Reconciling with the Past in Black Bolt 12

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Bolt 12

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

The superhero genre is littered with emotionally scarred men. Whether it’s a murdered loved one or a superpower-generating freak accident, trauma of one kind or another is a ubiquitous motivator for superheroes. Indeed, for most characters, that tragic backstory is so central to who they are and why they fight that it’s all but impossible to truly confront it — remove the psychological pain, and you “solve” the character’s motivating problem, effectively ending their story. So most of these characters are doomed to never resolve their issues. But what if why they fight has little to do with their trauma? What if that emotional baggage isn’t their motivating force? What if a superhero could confront their problems without destroying the conflicts that make them a hero in the first place? These are questions posed by discerning fans for decades, but rarely have those questions been answered as effectively as they are in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt 12.

True to the spirit of this series, much of Bolt’s final showdown with the Jailer happens internally, as Blinky and Ahura’s spirit/astral selves rescue a young Black Bolt from the prison of his memories. The symbolism is dense here, but effectively, Bolt’s father and the Jailer are one in the same in a kind of Freudian conflagration of authority figures.

Sigmundagar Freudagon

Ward doubles down on the density of that symbolism, setting the scene not just in that Escheresque staircase world of Bolt’s mind, but even putting the kids on a platform made of young Blackagar’s head. It’s rich stuff I’m not sure I can always parse, but the clear effect is this kind of dreamlike memory space where Black Bolt is reliving his youthful traumas, even as he’s facing down the Jailer in the real world.

Ahmed sets the resolution up beautifully — it’s clear Bolt will need to come to terms with the authority figure in his past before he can do so in the present — but it’s Ward’s wrangling of all of that symbolism that really makes it sing. Just look at how Ward collapses these two confrontations into one:

Black Bolt confronts the Jailer

The boundaries swirl and ultimately dissolve — these two Black Bolts are one in the same, after all. The exact metaphysics of the fallout don’t totally matter; Black Bolt wins the day by confronting his inner demons with the help of his friends and family. Sending Bolt into a charmingly domestic future of overcooked fried eggs is a fun choice, especially with Medusa once again at his side, but the most thrilling element of Bolt’s life moving forward is that he’s come to terms with the trauma his parents put him through. He’s not done healing, by any means, but he’s ready (and capable) of facing his issues head-on, and has the support he needs to do so. It’s a great conclusion to the series, turning the end of this emotional journey into a new beginning, all wrapped up with some of the most dazzling artwork imaginable. This may be the end for this volume, but it makes me excited to look out for Bolt, Ahmed, and Ward wherever they crop up next.

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

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7 comments on “Reconciling with the Past in Black Bolt 12

  1. I remember reading that Ahmed had this idea for a great Creel book, and he just didn’t know who the lead was. And when Marvel asked him to do Black Bolt, he used that idea. It is the sort of story that always leaves me slightly nervous, because you should write the story that best fits the character, not force the character in a story that doesn’t make sense. Except, of course, for the fact that this book has knocked it out of the park issue after issue. Ahmed studied Black Bolt carefully, and saw just how well the character fit the story he wanted to tell.

    What is essential is that the Jailer and Black Bolt’s father aren’t just authority figures. There similarities are much closer than that. The abuse they placed on Black Bolt are the same. What makes the Jailer threatening is not the fact that he is powerful, but that he returns Black Bolt to his abusive childhood, where Black Bolt wasn’t.

    And yet, Black Bolt has one thing that he didn’t, last time. Family. Whether it is Ahura, Creel or Blinky, he is alone. He has more than a dog (no matter how adorable Lockjaw is). He has the support he needed. And it is through that that he can reconcile the pain of his past that with the man he is today. Apply the same heroism he does as a superheroesque figure to his own pain. A beautiful ending

    I just wish Blinky wasn’t disappearing. Inspiring ending for her story, but would have preferred to see her stick around as Black Bolt’s daughter. Would have been a great dynamic

    • Hey Matt. Do you think that sensitive and taboo subjects should be portrayed? What limits that the writer should consider when trying to portray those issues. I ask because when I think of the inhumans I think that Marvel should find a writer that is capable of handling those matters. Would you read it even it have subjects that you might disagree with?.

      • Ebert said “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Which is the rule I follow. Which means that all sensitive and taboo subjects should be portrayed. But that they should portray them properly. I’d happily read something with views I disagree with, if it could make its case in a way where I recognised the legitimacy of the argument even if I disagreed about it (an interesting contrast is the recent firing of Kevin Williamson. Many have decried this firing as an assault on conservative thought, but the specific reason he was fired was because of his repeated pushing of the extreme view that 12% of the US population should be hung. Even among the Anti-Abortion contingent, his views were so extreme and so unjustifiable that he should be fired and replaced by a conservative who create arguments that were actually legitimate, even if I disagreed with them).

        So as long as a topic is treated with enough respect and enough thought that it justifies its own stance in a way that holds up to scrutiny, it should be portrayed. This means every topic should be portrayed, but not every viewpoint (to go for the absurd, flat earthers somehow still exist. A story about flat earthers could be fascinating done properly, but a story that legitimately endorsed the idea that the Earth is flat is so stupid and so unable to hold up to intellectually scrutiny that it shouldn’t be written).

        With the Inhumans, I think Marvel should try and find writers that can handle them properly. In fact I wish they got better writers because there is so much potential. Honestly, Soule and Ewing were just so wrong. Ahmed certainly knocked Black Bolt out of the park, and proved he could handle the characters. And the intelligence he showed around the prison aspects of his story suggests he would be fantastic doing the main Inhumans book. Christopher Priest is the other guy who has done Inhumans recently, and he was also sensational – unsurprising, as Black Panther is probably the closest franchise to the Inhumans on an idea level, and if you can handle one, you can handle the other. Which means Ta-Nehisi Coates should be considered as well. Nick Spencer could be interesting. His Captain America run has high points and low points, but the high points would fit very well for Inhumans. And his usual focus on the idea of superheroes as a job would be a great fit for the Inhumans, who should be treated as a society first. Aaron’s Thor run sometimes get unwieldy when it has too many characters, but his Southern Bastards is suggestive of someone who could fit the Inhumans. Marvel’s original choice to launch the Inhumans, Matt Fraction, would likely have done fantastic things since some of his better work involved an emphasis on socila dynamcis of a company or apartment block. And Hickman, whose Avengers the Inhumans spun out of, is born for that sort of storytelling. For a less big name, Tom Taylor is doing great work with X-Men Red, and apparently did a decent job with Injustice.

        The Inhumans aren’t exactly hard. The matters that need to be addressed are pretty standard. Certain characters, like Black Bolt, need more complex discussions on difficult topics like abuse and disability. But the big topics you need are explorations of societal dynamics, leadership and rulership, the act of politics. Not that hard. It should be superhero sci fi Game of Thrones, without the darkness. With the Inhumans, Marvel just needs to find a writer able to handle these matters, and unfortunately, they seem to do a better job fidning writers for Karnak and Black Bolt than they do for any of the core books

        • How could they’re trying to potray those matters without the darkness?. Those matters that are related to them are dark and sensitive.

        • Been really busy, so very sorry for the late reply. By darkness, I mean Game of Thrones level darkness. Inhumans don’t need to be as crapsack a world as Westeros. Game of Thrones is a brutal deconstruction of the way we idealise history in fantasy stories by going in the complete opposite direction, and therefore it is all the worst elements magnified. Inhumans is a superhero story, and can have a bit more idealism. All the complexity and difficult decisions of geopolitics that Game of Thrones has, but without things like the Red Wedding. Let things like Black Bolt’s past be dark when they need to be, but realise that generally, Inhumans should be lighter fare than Game of Thrones

          Christopher Priest’s Black Panther is a pretty great example of the sort of space that I would place Inhumans. In fact, I have my own pitch for the Inhumans that would take a good deal of inspiration from Priest’s Black Panther. Priest it certainly dark when he needs to be, but never goes truly pitch black. Pretty well calibrated

  2. Well…. they aren’t superheroes or supervillians from my view. They are people with moral ambiguity and flaws that define them.

    • Which is exactly how Priest characterised Black Panther. There’s a reason that a key part of my pitch involves a human character from the State Department whose job is to exist in opposition to the Inhumans to represent the fact that despite the fact that the major Inhumans are on the more moral side, they are the ruler of a fundamentally different culture and have a completely different set of priorities to the US. My pitch involves the cast having ambiguities and flaws, and how the tensions that arise from those have geopolitical implications.

      My point is just that the Red Wedding doesn’t belong in the same book as cute teleporting dog Lockjaw. And even if I do what Priest did, and bring the world close to World War 3, I wouldn’t go Game of Thrones.

      The Inhumans aren’t superheroes, but they exist in a world built on superhero tropes. That’s what I meant when I said it was a superhero story. That doesn’t mean I can’t make a complex political thriller out of them. As I said, Priest already has proved it

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