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Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans, has a new solo series. Typically the Midnight King’s portrayal hinges on his connection to the Inhuman royal family and all the drama those power struggles entail. However, in this new series we see a king humbled. Through the machinations of his brother Maximus the Mad (who else?) Black Bolt now resides in an intergalactic prison.
The Jailer, as he’s known, is an ill-defined antagonist that deprives inmates of their powers and constantly tortures them, feeding off their pain. To see a heavy hitter like Black Bolt in these dire circumstances is a nice change of pace, and a great means for growth in a once drab character.
Writer Saladin Ahmed weaves this tale, with truly eye-popping art from Christian Ward. As Marvel strives to make people care about the Inhumans, it’s nice to see a book which pits nobility against a greater threat. Ward’s art in particular elevates the story. Psychedelic layouts and colors escort us into Black Bolt’s rag tag team and through the labyrinth as they stage their escape, only to find something worse.
There are several ongoing efforts by Marvel to make the Inhumans relevant. The upcoming ABC series, several ongoing comics series, and big crossover events like Inhumans vs. X-Men all strive to put the wacky group center stage. And while they’re a group of classic characters, nothing seems to really take off. Maybe it’s their relative obscurity, but many story-lines just weren’t interesting enough to carry a narrative.
Ahmed’s Black Bolt may be the cure to those doldrums. In prior incarnations, Black Bolt has an arrogance to him that makes him inaccessible, in no small way due to his inability to speak. Ahmed gets around this by taking away the crown, and the great power the Silent King wields – and as an added bonus, he gets to talk!
As the issue opens, Black Bolt joins fellow inmates Metal Master, Raava the Skrull, the Absorbing Man, and a telepathic kid named Blinky in a stealthy escape. Absorbing Man and his majesty have some of the best dialogue, as the brutish Crusher Creel constantly mocks the king. Bolt pompously rebukes his nickname “Wishbone” but Creel points out they won’t have another shot at this, forging an uneasy trust between the two.
Image: Marvel Comics
That trust is tested as the story unfolds in a supremely well-paced jail break. It’s amazing Ahmed is able to cram so much action in one issue without it feeling overstuffed. In a matter of pages we go from Black Bolt retrieving the power dampening device, rejoining the group to confront a misunderstood monster, to a huge fight with the Jailer himself.
It’s a compelling tale, one that ends with a chilling cliffhanger made real as our protagonist faces off against the disembodied head of their captor. As bold as the narration is (“Too late, he tries to scream.”) it’s the art that truly captures the imagination.
Christian Ward covers full art duties in this series – pencils, inks, and colors. The result is a unified vision which makes Black Bolt look cooler than ever. Even de-powered, he stalks the beautifully rendered, maze-like prison in unique layouts which convey how formidable the king still is.
Three main fights build up the story, each with a new display of power and a corresponding explosion of color and action. First, as Black Bolt steals the power dampener from the Jailer’s lackey, he faces off against a Death’s Head (robot bounty hunter, Wiki it). The blasts of their weapons pop against the muted blues of the prison.
Those colors escalate once each character gets their abilities back. Black Bolt in particular is a weird task to draw – his electron based powers are hard to pin down, but Ward flings arcs of energy in each panel expertly. No longer a simple zap or straight beam, Black Bolt’s assault on the misunderstood Monsteroso is like a painting.
Finally, there’s the big fight against the Jailer. A chilling figure of claws and wires, the explosive fight expands across two pages that gets a lot of action in without sacrificing detail or beauty. At last, Black Bolt speaks, shattering a wall to reveal the Jailer’s true form – a disembodied head surrounded by other giant organs in a bizarre but lovely splash page.
It’s nice to see a character with so much history on a new and daring adventure. This is possibly the best Inhuman title out there, so escape your own space-jail of boredom by heading to Downtown Comics to pick it up.