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Capes On the Couch - Where Comics Get Counseling

Feb 23, 2022

 It's an hour of silence as we examine the Inhuman king BLACK BOLT! Just kidding, you know neither of us can shut up for that long… listen now!

  • Intro
    • Get in those questions for 150th AMA
    • Go back & listen to episode 68 on Medusa for better understanding of the dynamic
  • Background (1:44)
    • Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon) created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Fantastic Four #45 (Dec. 1965)
    • Black Bolt is the Inhuman king - exposed to Terrigen Mists as an embryo, his voice has the ability to create massive, destructive waves of energy - he was placed in a soundproof chamber and taught to control his voice, even while sleeping
    • Reenters Inhuman society at nineteen, and his brother Maximus makes a deal with the Kree to take over - Black Bolt shouts at the Kree ship, which crashes on the Inhuman parliament, killing his parents - the sound also drives Maximus mad, and he swears revenge on Black Bolt
    • He ends up engaged to his distant cousin Medusa, who would visit him in confinement, and they fell in love
    • He and Medusa oversee the assimilation of Inhumans into the larger world, and engage with many heroes and villains in the universe
    • Had a child with Medusa, in defiance of the Genetic Council, who believed his bloodline was too dangerous to continue - he gave up his crown to be with his son
    • Regained the crown and helped the Inhumans resettle on the Blue Area of the Moon
    • Was a member of the Illuminati, a secret group of highly intelligent & powerful individuals that attempted to manipulate events from behind the scenes - came to the forefront in World War Hulk when they exiled Hulk from the planet, and he came back seeking revenge (later revealed that this was actually a Skrull imposter, and the real Black Bolt had been kidnapped some time before)
    • Played a major role in Infinity, as he was the one who discovered Thanos’ plan to kill his son Thane
    • Inhumans vs. X-Men - Black Bolt’s use of his sonic scream on Cyclops is what kicked off the major war (it was actually a mental projection of Cyclops created by Emma Frost, as Scott had died due to exposure to the Terrigen Mists)
    • Death of the Inhumans - has his throat slit by Vox, but still able to use his scream to escape imprisonment and joined the Royal Family in attacking the Kree - this permanently damaged his voice, however

  • Issues - Theme is communication (6:00)
    • Black Bolt. Blackagar Boltagon. From the first time I read the classic Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four run, he has always fascinated me. The basic building block of social interaction among humans -- and insofar as we know -- Inhumans, is speech. From a philosophical standpoint, there is no organized society without verbal communication. It's everything. It is the singular most important element that serves to bring people together to work as one for a common purpose. So you take a person who -- it's not like he's unable to speak through deafness from birth restricting his ability to absorb what speech should sound like, or throat cancer or an injury to the larynx or something similar preventing his vocal cords from functioning properly. He is fully capable of exercising that most basic tenement of social interaction, but if he utters even the slightest whisper, even by accident, if he coughs or sneezes, he can destroy everything and everyone around him. There's no established canon limit on what the power of his voice can actually accomplish, but everyone pretty much understands even the slightest sound from him is potentially catastrophic. As if going through life from birth having to engage in so much rigorous physical and psychological training to never utter a sound -- not even accidentally in your sleep -- wouldn't create enough issues for you, let's add onto that: you're the king of an entire race of people, entrusted with all of the responsibilities of governing and the expectations of leadership that entails. Oh, and you accidentally killed the primary support system you had in your parents when you found your brother forging a pact with the aliens who were directly responsible for your powers and understandably lashed out. Ho -- lee -- crap. How the man didn't become a gibbering wreck with a death wish as soon as he was old enough to fully grasp all this is the stuff of miracles. I think the fact that Black Bolt even functions at all, much less as well as he does given the circumstances, is a testament to just how well the guy's got it all together.
    • Let's just try to run down what I'm sure is not a complete list of this man's issues:
    • 1) Severe isolation. Your terrigenesis turned you into a potential weapon of mass destruction on a civilization-ending scale. You spent most of your life from that point on having to be in complete isolation from others and undergoing rigorous physical and psychological training to never utter the slightest of sounds with your voice, even by accident. Just communicating yourself, your feelings, your wants, and your needs to other people is a grueling exercise at best. You have to constantly make yourself understood to others in a way that they typically don't. Think of all the things this implies.
    • 2) Crippling guilt at the very real consequences your powers have brought. You don't have to imagine what will happen if you slip up. You know full well. You killed your parents with your voice. You didn't mean to, it was an accident, but it happened. You have a family, you have a wife, you have people that you care about who absolutely will be reduced to a fine pink mist by a weapon that is of your person, your very essence of being, that you have almost no control over. That is a gorgon that will haunt your soul forever. (15:32)
    • 3) Overwhelming responsibility. You are not just trying to function as a part of a society you can't realistically fit into. You are its king. Every one of your people looks to you for leadership, and you have to run your society and make your wishes known without being able to easily communicate them. When you have to have a conversation with other people where you don't know what you're going to have to communicate in advance, you are fully reliant on others that you have to place your trust in to communicate for you. With all of the lack of nuance that implies. You don't just not have a physical voice, you don't have a metaphorical one either. It's Medusa, or Professor X, or someone else you have a psychic connection with acting on your behalf. That's terrifying on a deep personal level. (26:29)
    • Like I said, the fact that this man functions at all is a great credit to his incredible mental fortitude.
  • Break (35:25)
  • Treatment (37:27)
    • In-universe - Bring him to pocket universe that neutralizes Black Bolt’s voice to allow him to speak in his own words
    • Out of universe - What does a therapist do with a patient that is mute by choice?
      • The real-world parallels, we talked about before. Deaf, hard of hearing, and mute people. Stroke victims. People with throat cancer or something else that necessitates an electronic voicebox. Hell, I'll even go so far as people residing in a country where they don't speak the prevailing language, and are reliant upon interpreters to perform basic interactions with others. It can be a constant, nonstop, terrifying journey through life when you just can't communicate with others on your own. And like I said, I plead ignorance, but I assume noncommunicative people need psychological counseling. I just have no idea how that's done, when verbal communication is such a vital part of the process. (43:41)
  • Skit (feat. Anna from Freudian Sips) (50:14)
    • DOC: Hello Black Bolt, I’m Dr. Issues. And hello again Medusa, thanks for joining us to interpret. Normally I don’t do this, but given the… unique communication barriers here, it’s helpful to have someone here.
    • MEDUSA: Of course, Doctor, good to see you again as well. Black Bolt and I appreciate you taking the time to speak to us.
    • D: Please understand, no offense, but this is not meant to be a couples’ session. As an interpreter, your role is to make sure that Black Bolt’s statements are provided as clear as possible. Therefore, I will be speaking and looking at him directly while you assist us. If there is anything that needs clarification, please let me know.
    • M: *slightly irritated, but polite* Yes, of course, Doctor. *pause* Black Bolt says thank you.
    • D: Great. Now, what can I help you with today?
    • M: Black Bolt says he wants to make strides with the world at large…without disrupting his personal life.
    • D: That sounds reasonable, albeit a bit vague. I’m aware that you have a large role in your kingdom. Is there a particular aspect of your job that you’re struggling with?
    • M: Black Bolt says that he detests the notion that society can’t fix it’s own ills. *pause* My apologies, he says that he wants… others to have more participation and involvement… so he doesn’t have to carry most of the burden… himself.
    • D: That makes sense. I emphasize appropriate delegation all of the time. Is there something that prevents you from having the kind of balance you envision?
    • M: He says there are… too many functions to go through on a daily basis… that are set to the royal family by default. Tradition weighs us all down. *aside* Especially his wife.
    • D: Well, based on what I know, although there is still a right to confidentiality for the details, I can say that dovetails well with your personal relationships.
    • M: Black Bolt says that he…is thankful…someone finally understands…wait, I’m sorry, I need to start over. Black Bolt says he is thankful I finally understand him better now.
    • D: Huh? 
    • M: Black Bolt wants to focus on… the loss of his free time. He is draining himself to serve… the people and serve his family.
    • D: Oh…that took a bit of a turn. I’m sorry that things have been such a struggle. What are your coping mechanisms for recovery?
    • M: Black Bolt says he enjoys time for…literature, and…taking walks with me.
    • D: Aww, that’s so kind…but he’s shooting you a glare right now. What’s up?
    • M: He says that is not quite what he meant. He…likes…walking…alone…thinking about me. I apologize, he’s going so fast now, it’s hard to keep up.
    • D: You seem very angry. Do we need to take a break?
    • M: I’m just fine, doctor.
    • D: I meant Black Bolt. Like I said, please just tell me what he is saying.
    • M: Black Bolt says that…THINGS…aren’t the way they are supposed to be right now. This is…slightly frustrating…If I weren’t his queen I would be…somewhere less pleasant at the moment.
    • D: Are you…are you censoring him? I would strongly advise you not to do that for the sake of any hope of progress.
    • M: We apologize…as in, the royal we, because I have done nothing wrong…Black Bolt wishes to have an independent…NO. 
    • D: An independent what? 
    • M: An independent…point of view on how his emotions can be controlled OH MY!
    • D: Well, I recognize what THAT finger means. It’s obvious there’s a breakdown here. Perhaps we all could use a time out.
    • M: No, let’s continue speaking. *clearly directed at Black Bolt* After all, it’s good to get things off one’s chest, right dear?
    • BLACK BOLT: *snort* *gust of wind, small amounts of damage*
    • D: No words necessary. And I DO mean that literally. Let’s try this one more time
    • M: Black Bolt says-
    • D: *interrupting* Nope. No way. I see where this is going. I was a fool to think this wasn’t a couples’ session. No interpreter. Black Bolt…sir. I have no problem with you as a patient. But I also realize that I have put you in the most awkward situation imaginable. I’m sorry. We have to find another way to do this. I know you can write. Maybe secure email and text instead? Less hassle this way.
    • M: Black Bolt says he…wants to keep trying…wait…keep trying how? I don’t know how that works.
    • D: What is it?
    • M: So, this is me talking…he wants to make sure that you know I mean well, but tell you how I felt after my last session with you. But, I don’t want to make it about me. That’s not the point.
    • D: So he’s asking you something. That’s fine. Ultimately, it’s up to you. 
    • M: Black Bolt says this interaction is a microcosm of how he feels every day. Bottled up, locking away a part of him that no one ever gets to know because it’s too dangerous. He…has to be a statesman as well as a man of action, without a proper outlet. He…oh.
    • D: What?
    • M: He wonders if that’s what childhood was supposed to be.
    • D: I don’t have an answer for that. Your experience is so beyond what I could imagine. To have someone be your voice from day one, always refied, monitored, scrutinized, manipulated, and yet bearing witness to the multitude of variance that humans and Inhumans have likely described, knowing full well that would never be your lot in anything that goes on. That’s strength…but also the potential for agony. You’re quite the being, Black Bolt. The definition of life’s beautiful struggle, and I thank you for what you endure.
    • M: Black Bolt says…wait…he…Doctor I can’t…I won’t interpret what he is saying.
    • D: Um…did I do something to offend him?
    • M: No, please understand, what is about to happen is in a perverse way the highest honor he can bestow upon you, and we have means to make amends.
    • D: I have no clue what you’re talking about.
    • M: I’ll let him explain for himself.
    • D: For hims… WAIT WHAT?
    • BB: *whisper* thank you *explosion sound effect*
    • D: I truly appreciate the definition of peace and quiet, now more than ever.
  • Ending (57:15)
    • Recommended reading: Original Inhumans introduction in Fantastic Four - the Lee/Kirby stories are the best; also the Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee Inhumans run
    • Next episodes: Echo, 150th Episode Special, 4 from Umbrella Academy
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