Written by Joel T. Lewis
Unlikely allies coming together to escape wrongful imprisonment is hardly a new storyline. Tango and Cash, Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet Hulk, and now Black Bolt use this narrative convention to quickly build upon character development by placing central characters in a state of perpetual stress and to unite disparate characters with diverse backgrounds with the common cause of escape. The condensed version of this story that we see in Black Bolt #2 takes a lot of inspiration from the Civil War Era Hulk Story-Arc Planet Hulk (1999 Incredible Hulk 92-105) at least in terms of wrongful exile/imprisonment and Gladiatorial combat.
I found that though this issue of Black Bolt retreads an all too common narrative arc, compressing all those familiar elements into a single issue made the retread almost refreshing. Instead of drawing out the ‘hero in prison’ storyline and the former enemies become allies of necessity trope over the course of a 4-5 issue arc, Saladin Ahmed’s decision to end the 2nd issue with the beginning of the escape attempt worked really well. The prison break storyline is by no means one that I’ve grown tired of but the specific similarities between Black Bolt’s story and the Planet Hulk event made me weary of a drawn out prison/gladiator narrative.
With issue 2 Ahmed introduces us to several quirky inmates who plan to help Black Bolt escape. Metal Master and the female Skrull Raava join Blinky and the Crusher (known on earth as the Absorbing Man) and the group dynamic is entertaining though not particularly original. Blinky’s youthful innocence is contrasted by the wisdom of age presented by Metal Master and Raava is every bit as brusque and predictable as Star Trek’s Worf or Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. But the character dynamic that is most fascinating and entertaining is that between Black Bolt and the Crusher. The irreverent working-class sensibilities of the B-list villain grate harshly against the decorum, silence, and tension that characterize the former King of the Inhumans.
Though Black Bolt rescues and shows restraint towards his fellow inmates out of compassion and a desire to not be manipulated by the strange prison he’s trapped in, his royal arrogance and prejudice prevent him from considering himself one of the gang. The Crusher is the perfect character to call Black Bolt out on this elitist sensibility and this confrontation causes Bolt to question the violent acts he’s committed in the past. The other thing I love about pairing Bolt and Crusher up (which would be an awesome mini-series team-up) is that Crusher calls the former King ‘Wishbone’ and doubles over laughing upon hearing his full name. The rigid royal decorum that Bolt is accustomed to is shattered and called out by a very relatable Crusher. It’s also great to see a character we are meant to relate to comment on the ridiculousness of a character called Blackagar Boltagon with a tuning fork on his head who takes himself so seriously. I think the groundwork Ahmed has laid here through Black Bolt and Crusher’s alliance could potentially humanize (and the irony of humanizing an Inhuman is not lost on me) the Inhuman King in a way that comics never have before.
Once again artist Christian Ward delivers a cosmic color pallet that leaps off every page and shines from the subtle shifts in facial expression to the gorgeous mayhem of Black Bolt and Raama’s sword fight. One panel in particular which showcases Ward’s exceptional flexibility is one where Crusher recounts his brawls with Thor Odinson and Jane Foster Thor. A shadowy Crusher is depicted between two brilliant sketches of both Thors. The contrast and skill Ward demonstrates is really fun to see. Though much of this issue’s plot was unoriginal Black Bolt continues to impress as artwork and story create a unique atmosphere around a conventional story. I’m fascinated by the notion that this ragtag team will be unleashed on an unknowing galaxy in issue 3 and I can’t wait! Until next time, Geek On!