Sound SCIENCE: Return of the Black Bolt

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:

1) Location

2) Location

3) Location

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. By the way, be sure not to expose yourself in a loud environment for it can cause tinnitus. Also, if you’re wondering how to cure tinnitus, go to 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.


Ryan Haupt has been hearing things his whole life. Not voices. Just noises and stuff. Now he makes sounds for you to hear every week on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Great article Ryan, I love your perspective on these things.

    I have got to say this though. The acoustics thing is a result of his powers, not the cause of them. The powers are linked to the speech center in his brain, so it happens to occur WHEN he talks, not BECAUSE there is sound emanating from his mouth. Your points about the lack of matter and electrons in space are valid, however, there are SOME electrons and matter in space. His powers may require more focus when there is less atmosphere, but I think they would still work.

    All that said, I have to try for my Marvel No-Prize and suggest that maybe he chose to live in the Himalayas so that if there was a mishap with his voice, the damage would be lessened, giving himself a handicap in case his control slipped. As far as space is concerned, I’m sure he felt that he HAD to go to space and rule the Kree, that he didn’t have much of a choice. Fortunately, he and most of his enemies require some kind of atmosphere to survive, be it artificial or planetary, so his powers would be effective, as long as we aren’t talking ship-to-ship combat. And in that case, he could just have ol’ Lockjaw ‘port him into the ship’s cabin and then go to town!

    • Yeah, Conor thinks it’s some nobility nonsense too. But you’re all fools! (kidding)

      And I would love to see a scene like that with Lockjaw. Awesome idea.

  2. “and a bang loud enough to eaten (temporarily)” I assume you mean deafen? Darn that auto-correct?

    Anyways – great article. I always enjoy applying real world science to comic book scenarios. I can understand your “my home is my castle, I must defend it” take on why the moon and Himalayan’s are a bad place for Mr. Bolt, but perhaps he didn’t want many others to be affected should be he ever let a burp astray?

  3. In space no one can hear you…SLAM EVIL!

    (Good article!)

  4. Awhile ago I was watching a special on Nazi Secret Weapons on the History channel. The Nazi’s actually developed the “first” (I’m pretty sure) sonic weapon. It was a giant speaker that was two stories tall. It used infrasound to paralyze and induce nausea; given a certain range. But the sonic weapon was proven lethal within 100 meters; the brain would vibrate and explode. Anywho, here is a link to another article I found interesting:
    Also didn’t the Inhumans move to sea level at some point? I thought they were on some coast or something in Silent War.
    Thanks for the great article Ryan.

  5. Again, this is a case where the OHOTMU handles powers in an interesting, albeit vague way. Black Bolt’s scream is called ‘quasi-sonic’ which I take to mean that it doesn’t follow the same rules that normal sound does. However, the OHOTMU also explicitly states that Black Bolt’s voice creates a shockwave and is reliant on his ability to manipulate electrons which would again mean his powers would be practically useless where there is no atmosphere. Marvel’s War of Kings cosmic storyline from a couple years ago did show definitively that Black Bolt’s powers do indeed work in outer space, however, as his voice was directed as a weapon by Attilan (now a gigantic spaceship) to destroy entire fleets of Skrull, Kree, and Shi’Ar spacecraft and was harnessed for the Inhumans’ echo-tech which was capable of creating impenetrable forcefields and so forth that all worked in the vacuum of space. So it appears that his powers do not truly rely on sound or electrons much at all and would seem more likely to me to psionic in nature, which is basically code for ‘brain-magic’.