Friday, January 4, 2013

Words Speak Louder Than Actions

In watching him go up against some of Marvel's heaviest hitters, I still can't quite put my finger on why Black Bolt of the Inhumans is regarded as such a powerful character. The obvious answer would be due to the power of his awesome voice, which even Banshee would give his favorite pipe for. Yet there seems to be some question as to whether or not it's always been a part of Black Bolt's natural power, or the result of an "accident" described in this scene:

We know, at least, that his power wasn't used for the first time until roughly his late teens, when he found his brother Maximus secretly cutting a deal with the Kree. And his shattering voice was not only responsible for Maximus turning mad, but also indirectly for their parents' deaths:

So we're all familiar with the variations of the sentence, "Black Bolt dares not speak," which Black Bolt usually adheres to even when in battle. But if he makes a practice of keeping mute, what makes Black Bolt a force to be reckoned with? Leave it to Reed Richards to sum the whole thing up for us:

In other words, as long as his his electron charge holds out, Black Bolt, boiled down, is... well, a very capable fighter. And his battle against the Thing gives a good demonstration of his abilities in that regard:

So, strength and agility, check. But this is the Thing he's going up against, who's tackled tougher foes than a walking electron battery in his time:

Even Karnak can see that the Thing may be more than Black Bolt can handle. And so we're introduced to the character's "master blow" for the first time:

I don't know how one develops a "master blow." Maybe he got it from Karnak, who would be the logical choice to train someone in a one-strike blow which would incapacitate your opponent. Yet as you can see, Black Bolt's "charge" has now dissipated, and the Inhumans must retreat. Not once does Black Bolt consider using his voice, despite the threat the FF (as well as the Seeker) represent, so what we've seen of Black Bolt is for all intents and purposes the sum total of his "power." Frankly, I think Gorgon was more of a powerhouse.

So let's try putting Black Bolt up against the Hulk:

Writer Roy Thomas gives us a somewhat more glorified description of Black Bolt's might, in a panel that's obviously meant to give both fighters their just due with their respective fans:

The cover caption, "The Incredible Hulk Battles the Uncanny Inhumans!", is pretty much on the money, since the Hulk spends a good deal of the issue battling the other members of the royal family (along with Quicksilver), and that doesn't leave much room for squaring off with Black Bolt. Good thing, too--because look how quickly Black Bolt is overmatched by the Hulk's might, forcing him to do the one thing you'd think he'd refrain from, given the damage he would cause throughout the Great Refuge:

The force of Black Bolt's voice unleashed even drops Black Bolt, so you can imagine the effect on the voice's target:

The brief battle is almost a duplicate of their first meeting (Incredible Hulk Annual #1). The point being, though, that Black Bolt's acrobatics and natural strength would hardly have stopped the Hulk's rampage.

Why don't we see what happens when we up the ante:

Again, Roy Thomas is the writer of the story in question. And again, he gives us very little to work with, in terms of a Black Bolt/Thor battle--nothing, in fact. Because that bold cover caption, "Black Bolt vs. Thor," only ends up applying to the cover. Black Bolt never confronts Thor (or vice versa) in the story; to add insult to injury, the person dressed as Black Bolt is only someone who stole his costume. Thor's involvement is only with a former patient of Don Blake's, who is using the threat of "Black Bolt" to lead an armed group of insurgents in a riot. But you can probably guess by now how the battle would play out--in other words, I don't see Black Bolt delivering a master blow on the cover, do you?

But, credit where credit is due: Black Bolt must have a darn good publicist, because "the power of Black Bolt" continues to make for eye-catching cover copy whenever he appears.  But to give him real, formidable power in battle, maybe that "tuning fork" of his just needs a firmware update.


Kid said...

I could never really take to Black Bolt and the reat of the Inhumans. They were certainly never interesting enough to sustain a series of their own. The only ones who 'worked' for me were Medusa and (to a lesser extent) Crystal. Black Bolt in particular was a wash-out, and must've presented a challenge to Stan Lee's abilities. After all, how can you establish a personality when the character can't talk? One of Jack's less successful ideas in my opinion, particularly when he scripted their series in Amazing Adventures.

Comicsfan said...

When I have time, I'd like to do a few posts about some of the series featuring the Inhumans. They don't usually hit it out of the park; in fact, some of them aren't very memorable at all. But there are three or four of them that have made a noteworthy attempt to sustain interest.

As for the difficulty of writing for Black Bolt--a character who can't speak--narrative, of course, does a lot of the heavy lifting there, and for the most part compensates for any bold statements Black Bolt himself might make. But you know what surprises me? You never see a thought balloon come from Black Bolt. In a way, I'm glad, because I think that would make for a less distinctive character. (And would probably read a little oddly.)

Kid said...

Actually, now that you mention it, perhaps that was the problem (for me, that is) - lack of thought bubbles from Black Bolt. It made the character seem too remote and uninteresting. Had we been allowed to see what was going on in Black Bolt's mind in the form of his thoughts, perhaps it might've made him seem more of a character than a 'cypher'. Stan was the guy who usually had characters soliloquize internally, so I suspect that BB's lack of thought process was perhaps Jack's idea. Kirby was usually the man who told the story through panel exposition (in his DC work especially, and his '70s Marvel work), whereas Lee usually did it through character dialogue.

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