by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Black Bolt and Crusher Creel are about as different as characters get in the Marvel universe. Sure, Black Bolt is generally a good guy and Creel is generally a bad guy, but they’re also on opposite ends of the relatability spectrum. Creel has that sympathetic backstory that makes his decisions understandable, while Black Bolt’s regality and silence make him almost impenetrably aloof. Black Bolt’s abilities stem from his genetics, while Creel’s came to him later in life. All of these things make Black Bolt and Creel unlikely bedfellows, but Black Bolt 4 finds them forging a connection, even as Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward do everything the can to illustrate how different these characters are.
The two wake up in a cell that is slowly being drained of air. Black Bolt’s reaction is to stop talking in hopes of conserving oxygen, where Creel’s natural inclination is to use up the last of the oxygen telling his story. That story takes up the bulk of the issue, and Ward quickly falls into a nine-panel grid, only breaking the format when the focus comes back to the cell for a little back and forth between these two characters.
And those interjections really do feel like breaks in the story. The shorter, thinner panels of those sequences feel distinctly different from the regularity of Creel’s story. Moreover, Ward sets those panels against a white background, leaving a clear white border between those “real world” scenes and the pale yellow gutters that seem to represent Creel’s memories. Meanwhile, Ahmed uses these opportunities to reinforce just how different these characters are — pretty much every one of them follows this pattern of Creel trying to make a connection on experiences that Bolt just doesn’t share.
That is, until Creel gets to the end of his story, and those white and yellow gutters start blending together.
Even the paneling seems to have picked up the rhythm of Creel’s story, falling into three identical panels (albeit still smaller and with a thicker border than those used for Creel’s memories). These two have made a real connection, in spite of their vast differences. Black Bolt even starts to come out of his shell, reflecting Creel’s own loquaciousness as he reveals a bit about his own life.
…Until that aforementioned “teleporting dog” shows up to rescue Black Bolt, immediately reasserting the differences between these characters, and leaving Creel hopelessly alone, just as the oxygen seems to be running out in the cell. That Lockjaw would arrive in the nick of time to save Black Bolt perfectly fits with his life story, just as Creel being abandoned in his darkest hour fits with his. It’s a brutal, unexpected reassertion of these characters’ differences — a perfect distillation of this issue’s themes.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
This story absolutely broke my heart. Getting to read the beautifully flowing story of Crusher Creel was a treat. His love of Titania is so powerful, and the way he respects her and is awed by her shows some of the true goodness that’s beaten down within the Absorbing Man. He has quickly become one of my favorite characters with the strong pathos he has in every scene.
I am desperately hoping that the next issue starts with an immediate backtrack to grab Crusher, because a world where he dies this ignoble death while Blackagar just leaves to a continued noble silence leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth. Waiting 7 weeks for the next issue will be so hard!
I think they’ve got to go back to grab him, right? Lockjaw wouldn’t have known to teleport anyone else, so the confusion can be excused, but I can’t see Black Bolt just leaving Creel there to die. “Just kidding” is maybe the oldest cliffhanger fake-out in the comics writer’s book, but I actually think it works perfectly for this issue — we get to see Creel’s heartbreaking, lonely goodbye without him actually needing to die.
I think for the cliffhanger to work, it has to be an active decision from Black Bolt. Maybe have the Inhumans discuss that it is too dangerous to go back, so that ultimately it is an act of heroism when Black Bolt does.
I think it is important that Creel is abandoned, that the way the system works means Creel would never get the save that Black Bolt did. That will make it a powerful thematic statement and a fitting conclusion to the brilliant stuff down with Creel (heartbreaking is a fantastic description of this issue).
This was fantastic. Finding our common humanity with the ‘thugs’ that we ordinarily dismiss and dehumanize, while never ignoring the privilege that we/Black Bolt have. The difference between the righteous and the crook just being the privileges they are lucky to have (can’t think of a better metaphor for the prison industrial complex). And then actualized perfectly at the end through ingenious use of Deus Ex Machina.
Of course the privileged dude would be saved in the last second without any effort on his part. He has the privilege. The real story is that Creel gets left behind. Because he isn’t a king. He’s a crook (interesting that Creep is coloured with darker skin than usual. Still white, but with ambiguity that is very interesting)