Gather ‘Round, Padawans: Black Bolt and Telling a Story

c. Marvel Comics

Black Bolt, aka: Blackagar Boltagon (one of the worst names in comic history despite being one of the most fascinating creations) has been a central character in many, many Marvel books. When one is king of the Inhumans and one of the most powerful beings in the universe, one can’t help but be the focus of a plethora of tales (if you’re looking for a really good one, I recommend, as was recommended to me by GeekDad Mordechai Luchins, Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee). For those of you unfamiliar with the character, Black Bolt’s powers derive from his ability to harness the energy from electrons in the atmosphere, manifesting primarily in a voice so powerful it can destroy continents and kill millions, even when he speaks at a whisper. He can also channel this energy into feats of superhuman strength. The pitch-fork thingy on his forehead assists him in channeling his borrowed energy in less destructive ways and was born of a fear he would trigger a catastrophe by talking in his sleep as a child.

Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward‘s Black Bolt is this remarkable character’s first solo outing. For the record, the King (former king?) of the Inhumans couldn’t be in better hands.

Spoiler Warning

In issue #1, we find Black Bolt bound and muzzled, imprisoned and ordered to repent crimes of which we, as yet, have no knowledge, tortured until he bleeds. He doesn’t remember what he has done to deserve such punishment nor how he arrived in the prison. Freeing himself, he wanders for hours, alone and bereft until he finds another being subjected to torture and tries to save her. Events ensue and Black Bolt finds himself bound once more but in possession of one thing his power has forced him to forsake his entire life: his voice.

Ahmed took advantage of the blank, first-issue letters page to clue readers in to some of the questions/issues the book will be playing with in the coming months. One of them caught my attention, not only because it’s an important one generally, especially as a writer, but because, as embodied in this character, it becomes particularly profound:

“How do you tell your story?”

c. Marvel Comics

Black Bolt has never told his story.

He can communicate. Affect events. Take actions. But he hasn’t, in all the decades of his existence, been able to tell anyone, not his wife Medusa, nor his friends, nor his children, nor his dog, his story.

In prison, he is finally free to do so.

What does this have to do with the average human? The normal, non-mutant, non-Inhuman variety who exists in this world of ours?

Most of us have a physical voice. We have, however, like Black Bolt, been, for one reason or another, unable to tell our stories.

Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll make others uncomfortable. Perhaps we’ve done so and we’re so conditioned by life and society to think of others first; we can’t stand the idea of doing so again. Maybe we’ve tried and been ignored or spoken over or dismissed because of gender or sexual preference or disability status or religion or ethnicity. Maybe we’ve been convinced we aren’t worthy of time and attention. Maybe we think no one will believe us and that possibility hurts more than whatever it was which happened. Perhaps introversion or anxiety keep us in a different sort of prison.

No matter the etiology we, like Black Bolt, are so very lonely in our captivity.

The world is massive and magical and beautiful but it can also be cruel and isolating, especially when so many people are afraid of that which is different. That fear is the reason the Inhumans confine themselves to Attilan and why we, when times are most difficult and when we need one another most, hide away in the safety of our homes and behind screens. Why we block out the voices of those trying to tell their stories, those begging others to listen. We donate money or time. We post on social media or make phone calls and we feel we’ve done our duty and can return, guilt-free, to our isolation.

Those things help. They are instrumental in the survival of so many.

But, sometimes, the most precious gifts we can offer someone are our time and our attention.

By doing that, we show them how much they matter.

As Americans, we’re taught to solve problems, that hard work will inevitably pay off, that we can fix things.

The truth, however, is that often, we can’t and, even more often, the person asking to be heard isn’t asking us to.

What has been can’t be changed. Whatever it is Black Bolt has done to induce him to exile himself to an unimaginable hell can’t be undone (well… okay, in comic book world, it probably can, but let’s leave that aside for a moment). What has happened to you in the past, to me, to the people we love, can’t be corrected or erased. To be able to speak the words, however, to relay the tale, reminds us that despite what has occurred, what we have done or what was done to us, we are still here. We are still alive. We have agency and power and more history to make.

Sometimes, telling our stories grounds us, allows us to repair fractures or tears in the fabric of ourselves, to hold ourselves together when we might otherwise split apart.

Sometimes telling one’s story, having it acknowledged by another, saves a life.

c, Marvel Comics

We’re all busy. We’re all doing a million things and the world sort of sucks right now. We want to take big, sweeping, heroic action. And that’s amazing. It’s wonderful and you should do it. Go to a protest. Vote. Run for office.

Sometimes, with all of that, or even just with daily life, it’s hard for us to find a quiet moment and when we do, we’re loathe to give it up. We hold that precious free time close and guard it jealously.

I know that asking you to give it up is no small thing.

That hour? You could be baking cookies with your kid or working on your novel. Getting ahead in your posts. Reading a book, staring out at the rain. You need those things and you deserve them.

But if you can sacrifice that hour, every so often, for someone who needs to tell her story?

You’re just as much a hero as someone who marches or sits on the school board or who takes in a refugee family.

Don’t believe me? That’s cool. I get it.

I wasn’t exaggerating in what I said earlier, though. There have been times someone gave me five minutes or ten or thirty and it saved. My. Life.

And he who saves a life, saves a world.

Black Bolt doesn’t speak often. When he does, people listen.

Now, he has a chance to show us all how to tell a story that’s been held inside for so long it’s practically an entity of its own.

People will listen.

Learn from what he has to teach. Learn how to speak. Learn how to tell your story. Learn how to listen.

The world will be better for it.