Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt series continues to be one of the best comic books Marvel has published in years. Which is pretty important, I think, considering ABC’s Inhumans was one of the worst things to ever air on television. And recent efforts to push the New Attilan contingent to the forefront of the comic book universe have stumbled mightily. Poor Jack Kirby. At least Taika Watiti’s Ragnarok pays appropriate homage to the King’s style and legacy. But the Inhumans were always one of my favorite concepts, both in character origin and design, and it has bothered me to see so much of that colorful cosmically charged energy go to waste, whether in half-ass crossovers or gawdawful televised mini-series. Ask anyone only casually familiar with the Marvel universe for an opinion on the Inhumans, and you’re likely to garner a reaction ranging from dismissal to outright mockery.
And if damaged popular opinion prevents even one person from checking out this brilliant series, that’s a real shame. Saladin Ahmed has turned a character who, for decades, had been an emotionless and austere pillar of Inhumanity into something, well, human. A self-examination that begins in classically Golden Age-style narration gives way to actual dialogue, after Black Bolt is depowered by the Jailer. He explores what it means to be a king and, more importantly, what it means to be part of a family, in the most unlikely of places. All the while, artist Christian Ward portrays the King of the Inhumans as someone suddenly vulnerable, soft-shouldered and somewhat undersized, but with a strength and dynamism that comes not from his mountain-shattering vocal cords, but from his character.
In this first issue under the Marvel Legacy banner, Black Bolt returns home. He has a promise to keep, and intends to visit the Absorbing Man’s widow. My first question, before picking up this book, was whether or not Ward’s art was going to be as intense and exciting here on planet earth as it was in the Jailer’s trippy space prison. That was answered quickly enough. Even without the rest of the royal family to play around with, seeing Ward take on the other Inhumans in New Attilan and the capes n’ tights world of NYC, has moved this title even higher up my monthly must-read list.
Maybe more significantly, Ahmed doesn’t ignore the convoluted family drama that had been simmering for decades, most recently in Jason Aaron’s Infinity and the All-New All-Different relaunch of a monthly Inhuman series. Black Bolt may have found a “family” on the Jailer’s asteroid, and he may have even started to understand what it means to be a parent. But what about his actual son, Ahura, long neglected and unappreciated by superheroes, writers, and artists alike? Looks like the exploration of these characters is just beginning.
If you’re new to Black Bolt and the Inhumans, ignore the noise and adjust your expectations. Pick up the first trade collection of this series, also on stands this week, and dive in.