This tale of the Darkhold’s corrupting influence on those who read it brought the puzzle of the two guards to my mind. Writer Mark Russell has crafted a conspiratorial conundrum for the reader to attempt to navigate. The silent king must look inside when faced with a situation that causes him to question what he can trust. From Marvel Comics, Darkhold Black Bolt # 1 injects a psychologically surreal element to this supernatural story.
Darkhold Black Bolt # 1
The Memory Trap
Writer: Mark Russell
Penciler: David Cutler
Inker: Oberto Poggi
Colorist: Matt Milla
I was first introduced to the two guard dilemma facing the Inhuman king in the movie Labyrinth. For those unfamiliar with the puzzle the premise is that a traveler encounters two doors/gates each with a guard. One one guard can only tell the truth while the other can only lie. Unfortunately, the traveler doesn’t know who is who. The challenge is what guard, what reality can you believe when you don’t know what you can trust. When your decisions are potentially based upon false or misleading presumptions. After reading from the pages of the Darkhold, Black Bolt now faces a similar problem.
The issue opens with a disoriented Black Bolt on a seemingly isolated planted. After a few moments he realizes he is on Terros, the penal planet of the Inhuman society. As he treks across the desolate planet, heading towards the lone supply outpost, Black Bolt struggles to recall the events that led up to his current predicament. It is during these flashbacks that we discover how the reading of the Darkhold has impacted Black Bolt creating a two guard scenario.
The Inhuman physician Telegar approaches the king with word that his brother Maximus has a plot to claim the throne. Telegar advises that while he refused others in the council may be approached and may be less likely to resist the offer. This begins Black Bolt’s efforts to expose the traitor. Since this issue takes place after his attempt to thwart Maximus efforts it’s easy to assume he failed. Although given the nature of the Darkhold everyone from Black Bolt to readers will be left questioning if that is accurate.
Darkhold Black Bolt # 1 feels like a combination of Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Black Bolt finds his very reality and identity are called into question.
The bulk of the issue deals with Black Bolt on Terros. David Cutler and Oberto Poggi did a fantastic job relaying the desolate nature of the planet. The imagery of many canyons in his path seem to symbolize the mental descent Black Bolt faces. Vast emptiness and strange creatures give a physical horror where the true danger is a psychological one for Black Bolt. The contrast of his current situation is made evident during the pages in the Royal Palace. Matt Milla uses a fantastic array of colors to display the pageantry of Attilan. The two different locations highlight the changes in Black Bolt’s status during the issue, further leading him into the depths of madness.
I have always seen Black Bolt as an intriguing, powerful but hindered character. His power has placed him into a position of powerlessness at times that is only rivaled by Cyclops. Now by choosing to aid the other hero’s efforts to stop both Doom and Chthon, Black Bolt stands to lose everything including himself. Trapped in his own head, unable to express himself vocally because of his power, his mind becomes every bit of a prison as the planet Terros is for the Inhuman king.