Written by: Saladin Ahmed
Art by: Christian Ward
Published by: Marvel
It’s easy to be cynical when Marvel release a book starring a C-list character, especially when they have an upcoming television show or movie, though Black Bolt #1 really surprised me with a solid story and a voice that felt genuinely new for Marvel. Issue 2, while not as grabbing as the first due to the “New car smell” wearing off a bit, is nonetheless another well put together story that demonstrates a tone and style Marvel don’t really seem to allow to grow anymore.
Black Bolt is trapped in a prison designed for his brother, Maximus the Mad, wherein its prisoners are destined to be tortured to death over and over to appease the sadistic Jailer. This issue sees Black Bolt get to know his fellow inmates Crusher Creel (The Absorbing Man) and skrull warrior Raava as they attempt to find a way to escape their prison.
The story here moves at a fairly solid place, there are a lot of character introductions that serve to expand the story, not bog it down. It helps that each character brings something strange and new to the table and have increasingly weird designs. Marvel cosmic in recent years has felt oddly grounded and Earth based following their comedic bent, but here it feels like a return to the Annihilation days, where you would be bombarded with utterly alien creatures and be forced to just roll with it. Ahmed’s script feels refreshing in this way, it’s incredibly different from the other books Marvel are putting out which feel overly familiar and too down to earth. This is the sort of thing I like seeing with Marvel, huge imagination and a story not afraid to be strange and interesting.
It’s a huge help then that Christian Ward’s pencils are fully able to convey the claustraphobic weirdness of Ahmed’s script. The prison constantly feels intimidating and eerie, vaguely Lovecraftian in it’s dank, seeping interiors and with a dreamlike quality. It moves fluidly from panel to panel to surprise you with characters creeping in backgrounds and give a general feeling of unease. When the plot forces it to get faster and more action focused however, it changes pace swiftly while still remaining consistent with the established tone. It’s a gorgeously strange book that has a brilliant identity all of its own. The covers alone have been so far worth the price of admission.
While last issue had a very grand, epic tone with a lot of internal monologuing and silence, this issues features much more dialogue due to the expanding cast and Black Bolt’s ability to speak. While I enjoy the cast for what they bring (including some hilarious lines from Creel which add levity without destroying the tone) I’m a little less sure of Black Bolt talking. I loved the monologue of last issue, it granted the script a mysterious and heavy tone which made it feel more powerful. It also conveyed Black Bolt’s character, intelligent and powerful, without having to have him directly say anything. I always enjoyed when I first discovered him his ability to appear powerful and regal without ever having to speak, and instead merely implying it. I understand in an ongoing that there needs to be a bit more presence if he’s to carry the series, but I’m a little unsure how I feel about it. I do like that he initially seems uneasy and unused to speaking rather than launching into huge speeches, but it’s something I’ll need to get accustomed to and will have to see how it’s handled in later issues.
Black Bolt #2 however further solidifies the title as one of Marvel’s current must have books. It’s far more in line with something like Tom King’s Vision in terms of relaunching a C-lister. It’s got a very unique voice that feels fresh amidst Marvel’s current offerings and a beautifully weird style that feels almost horror influenced. It’s bleak, strange and cosmic focused goodness. If you’ve been left jaded by Marvel’s more comedic, youth focused offerings then I’d definitely recommend it.