Another fantastic installment from the creative team of writer, Saladin Ahmed, and artist, Christian Ward, that switches narrative gears for a truly remarkable character study of Crusher ‘The Absorbing Man’ Creel.
Black Bolt and his allies’ effort to break free from this bizarre cosmic prison that has confined them has resulted in failure. Regaining his powers, Black Bolt had seemingly destroyed the mysterious Jailer. Yet it turned out that Black Bolt had merely defeated the Jailer’s physical avatar. Who, or rather what, this Jailer is turned out to be a macabre collection of organs, tissue and brain matter, collected in chambers and acting in concert to exert an incredible level of telepathic power. This power was ultimately able to restrain Black Bolt and his colleagues and now BB and Crusher Creel find themselves bound in chains in some sort of chamber.
Their powers have once more been turned off, preventing them from being able to break free. And once more the Jailer’s gruesome, disembodied voice commands them be silent and repent in death. There seems to be something of a harsher edge to the Jailer’s voice… something that leads Crusher to believe that the Jailer is looking to kill the two of them once more, this time for good.
A piercing alarm fills the room and Crusher notices a gage near the corner, its dial slowly turning downward. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to realize that the chamber is being vacuumed, all of its oxygen sucked out. It will not be long before the two are suffocated.
Desperate, Black Bolt attempts to free himself from the chains. He recalls the lessons he had learned from his cousin, Karnak; lessons about sensing and exploiting the flaw in all things. He identifies a small fissure in one of the chain links and uses all of his strength to contort his muscles in such a way to crack the fissure and break the chain…
…but it is to no avail. Black Bolt simply isn’t strong enough.
Crusher continues to prattle on and BB chastises him not to speak. Talking consumes too much oxygen and only hastens what little time they have left. Yet there really is no need. Black Bolt has lived his life in silence, there is no need to die silent as well. He changes his mind and invites Crusher to talk to his heart’s content.
Crusher then proceeds to tell his life story. It’s a tale that filled with many of the same clichéd follies of your typical comic book goons, and yet the way he tells the story, the authentic voice Ahmed’s script offers Crusher makes it feel anything but cliché… it feels real, sympathetic, guilty while unapologetic.
Crusher’s mother made him feel like anything was possible, that he could rise up from his humble beginnings and achieve anything. Yet she died when Crusher was just a boy, leaving him in the care of his abusive father. His dad lorded over and abused Crusher up through his adolescence, ending only when Crusher learned the fight back.
And as soon as his father realized he could no longer bully his son, Crusher was thrown out and forced to fend on his own. Homeless, Crusher fell in with a bad crowd. His respite was using his skill with his fists to become an accomplished boxer. He did quite well on the boxing circuit, not only because he was fast, strong and knew how to throw a punch, but because he was so menacing in his appearance that his opponents were so frightened that they had all but lost a match before it had begun.
Crusher’s knack for menace earned him the attention of the organized crime element in his neighborhood (in particular, the mobster villain known as The Owl (an old foe from the pages of Daredevil)). The Owl recruited Crusher as an enforcer, bending arms and breaking noses to maintain the mob’s various protection rackets.
It wasn’t long before he ends up incarcerated and his life takes a drastic change when he is listed in his prison cell by Loki the Norse God of Mischief. Loki was merely looking for a new means of bedeviling his hated brother, Thor, and he offered Crusher a magical formula that allowed his body to take on the atomic properties of any substance he touches, tremendously enhancing his strength, durability and capabilities as a combatant.
Newly dubbed ‘The Absorbing Man,’ Creel was even able to defeat Thor on one occasion, yet it wasn’t long before Thor rallied and bested him.
Thus began Crusher’s long and storied career as a super villain, tussling with costumed heroes, delivering beat downs and getting beat down himself. Crusher spent more time behind bars than he did as a free man, but he seemed content with he lot life had dealt him. Then once more his life took a drastic turn. During the first Secret War event, when various heroes and villains were swept off to Battleworld to duke it out for The Beyonder’s amusement, Crusher met the love of his life. Her name is Mary, but anyone who wants to keep their teeth straight knows better to refer to her by the name Titania.
It was love at first sight for them both. Even after the Secret war had ended, the two did everything together. They were in love and happy, even considered having a child together, but that never panned out. For the first time since the death of his mother, Crusher had something he was actually worried about losing. It made life heavier, but also much more worth living. And now here he is, lightyears from earth, dying of asphyxiation, his Mary likely to left forever not knowing what had become of him.
Crusher’s tale is periodically interrupted by questions and comments from Black Bolt. And the things BB has to say sheds further light on all of what has happened has shaped him as well. Black Bolt’s own character is further developed by way of the juxtaposition between him and Crusher… just how different the two are, as well as just how similar.
The portrait of The Absorbing Man that Ahmed and Ward paint is remarkably devoid of machismo. For all of his strength and bluster and tough talk, Crusher is notably open with his feelings and at ease expressing his vulnerabilities. He makes no effort to repress his sadness over the death of his mother, admits freely to crying when he was first incarcerated; he speaks about Titania like someone completely unafraid of being in love.
Of course it’s not that he’s some noble soul… he’s done a lot of rotten things and owes up to this completely and unapologetically. He’s hurt a lot of people and even feels bad about it, but he doesn’t blame it on his circumstances, his mother’s death nor his father’s abuse. He owns his misdeeds as his own, but is not going to writhe in guilt over any of it, because, really, what would that achieve?
All of it poses Crusher as the perfect foil for Black Bolt. Black Bolt is noble and, in his own way heroic, but he is also repressed, and stoic and withholding; and his pursuit of fulfilling what he has viewed as his duty has cost him everything that he held dear. Crusher is far from noble… he is a villain, he has no sense of duty… yet he’s open and expressive, in touch with his feelings. He doesn’t brood over his losses but instead allows himself satisfaction in the simple pleasures of life, like cooking (or knocking over an armored car). Crusher possesses a kind of strength that is absolutely foreign to Black Bolt… a type of strength that BB is likely going to have to develop if he for himself is ever to earn back all that he has lost.
The one matter omitted from Crusher’s story is his son, Jerry. Jerry Sledge or ‘Stonewall’ was introduced in the pages of the first iteration of Secret Warriors. Therein it was revealed that Jerry was the product of his mother’s having been raped by Crusher. As a teenager, Jerry confronted his father and somehow physical contact between the two caused Jerry to gain the same absorbing powers as his father.
I’m guessing that Ahmed and Ward are simply unaware of Jerry’s existence. The idea that Crusher has a son that he’s neglected and, more so, that he’s a rapist kind of undermines the whole dynamic of Crusher and Black Bolt representing these two different but still equal types of strengths. And I wouldn’t be surprised if editor Will Moss just decided to let the matter slide because the script as it was is just so good. For those who see comic continuity as super important, Jerry’s omission sort of ruins Crusher’s story and reframes him as a hypocrite. For those who can let continuity slips go (and I guess I fall onto that side of the equation), the tale is just wonderfully stirring… heartbreaking but also satisfying.
Anyways, at the end of the issue, just when it appears that all is lost and the last of the air is dissipating from the room leaving BB and Crusher to perish, Lockjaw makes his triumphant debut.
The teleporting pooch has finally tracked his master down and has arrived for a last moment rescue. Black Bolt is overjoyed to see him. Never before has BB been able to say out loud that his dutiful dog is a ‘good boy’ and he doesn’t waste this rare opportunity, letting Lockjaw know how happy he is to see him. Lockjaw is indeed a good boy, but he is just a dog and as a dog he makes decisions quickly… He teleports Black Bolt and himself away in an instant, leaving Crusher behind. And the issue ends with Crusher abandoned, left alone as the air and light fade from the room. His fate left unresolved by a particularly piercing panel reading: ‘to be continued.’
Hats off to Mr. Ahmed on this one. I would never in a million years conceive of pairing together Black Bolt and The Absorbing Man… but this odd couple of a team-up works just perfectly, both enhancing Black Bolt’s evolving character as well as endearing me to Crusher Creel in a way I never thought possible.
Christian Ward’s art once again excels at bringing the script to life. The tone of this fourth issue is quite different that the three that proceeded it and Ward’s art adjusts accordingly. Ward’s style is so well suited for far out cosmic settings, yet he smartly tones it down to match the more somber, interpersonal tenner of the story. It’s only when Crusher and Black Bolt are discussing the loves of their lives, Titania and Medusa that Ward cuts loose with augmented flare; and it acts to hammer home just how important and magical these two women are to BB and Crusher.
Again, Ward does great work relaying emotion with the minimal line-work of the character’s faces. The somber tale is peppered with a number of really funny moments and the humor is very well punctuated by expressions on Crusher’s face.
Of course I realize I am gushing, but this issue really is that good. An absolute must read. Five out of five Lockjaws!