Snow as Setting and Tone in Black Bolt 10

By Patrick Ehlers

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

Not only is it cliche to say that setting of a story becomes its own character, it’s also inaccurate. I don’t care how much you think New York City is a character in [whatever movie you’re talking about], characters have wants, desires, arcs — characters can change and be changed by the story. A location cannot. A good setting can be incredibly additive, coloring in emotional information and setting an appropriate tone, but, y’know — isn’t a character. In Black Bolt 10, writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward use the ancient Inhuman city of Orollan, nestled away in Greenland, to emphasize the cold lonely journey Black Bolt has been on since issue 1.

Blinky has been kidnapped by Lash, so Black Bolt and Titania head to Orollan to rescue her. Black Bolt has taken the action of the series to a lot of weirdly sterile environments: space stations and space ships, void of any sort of weather or cultural history. The ruins of Orollan provide an eerie backdrop for this rescue mission, both literally, as the crumbling buildings crowd the background of the page, and metaphorically, as Black Bolt considers how his legacy of failure lead him to this point. I find it fascinating how Ward allows the environment of Orollan to blanket the entire page, sometimes allowing snowflakes to violate the panel borders, and sometimes letting a snow drift act as a transition between actions.

There’s an awful lot going on in this issue, including Black Bolt’s half of the scene we originally saw in Inhumans: Judgement Day 1, and some of pages are over-stuffed with incident. So it’s cool to see just how much of the setting can be established by totally passive, wordless means. When Lash does finally start describing his plan 10 pages into the issue, we already have a feel for the dead world he’s ruling over. Titania makes fun of this part of Lash’s monologue, but it’s true: Black Bolt and Lash aren’t really so different. They both motivated by these stark backgrounds of loss and desolation. Bolt’s heroism comes from his ability to choose life, love and fellowship over destruction.

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

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One comment on “Snow as Setting and Tone in Black Bolt 10

  1. Patrick, I’m not sure I agree with your idea that Setting can’t be a character. Ignoring the fact that you can have a functioning without arcs, I think a setting can have all of thsoe things, in a more metaphorical way.

    Imagine a story taht depicts New York as a dark and threatening place, that imposes on the main character. Where a scene of an average person walking through the street feels like being threatened, despite the scene being populated only with unnamed extras. Then, imagine this atmosphere changing as the lead goes through the story. Maybe the atmosphere starts to feel more hopeful. AN ending where the average person walks through the same street and the atmosphere is completely. What you have there is a location going through an arc, from dangerous, to safe. And you can expand it from there. You can actually give locations metaphorical wants. And when you write your scene, you cant reat the location’s wants and needs as affecting the narrative just as much as the characters. Do you want to depict New York as oppressive? Have your scenes in New York reflect this ‘want’ by writing them as more unwelcoming than your scenes in London. Make things harder for the characters in New York as opposed to London because of the want that you have given New York. And then you can have that want evolve in reaction to stimulus. So characters acting don’t just affect the physical and societal elements of the setting, but also affect the metaphorical want. That sense of oppressive that exists entirely metaphorically through atmosphere etc changes as your story changes and the character of New York adapts. By controlling the atmosphere of a setting location to react to metaphoric wants, needs and arcs, you have all the elements of a character except characterisation and backstory, which are both things that setting detail already provides. When we say New York is its own character, it is obviously metaphorical. But that doesn’t mean you cna’t metaphorically include every element a real character would have.
    Hell, as an avid roleplayer, I’ve seen games that stat out locations exactly the same way as they stat out characters. And it makes sense why. Because everything you can do with a character, you cna do with careful manipulation of a setting’s depiction, especially atmosphere.

    Also, I think you missed the best part of the setting here – how it relates to the Blinky twist. A setting damaged by the pain of historic trauma is exactly the state of Black Bolt and Blinky in this arc, still reeling from the pains of the prison. And Blinky transforming into the Jailor – a metaphor for the way the trauma haunts you and affects you even long after you left – could not happen in a better place than a a setting that carries similar wounds from its own traumatic past

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