Artist extraordinaire, Stephanie Hans, joins the team of Christian Ward and Saladin Ahmed in this latest installment of the perilous adventures of the Midnight King.
Blinky, the kind and innocent orphan Black Bolt has taken under his wing, has been abducted by the villainous Lash, teleported away to places unknown. The occurrence has sent Black Bolt into a state of despair as he cannot help but be reminded of his many failures of the past… how he was unable to be a good father to his son, how his efforts to protect his people led to their future being doomed. He is left kneeling as the doubt and self condemnation wash over him. Fortunately, Titania is there to jostle him from his stupor.
Titania is the wife of Crusher Creel, the friend Black Bolt had made whist incarcerated in the terrible space prison and whose noble sacrifice facilitated their escape. Black Bolt and Blinky had sought out Titania to inform her of her husband’s fate and she is now more than willing to sublimate her sorrow into violent justice in rescuing Blinky.
Utilizing the communications system aboard Black Bolt’s fancy flying car, the two contact New Attilan and speak to Iso, the current regent of the Inhuman peoples. Iso informs them that they had been monitoring strange activity among the ruins of Orollan, the one time lair of Lash’s Tribe of Lor.
Unfortunately, Iso’s forces are stretched too thin and she cannot afford to dispatch aide to assist Black Bolt. Yet he is not alone in his effort to rescue Blinky… Titania insists on accompanying him and Black Bolt knows better not to attempt to dissuade her.
The flying car travels to Greenland where Orollan once resided. They know they are entering into a trap but proceed nonetheless with steady resolve. The car is shot down and the two heroes climb from the wreckage to face Lash’s various minions.
The Inhumans Lash has recruited as his subjects are composed of a group of new Inhumans, or NuHumans, created by way of exposure to the Terrigen Cloud. They were once human, regular people unaware of the latent Inhuman genes passed down from their ancestors. Black Bolt had triggered the Terrigen Bomb, created the subsequent Cloud, and caused their transformations. His actions undid these peoples’ lives, changed them into super powered creatures. For this they hate Black Bolt and he cannot blame them.
Black Bolt had detonated the Terrigen Bomb because he felt he had to, to protect the world from the threat of Thanos, to ready it for the oncoming incursions from The Builders… but he also did so because he wanted it, because he felt it was time for The Inhuman race to come out of the shadows and achieve its true actuation. What he enacted did help to save the world, yet he knows now that his conduct was not as righteous as he had led himself to believe… he was as motivated by hubris and folly as he was necessity and desperation. And necessary or not, Black Bolt’s actions destroyed countless lives and he deserves to pay for his crimes. It would be just were he allow these NuHuman creatures to kill him, he might even welcome his death. Yet there is still Blinky to rescue and hence Black Bolt must fight on.
He and Titania make short work of Lash’s minions, forcing Lash himself to step out from the shadows. He holds Blinky by the neck, threatening to snuff her life out unless Black Bolt submit and kneels before him.
In the past, Black Bolt would respond to such a demand with self righteous fury. He saw himself as the monarch of a race of gods who lived above petty mortals. Such an insult would have been replied to with Black Bolt’s voice as his very words would resonate with such power as to reduce his enemies to ash. And yet that power no longer belongs to him. All that was exerted to escape the prison and destroy the Jailer has left Black Bolt’s diminished, his voice all but halved in terms of its potential for destruction.
More so, he has also been shed of his prideful arrogance. He has been humbled and come to see gestures as only as meaningful as one chooses to make them. Lash demands that he kneel or else he will kill Blinky and hence he kneels knowing that this child’s life, any child’s life is much more important that Inhuman pomposity.
A bit surprised, Lash is amused by Black Bolt’s bowing down. He seizes upon the moment to have his minion, Fume, neutralize the two heroes. Fume in a new Inhuman who owns the ability to change his form into a noxious gas; he billows over Black Bolt and Titania, rendering them both unconscious.
Black Bolt awakes to find that he, Titania and Blinky have all been bound, chained to stone pillars that stand before some odd machine. Finding that his captives have awoken, Lash begins his villainous monologue. He explains that he had underestimated the threat posed by humankind. He once felt that Terrigenesis should be reserved for only the most worthy of Inhumans, yet such a luxury is no longer something that can be afforded.
Humans are too dangerous; they hunt down and kill all who are different. They poison the earth in their never-ending quest for energy and convenience. They are wild pests who must be conquered, tamed and lorded over. So to achieve this, Lash must have more Inhumans to act as his army. And to this end he has had this machine built to create a new Terrigen Cloud so to awaken new soldiers.
Yet Terrigen has been all but extinguished. In its place, Lash’s machine will utilize Black Bolt’s blood. Black Bolt experienced Terrigenesis whist still in his mother’s womb. It endowed him with a purified version of the Terrigen, bonded to his every cell. Lash believes that this will enable Black Bolt to be used as a living battery, a new source of Terrigen that can be drained, concentrated and expelled into the atmosphere. Of course the process will kill him, but with his death Black Bolt will give life new generations of his race.
It’s an absurd plan. Who knows whether or not it will work? Although if nothing else it will certainly kill Black Bolt. Unfortunately he is too weakened to resist. He is loaded into the bizarre machine’s circuitry and his mind drifts as his body is filled with all manner of toxins.
His consciousness floats off into the ether where a familiar voice beckons him. The haze begins to part as crimson locks take hold of him and brings him closer. And this is when he realizes that somehow he has been taken to a neither-realm where he is reunited with his love, Medusa.
Here the narrative veers into an interlude, a cross-over with the events of The Judgement Day story that culminated the adventures told in the pages of The Royals. The cosmic beings known as The Progenitors were approaching earth to wreak annihilation. In a desperate effort to repel them, Medusa had been sent into the astral plain, hoping against hope that she might find some means of defeating this all but omnipotent threat.
Once in the astral plain, Medusa had become ensnared by menacing forces, murderous manifestations of her own doubt and regret. In her distress her mind had called out to the one soul whom she most needed to rely on, her one time husband and the former love of her life. Black Bolt.
Here Stephanie Hans takes over art duties from Christian Ward, retelling parts of the events that had previously occurred in Judgement Day. Time has no power in the astral realm and Medusa and Black Bolt march on for days, talking and recounting their various ordeals. Through this seemingly endless sojourn they learn to lean against one another, doing so in a fashion that one doesn’t draw strength and ballast from the other but rather a mutual strength is created between them.
And through this they come to realize that whatever fate holds for them, neither can go back to how things where. There is no returning to the past, but there is hope for something new in the future.
This happy moment is only allowed to last for an instant before the perils both are facing resurface and tear them apart from one another. Medusa is drawn back to the dreaded Progenitors (an adversary she ultimately defeats) whist Black Bolt is drawn back to Orollan and the murderous machine he has been strapped into.
Having seen Medusa again, having reconciled with her, imbues Black Bolt with new strength, a new sense of resolve. He uses this new strength to burst free from the machine and to free Titania as well.
And he turns to take down Lash only to find that the strength was fleeting and quickly spent. The poison the machine had filled Black Bolt’s body with finally takes its toll and he falls.
Seeing Black Bolt fall, that he has possibly died terrifies young Blinky. It awakens a frightening power in her. Blinky’s alien abilities for telepathy have remained mysterious. There has been much more to her than meets the eye(s) and the trauma forces onto her a monstrous transformation. Titania and Lash can only look on in horror as Blinky’s body contorts and mutates, growing larger until she fully transforms into the form of The Jailer, the horrendous godlike being who lorded over the space prison where she and Black Bolt had been incarcerated. She even takes on the Jailer’s voice, imitating his constant demands penance through death.
Black Bolt revives and stands up just in time to see what has become of poor Blinky. And sadly we will have to wait to see what happens next fore it is here that the issue ends with the promise of confutation in the next installment.
Another intense ride… We’re treated to some good old fashioned hero on villain action as Black Bolt and Titania cut through Lash’s forces. Along with a traditional villainous scheme, complete with an evil lair and old school bad-guy monologuing as Lash expounds on his plot like a cad from a Bond movie. Sandwiched in this conventional superhero fare is Black Bolt’s ongoing personal journey of redemption as he owns up to his past mistakes and evades the kind of pitfalls his pride had caused him to make in the past.
I’m quite impressed with what Ahmed has done here with the narrative. He uses very traditional superhero tropes to tell a story that involves a theme that is actually quite contrary to your typical superhero tale.
Most often, the superhero succeeds by summoning a power that is at its heart autonomous. The hero is not just a hero, they’re a ‘super hero’ and possess strength that is unique and self reliant. And yet it is this kind of self reliance that has proven to be Black Bolt’s greatest weakness. He has been too autonomous, seeing everyone else as below him and requiring either his protection or subjugation. And this led to his downfall… led to his losing his wife’s love and his son’s respect. It left him vulnerable to his brother’s treachery, ultimately resulting in his being jailed in the space prison.
Back Bolt’s redemption has been about shedding that autonomy and embracing mutuality. He has let go of the kind of strength more often associated with the masculine and accepting a different kind of strength, one more often associated with the feminine. All of these very standard fare superhero story elements and what the issue is really about is essentially a mother desperate to rescue her child and willing to do anything, accept any indignity in order to do so.
In the end strength is strength regardless of whatever gender-based value is ascribed to it. And it is really neat to see Black Bolt make a full transformation from a character who had previously been ultra masculine… all about stoicism, pride and tightly controlled emotion… into one who is actually rather feminine… who is maternal, giving, humble and self sacrificing.
A bit less impressive is how the story ties into Judgement Day. It is kind of clear that this is Mr. Ahmed’s first foray into comic book cross-overs. The art by Ms. Hans is fantastic, yet the interlude as a whole is essentially a word for word retelling of what had previously happened in Judgement Day. Since I had read Judgement Day, this felt rather perfunctory and I was kind of impatient for the narrative to return back to Orollan.
Nevertheless, the reconciliation between Black Bolt and Medusa is likely to be an important facet to where the series is headed int he future and, while the interlude felt unnecessary for me, that likely wasn’t the case for any readers who didn’t read Judgement Day.
So what is going on with Blinky? Her powers and origin have continued to be an ongoing source of mystery and intrigue. Clearly she is much more than just a telepath. It seems that she also has the power to manifest into reality the psychic energies of her mind. Has she transformed into the Jailer as a product of this difficult to control power, or is her connection to he Jailer more significant that previously indicated? I’m kind of scared to find out. Like Black Bolt, I’ve definitely come to feel rather parental toward Blinky and fearful over what the future has in store for her.
Christian Ward’s art, as always, is amazing. I’ve long since run out of terms of approbation over how much I dig his work, so I’m not even going to bother any more. It’s awesome… ‘nuff said.
Another highly recommend read. Four and a half out of five Lockjaws.