I'm a well read grad student who's bluntly honest about all things, although I try to be most honest about myself.
For those who don't remember, I questioned why Black Bolt would be muzzled given the revelations at the end, said I'd be disappointed if it wasn't dealt with, and said I was sure it would be given how much thought Saladin Ahmed had put into this book. Well, it was dealt with in this issue. I hadn't given it much thought, as I started to keep up and even had to catch up on my comics at some point this month. That being said, I was pleased when I saw it mentioned in this comic: I still couldn't quite get why the muzzle had been used, and now I know.
A lot gets resolved: who Black Bolt is with, at least the ones I wasn't quite sure of, and why they're in this prison. And yet, this prison is meant to be a secret, known only to the Royal Family of Attilan, and there are far more, and far more sinister questions, such as how other people knew about this prison. I also suspect that Black Bolt will eventually have to deal with his prison being used as a dumping ground. It was meant to be used for the worst of the worst, people who were considered not only lost causes but also incredibly dangerous. (At least as far as I understand. I also believe that Maximus is an extreme case, as remember that it was he, not Black Bolt, who was to be confined to this prison. The royal family may have given Maximus more chances than others, because he was part of their family, and because Black Bolt caused Maximus' insanity. Black Bolt also was responsible for his family's deaths, and Maximus is Black Bolt's brother. Blinky, apparently a child, who stole just enough to feed herself dinner is confined to prison. And yet, I can't help but think if some in high places have chosen to use this prison to weed out those who are found lacking, the poor, the needy, is it possible that the royal family has also used this prison in such a way, even if too a lesser degree. Perhaps someone they could have helped, but, hey, this was more convenient. It's not an easy thought; it's highly uncomfortable, especially since I like Black Bolt so much - and want to continue liking him. I've always viewed him as making sometimes terrible choices, but as having two bad choices and him choosing the one that would cause the least harm to his people. But now, this is subverting that, and making me question how I view him. Not comfortable, but perhaps a necessary new, hard look. Did he really need to expose the world to Terrigen? Or was that, perhaps, the easiest solution that he thought wouldn't cause harm? Would he send someone away to a tortuous existence, even if there was a possibility of rehabilitation, if it was easier for him? I thought I knew; now I'm not sure I do.)
Then again, I think these are questions we should ask. It's a timely question, as well, and while the links to current politics are more tenuous than some comics nowadays, there's still a link. My idolization of Black Bolt? It's not completely removed to how some people view politicians. Yes, I'm thinking of one in particular, but it's true of anyone in power, or popular, or famous. (And something I've done with other characters. I loved Spike enough to excuse him for sexually assaulting Buffy, which I honestly still feel guilty about. And I can use excuses: she told him no, yes, no, yes, yes, it didn't feel in character for either of them, etc, etc, and trust me, I used them all. The point is we should hold everyone accountable, and that's hard to do when we like, and want to continue, liking them. I was able to continue to like Spike because he not only realized what he'd done, but he took responsibility and tried to make himself a better man because of it, and what I should have taken from that storyline originally is that exact point. Which ties back to Black Bolt because I'm hoping, if ugly things about him come to light, that he will take responsibility and try to make himself a better man because of it. But it also ties into Black Bolt, and I'm gonna come out and say Trump, because we can like Spike, Black Bolt, or, yeah, Trump all we want, but we should hold them accountable and question the decisions they make.)
It's not often that comic book series are this revelatory for me about specific characters. They reveal more about their background, or their characters, or something. They tell new stories. Very rarely do they make me question what characters really are and how I look at them. Robinson's Scarlet Witch did, and took a character I hated - for how she treated Vision a while - and made me adore her. This is... revelatory in another way, that takes into account me and how I relate to my fiction. It makes me want to continue adoring Black Bolt as much as I do, but also to hold him accountable, to make him a better man. And as such, it makes me want to hold the people in the real world - myself included - accountable. It's one of the reasons I'm telling the quite frankly humiliating way that I made excuses for Spike: it's part of my history, it's me holding myself responsible for my own actions, and wanting to make myself a better person.
And that's even rarer: a book that makes me reframe my own history and perspective, and informs who I want to be. I'm not even sure this that this is what Ahmed was going for. Did he want us to question if the royal family was perfect? Did he want us to question the power dynamics used in real life? I don't know. What I do know is that some small moments, some really powerful small moments, made me think of all this. I do believe that intent is very powerful when it comes to writing, and can be used exquisitely, but I also sometimes question intent versus interpretation. In the end, sometimes what matters is what you get out of it, because perhaps this was subconsciously written in, perhaps it wasn't even something Ahmed thought of, at all. But that doesn't change how powerful this message was to me when reading it: it's powerful, and in a way, it's hopeful. Maybe we all make really boneheaded mistakes, but maybe how we react, how we make ourselves better - or not, or worse - is what's really important. And maybe if that's true, there's hope for us all. And maybe if that's true, it's worth trying to make things better, every single time.
So, this sprawling, rambling review. What it really wants to say is that there's more expanse: Black Bolt has gotten to the heart of the prison, and he not only meets, and fights, more people, but he finds out more about how the prison is being used, and what those prisoners plan to do about it all. And this expanse comes with more light and color. The first issue was bleaker: where is he, who he is, what's happening? There were the ominous voices, and commands, and fighting and no real connection. Black Bolt had to struggle to remember himself.
Now that he knows the people, knows himself, knows more about this prison, this comic literally gets lighter and more color. The first issue was muted, tense, fitting the scenario, the amnesia, the way Black Bolt was confined to a cell, and then a small part of the prison. Ahmed opens up doorways, and Christian Ward responds by bringing in a larger color palette and lightening this up. I wouldn't call the art happy, or lighthearted, by any means, but there's a definite correlation between the physical expansion and the expansion in color in my mind: brighter colored background, with yellow and greens the highlights. (Although this trend started in issue one: it was dark, dark backgrounds with hints of color until Black Bolt met another prisoner from what I remember. It definitely got brighter and more colorful towards the end, and I wonder if I'll see this trend continuing. If not, then my theory was simply wrong, and I can deal with that: it happens often, and I've stopped trying to get too deep into these theories because I know I'm often wrong. Still, fun to play around with before I know better!)
The art is fantastic. I'd say there's less focus on Black Bolt's face - particularly his eyes. And this isn't a comment on Ward's skill, but rather something I suspected would happen. Now that he's talking, those intense moments where you have to read his eyes are no longer necessary. There's a pro and con to this, the pro being that Ward is freer to step back and focus on full scenes. (In the same way that Ahmed is not confined to having to write scenes of intense eyes.) The con is that I miss those intense eye panels. There's something powerful in having to express oneself without speech, particularly in such a visual medium. And Black Bolt himself spoke about that in Uncanny Inhumans, and I wish I had that particular comic with me. He talked about the power that came from not speaking, and simply listening, and it's so much easier to portray that - writing wise and art wise - when you can't rely on him speaking. You filter the information through what he hears, not what he says, and there's something powerful about telling a story like that, too. Or at least reading one.
I kind of miss that. Black Bolt's main appeals were twofold: the mythic quality and the power of words. I think of the blind/mad man in Greek myths. Unable to see, or to think clearly, they still had wisdom that held not only a great power, but was inaccessible to others. Black Bolt was mute, but that burden came with a great power that was also inaccessible to others. And of course, someone who can explode his enemies toys by saying the single word 'war' speaks to my heart. After all, I love reading, I love words, and Black Bolt spoke to the power of words more than any other character I've known. I miss that about him, and I hope that soon, Ahmed and Ward will find themselves restricted by Black Bolt's inability to speak without wreaking destruction. Because as much as I adore this story - and I do - I think that this creative team in particular could do so, so much with what speaks to me about Black Bolt.
And I just realized: my two favorite books came out the same day this month. Black Bolt and Lost Light? (Both of which I read on the beach, so this was really just the absolute perfect day.)
Yeah, right, so, this is how I read Black Bolt:
Digging my toes into the sand, and basking in the sun, while I glanced up to eat, drink, and be merry to this sight. Oh, yeah, absolutely the best day ever.