Sophia Uy ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly Comic Books Staff Writer
May 3rd, 2017
As the media juggernaut that is Marvel Studios powers through its upcoming lineup of films, television shows and comic book tie-ins, a series like Black Bolt feels like a reprieve from the never-ending onslaught of superhero team-ups. Marking the first ever solo series starring the king of the Inhumans, another super-powered group within the Marvel mythos, Black Bolt follows its titular hero as he awakens in a mysterious galactic prison without his kingdom or his powers.
As a superhero comic book largely centered on its protagonist interacting with the strange, unforgiving prison he wakes in, Ahmed had the opportunity to use any number of tropes or cliches as narrative crutches. Instead, there isn’t much in the series that feels old or overdone. The plot does eventually develop into a prison break caper, complete with a ragtag cast of ensemble characters reluctantly bound together, but again, nothing feels forced or redundant. The key is Ahmed’s ability to use these tried and true tropes and apply them to characters that feel real. Each member of the ensemble cast is distinct and though Ahmed avoids revealing too much too fast, as Black Bolt grows to know them, so too does the reader. They have their own unique motivations and past and when those things come to light, the choices these characters are forced to make in order to escape are equal parts awesome and heart-breaking.
There is also something to be said of Ahmed’s narrative voice. He makes the strange decision to write the internal monologue, a staple of any comic book series, in the third person. While it does feel less intimate than the tried and true convention of first person narration, the distance of third person feels appropriate. It echoes the strange, surreal world Black Bolt wakes to and reinforces the theme of reality and illusion bleeding into each other. This decision also allows Ahmed a unique freedom with his writing. As a seasoned novelist and short story author, Ahmed’s writing for ‘Black Bolt’, is evocative, poetic and just beautiful. The first issue of the series is especially unique in its writing and definitely worth a look for anyone at all interested.
Of course, with beautiful writing comes beautiful art. Christian Ward deserves just as much praise as Saladin Ahmed for elevating ‘Black Bolt’ into a comic book unlike any other published by Marvel this year. Ward’s art, which is full of bright, popping colors and linework that gives everything a distinctly geometric feel, is the perfect fit for Ahmed’s surreal world. Flashbacks don’t just get separate panels, they blend into the background of panels taking place in the present. Hallucinations blend seamlessly into reality and pivotal moments of intensity are made even more breathtaking and heart-stopping with Ward’s explosive abstract art. Ward also brings to life the vicious, otherworldly prison holding the series’ cast captive as simultaneously awesome and terrifying by taking clear inspiration from famous surrealist art.
Having just finished its first big story arc, Black Bolt is a breath of fresh air in the comic book world. Without sacrificing the high stakes of the plot, the series still manages to be a deeply intimate and sincere story about an oppressive prison system hell bent on sucking out the humanity of its occupants. While this straight-forward plot may seem simplistic, especially in the face of the more convoluted stories often associated with comic books, it never detracts from it’s core. Ultimately, it is about a group of lost and broken people bound together by their desire for freedom in the face of an oppressive institution.
Overall Rating: 8/10