By Drew Baumgartner
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.
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:
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?