black-bolt-1-cover-edit Reviews 

“Black Bolt” #1

By | May 4th, 2017
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

I have a pretty good instinct for these sorts of things. When I read the first issue of Fraction and Aja’s “Hawkeye,” I instantly knew it was going to be a hit. Same thing with the first issue of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s “Vision.”

“Black Bolt” #1 is different. Those other two were Avengers, coming off of hot movies, by comics writers who had spent years earning the trust of their readers. Black Bolt is an Inhuman, a group reader’s have a more complicated relationship with, and the comic is written by a novelist who has never penned a comic before.

But I am getting that instinct again. “Black Bolt” is good – really good – and I think it could be the next artsy Marvel hit.

Cover by Christian Ward

Written by Saladin Ahmed

Illustrated by Christian Ward

Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles

THE KING OF THE INHUMANS’ FIRST SOLO SERIES! Black Bolt imprisoned! But by who? And where exactly? The answers to both will shock you! But to learn those answers, Black Bolt must first win a fight to the death with a fellow inmate – The Absorbing Man! Award-winning science fiction writer Saladin Ahmed (Throne of the Crescent Moon) crafts a story as trippy as it is action-packed, with truly mind-bending art from the one and only Christian Ward! Rated T+

In the interest of disclosure: I like Black Bolt just fine, though I wasn’t clamoring for him to get a solo series. He doesn’t really talk, and is more interesting in what he brings in group dynamics to the Inhumans royal family. What excites me is the inclusion of Saladin Ahmed on this book. Ahmed is the novelist behind the fantasy book Throne of the Crescent Moon which I loved, and his online articles (and his Twitter) are insightful, cutting, and funny. I love Ahmed, and I’m always excited to get more of his work.

Good writing doesn’t always translate into good comics writing though. I’ve been largely critical of novelists turning to comics, who usually have a learning curve before they figure out how to take advantage of the medium. Not so here. Right out of the gate, Ahmed avoids all of the pitfalls of an amateur comics writer. The issue isn’t too wordy, and lets the art do a lot of the talking. It has high thematic aspirations, but is also content to let super-powered beings smack each other around. The pacing is better than good, it knows when to stop to reflect, and when to propel forward, all within 22 pages. Ahmed is a comics natural.

I’m less familiar with Christian Ward (though in hindsight I’ve read “Ultimates,” “Infinite Vacation,” and some of “Ody-C”) but he does a lot of the heavy lifting in this book. For many pages, Black Bolt is alone and reflecting on how he got to be in his present circumstances, in a prison in deep space. The flashbacks play out as reflections in glass, or on panels that make up the wall in the freaky prison, which is fantastically designed. Not only does it look cool, it’s good comic book storytelling.

It’s clear though that Ward isn’t picking up Ahmed’s slack; the two of them are a team. This is most apparent on a big one page spread, where Black Bolt navigates the prison’s M.C. Escher-like catwalks. The narrative caption boxes aren’t read in an intuitive order, but as your eye follows the artwork, Black Bolt’s route across the page guides your reading order. That’s the kind of craft you’d expect from two veterans doing a creator owned book together.

The earliest pages also play with comic craft. Black Bolt wakes up, again and again, in “filth and darkness.” The panel layout on each page is nearly identical, but every time Black Bolt awakens, he figures out something new about his prison cell, and a mysterious voice shouts for him to “Name your crimes! Repent your crimes!” The repetition tells a story, and the changes to each page are subtle at first, but do a great job at capturing his state of mind, while also guiding the reader through the mystery.

By the end of the issue, we’ve met some of the supporting cast. There is Blinky, a strange little alien girl, in prison for unknown reasons. She brings out Black Bolt’s compassion. Then there is Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, who Ahmed writes with rare glee and enthusiasm. He’s a gross person and antagonistic towards Black Bolt, but it’s clear he’s being set up as a reluctant ally. Finally, there is the mysterious Jailer, who is set up as the big bad of this story. Not much is revealed about him this issue, but Ward does a great job with the character design, both memorable and iconic.

Like Karnak before him, Black Bolt is a badass, who proves why he deserves his own series. I can’t promise that this book is going to receive enormous recognition, but based on the first issue, it deserves a look. There’ s a lot of setup here, so there’s always the possibility that it doesn’t stick the landing, but my track record is pretty good. There’s a palpable energy behind “Black Bolt” #1, and that’s not something a creative team can fake.

Final Verdict: 8.8 – “Black Bolt” #1 has lofty goals and a creative team that understands how to craft a fine comic book issue.

Jaina Hill

Jaina is from New York. She currently lives in Ohio. Ask her, and she'll swear she's one of those people who loves both Star Wars and Star Trek equally. Say hi to her on twitter @Rambling_Moose!