Black Bolt may not be the first or only sonic hero, but when I think of characters that pack a loud punch he’s who comes to mind. And he was dead for awhile, but now he’s prominently back. And as one of the living WMDs of the Marvel Universe I figured he might be worth talking about. Not out loud, of course, only it writing, because out loud might make him jealous, and well… you know.
First things first, the pet peeve.
Blackagar Boltagon, aka Black Bolt, as King of the Inhumans, seems to have more than once forgotten the first three rules of real estate:
Why do I say this? Originally the city of Attilan, home of the Ihumans, was located in the Himalayans during the Stan and Jack days. This is literally, and I use the word correctly, the worst possible place you could build your city if your powers were sound-based.
Why’s that? Outside the ‘Bespin-option’ nowhere on earth is the air thinner than atop the Tibetan plateau. What this means for sonics is that they will be their weakest here relative to anywhere else on earth. Sound works by vibrating adjacent molecules against one another in longitudinal waves. So if you power requires the use of sound, aka available adjacent matter, it makes zero sense to put your home in the place where you will be weakest to defend it. Therefore I’m sure if Attilan ever had to move they’d go somewhere sea-level or lower, right?
Wrong, they went to the frakking moon. Because if you’re stuck with thin air, why not go for no air at all? Simply put, the moon does not have enough gravity to sustain an atmosphere, and without an atmosphere his powers will not work.
“But Ryan, his powers extend beyond acoustics, he can also manipulate electrons to create concussive blasts!”
The use of electrons and concussive blasts are both valid, yet irrelevant, points. At the end of the day, electrons and concussive blasts are both things that exist when matter is involved, i.e. not whilst in space. Thus Black Bolt should be easily defeated every time his leadership skills neuter him to the point of powerlessness. But that’s a minor point concerning a character a really like, I just wish he’d find a denser medium to live in.
So is there any plausibility to sonic weaponry? The answer is a definitive and satisfying “kind of.” Granted, any new tech labeled as weaponry is probably being researched somewhere by the US military or a subcontractor, but since my clearance hasn’t come through yet you’ll have to settle for common knowledge.
The first uses of sound as a weapon is maybe the most obvious use: annoyance. A lot of noise can make a besieged town feel even more besieged. It can disrupt enemies that may be trying to issue commands. Or it can make a hostage taker finally willing to talk with the authorities. But everyone around Black Bolt seems more terrified and in awe than annoyed, so I’m guessing this is not a tactic he would deign to employ.
Most sonic weaponry, as you might suspect, just involves really loud noises. Have you ever started playing an episode of the Pick of the Week Podcast when Ron is feeling excited and your volume was a bit too high? Yeah, it’s sort of like that. Probably the most well-known version of weapon like this is a flash bang. Which is like a grenade except it doesn’t explode to destroy, rather to create a flash bright enough to blind (temporarily) and a bang loud enough to deafen (temporarily). Black Bolt’s enemies don’t seem to worry about this while fighting him, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s doing something much more destructive.
What about sound guns or other directed noise-based attacks? There’s too basic types: ultrasonic and infrasonic. Ultrasonics involve really high pitched sound, like a bat or a dolphin would use. Their use as weaponry is questionable, but the military relies heavily on things like sonar which are based on similar principles. Has Black Bolt ever displayed echolocation-like abilities? Or would his echolocation be so powerful as to destroy whatever he was trying to image? These are the things that keep me up at night.
Infrasonics are interesting too. These are sounds far below what humans can hear, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect us. As I alluded to before, all sound is vibrations in the form of longitudinal waves through matter. This should be familiar to anyone who has felt literally shaken by a car with powerful bass as it drove by. That bass is closer on the audio spectrum to infrasonic, so imagine taking that frequency even lower beneath where you could hear it coming. A vague sense of unease, maybe some nausea and then BAM! Your wall explodes. It takes much more than trumpets but it is closer to Black Bolt territory than anything we’ve yet seen, but surprisingly difficult to actually implement against an enemy.
And just as an aside, elephants use infrasound to communicate across huge distances. The waves are long and travel through the ground (because it’s denser than air) and can go for miles. And that’s just cool, maybe that’s how Black Bolt whispers into Medusa’s hair to communicate?
While Black Bolt isn’t using basic acoustics as his power set, the fact that he can create enough force with his voice to level mountains does open up some really intriguing options for uses that I wish I saw utilized more often. I think this guy has a future in the Marvel U. Just please keep him out of space.