In the Black Bolt series from Marvel, written by Saladin Ahmed, and drawn by Christian Ward, with letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles, we’ve been part of a unique experience–getting to hear Black Bolt speak–since while trapped in an eerie prison at the edge of the universe, his powers have been dampened. Ironically, this newfound freedom for him is part of his loss of every other type of freedom. That’s a nicely inverted paradigm from the comic’s creators.
[*Spoilers for issues #4 and #5 of Black Bolt below!]
But in the fifth issue of the series, which arrived this week, things turn on their head once again when Bolt, rescued by Lockjaw, exits this power-dampening environment and finds himself among the stars–and terribly dangerous once more. He experiences those dual states again. His total freedom returns, while his imprisonment by his own powers sets in once more.
This theme is fabulously spelled out by guest artwork by the great Frazer Irving, which gels very well with Ward’s already very evocative art, depicting scenes from Bolt’s childhood and young adulthood– moments of ethereal carnage and heart-breaking isolation for Bolt. But this is followed by the warm, reassuring reprieve of a simple idea of man’s best friend and a dog’s simple, ironclad, relentless, loyalty. We are reminded of Bolt’s traumatic past and the dangers he poses to the universe, especially to those around him, even in the moment that he’s liberated to use those powers again by his loyal dog. That contrast is really effective.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the King of the Inhumans in exile. In fact, we get to see him as a man of action in this issue, which is refreshing after the struggles he’s endured in the series so far. It is a little quirky to have one of the most major conflicts of interest in superhero stories–deciding whether to save one’s loved ones or random strangers who need your help–summed up in a couple of lines in this issue, and yet the reader is bound to agree with Bolt’s decision.
Once he’s free again, he settles on postponing a dramatic return to his home to save his family from Maximus (who appears to them to actually be Black Bolt), in order to take on and attempt to destroy the prison that has unjustly caused misery to so many. He’s choosing to do an immediate good, if possible, for others, rather than coming to Medusa’s aid. His mental comment, that he believes Medusa can handle Maxiumus on her own, is both funny and a little reassuring, even if it goes against an immediate instinct to protect his family.
But as I mentioned, the reader by this point really wants some resolution to this evil prison situation–a place dominated by an entity who feeds off the suffering of others regardless of the scale of their crimes, and hopefully the reader also wants the few oddball friends Bolt made on the inside to be liberated from this tortuous existence.
And in that moment of decision, the decision to take on the place that has dominated and terrified him, Bolt does find his voice again. Despite the suffering of his own past, and the duality of his feelings about his powers, he’s kicking them into high gear for a known good. This clears away the cobwebs for Bolt and we get to see him as the heroic figure that he can be.
Things aren’t exactly simple–Bolt’s powers are huge and elemental, but this prison has proved a very dark and wily place–and one where even his powers may be in check. But with the help of his friends (and their own powers since he’s able to extend a protective field around them), they might stand a fighting chance.
And there’s going to be a heck of a fight ahead, from the looks of it, to break down this hell of a prison in the way Bolt, and the reader, would wish.
Black Bolt #5 is currently out from Marvel Comics.
Issue #6 arrives in October: