Black Bolt: King Me
Saladin Ahmed comments on the Inhuman monarch’s return to the throne!
The Midnight King has long ruled the Inhumans; on December 6, in the pages of BLACK BOLT #8, however, he returns to Earth, no longer a monarch in position or in self-perception. For the Inhumans left behind, he might even be viewed as a kind of absentee ruler, a man who abandoned them at a time of their greatest need.
Marvel.com: With Black Bolt once again voiceless, I am wondering how you and artist Christian Ward have been adapting to losing this one avenue of communication? Have you two discussed it and made a singular plan? How has it been to deal with a wordless character again?
Saladin Ahmed: We haven’t talked about it a lot so we don’t have any particular strategy for us to approach it collaboratively.
For me, from a writerly point of view, there have been a couple of points in the book where Black Bolt has had his voice and those points where he could actually speak I tend to recede the captions. Now that we are back to voiceless Black Bolt—not only one who’s restricting his speaking but physically has lost his super powered voice; something happened in that confrontation with the Jailer which we don’t quite know yet but we will be finding out more about—he really doesn’t have a voice. I’ve been leaning back on the third person captions that are sort of inside his head trying to capture the voice that I think he thinks to himself with.
Also, he’s been accompanied by Blinky. She’s—especially when he first gets back to Earth—is going to be stepping in to kind of explain to others what they’ve been through. She acts, to a degree, as his voice. In a way, similar to what Medusa did, but in a very different way; this is someone who is more like an adopted kid than a consort and she has actually psychic powers. One of the things she’s discovering is how to cultivate empathy and establish a bridge between two people and she’ll certainly be doing that in service of Black Bolt, the character, but BLACK BOLT the book as well. She’s kind of a cheat and I’m well aware of that, but you always have to find these work arounds.
Marvel.com: Obviously Christian, in handling the look of an alien prison world had some fantastic visuals to deal in and we have spoken previously about how incredible the colors have been as well. Returning to Earth, even the Earth of the Marvel Universe, would seem to be a shift towards a more mundane setting. In terms of that, how have you two discussed portraying Earth in a way that feels real but plays to his strengths and how has Christian been meeting this new challenge.
Saladin Ahmed: I’ve just been really impressed with how he has handled this transition. Again, there was no particular strategizing between us. We talk a bit, I hand him the scripts, we do talk about how the tone is shifting and therefore his color palette is shifting, but it’s not mundane. It’s astonishing.
He brings all this attention to detail and sense of panel composition, this just absolutely blazing color to the Bronx, to New Attilan on Earth, and to some familiar characters that Black Bolt will be crossing paths with as well.
I think people are only going to more impressed with the range of Christian’s art. He does [the] space thing and the psychedelic thing and the bizarre thing so well that there’s a threat of him being typecast as an artist. What people are really going to see in this second arc is that he can do a grounded Earthly super hero book just beautifully. Some of the facial expressions on the characters in this book I’m just thrilled by.
Marvel.com: What is your feeling, your interpretation, your perception of Black Bolt as King at baseline. That is, his role as status quo king during most of his existence up until the past few years of aggression and his recent absence?
Saladin Ahmed: I think he was pretty confident. I don’t think he did a lot of questioning of himself. He was an inheritor of traditions.
Of course, we aren’t just talking about a character but also how a character has been written. And a lot of writers recently like [Christopher] Priest and his [current limited series INHUMANS: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS], have taken on what Black Bolt might have been thinking then because we never really got that back in the day from [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby. But I think even with that kind of revisionist take on his early history, I don’t think he had any doubt he was supposed to be a monarch. I don’t think he was used to questioning himself or the kind of traditions he came from.
I think recent years have shaken that up for him though.
Marvel.com: In terms of how the Inhumans perceived him during that early period of rule, how did they feel about him, how did they experience him?
Saladin Ahmed: Pretty idyllic. He presided over a long period—now this isn’t bringing up things like the Alpha Primitives—but [for] most of Inhumans society he presided over a long period of peace and being hidden from the outside world. So I think generally his people had a sort of old school respect and awe and love but not a fuzzy soft kind of love. A kind of feudal love for him.
It is hard to know, though, is that just what Black Bolt thought people felt or if that’s what people thought. I think with any [king] that’s beloved, if you dig a little bit there are a lot of people that are not happy with him.
Marvel.com: Recently, Black Bolt took a turn towards being a much more aggressive ruler with spreading the Terrigen Mist and taking on mutantkind and attacking Atlantis, and so on. How did his attitude towards himself change, in your opinion, and how did the people’s?
Saladin Ahmed: I think rather than see himself as the king of a secluded people, he began to want to carve out a place for his people in the larger world and was aggressively pre-empting how, for instance, humanity has dealt with mutants in history. I think Black Bolt was planning to put his people in a position of strength. Probably relentlessly, without much of an eye towards the consequences of that to others or his own people; [he] pursued that agenda for the past couple years.
I think that kind of—I don’t want to say imperial—but that aggressive expansionism of Inhumanity is a lot of what he is wrangling with now; how that backfired on him and his people.
Marvel.com: He certainly experienced many doubts in the prison and possible growth and change about what his role should be, but his people were unaware of that; they only perceived him as disappearing. How do those who didn’t go to space and were in the dark about Black Bolt’s imprisonment feel about what seemed like his unexplained, unreported absence?
Saladin Ahmed: This is a lot of what we are going to be contending with in the second arc, but they felt abandoned, basically. People don’t know what situation he was in, but to their mind they had this incredibly powerful ceremonial leader—even if he was not their actual acting king and a kind of progenitor—for the new Inhumans, Black Bolt brought many of them into being by releasing the Mist. Then HYDRA came after them and the Royal Family—including Black Bolt—was nowhere to be found.
There’s a lot of resentment towards that and Black Bolt is going to come face-to-face with that very soon. Like the moment he lands on Earth.
Marvel.com: What does he hope for himself in returning to the throne? Does he have a plan or a fantasy of being a new kind of king than he’s been before?
Saladin Ahmed: I think what Black Bolt—he went through a lot. In super hero comics, we often see heroes go through astonishing traumatic things and then bounce back. That’s not what’s going to happen for Black Bolt.
So rather than returning as the kind of scheming key player in events, he’s going to be coming home licking his wounds and trying to tie up loose ends of a very personal nature.
I don’t necessarily know that he is thinking of himself as a king upon his return. So considering what kind of king he will be is kind of beyond his thoughts.
Marvel.com: Emotionally speaking, when he finds out what happened when he was gone, can you give us an idea what his reaction is and what we’ll get to see of that reaction?
Saladin Ahmed: He comes back and find out and is consumed both by guilt and a sense of impotence.
What could he have done? It’s not like he chose to leave his people behind. But rather than become defensive, he’s pretty miserable.
The question for BLACK BOLT is when you are damaged and have really pressing immediate responsibilities—he has a kid in tow—how do you do your part to help fix the world?
I think that’s the question a lot of us who want to make things better have to ask ourselves.
Marvel.com: As you enter this second stage of BLACK BOLT, what has you excited, what has you anxious, what is challenging?
Saladin Ahmed: Oh, it is intensely challenging because, for one, the timeline is just tighter. You can do a lot of building for the first arc of the book because it hasn’t come out, you can do a lot more prep. Once the train is moving, you are working at a different pace. That’s been quite intense. There’s a little bit of anxiety around that.
What has been delightful has been just to bring this character back to the mainstream Marvel world. This is still going to be a book that will be off in its own corner to a degree but the first arc was very much, intentionally, isolated and self-contained. While this won’t tie heavily into Marvel continuity, with a big “C,” it has been really fun to bring this character back to Earth to interact with people from the [Inhumans’] world, from the larger Marvel Universe. Just getting to mess with that in the same way I got to mess with him individually in the first arc.
See what Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward have planned for The Midnight King in BLACK BOLT #8, headed your way December 6!
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