Written by Joel T. Lewis
One of the things I love about comics is the unending amount of intercontextuality within the universes. Absorbing Man Carl ‘Crusher’ Creel has been a part of the Marvel Universe since 1965. With numerous appearances of varying significance, one could trace his character arc from his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #114 to the present day. This is the case for basically all of comic book characters, but there has to be some motivation for tracking down and deeply immersing yourself in a character who may not be on the A-list of villains. The great thing about comics is that the stories that spark that obsessive motivation, those issues that reshape a character’s value in your mind, come more often than you might think. Crusher Creel is one of those characters and Black Bolt #4 is one of those issues.
The opening page of this issue is one of the most succinct and successful recaps I’ve ever seen in comics as Author Saladin Ahmed and Artist Christian Ward drive home the events that have led up to Black Bolt’s most recent predicament with brevity and minimalism. In panels that dwindle in size, ward portrays the downward spiral of Black Bolt’s life to the current moment, where we find him and Crusher Creel trapped in a chamber where Jailer is slowly pumping out all the oxygen. Unable to escape from their bonds, Crusher resolves not to die in silence, an ironic and poignant decision the effect of which is not lost on Black Bolt, a man who has spent most of his life in silence.
Creel imparts his life’s story to Black Bolt in a beautifully executed montage of color, style, and prose as both Ward and Ahmed make you fall in love with Creel as they play with the B-List villain’s origin. Take a broken home, an abusive father, a passionate boxer, a lower level enforcer, then add a magic potion and that’s how you get the Absorbing Man, and while the progression of Creel from well-meaning youth to Thor-Smashing B-Lister isn’t too innovative, the way Ward portrays it is. The collage of heroes, villains, and flashbacks contained within this issue could pass as a professional artist’s portfolio as Ward slips effortlessly from style to style, masterfully matching color to concept and executing the nostalgia and emotional weight of each panel with precision. It really is an issue you have to see to believe, and it marks a great jumping-on point for this series, which is unique for the fourth issue in a series.
I would be doing this issue’s architects a disservice if I didn’t mention how perfectly this issue’s cover art captures the spirit of what goes on between the pages. Through the heartfelt vulnerability that Creel shows in his revelations to Black Bolt, Bolt himself is laid bare and vulnerable and the stony facade of the silent Inhuman King comes crumbling down around a very hurt and sensitive being. What a great way to make a classically stoic and alien figure like Black Bolt relatable and engaging. This near-death heart-to-heart shared by these two men is beautiful and has made me love both characters all the more for it.
We even get to see Black Bolt laugh! Just moments before all of the oxygen is removed from the cell, Creel gives Bolt a cheesy one-liner joke and the two share such a pure moment of laughter. Both men, exposed and vulnerable prepare for their last moments when suddenly Lockjaw, Black Bolt’s teleporting pup, appears and whisks Bolt away. Creel is left alone and we are left to wonder if Bolt will return to rescue his unlikely friend. This issue was special. This series is special. This creative team is wildly talented and I cannot wait to see what they do in issue 5. Until next time, Geek On!