Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Saladin Ahmed
Artwork: Christian Ward, Frazer Irving
“He is a King, but he wakes in filth and darkness.”
Full disclosure: The Inhumans have never really interested me. Sure, I’ll admit that on paper, the idea of a “super-powered royal family” does sound somewhat appealing, but there was always something about them that felt a little hokey to me. Plus, in a rapidly moving comic book world with new, exciting titles being released every week, I simply couldn’t justify investing my limited free time in books about people with prehensile hair and a giant teleporting space dog.
However, with all that said, Black Bolt may very well be one of the best Marvel comics I’ve read in a long, long time.
Debuting writer Saladin Ahmed has done a truly fantastic job of taking an established character and putting them in an entirely unfamiliar situation. The story opens with Blackagar Boltagon awakening in a cell with no memory of how he got there, and gradually expands to include a mish-mash of lower-level Marvel characters in what is essentially a high-concept “prison break”-esque series – albeit a “prison break”-esque series where the inmates are tortured mercilessly and “respawn” after dying so that they can suffer even more.
Aside from adding some intriguing depth to Black Bolt himself, the volume also sees Crusher Creel featuring prominently, with Ahmed breathing some real heart and emotion into the character as she retells the origin story of the formerly one-dimensional “Absorbing Man”. There’s a faint tinge of tragedy as Creel recounts his own history in the latter stages of the arc, and there’s also a somewhat likeable, almost heroic slant given to a character who’s probably best known for breaking stuff with a giant wrecking ball.
While I’m a huge fan of his work on the likes of ODY-C with Matt Fraction, I always felt like Christian Ward’s distinctive style would be a bit of an uncomfortable fit for big-two superhero comics. Thankfully, Ahmed provides him with the perfect story here to utilise his impressive talents to their fullest potential. The mind-bending nature of the prison gives Ward ample opportunity to unleash his distinctively abstract style, and the choice of colour palette really works well to give the place a striking aesthetic, bathing it in pale blues, turquoise and magenta.
Artist Frazer Irving pops in for a few pages to provide a brilliant Lockjaw origin story, but this is very much Ward’s baby, with some solid, expressive characters and a fantastic use of light and colour throughout. The final pages see him cutting loose into what is nothing less than a jaw-dropping cacophony of cosmic colour, bringing the arc to a suitably emphatic conclusion while laying the groundwork for the future of the ongoing series.
A fantastic story which shows that, in the right hands, superhero comics can be genuinely inventive and unconventional. It’s not quite on the level of Tom King and Gabriel Walta’s Vision, but it’s definitely breathing some of the same rarefied air. Highly, highly recommended.