Symposium

A Discussion about (Mostly) Books as They Relate to a Theme of Contemporary Interest

by Stephen Burt

POWER, WITHOUT SPEECH BALLOONS

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who cocreated much of the Marvel Comics lineup in the 1960s, introduced Black Bolt in Fantastic Four no. 45 (1965): the stern, melancholy hereditary king of a hidden race called the Inhumans has a voice so powerful that he can never use it to communicate. His rarely wielded whisper is a military-grade weapon; a shout can wreck cities or knock spaceships out of the sky. His subjects sometimes comprehend him intuitively; he “can make his wishes perfectly understood,” at least to other Inhumans, and to his flying, teleporting giant bulldog, Lockjaw. When that’s not enough, Black Bolt nods, frowns, moves his eyes melodramatically, or—especially in the Lee-Kirby comics—adopts unlikely “meaningful” poses, somewhere between American Sign Language, honeybee signaling moves, and interpretive dance.

Black Bolt’s costume—one of Kirby’s snazziest—comprises a blue-black bodysuit with double zigzags down the chest, a mask with a silver tuning fork–like object on his forehead (it catches electrons), and wings that fold out like a paper fan under his arms. Gene Simmons of Kiss has said that Black Bolt inspired his signature outfit. (Some people wish Simmons, too, could be seen and not heard.)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Stephen Burt is a Contributing Reviewer of the Believer.

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