Written by Joel T. Lewis
It is immensely difficult for me to engage with superhero team comics. The Justice League, Avengers, X-Men, and Suicide Squad all struck me as either too massive or too established to engage as fully as I would need to in order to get up to speed. Too many character histories with too many idiosyncrasies and continuity shake-ups would overwhelm my completionist brain as I felt the pressure of those back catalogues. That’s not to say I refuse to engage in those larger group narratives across the board, I just skirt the edges of those series in order to keep myself sane and socially engaged. That being the case, there is one superhero team in particular that I have had next to no interest in until very recently: The Inhumans. This moon-based kingdom of Kree manipulated humanoids and their bizarre history of royal family politics and Terrigen mist disasters seemed to be the most inaccessible corner of comic lore. The similar themes of species distinction and prejudice that the Inhumans shared with the X-Men also contributed to my lack of interest. I got along pretty well avoiding that section of the Marvel Universe as their impact seemed to be pretty well contained in their own title series and their interactions with other teams like the Avengers or the X-Men. But recently, I was fascinated by, you guessed it, some pretty spectacular cover art of a character I had never heard of: The Inhumans’ own Karnak. I devoured the 5-issue mini-series focused on the revamped characterization of Karnak and suddenly the Inhumans began to fascinate me.
Lucky for me, with the recent conclusion of the Inhumans vs. X-Men event the Inhumans were slated for a new series entitled Royals and for the first time ever a solo series centered on the leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. The King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt is an interesting typically stoic figure who seldom speaks because his voice is powerful enough to bring a city crumbling down to its foundations. He’s got a pretty wicked black suit with lightning bolt accents and a tuning fork antenna on his head which allows him to focus his powers to increase his strength and speed. In the brief glimpses I had seen of the Inhumans before I had expressed any interest in the team, Black Bolt always stood out visually and his power set fascinated me. So naturally I leapt at the opportunity to read a Black Bolt solo title.
Following the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men it is discovered that the brother of Black Bolt, Maximus the Mad has been impersonating the King while his brother languishes in a prison meant for him. We catch up with Black Bolt in this bizarre space prison in issue 1. While this may seem to be a bit of a strange midpoint to jump into the Inhumans world, issue one was low impact and self-contained enough that it was a great jumping on point. The King of the Inhumans doesn’t know where he is, who he is, or what he’s been imprisoned for and as we follow him day to day in his incarceration he is tormented by an ear-shattering voice that causes him great pain. As the days pass Black Bolt remembers piece by piece the circumstances of his capture and the Inhuman he has to blame, his brother Maximus. Now, the Inhuman Royal is unable to shout his way out of confinement thanks to probably the coolest looking muzzle of all time. But he slowly tests the strength of his bonds and manages to break free to explore the vast space prison that he finds himself in.
He quickly discovers that he is not alone in this prison and witnesses firsthand the cruelty and depth of his captor’s torture methods. Bolt desperately tries to save a child from a torture device in the bowels of the prison but can only hold her charred corpse when he discovers he is too late. Unable to investigate further, Bolt is interrupted by a de-powered Absorbing Man (Carl “Crusher” Creel) who quickly challenges the silent newcomer to a fight. Although Bolt is more than capable of dispatching the arrogant inmate, the Absorbing Man manages to damage his muzzle with a lucky punch. Bolt quickly finishes with Creel and tracks down the source of the cruel accusing voice that has tormented him throughout his imprisonment. This tormentor is a terrifying aberration who does not balk when Bolt dramatically removes his muzzle to whisper what should have been a deadly word, 'Stop.' Black Bolt quickly discovers that his powers have been stripped from him right before his vocal tormentor burns him to a crisp. Bolt awakens on the final page back in his cell to discover that the child he attempted to save has been reborn as well and we discover that the prison is a bit stranger than we once thought.
Author Saladin Ahmed makes a triumphant debut into the world of comics with this issue and artist Christian Ward is no slouch either. Mysterious, compelling, and visually breathtaking the combination of Ward and Ahmed has got its hooks in me for as many issues as this title runs. The techno-surreal setting of a space prison is brought to colorful life by Ward’s wonderful play with scale and unique panel design and Black Bolt has never looked cooler. In fact, seeing the page where Bolt breaks free from his chains is what sold me on the comic in the first place. I cannot wait for next month’s issue of Black Bolt! Until next time, Geek On!