In recent years, Marvel have done a lot to promote the Inhumans and their world. The most well-known of the Inhumans is Black Bolt, so it was only a matter of time until The Midnight King received his own series. Black Bolt Vol 1: Hard Time, written by Saladin Ahmed, focuses on Black Bolt being held prisoner in a maximum security space prison. As Black Bolt is a silent character, you’d wonder how a story can be formed around someone who never speaks. Ahmed shows the reader how it’s done and the result is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read.
The story begins with Black Bolt chained up in a dark room and a narrator explaining the events that are happening around him. Black Bolt was put in prison by his brother Maximus, who swapped places with him. It’s a simple storytelling device and eliminates the need for dialogue. Black Bolt breaks out of his chains and tries to save a young alien girl called ‘Blinky,’ who’s being tortured. Black Bolt is unable to save the girl and this leads to a fight with fellow inmate, Crusher Creel, AKA The Absorbing Man.
Black Bolt wins the fight and as he tries to confront the jailer he realises his powers are gone. The jailer overpowers and kills him. Black Bolt returns to life and it’s revealed that every prisoner is tortured to the point where they have to confess their greatest crimes over and over. Along with Creel, Blinky, gladiator Skrull Raava and Metal Master, Black Bolt plans an escape.
Their first attempt is unsuccessful and Black Bolt and Creel are locked in an oxygen deprived room together. Creel starts to talk about his life in one of the best scenes of the graphic novel. Ahmed makes the reader feel sympathy for an obscure villain who comes across as a regular person just trying to live his life the best way he knows how. Creel might be a criminal, but he regrets a lot of his actions. He’s devoted to his wife, Titania and wants to see her again. He cares about Blinky and wants to help her escape as much as for himself.
Black Bolt’s royal heritage is contrasted against Creel’s blue collar upbringing. Creel talks about robbing so he can put food on the table and questions if Black Bolt has ever cooked a meal in his life. There are deep, meaningful exchanges that are made more potent by the fact that Black Bolt can talk because of the loss of his powers.
All seems lost until Lockjaw arrives and teleports Black Bolt away. With his powers returned, Black Bolt returns to the prison and frees his new friends. They confront the jailer and Creel makes a noble sacrifice that’s one of the most selfless acts I’ve seen a villain perform.
Ahmed’s characterisation is glorious because he’s able to make Black Bolt and The Absorbing Man relatable. Black Bolt is portrayed as a king with a heavy burden, but he’s able to grow as a person because of what he sees in Creel. It’s impressive when a writer can take obscure characters and make you root for them.
Christian Ward handles the bulk of the art and he makes every panel pop with colour. There’s a lot to like about the graphic novel, from gorgeous galaxy vistas, to sombre prison environments that fit with the sci-fi setting.
Black Bolt Vol 1: Hard Time takes a silent character and makes him a relatable person. The supporting cast are great, the art is beautiful and the story carries emotional weight.