Everything's changing for the Inhumans next autumn — the events of Inhumans vs X-Men will give way to "Ressurxion", a new line of both X-Men and Inhuman comics from Marvel. And while the newly announced Royals will see the Inhumans blast off into space, a new series will explore the man atop their throne: Blackagar Boltagon.
Written by The Crescent Moon Kingdoms novelist Saladin Ahmed, alongside art from Christian Ward, Black Bolt will see the titular hero cut off from his fellow Inhumans and incarcerated in a mysterious prison teeming with the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy. Isolated and desperate for answers, Black Bolt will have to team up with some surprising allies to attempt the impossible, and escape imprisonment from the edge of the cosmos itself. We recently spoke with Ahmed to discuss getting into the head of the Inhuman's silent, stalwart leader, writing his first comic, and the endless appeal of the Inhumans — check it out, alongside the first cover for Black Bolt #1 by Christian Ward, making its debut here.
What did you make of Black Bolt as a character going into this series?
Saladin Ahmed: Black Bolt has been — he's kind of an odd character, because he's been around in the Marvel Universe for 50 years. He was created by, you know, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the day. And the Inhumans have always been this sort of interesting, almost "cult" thing, in the Marvel Universe. They have never been as famous as the X-Men or The Hulk, or Spider-Man, or anything like that. For more kinda hardcore Marvel nerds, they're these touchstone characters. I don't want to say "hipster", [laughs] a hipster test — but if you know who the Inhumans are, then you're sort of like, on the inside. So, the challenge is bringing him to new readers. He's this kind of strange, sort of '60s cosmic Marvel character. Very much a creation of his time.
And he's a very compelling guy, because he can't speak. He's one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe, really. Although we rarely see his power unleashed. It's not like the Hulk's sort of massive beat downs on a regular basis... rarely does he get his powers demonstrated. Nobody knows quite how powerful he is. Which intrigues people. But has not really been explored deeply. Part of his story is that he's always — him and the Inhumans are a real family. And he always has people speaking for him and, you know, we never get deep into his head. That was kind of one of the challenges of working on a solo title.
This is your first work on a comic series coming off your own novels. So what's that experience been like for you?
Ahmed: It's been wonderful, it's been an absolute delight. The collaborative aspect of it in particular is just really invigorating. Prose — especially novels — you're sort of locked in a room, alone with your words for a year or whatever at a time. It can drive you crazy. And comics clearly can drive you crazy, I'm already starting to see, in a different way, with this kind of frenetic pace of getting an issue out every month.
There's the collaborative aspect [as well]. Those two things are a real departure from the world of novels, and they're both really energising. You have this rapid back-and-forth. Obviously the artist, Christian Ward, is incredible, incredibly talented. He thinks about what he's doing a lot, and so we can have conversations that are these kind of collaborative conversations. A comic is obviously as much a piece of art [as much as it is] of its writing. It's been great feeding off each other. There's my editor [Wil Moss], as well! The Marvel Universe is a big beast of continuity, and that's intimidating on a certain level. But what it means is there's this kind of editorial structure where the editors kind of have an active hand on what's going on and I've really dug it. Wil is editing the book, [and] also working on Black Panther with Ta-Nehisi Coates and some other books, like that new Vision book, and Squirrel Girl... so he's just kind of on these slightly oddball books, working with slightly unconventional authors. And it's great. I'm loving it.
Black Bolt #1 cover by Christian Ward
How did you get involved with Black Bolt? Was it a project that Marvel offered to you, or was it a character that you were drawn to?
Ahmed: A bit of both. The Inhumans have always intrigued me, although they weren't necessarily the first property I would have gone to — the connection wouldn't have occurred to me immediately. Although it's funny because, like a year or so back, I was contemplating trying to pitch something and I asked a bunch of my readers. "Who do you think you could see me writing in the Marvel Universe?" And several said, "The Inhumans." Oh really! And Marvel in fact came to me, and said, "We want you on a Black Bolt solo book. Would you be interested in doing that?" Now, I basically... you know, it's Marvel, so [I went] "Yes, yes, that's great."
But at the same time I had a back pocket pitch about incarceration, and some other stuff that was missing a piece. And I knew that the co-star of this [pitch] book was Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man — it was a book about being locked up, basically. But I only had these very dim concept of this project, I didn't know who the real star was. So when Marvel came to me and said, "Hey, would you consider doing a Black Bolt book?", for plot reasons I can't get into, it happened to sync up really well. This kind of nascent idea of a prison book I had. And they're picking me for the Black Bolt book ended up linking really well for reasons that will only become apparent to the readers once we're amidst the plotline.
Where do we find Black Bolt at the beginning of this series?
Ahmed: I won't get too much into the backstory, but we start the series with Black Bolt helpless. Helpless and locked up. And that's not a position he's used to being in.
How does he react to that sort of feeling of isolation and helplessness?
Ahmed: At first, disorientation. Part of the book is how you find your resolve in a place like prison. And that's kind of part of the journey that I hope to take readers on.
You briefly mentioned we'd be seeing Crusher Creel in this book as well. Without going too much into the nature of it, is there any other notable Marvel characters that we might see in the first arc of the book?
Ahmed: There's a few familiar faces that may pop up, I'll just say.
It's going to be a big year for the Inhumans, there's going to be Resurrxion and books like yours launching, and last week we got the news about the TV show. They're coming into a bigger spotlight, even more so than they have in the recent comics. What do you hope readers get out of your take on this weird part of the Marvel world and Black Bolt, specifically?
Ahmed: That's a tough one! I'll say this: It's a bit of an odd book, because it's both an Inhumans book and not, right? It's very much a story that's intended to be new reader friendly, despite it being this kind of cult property. It's intended to bring in people who aren't necessarily massive Inhumans fans, or even [fans of] Marvel continuity. So to a certain degree, at least at first, the book is not going to be bogged down by connections from all the other Inhumans things going on. There will be connections from folks who are looking for them, But one needn't be versed on what's going on with everybody — you don't need to know all that to get into the book. It's very much about one place and time. At least it starts out that way!
But, I think with this book, and with Black Bolt [as a character], it's a story of a king kind of discovering humility and also a nobility in people he was ready to write off. It's a book about nobility and power, and about your rank in the world. That's for this arc, specifically. Now, further down the line, I think there's a lot of stuff to explore with the question of the Inhumans and separatism vs integration — maybe even some questions of culture and immigration, when you have this question of the old world and the new world and all these things that are happening [to them]. But those questions, I think, don't come directly into the book [when it begins]. This first arc readers will see is pretty self-contained, and is just meant to bring readers in.
Black Bolt #1 will hit shelves in autumn 2017.