I'm a well read grad student who's bluntly honest about all things, although I try to be most honest about myself.
It was the codes that got me out of bed this morning, but this. Guys. This. This is, by far, the best thing to happen to me today. And yes, this is going to be a blatant love letter, not only to Black Bolt himself, but to Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward - aka my favorite new comics writer/artist team.
Ahmed does what I expected, given Royals. Black Bolt was exposed as Maximus, and after finding out the spoiler that Black Bolt would be in prison, it was fairly clear that this was going to happen. In fact, I guessed it before the spoiler. To get where he was, Maximus had to put someone in his place as he was condemned to be put in a space prison that only the royal family knew about. There was no way he couldn't get out, without sacrificing someone else in his place. Maximus cares about his own survival and personal power, and I can't see him fretting about putting anyone else in prison in his stead. In fact, he was most likely gleeful about getting his brother in prison. (And while it's not necessary to know this, it's a bonus if you know about the history between Maximus and Blackagar Boltagon, then you know why Maximus would be so happy to shove his Brother under the bus and into the isolated space prison, hopefully forever. Well, not for me: I wanna see Black Bolt get out.)
Black Bolt's first concern is getting out, but only because he knows that Maximus has usurped his place successfully, not via a coup, but by becoming him. What other way would they accept Maximus? And knowing the danger his child, his ex-wife, and his people are in? Well, he has to get out if he has any chance of protecting them from the callous madness Maximus will unleash on them. I should probably also mention that Ahmed had said that this didn't need any past reading to jump into this series, and I agree. Again, I think it's richer knowing a lot of this history, but Ahmed explains what has happened, why Black Bolt is there, and who Black Bolt is. The explanatory page cover the history of the Inhumans and who they are. Other than that, this story tells something new, something that doesn't need any previous investment in to enjoy what Ahmed is doing. He's positioning Black Bolt at a low point to test his mettle and his inner strength. (And without the problems I'm having with Secret Empire; no retcon, no changing the character. just using his surroundings to show how badly things can go for him. Although he doesn't know about Medusa, and I'm wondering what will happen when he does, or if someone might get word and pass it on to him. Especially since the letter from Saladin at the back says he'll explore what it means to be a parent. Will he also explore what it means to be a single parent, or what his relationship with Medusa will be like under the circumstances? I kinda, secretly hope so. Even the mention of them makes me ship this so hard, because they're better together than alone or with anyone else Marvel has placed them with, even if they are first cousins.)
I'm also loving the small moments of compassion, like when Black Bolt tries to help this girl despite him not being able to find his way out of his prison. It's not something we see often, but I'm wondering if that's because of how free Black Bolt is in some ways now. Before, he had to think of his people in general, and what the best was he could do for the maximum amount of people. Now that he's not their king, even if he still thinks of them as his people, he may be freer to do these small, good deeds for strangers without worrying about the long term consequences. More than that, with this mysterious prison with no clear way across, much less out, he may feel that this help won't actually keep him distracted from his main goal - getting out, helping his family and people - that long. But again, it's not something that's seen that much, although I keep pointing this out about Doctor Strange. (He's one of the more compassionate characters, it shows most in the small moments, and a lot of writers miss that, or don't show them, in my opinion.) Black Bolt isn't evil, and doesn't really have evil intent. He simply makes choices that are completely on his shoulder - partly by choice as he doesn't allow anyone else to bear the consequences, as he feels it's all his responsibility - and sometimes those choices aren't great. Then again, most of the times, it's two choices: bad and really bad, and he chooses the one he believes will do the least amount of harm. They're hard choices, and he bears them with dignity and grace. He simply hasn't had the chance to reach out to one person like this, and it's absolutely glorious to see. (Especially given what happens and what is said to him about it later on in this issue.)
And while much of this is inner monologue, I was, to be honest, quite curious about what Ahmed would do with a character who couldn't speak, and was most likely parted from his interpreter, as a main character. He quite frankly handled it brilliantly, and there's just so much love in me for his interpretation of this character. It's the Black Bolt I always wanted, and that I think the world deserves. He also makes the prison fascinating, between the faceless, and menacing voices, that boom out the creepy refrain of 'Name Your Crimes! Repent Your Crimes!' And the other inhabitants of the prison. There's a mystery to unravel here.
I do have a couple questions. Black Bolt is muzzled. Why? Especially given the revelation at the end, the muzzle seems unnecessary. Furthermore, this implies that his captors know who he is, but the Royal family is unaware that Maximus was spared while their ex-king was imprisoned. Why wouldn't they tell the Royals? Is there no way once Black Bolt is in prison? Do they not care so long as they're told one prisoner is coming, and they get one? Or do they believe that Blackagar has committed some crime that's worthy of imprisonment?
And I'm not complaining here. I love this story. Every aspect seems thought out, and I doubt Ahmed would put this out without knowing. Having read this excellent story, I simply have confidence. (But please note, I will be annoyed if this remains unrevealed, or, horror of horrors, it wasn't thought of at all. Then again, this seems a huge oversight if not, and this issue seems planned down to the last detail. Ahmed's letter at the end shows a great deal of thought put into this character and world - so I have to believe he thought of this.)
So, Ahmed, get ready. One fangirl has just been converted. I love you in the sense that in twenty three pages - some with no words at all, some with only monologue, some with just that prison-voice - I'm already planning on looking to see what else you've written. I do seriously hope you're writing more comics too, because if you ever come to sign near us, I will go to there and literally toss one dollar bills at you if you promise to keep writing Black Bolt forever. (And yes, I know this isn't your choice, but a girl can dream. Charles Soule was my favorite Black Bolt writer, but no longer. I'm sorry Soule, you're still my second favorite and I still love your stuff to pieces. It's just... this. Yes, this. And I have to say - every time I think I can't get madder at Marvel, something happens. I might have to quit you if you cancel this five issues in like you've been doing to some of my other series. So. Mad. Don't let them do it without a fight, Ahmed. Please, fight for this series and us Black Bolt fans!)
And I promised this would be a love letter to Ward, too. How can it not be. Because I saw some preview panels before this came out, art only, and my heart gave a little flutter. Aw, shit, yeah. The colors. There's this weird muted background with bright highlights that has this creepy feel. But this is a weird, and creepy, series, so as far as tone? Matches the writing perfectly. Normally I don't focus on things like a characters eyes, although there are those close up panels. Even then, the character will say something, and well, it'll speak to me because words. Even with Black Bolt's monologue, without actual speech I found the eyes stood out more: they had to speak to me. Just like I've been critical about Anson Mount - because I needed to see if he could act with his facial expressions, and especially his eyes - I was not only ready to be critical of this art, I knew I would be. I came to the Inhumans late, but read everything I could get my hands on, bought the newer series, inhaled them, and I completely fell head-over-heels in love with this character: the mythological wise blind/mad man aspect (although Black Bolt is mute instead of blind or mad), and how his Inhuman gift speaks to the power of words themselves. Head over heels. This artist was gonna get looked at hard.
Or y'know, Ward could make it clear how Black Bolt is feeling through his eyes, piercing my very soul and making my heart flutter again. Actually, that would probably be for the best now that I think of it. So if I were to be as critical as I could be, he pierced my very soul and made my heart flutter with the full issue.
Touché, Ward. Consider me swooned. And again, get ready, you have converted me into a fangirl for you, too. (Neither you or Ahmed had to convert me into a Black Bolt fangirl, but that, quite frankly, worked against both of you. I would be overly critical if anything went sideways. What could either of you to defeat my inner!critic except give me zero reasons to complain. Mission: accomplished.)
I give up. You've both defeated me, and made me happier than I had any right to be. I love this comic so hard I can't even right now. Also, you realize you've both screwed over any other comics I read tonight, right? Because how else are they gonna stand up to this absolute beauty? Give up, other comics. You've met your match. (Naw, I'll still love you to pieces, but also wish I was reading Black Bolt again.)
I will, by the way, reread this multiple times with anyone who wants because I kinda not-so-secretely enjoyed this more than Till All One #9. (And that's about my second favorite series right now. Because, to be honest, and shockingly, Black Bolt ties with More Than Meets the Eye right now. Black Bolt hit all the right buttons for me. All of them.)
One more thing, because this clearly isn't long enough. The first chunk of this comic is Black Bolt monologuing, all alone in a prison. Not a huge amount of wiggle room, either in writing or art. Limited space, and one character? They make it seem as interesting as if it were a group scene - and make it seem effortless. No sweat, guys, they've got this! And if anything, I love them more for it all. (And am aware of how much effort this does take. To which I say again: thank you. You both obviously love this character, this world, and the story you're telling. It shows. And I for one could weep with gratitude for that effort, and for this beautiful, heartbreakingly gorgeous result.)
So much love. I highly urge all of you who are thinking about getting into Inhumans before the IMAX movie/series to start on this series.