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'Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time' review: Viscerally stimulating

Comic Books

‘Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time’ review: Viscerally stimulating

Scary, visceral, and deeply unsettling with surprises in how it develops its characters.

I was outspokenly positive when reviewing the Black Bolt series because it feels like a special series. It’s different, it’s strikingly bold in its visual style, and tells an unapologetic story about an unfamiliar group of characters with Black Bolt at the forefront.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

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The king of the Inhumans has been imprisoned! But where? Why has he been jailed? And who could be powerful enough to hold the uncanny Black Bolt? The answers will shock you – and Blackagar Boltagon as well! For if he is to learn the truth, he must first win a fight to the death against a fellow inmate: the Absorbing Man! As a prison revolt begins, Death’s Head enters the fray – but is he there to help, or to hunt? And who – or what – is the warden of this strange place? Whatever it is, the Jailer knows only penance and fear. And soon, so will the Silent King! Award-winning sci-fi writer Saladin Ahmed crafts a story fit for the mind-bending art of Christian Ward!

Why does this matter?

Collecting issue #1 through #6, Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward (with Frazer Irving) have put together a perfect balance of scary, heroic, and cosmic action. It’s an introspective story with its captions, but an adventure worth exploring due to the strange story and striking visuals.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

'Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time' review: Viscerally stimulating
Damn this art is good.

Christian Ward’s art is downright mesmerizing throughout the series. Frazer Irving picks up the fifth issue and does a great job creating a visceral, almost dreamlike world. The series takes place in space and has a dreamy look due to the colorful space backdrops and strange interiors. There’s some figurative and literal mind bending stuff going on which helps draw the reader into Black Bolt’s internal struggle.

That struggle starts with Black Bolt as he loses his voice and is imprisoned. Ahmed helps draw you in with well written captions that play to his fear of using his voice. The book opens with Black Bolt alone, which suits the character since he usually can’t speak with anyone and is forced to have a distant life. That gives the entire trade paperback a nice arc as he befriends strange aliens and none other than the Absorbing Man. Like Black Bolt, Absorbing Man has kept a distance from most due to his criminal background, but for reasons explained in this book. Ahmed does a great job establishing the heroic nature of Black Bolt, but the real success is making Absorbing Man more than a one dimensional character. The way the book ends will make you hope for more of the character, which may not be a statement ever said before.

It’s not all introspective character work though, as there are action heavy-moments throughout this volume too. Lockjaw plays a big part in this with an injection of Inhuman powered goodness and a touching story about a boy and his dog. Amongst the themes of slavery, what it means to be a prisoner, and escape, there are interesting battles amongst the prison’s halls. The conclusion comes with a big twist that combines Absorbing Man and Black Bolt in a creative way that should get comic fans jazzed up.

'Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time' review: Viscerally stimulating
You’ll be won over by these characters.

It can’t be perfect can it?

The book has some jerky pacing issues here and there. The overall package is incredible but things can slow down, scenes transition awkwardly, and the start of it is incredibly slow. The fact that the story takes place in one location save the flashbacks means the pacing issues can be even more evident.

Is It Good?

This book makes me hope Marvel hasn’t given up on the Inhumans and on Black Bolt, because this book could be one hell of a done in one movie. It’s scary, visceral, and deeply unsettling with surprises in how it develops its characters. You will believe in Black Bolt. You will believe in Absorbing Man!

'Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time' review: Viscerally stimulating
Black Bolt Vol. 1: Hard Time
Is it good?
A story for comic readers who want something a little different.
Visually striking art that's at times stunning
Interesting introspective story about Black Bolt and Absorbing Man
Fulfilling story arc
The pacing can be off here and there with a slow start

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