forced him to take terrible actions. The first issue opens with Black Bolt suffering the consequences of those actions, imprisoned, with no memory, being tortured. Speaking of consequences, didn’t Black Bolt’s voice make a mad Maximus in the first place? Black Bolt begins to answer the questions that any of us would have in his situation. Unfortunately, things don’t work out so well as Blackagar begins his journey to redemption.
The best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Christian Ward’s art. Weaving his influences into a rich tapestry of popular art of the last century. Instead of listing those influences, I will say that Ward’s work is layered, making it difficult for me to pin down his mediums. Definitely feels like lots of painting, maybe acrylics, sometimes over watercolor or digital backdrops. Certainly Ward is also using some digital effects as well, but that mechanical description feels incomplete for what he presents on the page. There is this great Tron look in the first half of the book, that puts all of these exciting colors on the page in the context of imprisonment that must be near blackout. The look crescendos on page five with a beautiful full-page panel, and the glowing blood from Black Bolt’s mouth on page two blends neon and grit like a whiskey sour. Adding further to the visual feast Ward serves up page after page with layouts like the plating of a gourmet chef. He gives the reader unique and inventive panels that add depth and excitement to the action of the plot, but never sacrifices solid vertical and horizontal story telling. Page 15 repeatedly grabs my attention with a spatial aesthetic that borders sublime.
The second best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Saladin Ahmed’s script. Apologies to the writer, my enthusiasm for the art painted me into a corner after the last topic sentence. Ahmed seems to be using Black Bolt to ask some poignant questions. Cribbed right from the first letters page: Who is a criminal? What happens when we put people in cages? How do you tell a story? What does it mean to be a parent? Now maybe it’s the father of a new toddler struggling to be a writer in me, whom has often questioned the demographic of ever-increasing prison populations and the extremely lucrative nature of penitentiary ownership and operation; but I think these are damn good questions to ask. Perhaps the best is, why do we put ourselves in prisons, and how do we escape their walls both metaphorically and literally? Ahmed leaves this question for the introspective to ponder at the end of the issue with Black Bolt’s final dialog. So just incase you tackle that bit of philosophy before next months issue you can try to figure out what happened to his voice. Equally important to comic enjoyment Ahmed’s narrative is pretty solid and natural to read. Which is critical where we won’t expect the lead character to do much talking.
Overall I was really pleased with my decision to give Black Bolt a try. Ward’s art reminds me of great sci-fi tales from Heavy Metal mags, and Ahmed’s scripting is exciting, giving you plenty of things to think about once you put the comic down. Along with Jessica Jones this is another excellent go for the Marvel family at telling adult superhero stories. I rate this comic as very good. There is a potential for the volcanic rating here, but the creators are hamstrung by Marvel’s decision to lower the quality of their covers while keeping their cover price the same making it difficult for me to get books from my local proprietor that haven’t been damaged in shipping. Please give us better quality books Marvel, we love your stories, but your profit margin comes at the expense of your fan’s collections.