Blackagar Boltagon, king of the Inhumans and first of his name, has always been the strong, silent, spandex-y type. But although he’s been a mainstay of Marvel’s comics for more than 50 years, it’s always been difficult to get a read on who Black Bolt was as a person. In Hugo Award-winning novelist Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward’s Black Bolt solo series, that’s finally changing, in small part because now he’s alone and powerless.
Black Bolt’s Terrigenisis-induced ability to manipulate electrons with the speech centre of his brain has rendered him largely mute for the bulk of his existence, out of fear of causing catastrophic damage to his surroundings. While the concept of a brooding king who’s taken a vow of silence to protect his people is an interesting one, it doesn’t much lend itself to meaningful interactions. Instead, what we’ve seen in the past is a king largely trapped in his own head and reliant on the interpretations of those around him to make his thoughts understood.
After the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men and Inhumans Prime, Black Bolt’s brother Maximus was imprisoned for attempting to stage a coup and sentenced to be banished from the Inhuman homeland New Attilan. In the final moments before Maximus is meant to be sent away, he manages to trick Black Bolt into his cell, steal his identity, and doom his brother to the imprisonment meant for him. As Black Bolt opens, Black Bolt awakes in a dirty cell, locked in chains, and muzzled while he’s repeatedly beaten for Maximus’ crimes.
It’s a bleak and brutal beginning to the story, but it’s also the start of something new for Black Bolt — being truly alone with himself. Not alone in the way that a person can sometimes feel while they’re surrounded by others, but in that way one is when, in those moments before their death, they are truly isolated from world.
It’s in this space — this headspace — that Black Bolt can finally be profoundly alone with his own thoughts, unconcerned with posturing or making himself understood to anyone. Though he’s quickly able to break the chains that bind his arms and legs (but not his muzzle), he soon discovers that his cell is just one of many in a mysterious prison that’s also a sprawling maze of horrors and various forms of torture.
As he makes his way through the prison, a disembodied voice demands that he answers for Maximus’ crimes, but he’s unfazed. His thoughts wander to his wife, his son, his dog, and his desire to shield them all from whatever treachery Maximus has planned for them. These and his survival are his singular most thoughts as he moves through the prison, that is until he hears a child’s screams somewhere off in the distance and breaks into hero mode.
Though Black Bolt fails to save the child from surviving a torture similar to his own, he discovers that there are still more prisoners roaming around (like Crusher “The Absorbing Man” Creel) and a master gaoler who’s responsible for killing them all. While Black Bolt’s able to subdue Creel during a fight, their gaoler drags the fallen king back to a torturing unit and proceeds to pump his body full of flesh-burning energy until he dies.
And then Black Bolt is resurrected. And then he dies again. And then he’s resurrected. And then he meets a child named Blinky who helps him to his feet and explains that death and resurrection are sort of what people do in the prison. Black Bolt accepts the help, but, perhaps most telling of all, he looks at Blinky with what can only be described as the sort of bemusement that all adults who are awkward with enthusiastic children are. It’s a simple emotion conveyed just with Ward’s pencils, but it’s a fascinating first for the character.
Oddly, that’s the real magic of Black Bolt so far. Black Bolt is still a largely quiet man, but, in fits and starts, glimmers of the personality that have always been inside of him are beginning to peek out. For all the genetic manipulation that it took to make Black Bolt the Inhuman that he is today, this is the most interesting bit of evolution he’s had in a long time.
Also, someone finally let him in on the joke that we’ve all been making for years.