While Marvel’s Inhumans characters are visually striking and have a unique conceit behind their concept, as I’ve said before, some of the heroes and villains of the superhuman race can be difficult to connect to as a reader. They’re aloof and isolationist, and the primary characters are royals who sit above and apart from even their fellow Inhumans. True, figures such as Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, and their inner circle may aid Earth’s heroes when need be, but, on the whole, they tend to choose to stay outside of the planet’s concerns.
Of those characters, Black Bolt might be the most difficult to connect with on a personal level. Beyond his role as royalty—former king or no—and as an Inhuman, his superhuman abilities are a hindrance to connection, as any utterance from his voice, even a whisper, can level mountains. A character who has to have another speak for him can throw up walls to understanding and connecting, leading readers to be put off by the Midnight King. In short, Black Bolt can be a tough nut to crack, for readers and creators.
Thank goodness, then, for writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward, the creative team behind Black Bolt, which, with this week’s issue #12, ends its Hugo Award-nominated run. In just a dozen issues, the creative team has taken the inscrutable former king and made him knowable, relatable, and, most importantly, sympathetic. With this final issue, Ahmed and Ward connect the various narrative and thematic threads they’ve been laying since the series’ first issue, deciding the fate of not just Black Bolt, but the friends he’s made along the way.
And Black Bolt is going to need them. Cut off from the use of his powers by the Jailer—who acted as warden and torturer to the Midnight King and so many others—he is at a gross disadvantage as his one-time captor lays a destructive path across an old Inhuman city. Using Black Bolt’s once fellow former prisoner and newfound friend Blinky as a vessel, the Jailer invades Black Bolt’s mind to stifle him with fear. However, Blinky’s mind lives on, as he and Black Bolt’s estranged son work to help aid their friend and father to become whole again. Along with a resurrected Crusher Creel, they push on in hopes of ultimately defeating the Jailer once and for all.
Of course, Ahmed cues us in early on in the issue that the Jailer isn’t the first person to stymie Black Bolt’s relationships; his father experimented on him as a child in order to understand and control his power. Threatened with punishment should Black Bolt engage in friendships or playing his puppy Lockjaw, the soon-to-be Midnight King found himself more isolated than his voice ever could. Using the Jailer as a stand-in for his cruel father, Ahmed allows Black Bolt to finally confront not only his father by proxy, but to also confront his own roadblocks to meaningful relationships.
As the series progressed, Black Bolt accumulated friends outside his Inhuman family and court, and those connections aided him to begin to learn how to accept himself and know that it’s okay to ask for help, as when he subconsciously calls to Blinky, Crusher, and his son during the battle with the Jailer. If Black Bolt was a cracked mirror therapy session for the Midnight King, then issue #12 could be considered a breakthrough moment.
I’ve followed Ward’s work since discovering his work on the Image Comics series Ody-C, and while his linework and use of colors are always captivating, Black Bolt may be the best work of his career. While he always excels at creating esoteric, warped galactic vistas—and I mean that in the best way possible—what made his work on Black Bolt sing is the emotion he was able to convey with a main character who is mostly silent throughout the course of the series. Without a word, we know the pain, the internal struggles, and the elation the former king is experiencing at any given moment. Ward and Ahmed have worked in tandem to sell the emotional achievement they were guiding Black Bolt toward, and the payoff feels more than earned.
In our interview with Ahmed, he noted that at the end of a superhero story, you have to put the characters back in the toy box how you found them. And while that’s true to an extent, Ahmed and Ward have made a lasting mark on Black Bolt that gives future creators avenues to build on the emotional growth the team left on the Midnight King.
Black Bolt #12 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.
From the future issue description:
THE RECKONING OF THE MIDNIGHT KING! A former queen’s promise to her former king. Medusa swore to find Black Bolt, and she has — but will she be in time to save him? Voiceless and betrayed, the former ruler of the Inhumans faces a darkness he thought he had put behind him. But he won’t face it alone. Old friends. Reunited lovers. A son and a new daughter already lost. Black Bolt faces his penance with all he loves by his side.