The Page Becomes the Prison in Black Bolt 3

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Black Bolt is trapped in a sci-fi prison so trippy, I’m not sure how to refer to it. Is it a a prison out of time and space? Oooh! Maybe some kind of psychic labyrinth! It’s a space between dimensions or beyond death or beside reality — anywhere you can’t quite describe without feeling like a huge dork. But as tough as it is to describe the space, the physicality of it is massively important. It’s a prison, after all; if the readers don’t have a sense of the jail being broken, what the fun in a jail break? That’s where artist Christian Ward steps in and grants every indescribable room a stunning clarity. I may never be able to tell you what this space is, but there’s never any confusion about what the room-to-room experience is for Black Bolt and his new friends.

The first thing that Black Bolt et. al encounter after leaving their cell is literal labyrinth. That’s some primordial story-work there, tracing all the way back to Daedalus. Ward introduces the maze with a wide, high angle, giving the reader an extended view of the twisting corners and winding hallways to come. But it’s on the second page of maze adventuring that the page itself takes on the qualities of the maze.

That first panel is a long hallway, typical of the maze — the form of the comic matching the form of trial. Same thing is true of the last row of panels: Black Bolt is turning a corner, and Ward sets up his panels as though they are a 3D representation of that corner. Also fun to note that Black Bolt is following the left hand rule, all but assuring he’ll eventually find his way out. Ward is effectively communicating space and solution in these seven panels.

This is the whole issue — our heroes enter a space that defies explanation, and Ward deftly explains it by engaging the medium in fascinating ways. When the crew enters a room full of cylindrical pistons that are part of the engine powering this space, curved panel dividers grant the page the appearance of being cylindrical.

It’s almost like writer Saladin Ahmed has issued Ward a series of challenges — “oh yeah, draw this room” — and Ward kills it every time. I don’t need to understand what the prison is, when the simple fact is that the prison that Black Bolt is stuck in is this comic book.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “The Page Becomes the Prison in Black Bolt 3

  1. You don’t need to understand what the prison is? But when you understand it, that’s when the book gets really fun.

    What is a labyrinth? It is a deception. The maze is an elaborate attempt to hide the path through. Any labyrinthe that doesn’t try and decieve you isn’t a labyrinth. And that is the key. Everything is a deception.

    There are generally three agreed purposes for prison. Containment, Punishment and Rehabilitation. The labyrinth represents punishment, a maze the prisoners can’t escape. And the punishment is the abuses of the prison. But both are actually illusory. Every maze has an exit, and their ‘punishment’ is actually disguised sadism, often to people not deserving of punishment. ANd then there is rehabilitation. THe illusion here is a bit different. The prison provides the illusory appearance of rehabilitation, but not in the same way. This illusion is a lie, a prettied up office that promises that that it values rehabilitation.

    So, all three purposes of prison are illusions. THen what is the purpose of this prison? Exploitation. Ultimately, this prison is about abusing the prisoners for power. Nothing else matters. The comparison with the private prison industry, and the way it lobbies for increased and harsher sentences to fill their prisons with the undeserving, is hard to ignore. Ahmed and Ward have stripped away all three of the illusions that are used to justify the prison industrial complex, shown them to be lies. And with those illusions stripped away, we are left with nothing but a machine, dedicated to the torture of others for profit.

    And that is why we need to understand the prison

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