by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
“Freedom isn’t free” has become the insulting platitude gun advocates offer to justify the United States’ unrivaled gun violence numbers. Never mind that countless countries enjoy similar freedoms without the same body counts — the freedom to own a gun, the logic goes, is worth the lives of any number of concertgoers, congressmen, nightclubbers, pedestrians, or schoolchildren. It’s strange that the notion of the cost of freedom has gone from personal costs one might make in order to secure freedom for themselves and their country to some kind of blood sacrifice we demand of others, since the two couldn’t really be more different. One is about noble sacrifice, the other is about throwing someone else under the bus to save your own skin. It’s a point that Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward make elegantly in Black Bolt 6, as the mad scramble for freedom yields some unexpected costs.
The first example comes as the Jailer’s psychic projections drive Metal Master to nearly kill Creel. Raava intervenes, running Metal Master through, to everyone’s horror. It was the most violent solution possible, but Raava is completely undisturbed by the morality of her actions.
It’s the old “Raava is a violent monster” gag cranked up to eleven, turning it into something more chilling than endearing.
But Metal Master’s forced “sacrifice” for the greater good is thrown into sharp contrast when Creel volunteers to make his own sacrifice. The distinction of who has the agency is an important one, even if the motives are ultimately the same. That is, while Creel’s choice to sacrifice himself to save the other prisoners feels noble (and incredibly sweet), Raava’s choice to sacrifice Metal Master feels barbarous, even though the motives and the results are largely the same.
Parsing the moral differences between those two is certainly fraught, but their actual purpose here may be to establish the poles of willful sacrifice in order to give Black Bolt’s own sacrifice some context. By the end of the issue, it seems he’s lost his voice, but it’s hard to say how knowingly he made that sacrifice. Was he like Creel consciously choosing to save others, costs be damned, or was he like Metal Master, having those costs thrust on him without any choice? It’s a kind of Rorschach test of agency that walks the line so precisely, I honestly am not sure which way I break on this.
Either way, this issue is absolutely gorgeous. Ward cuts loose with the colors for both the starscapes and Bolt’s powers, and the results are stunning.
Holy shit. This artwork would be more than remarkable enough on its own, but paired with Ahmed’s hard questions on the nature of sacrifice makes this series something truly special. It’s deep and thought-provoking and pretty as hell — I really couldn’t ask for more.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?